When did NZ win the America Cup?

The America’s Cup is the oldest trophy in international sport and the most prestigious prize in sailing. First awarded in 1851, the America’s Cup represents the pinnacle of yachting technology and sailing skill. For over 160 years, the best sailors and boat designers from around the world have competed to win this coveted trophy.

New Zealand, a small island nation with a rich maritime heritage, has had an impressive record in the America’s Cup. Kiwi teams and sailors have been involved in the Cup for decades, experiencing both triumphant wins and heartbreaking defeats. But when exactly did New Zealand first win the coveted ‘Auld Mug’?

Brief History of the America’s Cup

The America’s Cup was originally known as the 100 Guineas Cup and was awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1851 for a race around the Isle of Wight in England. The trophy was renamed after the winning yacht America, owned by the New York Yacht Club. From 1857 to 1983, the New York Yacht Club successfully defended the Cup through 24 consecutive matches, the longest winning streak in the history of sport.

Challenges for the Cup could only come from foreign yacht clubs, initially just from the United Kingdom and later from Canada and Australia. It was only after World War II that more nations began participating, with the first challenge from a country outside the British Empire coming from Sweden in 1956.

Throughout its history, the America’s Cup was always a match race between two yachts. This format changed in 1983, when Alan Bond’s Australia II defeated Dennis Conner’s Liberty to end the New York Yacht Club’s domination, bringing the Cup to Fremantle, Australia. In 1987, the America’s Cup became a multi-challenger event, allowing competitions between multiple yachts representing different nations.

New Zealand’s Early Challenges

New Zealand first competed for the America’s Cup in 1987 at Fremantle, Australia when Michael Fay’s New Zealand Challenge was among 13 international syndicates participating. This Kiwi team, sailing the fibreglass yacht KZ 7, reached the finals but lost 4-1 to Conner’s Stars & Stripes team from the United States.

In 1992 in San Diego, another New Zealand team sailing NZL 20, nicknamed ‘Black Magic’, made it to the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger finals. However, they lost the series 5-4 to Il Moro di Venezia from Italy, failing to win through to challenge for the America’s Cup.

So while competitive, New Zealand had not yet managed to win the America’s Cup in two attempts during the multi-challenger era. But the tide was about to turn…

Black Magic Triumphs in 1995

The 1995 America’s Cup in San Diego saw the first New Zealand victory. The same Black Magic team as 1992, sponsored by Peter Blake and helmed by Russell Coutts, earned the right to challenge for the Cup by convincingly winning the Citizen Cup (the new name for the former Louis Vuitton Cup).

Facing defending champions Team Dennis Conner from the United States, Black Magic sailed NZL 32, an innovative 90-foot waterline monohull yacht partially made from carbon fiber. The fast and stable NZL 32, assisted by clever tactical sailing, proved superior. New Zealand defeated the Americans 5-0 in the Cup match races, completely outclassing the slower American boat Stars & Stripes.

The final race on May 9, 1995 saw 50,000 Kiwi fans on spectator boats erupting in celebration as NZL 32 crossed the finish line far ahead of its rival to win the America’s Cup. Led by Peter Blake and Russell Coutts, Black Magic had achieved New Zealand’s long-sought victory – finally wresting the coveted trophy away from the United States after 144 years.

Successful Defence in 2000

For its defence of the Cup in 2000 in Auckland, Team New Zealand built the radical 120-foot catamaran NZL 60 or ‘Black Magic II’, sailed by many of the same crew. This unconventional yacht design proved incredibly fast, able to sail laps around the Italian and American challengers’ boats.

In the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series, Team New Zealand dominated with a perfect 9-0 record. Italy’s Prada Challenge then won the right to challenge New Zealand for the America’s Cup, racing their yacht Luna Rossa.

When the Cup match began in February 2000, crowds of Kiwi fans flocked to the Auckland waterfront to support NZL 60. Despite Luna Rossa’s best efforts, Team New Zealand’s superior speed and crew coordination were insurmountable. The defenders won the America’s Cup 5-0, keeping the Auld Mug in New Zealand for another defense on home waters.

Swiss Victory in 2003

After successfully defending in 2000, Team New Zealand remained well-funded and highly competitive for the 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland. Their two radical boats NZL 82 and NZL 83, sailed by Russell Coutts and new skipper Dean Barker, dominated the Louis Vuitton challenger series with ease.

But controversy struck when Russell Coutts defected to the Swiss syndicate Alinghi, taking tactician Brad Butterworth and other crew with him. Despite this betrayal, Team New Zealand persevered with a core group of loyal yachtsmen.

In the Cup match, the deception took its toll. While NZL 82 initially led Alinghi early on, fatigue and crew reshuffling allowed the Swiss boat Alinghi 5 to make a comeback. Alinghi won the final decisive seventh race, defeating the Kiwis’ NZL 82 by just one second to win the America’s Cup 5-2. Team New Zealand’s reign had come to an end; the Auld Mug was off to Europe.

The Costly 2007 Challenge

Vowing to reclaim the Cup, Team New Zealand built the radical 90-foot trimaran NZL 84 for their challenge in 2007 at Valencia, Spain. This experimental vessel had a rigid main hull and twin floats for increased speed and stability.

