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The America's Cup and Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK

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The biggest sailing event of Summer 2001 was the America's Cup Jubilee. This was a celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the oldest sailing race, the America's Cup, the race which took place on 22 August, 1851.

The Origins of the America

In 1851, after the first world fair at the Crystal Palace, London, John C Stevens, commodore and founder of the newly-formed New York Yacht Club, formed a syndicate to finance a new boat to demonstrate that American yachts were a match for those of the British. A challenge was sent from the newly formed New York Yacht Club regarding a race, which was accepted, and a specially designed race boat was built by George Steers.

George Steers was a 30-year-old pilot cutter designer, and was hired to create the fastest yacht afloat in the world. As part of the contract, if the yacht he designed failed to beat any other American yacht in a race, the New York Yacht Club did not have to take delivery.

The America was built at the William H Brown shipyard on the East River. Reflecting the general spirit of confidence that inspired the whole undertaking, Brown somewhat rashly agreed to take the yacht back if she didn't beat anything afloat in America or abroad. Hearing of the project, the Earl of Wilton, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, formally invited Stevens to bring his vessel to the Royal Squadron's Headquarters at Cowes, Isle of Wight.

Although the America's fine lines, good looks and flat sails drew admiration, she did not fulfil the design brief. Pitted against Stevens' own 110ft centreboard sloop, Maria, the America was out-sailed. Clearly, she was not the 'fastest yacht afloat', as some legends have since portrayed her.

She was, however, accepted by the syndicate for $20,000 instead of the original price of $30,000, and was then sailed across the Atlantic to Cowes.

The Cup

The America's Cup was, in 1848, designed in London by jeweller Robert Garrard as a stock item. The trophy was purchased by the first Marquess of Anglesey, who presented it to the Royal Yacht Squadron as a racing trophy. In 1851, the 100 Guinea Cup (also known as The Squadron Cup, which was actually a jug, or more specifically a ewer) was to be the prize in the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta, whoever won it would have outright ownership for all time.

The Race

After arriving in Cowes on the Island, the America entered into the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta in an East-abouts round-the-Island race for the prize of The Squadron Cup.

On 22 August, at 9:55am, 14 yachts (six schooners and eight cutters) prepared for the round-the-Island race. They ranged in size - from 47 tons to 392 tons - and type, yet unlike today, no handicaps applied. The race began with all the competitors anchored and with the sails down.

The race was to sail around the Island clockwise, keeping the Island starboard at all times. It was ruled that the ships would, on the Easternmost point, sail on the outside of the Nab Lightship (now replaced by the Nab Tower) in order to avoid being grounded on the dangerous ledges nearby. However, when the America, which was in fifth place, approached this point, instead of sailing around the Lightship as the other vessels did, sailed inside, therefore taking a short-cut against the rules, taking the lead. Several of the best British boats dealt themselves out of the race, one by running aground, another by standing by in case of need, and two others by colliding with each other.

From then on, the America was able to maintain the position it had unfairly won, and returned to Cowes first triumphant, in just under 11 hours. Aurora, the smallest boat taking part, was second across the line, only eight minutes behind America. Had handicaps applied, Aurora would easily have beaten America.

Despite protests from the ships which sailed the correct course, the America was judged to be the winner, and the competition has been known as the America's Cup ever since.

Aftermath of the Race

The America failed to repeat her success in the Queen's Cup race held two days later on 24 August, where she finished second.

Yet, having made their point in the round-the-Island-race, the American owners displayed little sentiment towards the America, or the Cup she had won. Stevens and his partners initially considered melting down the trophy and using the 132 ounces of silver to make medals for themselves.

Fortunately, they resisted this temptation. Instead, the trophy took up residence at the New York Yacht Club, taking the name of the schooner that had won it and occupying a place of honour in a specially designed room off the main lobby of the club's headquarters. The New York Yacht Club was given the trophy as a 'Deed of Gift', and was to be raced for by foreign nations in friendly competition through a recognised yacht club.

