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The colourful characters who built the legend of the America’s Cup

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John Cox Stevens

From magnificent losers to plucky mavericks and billionaire buccaneers, the America’s Cup has attracted larger-than-life personalities for more than 160 years, explains Keith Dovkants...

If we look at the long saga of the America’s Cup we see layer upon layer of colourful history laid down by the remarkable individuals who vied with each other to win it. The Earl of Wilton, commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, began it all in 1851 when he invited his opposite number at the New York Yacht Club to visit the famous clubhouse at Cowes. John Cox Stevens accepted with alacrity, suggesting he and his friends bring a yacht, adding that they would “take with good grace the sound thrashing we are likely to get”.

The boat was America (pictured above), a schooner that was to lend its name to the oldest international trophy in sport. Stevens was a larger-than-life, high-rolling gambler (his family owned Hoboken, New Jersey) and he planned to wager a huge sum on America beating the British opposition, but there was no enthusiasm for big stakes and he returned home with modest winnings and the RYS’s “Cup of One Hundred Sovereigns”, often (and mistakenly) known as the 100 Guinea Cup.

It was enough. America hailed Stevens and his syndicate heroes and moves were made to make the Cup a permanent challenge trophy.

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