A judge today wrested the 137-year-old America’s Cup from the United States and handed it to New Zealand, disqualifying the Americans as victors of the 1988 race because, she said, Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes catamaran was illegally designed.
“It is clear that a catamaran may not defend in America’s Cup competition against a mono-hull,” state Supreme Court Justice Carmen Ciparick ruled. Accordingly, she said, San Diego is disqualified.
Last September, America’s Cup holder Conner defeated New Zealander David Barnes, 2-0, in a three-race series off San Diego.
Conner’s Stars & Stripes easily defeated the New Zealand, a single-hull sloop stretching 90 feet at the waterline, with his twin-hull catamaran--which, although smaller, was much faster than the larger Kiwi yacht.
The disqualification stripped San Diego of its hold on the cup, and gave it to New Zealand’s Mercury Bay Boating Club.
“The court is mindful that forfeiture is a drastic remedy,” Ciparick wrote. However, she said, the parties on both sides suggested no other alternative.
“The court urges Mercury Bay to fulfill its obligations as trustee in the spirit of friendly competition that George L. Schuyler intended,” Ciparick said.
New York lawyer George Schuyler was one of five owners of the cup, and when he and the other four donated it to the New York Yacht Club in 1857 they wrote a “Deed of Gift,” spelling out in vague language what type of boats qualify for the race.
“Barely paying lip service to the significance of the competition, (San Diego’s) clear goal was to retain the cup at all costs so that it could host a competition on its own terms,” Ciparick said.
“San Diego thus violated the spirit of the deed,” the judge said.
Banker Michael Fay, the head of the New Zealand Challenge, had sued, arguing that the multi-hull is by design faster than a mono-hull and was therefore an unfair and improper answer to his challenge.
San Diego argued that the deed requires only that the vessels be “propelled by sails only,” should have “one mast (and) shall not be less than 44 nor more than 90 feet on the load water line.”
However, New Zealand argued that the deed requires the defender to compete on equal terms with “a like or similar vessel.”
America’s Cup history began in 1851, when British yachtsmen offered the trophy as a prize to the yacht that won a 60-mile race around the Isle of Wight off the coast of England.
One U.S. yacht, America, entered the competition and defeated 14 of Britain’s best yachts as Queen Victoria watched.
Originally called the “Hundred Guineas Cup,” the winners renamed it the America’s Cup, and it was donated to the New York Yacht Club by John Cox Stevens, one of the 12 original founders of the club.
The United States held the cup from 1851 until 1983, the longest winning streak in sports. It ended when Australia’s Australia II defeated Conner’s Liberty in Newport, R.I.
But Conner took the cup back in 1987, sweeping the Australia boat Kookaburra III 4-0 in the best-of-seven series.