The America

On display during the America's Cup Jubilee, yet not racing, is an exact replica of the America. What, then, happened to the original?

After winning the first race, the New York Yacht Club decided to make the most out of her reputation, and to make back the money they had invested in her, by selling her in 1851 for an unspecified sum to Lord John de Blaquiere and then to Mr J Rills, who re-named her Camilla.

During the American Civil War, the Camilla returned to America, and was renamed The Memphis, and served as a racer, cruiser and blockade runner in the US Navy.

In 1873, General Benjamin F Butler bought her from the Navy Department and restored her name to America. General Benjamin Butler was a member of the Boston Yacht Club, and was later Governor of Massachusetts and even a Presidential candidate. For over 27 years America flew the Boston Yacht Club burgee1 while she was actively campaigned in by Butler and, after his death, his nephew until she was decommissioned in 1901.

By 1941, she was stored in a shed in Annapolis, Maryland, until one winter a heavy snowfall caused the shed to collapse and destroy her. Although many parts of the America still exist, the yacht was never re-built, although many replicas have been.

The replica that was in Cowes for the America's Cup Jubilee helped begin the Jubilee by firing a single gun as a return salute to the Royal Yacht Squadron's cannon.

The Royal Yacht Squadron

Racing at Cowes is believed to have started with smugglers and the customs men, and then developed into a game when fishing boats and pilot cutters vied to show off their skills.

In 1776, Naval vessels competed at Cowes, in 1788, cutters raced annually around the Island, and by 1811, the Duke of Gloucester gambled on the results. On 1 June, 1815, a group of men who enjoyed racing around Cowes decided to form the Yacht Club. The Earl of Yarborough, later first Commodore of the Yacht Club, welcomed the Prince Regent as a member in 1817. In 1820, when the Prince Regent became George IV, Royal was added to the name. In 1826, the Club took to organising racing as a principal feature of the annual regatta, held since 1812, and in 1829 the Admiralty issued a warrant to wear what is now the Navy's white ensign.

When in 1833 William IV invited members to form a Naval Volunteer Force, it became the Royal Yacht Squadron known today and housed in Cowes Castle.

It was the Royal Yacht Squadron which gave the challenge that was to become the America's Cup in 1851. In 1858, Emperor Napoleon III joined the Squadron, and many other Kings, Queens and other rulers have joined.

Membership of the Squadron is very exclusive - once, the owner of a 150-ton schooner who had hoped to be allowed to enter, when hearing of not being allowed, dropped anchor off the Royal Yacht Squadron and threatened to fire on the building unless he received an apology from whoever it was who had black-balled him. After negotiations, an apology was received, and he sailed away content.

Cowes Castle - Home of the Royal Yacht Squadron

The home of the Royal Yacht Squadron on the Isle of Wight is a Castle with battlements and a round tower. As well as the Royal Yacht Squadron's history of yachting, Cowes Castle has a history in its own right.

King Henry VIII left the Catholic church in 1538, creating a very serious threat of invasion. The Pope encouraged traditional enemies Francis I of France and Emperor Charles V of Spain to invade and attack. Although internal affairs in both nations prevented them from invading straight away, the threat remained. Four castles were built on the Isle of Wight; Sandown, East Cowes Castle, West Cowes Castle, and Yarmouth.

In 1540, the Earl of Southampton took a boat into the Solent to note where the wind and tide influenced ships, and from this determined the sites of Calshot Castle, East Cowes Castle2 and West Cowes Castle, or Cowes Castle as it is known today.

Using stone from the dissolved Abbeys of Quarr and Beaulieu, Thomas Bertie, Henry's Master Mason who also built Calshot, constructed a small, round, two-storey tower with wings. These were two single storey wings to the east and west, as a semi-circular gun platform, forming a 'D' to the front with a rectangular walled ditch to the back. The platform, the roofs of the tower and wings were pierced for cannon, and it was armed with 11 guns, as well as bows and arrows.

