In 1851 a radical looking schooner ghosted out of the afternoon mist and swiftly sailed past the Royal Yacht stationed in the Solent, between the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England, on an afternoon when Queen Victoria was watching a sailing race.
As the schooner, named America, passed the Royal Yacht in first position, and saluted by dipping its ensign three times, Queen Victoria asked one of her attendants to tell her who was in second place.”Your Majesty, there is no second,” came the reply. That phrase, just four words, is still the best description of the America’s Cup, and how it represents the singular pursuit of excellence.
That day in August, 1851, the yacht America, representing the young New York Yacht Club, would go on to beat the best the British could offer and win the Royal Yacht Squadron’s 100 Pound Cup. This was more than a simple boat race however, as it symbolised a great victory for the new world over the old, a triumph that unseated Great Britain as the world’s undisputed maritime power.
The trophy would go to the young democracy of the United States and it would be well over 100 years before it was taken away from New York.
Shortly after America won the 100 Guinea Cup in 1851, New York Yacht Club Commodore John Cox Stevens and the rest of his ownership syndicate sold the celebrated schooner and returned home to New York as heroes. They donated the trophy to the New York Yacht Club under a Deed of Gift, which stated that the trophy was to be “a perpetual challenge cup for friendly competition between nations.”
Thus was born the America’s Cup, named after the winning schooner America, as opposed to the country.
The America’s Cup is without a doubt the most difficult trophy in sport to win. In the more than 150 years since that first race off England, only four nations have won what is often called the “oldest trophy in international sport.” For some perspective, consider that there had been nine contests for the America’s Cup before the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.