The Squadron’s patron is Queen Elizabeth II and the Squadron’s Admiral is Prince Philip.
The Squadron has a long history with the Cup, going right back to the very beginning. It was during the Great Exhibition of 1851 that the Earl of Wilton – then the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron – sent an invitation to members of the recently-formed New York Yacht Club (NYYC), suggesting that they might like to enjoy the club’s facilities in Cowes.
John Cox Stevens, Wilton’s opposite number in New York, replied enthusiastically. “Four or five friends and myself have a yacht . . . we propose to avail ourselves of your friendly bidding and take with a good grace the sound thrashing . . .”
History records that things worked out rather differently. The first problem was that the RYS only raced its member’s yachts, and those had to be individually owned. So instead, Wilton arranged for a race for a £100 Cup – a stock item from Garrards – to be open to yachts of all nations.
It took place on Friday August 22nd 1851, and John Cox Stevens and his friends raced their schooner America. Instead of receiving a ‘sound thrashing’ they dealt one out. America went home with the Cup, and the winners subsequently presented it to the world as a challenge cup for competition amongst yacht clubs of friendly nations the world over. It would be called the America’s Cup.
The first RYS challenge to win the Cup back was the fifth that the New York Yacht Club had faced. It came from Sir Richard Sutton’s Genesta in 1885. He lost 2-0 but had refused to accept a certain victory after it was decided he had been fouled by his opponent. His sportsmanship was admired, at least in those days.
The RYS challenged again in both 1893 and 1895 through the Earl of Dunraven. He was defeated and accused the Americans of cheating – and while leading America’s Cup historians now consider that he may well have been correct, his sportsmanship was not admired. He was pilloried at the time.
Fortunately, when the RYS next challenged in 1934 the rules were a little more developed – unfortunately, they had been developed by the man who faced them in the America’s Cup. Nevertheless, Sir T.O.M. Sopwith led 2-0 and was headed for the finish of the third race in the lead before a tactical mistake handed the victory and the momentum to the Americans, who then went on to win 4-2. Sopwith’s second attempt for the Squadron – three years later in 1937 – was comfortably beaten by Harold Vanderbilt, who was taking no chances second time around.
The first of the post-War challenges for the America’s Cup were more about reinvigorating the event in an austere new era than a meaningful shot at victory. Sceptre in 1958 was easily defeated.
The challenge for the 36th America’s Cup will be the next participation from England’s senior club.
Main picture: Royal Yacht Squadron / kospictures.com