The America's Cup


The America’s Cup is one of sailing’s crown jewels, steeped in history but at the cutting edge of technology. Over the years it has seen rich sporting drama, controversy and radical ideas. This A-Z in nautical flags has more. Click or swipe to view interactive. Credit: Kirk and Sons of Cowes / Heritage Images / Getty Images

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Auld Mug

In 1851, the yacht America won a sailboat race around the Isle of Wight, England. The silver trophy was later renamed the America’s Cup, and is the oldest trophy in international sport. It’s affectionately known as the Auld Mug. Credit: Chris Cameron / AFP / Getty Images

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Radical 75-foot monohulls which rise out of the water on T-shaped hydrofoils are the boats for 2021, chosen by defender Emirates Team New Zealand and principal challenger Luna Rossa. Each team can build two boats. Credit: Emirates Team New Zealand

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Emirates Team New Zealand beat Oracle Team USA in Bermuda in 2017 to earn the right to defend the Cup on home waters. The Kiwis, helmed by Peter Burling (pictured), will take on the winning challenger in March 2021. Credit: Mark Lloyd / AFP / Getty Images

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Emirates Team NZ

The Kiwis first won the Cup in 1995 and successfully defended it in Auckland in 2000. They lost it to Swiss-based Alinghi in 2003 and squandered an 8-1 lead to lose 9-8 to Oracle in San Francisco in 2013. But revenge was sweet in 2017. Credit: Chris Cameron / AFP / Getty Images

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The Kiwis took the Cup airborne in 2013 when they lifted their 72-foot catamaran out of the water on hydrofoils. Other teams had to scramble to catch up, and though the New Zealanders lost in San Francisco, foiling changed the game. Credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

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Not for coffee, but to turn the winches that pull in the sails or control the daggerboards. Traditionally arm-powered, the Kiwis went for radical leg-driven ‘cyclors’ in 2017, since outlawed. Credit: Clive Mason / Getty Images

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Hauraki Gulf

Racing in 2021 will take place on Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour with spectators on land able to see the action up close from North Head and Bastion Point. Credit: Nick Wilson / Getty Images

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Some of sailing’s biggest names have graced the Cup, including Americans Dennis Conner and Paul Cayard, Kiwis Peter Blake (pictured), Russell Coutts and Dean Barker, Australian Jimmy Spithill and Britain’s Ben Ainslie, the most decorated Olympic sailor. Credit: Nick Wilson / Allsport

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J Class

An elegant class of 130-foot, single-masted yacht used in the America’s Cup in the 1930s. Famous names include Shamrock V, Enterprise, Velsheda, Endeavour and Rainbow. Credit: Charles E. Brown / Royal Air Force Museum / Getty Images

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Specifically the radical winged keel of Australia II which broke the New York Yacht Club’s 132-year stranglehold on the event when it beat Dennis Conner’s Liberty on the waters of Newport, Rhode Island in 1983. Credit: Tony Feder / Getty Images

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Court battles and controversy are as much part of Cup lore as racing. One legal dust-up in 2010 resulted in a one-off match between BMW Oracle’s giant trimaran and Alinghi’s catamaran. Credit: Jose Jordan / AFP / Getty Images

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Following the original race, the New York Yacht Club won the next 24 editions of the Cup before losing to Australia II in 1983. For the first time in 15 years, the NYYC club is back. Credit: Dan Nerney

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Winning the Cup requires out-of-the-box thinking -- with innovation, invention and inspiration. Left-field ideas have included winged keels, hydrofoils, leg-powered cyclors and a host of funky-looking test boats. Credit: Harry KH / INEOS Team UK

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Prada Cup

The challenger selection series in which all six syndicates will race in a round-robin format before a knockout phase and best-of-13 final to determine which team will take on the Kiwis in the America’s Cup match. Credit: Olivier Morin / AFP/ Getty Images

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Queen Victoria

Britain's Queen Victoria was in Cowes, UK to watch the original 1851 race. She reportedly asked who came second. The reply, which has become the essence of the America's Cup, was said to be: "Your majesty, there is no second." Credit: Leonello Bertolucci / Getty Images

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Traditionally a rich person’s playground, big-bucks backers include railroad executive Harold Vanderbilt, tea baron Thomas Lipton, CNN founder Ted Turner, Oracle chief Larry Ellison and Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli. Now the UK's richest man Jim Ratcliffe is bankrolling the Brits. Credit: FPG / Getty Images

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Following the death of Andrew Simpson in 2013, safety is paramount. Warp speeds and wipeouts call for helmets, life vests, emergency oxygen and knives to cut away rigging after a capsize, while rescue divers follow in chase boats. Credit: Amory Ross / NYYC American Magic

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From wooden to carbon fiber boats, winged keels to foiling catamarans, and artificial intelligence analysing thousands of terabytes of data in real time, technology is a cornerstone of the Cup. Credit: Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty Images

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United States

The competition has been dominated by US syndicates ever since the first race in 1851. Of the following 34 editions, US yachts have featured in the America’s Cup match on all but three occasions (2000, 2003, 2007), winning 29 times. Credit: Noah Berger / AFP / Getty Images

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Foiling has upped the ante in the speed stakes with the AC50s racing across Bermuda’s Great Sound at more than 50 knots (nearly 60mph). Computer models suggest the AC75s for 2021 could be even faster yet. Credit: Clive Mason / Getty Images

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It’s been a man’s world for most of its history, barring the mostly all-female crew of Mighty Mary in the 1995 US trials, but Dutchwoman Carolijn Brouwer could become the first female helm in 2021, racing for DutchSail. Credit: Jesus Renedo / Volvo Ocean Race

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X factor

To win the America’s Cup you need the budget, the boat, the designers, the sailors, the shore team and luck. Even then, it helps to have some X-factor. Credit: Clive Mason / Getty Images

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Yacht clubs

Each syndicate represents a host yacht club, all prestigious institutions with blazers aplenty. Think New York Yacht Club, Great Britain’s Royal Yacht Squadron, or the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Credit: ETNZ / Carlo Borlenghi

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The America’s Cup is the pinnacle of inshore sail racing, the Formula 1 of yachting. Rooted in history, it embraces the technology of the future and is one of the most coveted prizes in sport. Credit: Simon Watts / Getty Images


  • Words by Rob Hodgetts
  • Design and Development Brad Yendle, Byron Manley, Mark Oliver and Henrik Pettersson
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