The America’s Cup is a trophy awarded to the winner of the America’s Cup match races between two yachts. One yacht, known as the defender, represents the yacht club who is the current holder of the America’s Cup and the second yacht, known as the challenger, represents the yacht club which is challenging for the cup. The America’s Cup is the oldest active trophy in international sport.
The trophy was originally awarded in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Squadron for a race around the Isle of Wight which was won by the schooner America. The trophy was renamed the America’s Cup after the boat and was donated to the New York Yacht Club (NYYC) under the terms of the Deed of Gift which made the Cup available for perpetual international competition.
Any yacht club that meets the requirements specified in the Deed of Gift has the right to challenge the yacht club that holds the Cup. If the challenging yacht club wins the match then the stewardship of the Cup is transferred to the challenging yacht club.
The Cup not only attracts the world’s top sailors and yacht designers but also the involvement of wealthy entrepreneurs and sponsors due to the history and prestige associated with the America’s Cup. It is not only a test of sailing skill, boat and sail design, but also of fund-raising and management skills.
The trophy was held by the NYYC from 1857 (when the syndicate that won the Cup donated the trophy to the club) until 1983 when the Cup was won by the Royal Perth Yacht Club, represented by the yacht Australia II, ending the longest winning streak in the history of sport.
From the third defense of the Cup in 1876 through the twentieth defense in 1967, there was always only one potential challenger. In 1970, for the first time, there were multiple potential challengers so the NYYC agreed that the challengers run a challenger selection series with the winner being becoming the challenger for that year and competing against the defender in the America’s Cup match. Since 1983 Louis Vuitton has sponsored the Louis Vuitton Cup as a prize for the winner of the challenger selection series.
From the first defense in 1870 matches were raced between yachts 65–90 ft (20–27 m) on the waterline owned by wealthy sportsmen. This culminated with the J-Class regattas of the 1930s. After World War II and almost twenty years without a challenge, the NYYC made changes to the Deed of Gift to allow smaller and less expensive 12-metre class yachts to compete, and this class was used until it was replaced in 1990 by the International America’s Cup Class.
In February 2010 the America’s Cup was raced in 90 ft (27 m) multihull yachts in a best-of-three race regatta in Valencia, Spain. The challenger BMW Oracle Racing beat the defender Alinghi 2-0 and won the Cup for the Golden Gate Yacht Club.
In September 2013 the America’s Cup will be held in San Francisco, California, in 72 ft catamarans.