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The America’s Cup

During the Great Exposition of 1851 at Hyde Park in London, the commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron (the most prestigious yacht club in the United Kingdom) issued a challenge to those in attendance, expecting to prove England’s supremacy on the sea. The challenge was for the Squadron’s 100 Guinea Cup, an ornate sterling silver bottomless ewer, awarded to the winner of the 53-mile regatta around the Isle of Wight.

The United States accepted the challenge, and an approximately 95-foot schooner was commissioned, built for the sum of $20,000 by the newly formed New York Yacht Club. The schooner America was launched in May 1851 and made her way to England for the regatta. Upon arrival, the English were taken by America’s appearance but were confident that it offered no contest to the 15 British boats that were to take part in the race. The Aug. 22, 1851, race, however, proved to be an easy win for the United States, with America reaching the finish line some eight minutes ahead of the nearest British boat. The race was observed by Queen Victoria, and elements of that conversation have embodied the spirit of the America’s Cup to this day:

“Say, signal master, are the yachts in sight?” asked the queen as she observed the race around the Isle of Wight from one of the royal yachts.

“Yes, may it please your Majesty,” he replied.

“Which is first?” asked Victoria.

“The America,” replied the crewman.

“And which is second?” posed the queen.

“Ah, your Majesty, there is no second,” was the response.

To this day, the America’s Cup remains a challenge-driven series of match races between two yachts. It is governed by the Deed of Gift, which states that any yacht club that meets certain requirements has the right to challenge the yacht club that is in possession of the cup. If the challenging yacht club wins the match, the ownership of the cup is transferred. Currently, the cup ownership is held by the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco.

Although the original yacht America no longer exists, an amazing replica was built in 1995 for about $6 million. Today, she resides in San Diego and is part of the fleet at Dennis Conner’s America’s Cup Experience. At 139 feet long (95 feet on deck), she can host up to 80 guests and features regularly scheduled public excursions, including sunset sails during the summer months and whale watching during the winter months.