May 11, 2020

America's Cup Defenders and Challengers Timeline: why selection series matter

How many vessels fought each year just for the chance to compete for the America's Cup?

by Steve Tsuchiya

The New York Yacht Club (NYYC) successfully defended the America’s Cup 24 straight times from 1870 to 1980—the longest winning streak in competitive sporting history.

The NYYC’s practice of holding defender selection trials, starting in 1881, was one of the keys to their success. The Club’s America’s Cup Committee organized races to evaluate and select the best yacht to defend the Cup.

These trials honed the defender-candidate’s sailing and tactical skills, and, most importantly, allowed the strongest team the opportunity to defend the Cup time and time again. For example, the trials ensured the powerful duo of yacht designer Nathanael G. Herreshoff and manager C. Oliver Iselin would always have the opportunity to compete for the right to defend the Cup; that duo were 4-0, defending the Cup in 1893, 1895, 1899, and 1903.

After World War II, the 12-Metre era brought a rise in numbers of contenders for the Cup. Easier global travel in the Jet Age combined with a rule change that stated competing vessels could be shipped to the competition site (as opposed to having to travel there on their own bottoms) increased the number of challengers for the Cup - so much so that by the 1960s, challengers had to wait in line for the chance to challenge the NYYC. This led to the first official intra-national challenger selection series in 1964. And, in 1970, the series went international.

Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond’s relentless and well-managed team earned the right to challenge the NYYC four straight times, from 1974 to 1983. Bond’s AUSTRALIA II finally won the Cup in 1983, breaking the New York Yacht Club’s incredible winning streak. Since then, no yacht club has defended the Cup for more than two consecutive America's Cup challenges.

If you'd like to learn more, check out our America's Cup Hall of Fame page. There you can explore our America's Cup Database to search for the names every crew member who has raced since the Cup's inception, news and updates about Hall of Fame Inductees, and a details about every Cup winner since 1851.

Steve Tsuchiya is an independent scholar, collector, and HMM "Chartographer-in-Residence." He is also a member of the HMM Collections Committee and the America's Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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