America's Cup- The Rich Man's Sport


Captains of industry turned competitive yachtsmen is nothing new in the exclusive world of the rich and famous.

In 1851, steamship ferry owner John Stevens and a group of wealthy businessmen representing the New York Yacht Club defeated the best of the English fleet in a sailing race around the Isle of Wight.

The winners took home a ewer-shaped cup and through a deed of gift, declared the prize a “challenge trophy” for promoting friendly competition among nations.

The America’s Cup was born.

Fast forward 159 years, tech billionaire Larry Ellison sailed-off with the America’s Cup trophy in 2010 after successfully challenging Alinghi, a racing syndicate led by Swiss pharmaceutical mogul, Ernesto Bertarelli.

Yacht racing is as much a test of fund raising and management expertise as it is sailing skill and boat design. The catalog of ocean-going racers reads like a who’s who list in business and finance.

Thomas Lipton, founder of Lipton tea, was the most persistent challenger of the America’s Cup, throwing the sailing gauntlet five times from 1899-1930 on his vessel the Shamrock. He never managed to hoist the trophy.

Fellow Brit and co-founder of Hawker Aircraft, Thomas Sopwith, picked up the challenge with his Endeavor (photo above) following Lipton’s string of unsuccessful runs. Sopwith lost twice to American Harold Vanderbilt, an executive-heir to his family’s railroad fortune.

Representing the New York Yacht Club, members of the Vanderbilt family won the America’s Cup multiple times. Industry titans John Forbes and JP Morgan successfully defended the Cup as well, both on behalf of the same prestigious club.

Unlike governing bodies that regulate competitions in organizations such as the Olympics and FIFA, the America’s Cup sits in a class of its own. 

The terms and conditions of each race- date, location, boat types, etc.- are set by the defender and agreed to by a challenger.

Whether by design or tradition, the process is akin to businessmen cutting a deal.

Underpinning the framework for racing the Cup is the original deed of gift, held in trust by New York’s Supreme Court. The document has only been revised three times over the course of its storied history.  Legal spats between racing tycoons have occasionally sent the document to the New York court of appeals for interpretation.

After 132 years and 25 challenges, the America’s Cup trophy left the U.S. for the first time in 1983 when Australian business magnate Alan Bond claimed the race and whisked the trophy away to its new home at the Royal Perth Yacht Club.

It was Bond’s fourth shot as a challenger, which he finally won with the Australia II. Earlier, one of his victorious opponents was future CNN founder,Ted Turner, who skippered the Courageous when he took the Cup in 1977.

Bond’s greater than life stature suffered when he declared bankruptcy in 1992 and was convicted and imprisoned for financial fraud.

Due to its popularity among racers, efforts and appeals have been made to lower the cost of the America’s Cup competition by introducing smaller boats and less expensive designs.

Though by its very nature, the America’s Cup will always be a rich man’s sport.


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's


View larger Puzzle archive


10 years ago

BASKETBALL February 20, 2010  Kirk Hinrich of the Chicago Bulls breaks a franchise record, scoring his 771st three-point field goal and clearing the 770 mark set by Ben Gordon. Coming out of the University of Kansas, Hinrich put in stints with the Bulls, Wizards and Hawks during his NBA career from 2003-2016. He was a member of Team USA when they won bronze at the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan.

20 years ago

HOCKEY February 15, 2000  NJ Devils’ Martin Brodeur becomes the first ever NHL goalie to receive credit for a game-winning goal. Facing the Flyers, he was the last Devil to touch the puck before it went into the opponent’s net when one of the Flyers’ own players accidentally scored his own goal. Considered one of the best goalies of all time, Brodeur won 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals representing Canada.

30 years ago

MOTOR RACING February 18, 1990  Derrike Cope wins the 32nd edition of the Daytona 500 stock car race. Driving a Chevrolet for the Whitcomb Racing team and winning his first NASCAR chase, Cope beat out runner-up Terry Labonte and third place finisher Bill Elliott. Dale Earnhardt led the pack for 155 laps, or ¾ of the race and came short towards the end when his car ran over a piece of metal on the track, shredding his right rear tire.

40 years ago

OLYMPICS February 15, 1980  American Eric Heiden wins the 500 meter speed skating race at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. The Wisconsin native wrapped up the tournament with a total of 5 gold medals, including the 500, 1000, 1500, 5000, and 10000 meter chases. Heiden broke 4 Olympic records and 1 world record in the competitions and is considered the best overall athlete- sprint and long- in the sport’s history.