The Dutch originated yacht racing in the seventeenth century, and early Dutch settlers brought the sport to the colony of New Amsterdam (later, New York). Following exile in The Netherlands, King Charles II introduced it to England when he assumed the British throne (1660). The first yacht club was established at Cork, Ireland, in 1720, but organised racing did not begin until the mid-eighteenth century on the Thames River in England. This led to the founding of The Royal Yacht Squadron (originally The Yacht Club) on 1 June 1815 in the Thatched House Tavern in St James’s, London by 42 gentlemen interested in sea yachting. They decided to meet in London and in Cowes twice a year, to discuss yachting over dinner. The first continuing yacht club in the United States, the Detroit Boat Club, was founded in 1839.
Five years later, sportsman John Cox Stevens and eight fellow yachtsmen established the New York Yacht Club to promote good health, sociability, pleasure, and American naval architecture. In 1851 Stevens and his crew accepted an invitation from Lord Winton, the Commodore of Royal Yacht Squadron, to visit The Great Exhibition and enjoy the facilities of the Squadron when they came. Hoping to race their schooner, America, they found that only members of the Squadron could do so. It was therefore decided to create a new race open to all to be called the 100 Guineas Cup (a guinea was £1-1s-0d, so 100 guineas was £105). The race was held as part of the 1851 Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta, on 22 August 1852. America sailed against 15 yachts of the Royal Yacht Squadron over the Queen’s Course around the Isle of Wight and won.
The Royal Yacht, HMY Victoria and Albert was present at the event with Her majesty, Prince Albert, and the Royal Children aboard. The ship, a paddle steamer, sailed to the west of the Island (the Isle of Wight) to watch the race as the vessels came around the Needles en route back to Cowes. They followed America for a distance, which, the Queen noted in her diary, was 32 minutes ahead of the next vessel. The America’s crew paid their respects to the Queen as they passed and the following day the Queen was invited aboard the America. It was much more advanced than any of the British vessels and quite took her majesty’s fancy. Sadly, the apocryphal story that, upon asking what vessel was second, the Queen was advised “there is no second Ma’am!” appears to have no foundation in fact, but the tale has been woven into America’s Cup history.
The official America’s Cup commenced in 1857. The winners of the 1851 race donated the 100 Guineas Cup to the New York Yacht Club through a Deed of Gift in order to establish a perpetual international competition. This was the start of a competition that has run ever since. The America’s Cup became the first trophy in international sport.