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New Zealand’s competitive sailors have traditionally honed their nautical skills in small P-class yachts. This experience has won them success in numerous Olympic classes and around-the-world races, as well as the most sought after of all yachting trophies.
The America’s Cup was first contested in 1851 when the American schooner “America” easily defeated a fleet of 14 British boats in a race around the Isle of Wight. The United States took home the ornate silver ewer and held it for the next 132 years. The coveted Cup is now the world’s oldest continuously contested sports trophy.
America’s hold on the Cup was finally broken in 1983 when “Australia II” defeated “Liberty” and took the trophy back to Perth. New Zealand then began its first bid for yachting’s biggest prize led by merchant banker, Sir Michael Fay, on behalf of the Mercury Bay Boating Club. The New Zealand entry performed well in 1987, but was eliminated from the competition by Australia’s “Kookaburra II”, which was eventually beaten by the San Diego Yacht Club’s “Stars & Stripes”. New Zealand challenged again in 1988 and 1992, but the Cup was retained by one of the best known skippers in the business, American Dennis Connor.
In 1995 the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron launched its “Team New Zealand” campaign. Sir Peter Blake headed the challenge and helmsman, Russell Coutts, steered “Black Magic” to a five-nil victory in the challengers’ series off San Diego. It was during this campaign that Sir Peter Blake’s “lucky” red socks captured the public imagination and proved a highly successful sales promotion for Team New Zealand.
At last New Zealand claimed the America’s Cup and its arrival stimulated the redevelopment of Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour. In 2000 this country successfully retained the trophy, defeating Prada of Italy.