It’s that time again. Every four years the world is graced with a high-budget, high-drama, winner-takes-all race; we’re talking billionaires, legal disputes and copious amounts of rigging. No, it’s not the American Presidential Election, but you’re not far off – welcome, everyone, to the 36th America’s Cup!
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, here’s a quick update: the America’s Cup (or the Auld Mug, if you want to sound bougie) is the world’s most illustrious sailing regatta, where a defender (that’s us!) races against the winner of the Challenger series in a best of eight series for the Cup. Emirates Team New Zealand won it off the Americans in Bermuda back in 2017 despite confusing their boat for a bicycle. Trying to take it off them, having beaten the flying Americans and the failing Brits, is Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (try saying that 3 times fast!).
The Cup has come a long way since a team of rich New Yorkers bullied a local English regatta into relinquishing their trophy. For over 100 years, the America’s Cup was a fiercely even and fair competition, with the New York Yacht club only just managing to defend the cup 25 races in a row.
That all changed in the 1980s, with Australia finally taking it off the Yankees only to give it straight back to San Diego and then New Zealand being defeated by the New York Supreme Court just a few years later. Undeterred, the Kiwis battled back to win in 1995 and became the first team outside America to defend the cup, holding off the Italians in 2000 and entrenching our position at the forefront of sailing.
However, our reign was brought down by, of all places, Switzerland. That’s right – a landlocked country on the top of a mountain, famed not for its sailing prowess, but for its banks. Filled with famous Swiss sailors such as Sir Russell Coutts (born Wellington, 1962), Brad Butterworth (Te Awamutu, 1959), Murray Jones (Lower Hutt, 1957) and Simon Daubney (I think they got the point, Josh), Alinghi returned the Cup to Europe for the first time since the 19th century, and New Zealand failed to take it back in 2007.
Due to a legal stoush between Alinghi and the Americans, New Zealand wasn’t even invited to the next one which seemed like it would be a long time before Auckland would see the Cup again. But in 2013, Team New Zealand worked out how to get their catamaran flying on a foil and changed the America’s Cup forever. Just take a moment here. These boats weigh tonnes, and they are all but off the water in a light breeze – absolutely incredible.
What would follow would be the most bitterly fought regatta in America’s Cup history. The Kiwi boat, with its superior upwind performance, flew out to an 8-1 lead in San Francisco. ETNZ would have even won the Mug if not for the wind and some very suspect rules cancelling Race 12, leaving New Zealand’s dream stranded more than 2 kilometres ahead and a fraction of that from the line. There it would stay. Oracle Team USA, led by Australian Jimmy Spithill, made some mysterious change to their boat overnight which suddenly, magically even, made their boat impossible to beat. They would go on to win 9-8, with Spithill’s villain status in New Zealand secured and a nation’s dream of sticking it to tech giant Larry Ellison brutally crushed.
Enter Peter Burling and his cycling team. The Olympic champion sailor shook off the pain of 2013 (taxpayer money does wonders for that), navigated nosedives, biased rules, and Sweden for the chance to avenge the nation’s wounded pride. Unfazed by Spithill’s aggression on the water and the truckloads of money being thrown at Oracle Team USA, Burling spun circles around the poor Australian with the extra power and control the cycle-grinders provided him on his way to bring the Auld Mug home.
So now, to Auckland. Luna Rossa have proven themselves every bit as litigious, well-financed and just generally shitty as Oracle before; but beyond that, they are a very slick sailing side. They’re led by the man himself, Jimmy Spithill, who has talked about his “many sleepless nights” since Bermuda – probably due to the weight of all that California tech money – and will be determined to take the Cup to Italy.
The America’s Cup – come watch these manifestations of the forefront of technology, funded by enough money to lift thousands of people out of poverty, sail for a week over a mug with a hole in the bottom. Yes, it may be the most striking symbol of all that is wrong with the world; but hey, at least it’s fun?