John Leland wrote in 1545:

The two Great Cowes that in loud thunder roar,
This on the eastern, that on the western shore.

Only once did its cannon fire in anger; during the English Civil War in 1642. Now its cannon, which originally belonged to William IV's yacht Royal Adelaide, fire to start yachtsmen in their races.

In 1650, Sir William D'Avenant3 was held in Cowes Castle. He was the godson of William Shakespeare, and rumours at the time suggested that he was Shakespeare's son. He had been captured by Cromwell's Navy in the Channel, carrying weavers liberated from France to Virginia, and was imprisoned for high treason. While in Cowes Castle he spent his time profitably by writing Gondibert.

In 1716, most of the round tower was demolished. A new wall was built across the centre of the old tower, decorated with windows. Further alterations took place in the 18th Century. Most changes took place after the lease was transferred to the Squadron in 1855. Anthony Salvin, who had worked at Alnwick and Scotney Castles, was given the job of improving the Castle.

Salvin added the platform, the western tower, and even a ballroom. The Squadron bought the Castle and grounds from the Crown in 1917. The next major alterations were achieved in 1964, when Prince Philip was Commodore. The Club was able to acquire stone for this from the demolition of the second East Cowes Castle, built by John Nash. The Balcony was added in 'Festival of Britain' style.

Little remains of Henry's Castle except the low semi-circular gun platform and the racing mark off Old Castle Point.

The America's Cup 150th Jubilee

The America's Cup Jubilee was a celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the oldest sailing race, the around-the-Island race that took place on August 22nd, 1851. This race was won by the yacht America. In order to celebrate this anniversary, the America's Cup Jubilee Regatta took place, attracting over 200 of the world's most beautiful yachts.

With a mutual desire to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first race for the America's Cup, the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron, planned a celebration through the gathering of as many of the yachts and personalities, both past and present, for a week of racing and festivities in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Only six countries in the world have ever successfully reached the finals to compete for the America's Cup; these are, in alphabetical order:
Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, New Zealand and the USA.

However, over 50 yacht clubs have challenged for the Cup. Entry was opened to all yachts from modern IMS boats to the classic yacht scene, as long as the individual boats were at least 40 feet in length.

Of the over 50 clubs more than 30 have accepted the challenge and 208 boats entered for the America's Cup Jubilee. Entries were spread across five classes and with an average length of 72 feet overall.

Racing on the water took place over six days, the highlight of which was the re-enactment of the original race of 22 August, 1851.

Yachts Hitch-hiking to the Jubilee

The Dock Express, a 460ft long semi-submersible ship, is designed to flood flotation banks in order to lower itself into the water. Ships are then able to sail into her hold, and then she rises out of the water, carrying her aquatic contents high and dry across the world, to her destination where, once again, she sinks. She is able to carry several dozen large yachts in her dry-dock in safety across the world.

The Yachts

Yachts that have competed in or won the America's Cup raced at Cowes for the Jubilee, including:

  • America - An exact replica of the original America, the yacht which started it all.

  • Partridge - Which, despite not having raced for the America's Cup itself, was designed in 1885 by J Beavor Webb, who designed the America's Cup Challengers of 1885 and 1886, Genesta and Galatea.

  • Shamrock V - The 1930 Irish Challenger. Lost 4-0. Oldest of the three surviving J class boats, Shamrock V was build for Sir Thomas Lipton's fifth and final challenge for the America's Cup.

  • Endeavour - Britain's almost-successful J-Class 1934 Challenge4. First of Sir Thomas Sopwith's Cup challengers, and the boat that came closest to winning the Cup before Australia II.

  • Columbia - America's 1958 Defender. A 12-metre class built of wood, she was the first defender after the competition revived after World War II.

