Australia’s win, 1983
The America’s Cup is the world’s premier yachting trophy. In 1983 Australia II made the first successful challenge to US dominance since the cup was won by the schooner America in 1851. Some nautical New Zealanders sensed an opportunity to take it from the Australians.
Presenting the challenge
Preparing for the competition involved many top sailors, designers and builders, raised public awareness and enthusiasm, and put New Zealand’s yachting prowess in the international spotlight for many years.
Unsuccessful challenges, 1987–1992
New Zealand’s first challenge in 1987 was mounted by a group led by merchant banker Michael Fay at Fremantle, Western Australia. The radical fibreglass yacht, New Zealand, did well in the preliminaries but was beaten in the finals of the Louis Vuitton challenger series by the US Stars and Stripes. Sailed by the inimitable Dennis Conner, Stars and Stripes went on to take the cup back to America.
In 1988 another challenge was fought out in San Diego by two freakish boats – New Zealand’s enormous KZ1 and an equally inappropriate catamaran helmed by Conner. The ensuing court battles served only to forge agreement that an appropriate class of yacht should be used in the future.
The 1992 challenge in San Diego resulted in a narrow defeat of the New Zealand boat NZL20 by the Italians in the challenger finals, and the cup remained in the US.
San Diego success, 1995
In 1995 there were two Kiwi boats at San Diego, Chris Dickson’s NZL39 and Black Magic, skippered by Russell Coutts for Team New Zealand led by Peter Blake. Black Magic lost only one of 43 races, led round all 30 marks in the finals series, and trounced Dennis Conner's Young America 5–0.
Sock it to ’em
During the 1995 finals of the America’s Cup in San Diego, syndicate leader Peter Blake wore red socks which he believed brought good luck. Caught up in the enthusiasm of the finals series, many New Zealanders donned red socks.
By the turn of the century the radio yachting reporter, Pete Montgomery, was a household name, and the base for the teams at Auckland’s Viaduct Basin proved a major attraction.
The defence of the cup in Auckland in 2000 was a clean-sweep victory for Russell Coutts and NZL60. The key team members then split up very publicly so that, for the second defence in 2003, the spark had gone out of Team New Zealand.
Team New Zealand’s defender had serious structural problems and the Swiss Alinghi, which was skippered by Coutts, took the cup.
In 2007 Team New Zealand again competed for the America’s Cup. The team won the challengers’ Louis Vuitton Cup but was defeated by Alinghi in the finals, 5–2. It was a very close contest, with the last race lost by just one second.
San Francisco, 2013
In 2010 Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle racing team lodged a deed-of-gift challenge to the Alinghi syndicate and defeated Alinghi in a best-of-three series. The Oracle team chose to sail the 2013 cup in San Francisco Bay in revolutionary and very fast catamarans. Emirates Team New Zealand’s boat Aotearoa, skippered by Dean Barker, easily won the Louis Vuitton challenger series. The New Zealand team were leading Oracle 8–1 and on the brink of victory before Oracle, with radical changes to their boat and improved crew work, came storming back to win the next eight races and retain the cup 9–8. Many of the sophisticated components on both boats had been made in New Zealand.
Oracle defended the America’s Cup on Bermuda’s Great Sound in 2017, racing smaller catamarans with six-man crews. These were able to foil continuously (keep their hulls out of the water at all times) and attained freakish speeds. Aided by innovative ‘cyclors’, who replaced traditional grinders as the source of power for trimming the sails and other manoeuvres, New Zealand – helmed by Rio Olympic champion yachtsman Peter Burling – comfortably won the Louis Vuitton Cup before trouncing Oracle 7–1 to regain the Auld Mug.
With Peter Burling again at the helm, Emirates Team New Zealand successfully defended the trophy in 2021 in Auckland, winning the America’s Cup series against Italy’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli 7–3. The crews sailed spectacular 75-foot foiling monohulls which exceeded 50 knots (93 km/hr) in favourable conditions.