The 34th America’s Cup is currently taking place in San Francisco.
It’s known as much for controversy, complex rules, courtroom wrangles and rich men posturing as it is for cutting edge design, world class sailors and absorbing racing.
Emirates Team New Zealand and Italy’s Luna Rossa are sailing in the Louis Vuitton Cup Final to determine who will challenge the defender Oracle for ‘The Auld Mug’ next month.
Using revolutionary high speed 72ft multi-hulls known as AC72s with rigid ‘wing’ sails and hydrofoils to lift the hulls clear of the water, has created drama, controversy and tragedy dubbed ‘The Fiasco in Frisco!’
The America’s Cup’s is the oldest active trophy in International Sport. Originally awarded in 1851 by the Royal Yacht Club for a race around the Isle of Wight. It has was won by the scooner ‘America’, renamed ‘The America’s Cup’ and donated to the New York Yacht Club under the terms of the Deed of Gift, which made it available for perpetual international competition. And there it stayed, from 1857 until 1983 when ‘Australia II’ skippered by John Bertrand came from behind to beat Dennis Connor’s ‘Liberty’ 4-3 in the best-of-seven format, ending the biggest winning streak in the history of sport.
In spite of being the first defending helmsman to be defeated in the 132 year history of the cup, Connor won it back in 1987, beating Australia’s ‘Kookaburra III’ off Freemantle for the San Diego Yacht Club. Hosted by the Royal Perth Yacht Club, the series was also notable for New Zealand’s entry, a fibreglass hulled boat, helmed by Chris Dickson, nicknamed ‘plastic fantastic’.
‘Mr Americas Cup’ Conner became ‘Dirty Dennis’ when he accused Team New Zealand of cheating. Core samples were taken and the New Zealand was cleared and declared within the rules.
Conner however went on to win the Challenger series over New Zealand in the Louis Vuitton Final before winning the Cup itself against the defending Aussies.
New Zealand’s syndicate head, Sir Michael Fay lodged a successful challenge to the New York Supreme Court by the Mercury Bay Yacht Club. In 1988, New Zealand’s gigantic 90ft boat sailed off against Conner’s catamaran, which the court ruled unfair and awarded the Cup to New Zealand. This was overturned on appeal.
Team New Zealand finally triumphed on the water in 1995 with ‘Black Magic’ (NZL32) in San Diego, skippered by Russell Coutts, they defeated Conners ‘Stars and Stripes’ 5-0.
The late Sir Peter Blake was the syndicate boss for the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.
Team New Zealand successfully defended the Cup in 1999-2000 against Prada, the first time it was contested without an American challenger or defender.
My ‘Black Magic’ sketch was signed in San Diego, arranged by New Zealand’s legendary sailing commentator Pete Montgomery ‘The Voice’ of the America’s Cup. ‘PJ’ has covered every America’s Cup regatta since 1986. The signatures include Sir Peter Blake, Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth along with the crew of NZL32.
Both Dennis Conner and John Bertrand visited New Zealand in 2004 to compete in the Etchells National Championships, sailed off Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. Conner was the defending champion and Bertrand had won it the previous year. They renewed old rivalries and signed my respective sketches at the same time.