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History of the America’s Cup

The 12-Meters

12-Meter Era || 1958 || 1962 || 1964

The 12-Meter Era - America’s Cup Revival

The Second World War opened a more than a 20-year hiatus in America’s Cup competition, and the 100th anniversary of the schooner America’s victory at Cowes passed before another challenge was made. The lack of a challenge was due in large part to the enormous cost. In the post-War era of economic rebuilding, financial backing for the construction of a "J" class sailboat was virtually impossible obtain.

To encourage a challenge, the NYYC agreed (at the urging of the British) to the use of a smaller, less expensive sailboat, the 12-meter, which had become a popular racing sailboat in Great Britain. This was something the club had refused to do decades earlier when Lipton complained about the high cost of competing in the event, but if the regatta was to be revived, it was a necessary move.

The America’s Cup Deed of Gift was modified in 1958 to allow the use of smaller sailboats, with a minimum waterline length of 44 feet, and eliminated the requirement that the sailboats sail to the racing venue "on their own bottoms" (that is, they could be shipped, rather than sailed). The change was made specifically for the 12-Meter class sailboat, somewhat of a scaled-down version of the "J" class. (A 12-meter sailboat is approximately 65 feet (20 meters) long overall, and about 45 feet at the waterline. The 12-meter figure refers to the design formula of the Universal Rule, not the length of the sailboat.)

Changing the Deed of Gift resulted in an immediate challenge from Great Britain, and the event has continued to be held approximately every three years. There are some notable exceptions to the three-year interval between races, and the cost-cutting was relatively short-lived as the racing syndicates increased the length and ferocity of their campaigns to win the Cup.

Line Drawing of 12-Meter, Copyright Pedrick Yacht Design, From the book America's Cup '95: The Official Record, published by Tehabi Books.

1958 - Columbia Defeats Sceptre, 4-0

The British had hoped to have an edge by sailing 12-meter sailboats, which were raced actively in Britain, but not in the U.S. However, designer Olin Stephens was no stranger to the class, having designed what was arguably the fastest 12-meter in the world, Vim. His Columbia proved even faster in the summer trials, and in four races never trailed Hugh Goodson’s Sceptre.

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

1962 - New Blood But Same Result: Weatherly Subdues Gretel, 4-1

Australian media magnate Sir Frank Packer was the first challenger from south of the equator. His sailboat Gretel, designed by Alan Payne, is generally regarded the faster sailboat, but managed only a single victory, the second race of the best-of-seven series. Weatherly, designed by Philip Rhodes, won on clever tactics by skipper Emil "Bus" Mosbacher and crew. But this was just the beginning of the flurry of fierce challenges from "Down Under" that ultimately unseated the Cup from its pedestal in the NYYC.

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

1964 - Constellation Brushes Off Sovereign, 4-0

The British were back in 1964, but the David Boyd-designed Sovereign was completely out-classed by Constellation, which was designed by Olin Stephens and skippered by Bob Bavier. The closest Sovereign came was in the first race, losing by five and half minutes.



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