The 37th Louis Vuitton America’s Cup, the world’s oldest and most prestigious sporting competition which predates the modern Olympic Games (which began in 1896), will be held from late August to October in Barcelona, Spain. Many of our Scenic 98 Coastal friends will be in attendance, and for good reason!

The America’s Cup is the most important international sailing competition between countries vying for the famous Silver Cup. The winner of the America’s Cup keeps the cup until it’s challenged by another team, and then defends it, four years later, in the next America’s Cup regatta. 

The importance of winning and hosting the America’s Cup is reflected in the comments from this year’s defender, New Zealand, “As defender, we have always felt the responsibility to grow the sport of sailing, the audience, and the event itself on a global scale. Hosting in a significant city such as Barcelona will allow us to propel the growth trajectory on the global sporting stage.” 

This year, six teams will compete to see who will challenge the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. This year’s challengers include INEOS Britannia (United Kingdom), Alinghi Red Bull Racing (Switzerland), Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli (Italy), Orient Express Racing Team (France), and American Magic New York Yacht Club (United States).

The American team won the first America’s Cup in 1851 and held it for 133 years until Australia successfully challenged and won the Silver Cup in 1983. After the first race was  lost by the British team so many years ago, Queen Victoria asked, “Which is second?” The reply was, “Ma’am, there is no second.”

This year’s final America’s Cup duel will occur in October after the Challenger Selection Series beginning August 22, 2024, declares its winner. Also, the Youth America’s Cup and the Women’s America’s Cup will compete against six guest teams qualifying for the Final Series. The America’s Cup is the grandest regatta in all of sailing.

The United States entrant, American Magic, is skippered by Terry Henderson, and he took his team to Key West to train before the Louis Vuitton Challenge races began in Barcelona in 2018. After facing some challenges, word returned to the Pensacola sailing community through former America’s Cup competitor, Dr. James Andrews that the team was looking for a new city to establish residence and train. This is no small undertaking, but Pensacola was interested.

Hosting an America’s Cup team requires a huge commitment of time, money, and resources. Through political avenues behind the scenes, connections were made to discuss the possibility of Pensacola becoming the home training port for American Magic. Former Pensacola Mayor, Ashton Hayward, III encouraged Skipper Terry Henderson to come to visit and start a dialog. “You can have the whole West side of the port to train,” he told them. 

“I knew the DeVos family's impact on our country from business, politics, and sailing, and I knew it would be a coup to land them. Doc (Dr. Andrews) had been talking to Doug DeVos about getting out of Key West. The DeVos family and Andrews had been close friends and friendly sailing competitors for years.”

Collier Merrill, a lifelong Pensacola resident and civic leader, hosted the American Magic skipper and the ownership team on their visit. The City was interested but there were some big financial hurdles to overcome. 

In a recent radio interview, Collier said, “I know zero about sailing. We had no plan for this. Every day I look out over beautiful Pensacola Bay and had never dreamed of hosting an America’s Cup, but the idea did get our attention. It would be a huge win for us to land American Magic for the City.”

Last Fall, American Magic moved from Key West to Pensacola to train and continue its pursuit of a new home port. Pensacola Bay is a perfect place for an America’s Cup challenger to train. The Bay is 5 miles wide, and 18 miles long, and has no tall buildings to obstruct the wind, regardless of conditions. These Formula 1s of the Sea are technological marvels and require precision boat building and fine-tuning. 

Collier admits, “It takes a minute to absorb the full scale of what is required. If we could spend a few million dollars to attract the American Magic racing team, I knew it would be a positive for our area. We started talking to the owners and learned it cost them about $3 million a month to operate. Once we understood the parameters, we went to work to see if it was feasible.”

The major player in New York Yacht Club’s American Magic’s bid to win the America’s Cup back for the U.S. is the family who founded Amway, the DeVos family. I am told the price tag for vying to challenge this year’s race is around $300 million. The entire team of 200 or so is required to spend a year training in the host city, Barcelona, including their families who will be living in Spain. It is a tremendous undertaking. 

The America’s Cup represented a new industry for Pensacola. The Port of Pensacola had property available. With over 190 people on the ground, jobs would be created. It would certainly be a boon to tourism for the entire area. Visitors could easily watch the team train on Pensacola Bay from several vantage points, much like watching the Blue Angels.

Dr. James Andrews of the Andrews Institute in Gulf Breeze, a former Louis Vuitton America’s Cup challenger, knew the requirements needed to support an America’s Cup challenge. In 2000, he competed for the opportunity to challenge New Zealand, who held the Silver Cup at the time. The members of the Pensacola Yacht Club, which would serve as the home port, were a key component of the discussion.

In the radio interview, Collier said the first meeting was held with the American Magic skipper at the Pensacola Yacht Club. “Three successive mayors from the Mayor’s Office, the Port of Pensacola, and several civic leaders attended that first meeting. We didn’t know much about it, but we got behind it.”

Collier says the group approached this opportunity because  Pensacola Bay is an underutilized natural resource. “We discussed economic impact, technology, and the opportunity to host the next regatta in Pensacola should American Magic win this year’s race. I thought there was a possibility that the Triumph Fund, the funds received from British Petroleum after the BP Oil Spill, might be available if certain criteria were met.”

The hospitality shown by Pensacola blew the American Magic team away. While in Pensacola, Skipper Terry Henderson needed to renew his driver's license. He was amazed at how easy it was to do. They loved the city, and the people, which was a big selling point to relocating the team there, especially after the cold reception they received from officials in Key West. Having the American Magic team relocate from their long-term headquarters in Newport, Rhode Island is no small feat.

The boats competing in America’s Cup are AC75s, which encompass the latest technology, including foils that lift the boats out of the water to reach speeds of over 50 knots (57.5 MPH).

Through several financial resources, including $5 million from the State of Florida and $9 million from the Triumph Fund, Pensacola secured a 10-year lease providing three “Boat Hangers” at the Port of Pensacola. The DeVos family’s commitment to compete in America’s Cup 38 (AC38) and train in Pensacola, regardless of the outcome of this fall’s race, was the key to securing the funds needed.

I understand that part of the package includes bringing the Patriot, a former America's  Cup competitor, to Pensacola. Still used as a training platform, Patriot will return from Barcelona, along with American Magic. Once in Pensacola, Patriot will be decommissioned so that guests can book a sailing experience. Be forewarned, she can still reach speeds of 50 knots!

Much of what goes into building a competitive America’s Cup boat is cloaked in secrecy. American Magic will now train in Pensacola for Cup 38, to be held in 2028. Who knows, with this Fall’s Louis Vuitton America’s Cup Challenge in Barcelona, Pensacola may host the next America’s Cup. We are pulling for you, Skipper!

May 29, 2024
Events That Inspire

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