However, technical problems plagued testing, and perceived design flaws led to extensive modifications. The campaign ultimately cost an exorbitant $120 million NZD, heavily bankrolled by the New Zealand government.

Despite high expectations, NZL 84 struggled to match the speed of Alinghi’s catamaran in the Louis Vuitton Cup. The modifications had ironically slowed the trimaran down. Team New Zealand failed to reach the Cup finals, losing 5-2 to Luna Rossa in the semi-finals. This disappointing loss after such massive investment seemed a severe blow for New Zealand’s America’s Cup ambitions.

Back on Top in 2017

After the crushing disappointment and cost of the 2007 campaign, Team New Zealand took time to rebuild and refocus under Grant Dalton’s leadership. For the 2013 Cup, economic constraints forced the team to innovate on a budget, developing revolutionary hydrofoiling technology.

Although their AC72 catamaran NZL 5 was highly competitive in the challenger series, Team New Zealand agonizingly lost the Cup 9-8 to Oracle Team USA in a dramatic comeback. Despite this heartbreak, the team was determined to build on their foiling and design expertise.

When the 35th America’s Cup came to Bermuda in 2017, the Kiwis were ready. With Glenn Ashby as skipper and Peter Burling as helmsman, their advanced 50-foot catamaran ‘Aotearoa’ proved a class above the rest. They avenged their 2013 loss by defeating Oracle 7-1 and conquering the Cup. This innovative, athletic team seemed to usher in a new era for the America’s Cup.

Summary of New Zealand’s America’s Cup Victories

To summarize, New Zealand teams have won the America’s Cup three times in the modern multi-challenger era:

  • 1995: Black Magic (San Diego)
  • 2000: Team New Zealand (Auckland)
  • 2017: Emirates Team New Zealand (Bermuda)

Their first victory in 1995 was a milestone, ending the New York Yacht Club’s 144-year monopoly on the Auld Mug. 2000 saw the first successful defence abroad by a foreign yacht club. And 2017 marked a return to dominance after years of frustration.

But while lifting the Cup only three times, New Zealand has remained a major force in America’s Cup racing for over 30 years. Their innovation, skill and determination to win sailing’s greatest prize make New Zealand one of the all-time most successful and competitive nations in the event’s history.

Key Factors in New Zealand’s America’s Cup Victories

Several key factors have contributed to New Zealand’s success in the America’s Cup:

Innovative Boat Design

New Zealand designers and sailors have pioneered groundbreaking yachts optimized for speed, from monohulls to multihulls and hydrofoiling catamarans. NZL 32, NZL 60 and Aotearoa were considered radical in their day but proved fast and dominant. Kiwi innovation conferred decisive advantages.

Expert Sailors and Tacticians

Top Kiwi yachtsmen like Russell Coutts, Dean Barker and Peter Burling expertly maximized the potential of their boats. Smart race strategy and masterful boat handling from polished crews repeatedly transitioned testing conditions into winning margins over opponents.

National Passion for Sailing

Sailing is New Zealand’s national summer sport. Kiwi pride in maritime prowess and obsession with the America’s Cup has bolstered funding and support, from the 1995 public fundraising campaign to the government’s massive investment into the 2007 challenge.

Advantage of Home Waters

Defending the Cup at home in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf in both 2000 and 2003 allowed Team New Zealand to optimize their boats for local conditions they knew intimately, contributing greatly to successful defences.

The Future of New Zealand in the America’s Cup

As defenders of the 36th America’s Cup, Team New Zealand will again enjoy home advantage when the event takes place in 2021 in Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour. Having won the previous Cup on Bermuda’s Great Sound, the Kiwis’ familiarity with Auckland’s reliable winds and varied wave patterns could again prove a key asset.

TNZ will likely trial innovative new foiling monohull designs to stay ahead of the competition. But with strong challengers like INEOS Team UK emerging, and juggernaut teams like Oracle and Luna Rossa returning hungry for victory, the Kiwis will need to be at the top of their game to defend at home.

Beyond 2021, the future remains uncertain. While budget constraints hamper many teams, TNZ continues developing groundbreaking technology like robotic autonomous sailing systems to reduce crew numbers and gain any possible edge. The quality of each challenge ultimately comes down to people, resources and technology.

But regardless of the outcome in 2021, Team New Zealand remains one of the most resilient, innovative and competitive teams in America’s Cup history. Their three victories to date and incredible thirty-plus year legacy ensures New Zealand’s place among the greatest sailing nations ever to compete for the Auld Mug.


The America’s Cup represents the pinnacle of achievement in yachting. For a small country like New Zealand, competing successfully for over 30 years against wealthy challengers from across the globe is an immense source of national pride. The iconic silver ewer has inspired generations of Kiwi sailors to pursue excellence in design, fitness and sailing skill.

New Zealand’s victories in 1995, 2000 and 2017 were hard-won through determination and innovation. The America’s Cup captures the hearts and imaginations of New Zealanders like no other event. With a fair wind or foul, Team New Zealand will be sailing strong into the 36th America’s Cup, striving to keep the Auld Mug in their trophy cabinet where they believe it belongs.

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