Each year brings a pivotal sporting event which grabs the attention of the nation for the duration of the event. For the next two years it will be Japan with the Rugby World Cup later this year and the Olympic Games in Tokyo during July and August 2020.
The summer of 2021 will bring the world sporting spotlight to New Zealand, with the world’s oldest major sporting trophy being contested in the waters surrounding our biggest city.
The circus known as the America's Cup will be sailed in the City of Sails, Auckland for a third occasion. Derided by many as a rich man’s sport, the unique sailing event will manage to mesmerize our nations sporting public.
The Americas Cup is essentially a trophy awarded to the winner of a number of match races between two sailing yachts. One yacht is known as the defender and represents the yacht club that currently holds the America’s Cup and the second yacht is known as the challenger. On the way to the America’s Cup decider, is a challenger series, to find the boat to sail off for the America’s Cup.
The Cup was first contested in 1851 as a race around the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom, which was won by the schooner America, from which the trophy took its name.
New Zealand first sailed for the America's Cup in the waters off Freemantle in West Australia, in the 1987/88 challenger series. Australia had brought the time-honoured sailing silverware to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time, four years previously, with Australia II.
While billions have been thrown at winning the "Auld Mug" over the years, the first Kiwi America’s Cup foray was very much David verses Goliath. While we lacked Cup experience, we are a country of sailors by the nature of the water around us, with the (Sir) Michael Fay backed campaign reaching and losing the challenger series to Denis Connor and Stars and Stripes, who went on to take the Cup back to the United Sates.
In 1988, Michael Fay fought a contentious legal battle to win the right to a direct challenge recognised as the Deed of Gift. Known as the Big Boat Challenge, the huge New Zealand boat KZ1, now stands on the Auckland waterfront as a monument to that unique challenge. Michael Fay's last throw of the dice came in 1992 in San Diego, where he was again beaten in the Louis Vuitton Cup final.
In 1995, Team New Zealand led by Sir Peter Blake picked up the Kiwi America’s Cup challenger mantle. Who can forget the song "Sailing Away" as Team New Zealand did just that to bring the Cup to New Zealand.
Success against Luna Rosa in 2000 in Auckland mesmerized the nation, before Alinghi took the Cup home in 2003.
In 2007 Team New Zealand were in Valencia, to try and bring the Cup back home again, winning the Louis Vuitton Challenger series before tasting defeat again to Alinghi, courtesy of a 5-2 deficit.
San Francisco in 2013 saw the sailing action ratcheted up several notches with the emergence of foiling catamarans, which could reach a fearsome fifty knots with the wind at their backs. This writer was there to witness a little of the challenger action, with the boats all but flying in the San Fran breezes. How the New Zealand challenge lost from an 8-1 lead, is one of the great mysteries of our time and I am yet to be convinced that there wasn't some skullduggery involved by the Oracle camp.
Bermuda in 2017 was payback time, as Oracle was thumped 7-1 to bring the America's Cup back to New Zealand.
We can now look forward to all the America's Cup intrigue, drama and high octane action on the water, returning with a new class of foiling monohulls, taking centre stage in Auckland in 2021.