Bermuda Sets the Stage for the 35th America’s Cup

Need to Know | North America | By John Lansdell

With less than a hundred days to go until the 35th edition of the America’s Cup in Bermuda, all of us here at Butterfield & Robinson are eagerly anticipating some of the fastest racing on water as the best sailors in the world vie for the oldest trophy in international sport.

The race for the Auld Mug, as it’s affectionately known, began in 1851, predating the modern Olympics by 45 years. Some scrappy Yanks from the fledgling New York Yacht Club had the idea to take their schooner, christened America, across the pond to race for money, glory and bragging rights over the English.

Sailing against fifteen yachts from the Royal Yacht Squadron, America won, beating their closest competitor by a whopping eight minutes. (So much for British sea power.) A famous anecdote is often told concerning Queen Victoria, who witnessed the finish and inquired who came in second. The reply came: “Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second.” The silver trophy was thus named after its first claimant, the yacht America, not the country, although American teams have largely dominated the Cup’s 166-year history. Incredibly, this trophy has been held only by four nations.

Here’s a quick rundown of how the America’s Cup competition works. The current trophy bearer’s yacht is known as the defender, and the second yacht is known as the challenger who is competing to win the cup. Historically, there has only been one defender and one sole challenger, but in 1970, the rules were changed to allow multiple challengers for the Cup. Since 1983, Louis Vuitton has sponsored the Louis Vuitton Cup as a prize for the winner of the challenger selection series.

The history and prestige of this international race has long attracted wealthy investors, from Sir Thomas Lipton of English tea fame to Prada fashion boss Patrizio Bertelli and multi-billionaire software mogul Larry Ellison, whose Team Oracle USA syndicate is the defender of this year’s America’s Cup. Deep pockets are certainly required to be competitive at this level: with entry fees set at about $3 million, boats costing between $8 and $10 million, and staffing, administrative and legal costs, an America’s Cup campaign will set you back about $250 or $300 million.  

From Auld to New

Since the days of the Auld Mug, the America’s Cup races have increasingly become impressive feats of technology and engineering, combined with human skill as sailors race at top speed – to the tune of 47 knots, or more than 55 miles per hour. Yes, this is technically a sailing race on water, but thanks to technology and bladelike hydrofoils, these boats barely touch the surface of the water. They’re actually flying.

For each edition of the America’s Cup, each team is tasked with designing new boats from scratch, taking advantage of improvements in technology to create the fastest, most advanced racing yachts on the planet. Imagine impossibly sleek, futuristic carbon-hulled racing yachts outfitted with hydrofoils, going three times the speed of the wind; now imagine the split-second timing and decision-making that sailors need to make to tack and jibe their way to the finish. It’s all about speed and timing, but also human skill and teamwork that makes this race a thrilling one to watch.

All eyes on Bermuda

This year’s competition is set in Bermuda for the very first time—a fitting place, given its four centuries of seafaring history, as well as being the island where our founder, George Butterfield, grew up. From shipwrecked colony builders to Spanish explorers, pirates, the invention of the Bermuda sloop (the basis of design for all modern sailing yachts), pink sand beaches and the notorious Bermuda Triangle, this British overseas territory has long woven its story with that of the sea. Needless to say, we’re looking forward to this storied competition to give us a glimpse of both the history and the future of sailing at Bermuda’s Great Sound this June.

Photography credit: Team Oracle image Dan Gray via Flickr