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History of the America’s Cup

Lipton Era Begins

1899 || 1901 || 1903 || 1920


1899 - Columbia Hands Shamrock, and Lipton, 2-0 Loss

This series marked the entrance of Sir Thomas Lipton (picutred right)—"Tea King"— onto the America’s Cup scene. But the outcome became a recurring nightmare for the beloved yachtsman from Britain. Lipton and his series of Shamrock sailboats—a tribute to his Irish heritage— challenged a record five times for what he affectionately termed the "Auld Mug," but left empty handed after each one. The third in the legendary line of Herreshoff sailboats was the 131-foot Columbia, which sported a fin keel and 90 tons of lead ballast. The William Fife-designed Shamrock was a quick boat, but proved no match for Columbia, which was skippered by the renowned Charlie Barr.

Copyright Mystic Seaport Museum, From the book America's Cup '95: The Official Record, published by Tehabi Books.


1901 - Columbia Repeats, Downing Shamrock |, 3-0

Nat Herreshoff’s Columbia proved faster than any newer designs and was selected to defend the Cup a second time. Lipton, on the other hand, commissioned George Watson to design the 137-foot Shamrock |, and with her 14,000 square feet of sail, she looked like a winner. But Columbia came from behind in all three races to take the series. The third race was the closest. Just two seconds separated the huge sloops as they crossed the finish line, but Columbia, the smaller of the two, had 41-second time allowance, giving her a 43-second victory.


1903 - Reliance Hands Lipton Third Loss, 3-0

It was no accident that the defense syndicate headed by two of the biggest names in U.S. industry, Cornelius Vanderbilt and William Rockfeller, built the largest sailboat in the history of the America’s Cup. Herreshoff was again commissioned to design and build it, launching the bronze-and-steel sloop Reliance (pictured left). The massive sailboat was 143 feet long, had a 116-foot boom, and carried in excess of 16,000 square feet of sail. And again Lipton’s sailboat, this time Shamrock |I, was out-matched, losing the last race by such a large margin that she was forced to retire before finishing.

Copyright Mystic Seaport Museum, From the book America's Cup '95: The Official Record, published by Tehabi Books.


1920 - Lipton Comes Close, But Loses, 3-2

Lipton’s fourth challenge, the one he came closest to winning, was postponed six years because of World War I. But it seemed worth the wait. Armed with his Charles Nicholson-designed Shamrock IV (pictured right), Lipton thought he had the Cup at last after his shamrock-green sailboat won the first two races over the NYYC’s Resolute. The third race Shamrock IV also won boat-for-boat, but the 107-foot sailboat won on handicap. In the final two races, the Herreshoff-designed Resolute was not seriously challenged and the Cup remained in America.

This series marked the move of the racing from New York to Newport, Rhode Island, the summer home of the NYYC. The regatta was moved to get away from the crowded waters around New York City and the large fleets of spectator vessels.

Copyright Mystic Seaport Museum, From the book America's Cup '95: The Official Record, published by Tehabi Books.


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