  • Sceptre - Britain's 1958 Challenger - Lost to Columbia. The British first 12-metre class challenger.

  • Sovereign - Britain's 1964 challenger.

  • Intrepid - The American defender of 1967 and 1970. The second boat to successfully defend the America's Cup twice.

  • Lionheart - From Britain's unsuccessful 1979 GBR Challenge.

  • Freedom - The American defender of 1980.

  • Australia II - The victorious Australian challenger from 1983.

  • Crusader - From Britain's 1987 America's Cup Challenge.

  • Kookaburra III - The 1987 Australian defender of the America's Cup.

  • America3 - Won the 1992 America's Cup Challenge against Italy

  • Il Moro5 - In 1992, lost to America3.

  • Black Magic - New Zealand's 1995 successful challenger and the second boat to win the Cup away from America.

  • Luna Rossa - The Italian 2000 challenger.

Australia II

The Australia II was taken, after a massive campaign to raise sponsorship money, specially out of a museum for the event, and crewed by the crew which won the cup back in 1987, including campaign promoter Alan Bond. This is the first time skipper John Betrand and his crew have sailed together since 1983.

Australia II was the first yacht to take the America's Cup away from the USA. Nicknamed 'The winged keeled wonder', she started a whole new trend in keel design. In the Jubilee, however, she failed to repeat her triumph - the 12-metre class race was won by her compatriot, Southern Australia.

The Prizes

Several unique and historic silver trophies were awarded. Including the Royal Yacht Squadron Trophy, won by King George V in Britannia in 1920, which was be awarded to the overall winner of the week. A locally made solid silver trophy, the Benzie Trophy, worth £48,000, was awarded to the boat with the shortest-elapsed time in the round-the-Island Race. This two-foot long trophy shows the America true to scale6, and was made by Will Souter and his team of craftsmen in the Benzie workshop in Cowes. It is believed that the Royal Yacht Squadron will present the trophy to round-the-Island record makers.

Other prizes for the winning 12-metre yacht, best J-class yacht, best classic and Vintage yacht and other prizes were awarded daily.

The America's Cup itself was present. Current holders, New Zealand, displayed it, guarded by a Maori escort. Commodore Peter Taylor of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron unfairly commented, 'This is the only way the cup will get back to Cowes'.

Races And Results

On the Tuesday, the fleet of 201 yachts took place in the east-abouts round-the-Island race in a recreation of the original race. The first ship back, and winner of the Benzie Trophy, was the 92ft Stealth, owned by Fiat and Ferrari boss Gianni Angnelli, after 4 hours, 48 minutes. She was built across the Solent in Lymington by Green Marine back in 1996. Signor Agnelli will be able to retain a replica of the trophy.

Second place was Mari Cha II, followed by Morning Glory, and Skandia Lepoard, the yacht which set a new round-the-Island monohull record of 4 hours and 5 minutes in this year's Hoya Round-The-Island Race, came fourth.

The GBR Challenge campaign also proved it is able to win, as in its first races, the newly-formed GBR Challenge team beat both the cup holders New Zealand, the American team and last-time's challengers Italy. In the Round-the-Island Race, GBR Challenge's GBR52 beat Italy's Luna Rossa in a neck-and-neck race to the finish line.

The winner of the J-Class races was Endeavour, at last receiving the victory it so thoroughly deserved since 1934. Other winners of their individual classes included Freedom, South Australia, Sovereign, as well as local yacht Gandalf Wight Sorceror.

Overall in the America's Cup Class, the two yachts came second and fourth, beating previous winners and challengers America3 and Il Moro. Luna Rossa came first, and current cup holders Team New Zealand, third. If the trainee crew can do so well on board practice yachts, there is a strong chance for them to win the America's Cup in 2003.

