Bermuda’s journey to hosting the America’s Cup

April 15, 2017


The year 1983 became a crucial one in America’s Cup history.

America and the New York Yacht Club had lost the “Auld Mug” to the cunning and guile of an Australian bond trader named Alan Bond.

After 112 years of success the NYYC had let their defences down and been beaten by the efforts of a country even younger than themselves.

The Australians had a secret weapon in their keel which they kept shrouded in mystery for the entire event, a winged keel, so superior to the conventional keel on the American boat, Liberty, it was annihilated by Australia II, sailed under a rule of mathematical formula called 12 metre.

This was to change the yachting world for ever and the America’s Cup in the most unimaginable ways. The challenge for the Cup had come from the Royal Perth Yacht Club who opened it up in the next challenge to as many clubs who wished to challenge.

“Bring it on,” was the message.

At the same time sailing was finally moving from the old Corinthian style of racing sailboats because, “I can afford too”, was evolving to the foundation of the age of professional sailors, who chose it as a professional sport.

Globally the economy was taking off, and world brands were looking for new ways to advertise their products. The canvas and hulls of modern sailboats were a perfect place to render their message.

Meanwhile, back in Bermuda, things were changing as well. By 1984 the format of the Gold Cup had become somewhat tired. The idea that racing in the International One Design Class for such a prestigious trophy and doing the trophy justice was under scrutiny. It’s then that two young members of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club had an idea to change the Gold Cup and give it new life.

Malcolm Kirkland and Reid Kempe approached the club’s sailing committee with the idea of making the Gold Cup a professional enterprise with prize money.

They were at first rebuked, but on a second attempt all was agreed. The King Edward VII Gold Cup had a new lease on life. Little did they know the role that they would play in Bermuda’s bid for the America’s Cup, along with the then Rear Commodore of Sailing, Mr Jordy Walker.

Mr Walker was so keen on this idea that he went out to other clubs abroad who held similar events and began the foundation of what was to become the World Match Racing Tour.

All of this was happening at a very fast rate, and by 1986 the club had sponsorship to pay entrants a $500 cushion per team for expenses.

Enter Omega the best watch and most revered watch maker in the world. They decided it was a good idea to sponsor The World Match Racing Tour, and the winner of the Gold Cup received a gold Omega watch as well as money.

The World Match Racing Tour was under way, and Bermuda and RBYC was a big part of that. By 1988 the Gold Cup had become a fully professional match racing regatta with Omega putting up the prize money.

It was at this time that two young sailors appeared on the Bermuda scene and proceeded to change the sailing world for ever. In 1989 Chris Dickson won the Cup and Sir Russell Coutts was second. The following year, Sir Russell won what was to be the first of his seven wins.

Next week, in the third part of this series, we will see how this all comes together with how our island becomes a major player in the America’s Cup!

Paul Doughty is the archivist and historian of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club. Information from Sherman Hoyt’s Memoirs (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.) and articles by Dr Edward Harris, executive director of the National Museum of Bermuda, were used in the writing of this article