The Controversy: the Locals And the Loaded

The controversy that surrounded the America's Cup Jubilee, before it even started, is of a different matter. Island taxpayers paid for much of the regatta to be held, after the Isle of Wight Council was assured by the America's Cup Jubilee organisers that they intended local people to be able to get involved in all stages. From the start it was inevitable that the people who own the multi-million pound yachts that are taking part would be multi-millionaires. Yet despite receiving the money from Islanders, only dignitaries, sponsors and millionaires would be allowed to attend the ceremonies paid for by Islanders.

Chairman of the Events General Purpose Committee Felix Hetherington said, 'There is tremendous security with these things as there are a lot of extremely rich people.'

Apparently that means that anyone not a millionaire is able to pay for the ceremonies, but isn't worthy of attending them, or of being protected.

However, the list of the people who were on the Island is impressive, if you are the type to be impressed by people with large wallets. It included Royalty, such as Prince Philip and the Princess Royal of the United Kingdom, Prince Henrik of Denmark, King Juan Carlos of Spain, His Highness The Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad and grandson of the founder of the United Nations.

Other, mere millionaires, attending include Ted Turner, founder of the CNN news network and skipper of Courageous, the yacht which successfully defended the cup in 1977 against Alan Bond's Australia, another attendee who won the cup in 1983 with Australia II. Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of the millionaires is Bill Gates, who probably has the least nautical skill.

The Isle of Wight economy is believed to have made over £25,000,000 over the America's Cup Jubilee, with hotels across the Island, the mainland, and even cruise liners at anchor in the Solent as floating hotels. Multi-millionaire William Koch, who owns both America3, which he skippered to win the cup in 1992, and the Il Morro, the Italian Yacht that challenged it, decided to buy 31 bottles of Cognac, for a cost of £310,000.

Souvenirs of the event on sale include a limited edition of 20 half-sized solid silver America's Cups, costing £17,500 each, by the Royal Jewellers Aprey & Garrard, the jewellers which made the 100 Guinnea original in 1848. Or you could buy a hand-made model of some of the yachts that have raced for the Cup, starting at £1,000 each. Or you could go for a key ring for £2:50, or a hat or T-shirt.

GBR Challenge

GBR Challenge, Britain's first attempt at winning the America's Cup since 1987, is based at Cowes thanks to local Cowes Philanthropist Peter Harrison. Peter Harrison not only bought the former FBM boatyard site at Cowes, but also Japan's three America's Cup Class Yachts from its unsuccessful 2000 challenge to use as practice yachts, two of which took place in the America's Cup Jubilee.

Among the GBR team is Olympic medalist Andy Beadsworth, Olympic silver medalist Ian Walker and Olympic medal winning rowers Greg Searle and Ian Weighell provide extra muscle.

The former derelict boatyard in Cowes has been transformed, as the yacht which will actually make the challenge (at the time of writing) is being designed and will be constructed for a launch date in April. Gym facilities have also been installed to keep the Olympic Gold medalists in shape. After the America's Cup, the site is to be developed into a centre of marine excellence for building and maintaining large yachts.

The new GBR Challenge yacht will then sail to New Zealand in June for the Louis Vuitton BriCup series, the winner of which will challenge New Zealand for the America's Cup in 2003.

Related H2G2 Links

1A triangular flag flown on a yacht denoting ownership.2East Cowes Castle was abandoned only seven years after it was finished, and no longer exists.3Poet Laureate after Ben Jonson; his Siege Of Rhodes was the first English opera to be performed.4Despite being sailed by an amateur crew after the professionals went on strike, Endeavour was defeated only after a disputed controversial manoeuvre. It was captained by Sir Thomas Sopwith, designer of Britain's Great War aircraft. The New York Journal at the time reported on this challenge with the Headline 'Britannia rules the Waves but the New York Yacht Club Waives the Rules'.5Also known as Il Moro Di Venezia V.6Based on drawings of the America made by Admiralty draughtsmen when she was in Portsmouth dockyard, the trophy is 1/60th of the America's size.

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