The queen of ocean racing returns. Welcome back Admiral’s Cup

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Once upon a time there was a regatta, the Admiral’s Cup, where the best boats from each nation competed with the goal of winning the title of World Champions of offshore sailing. Established in 1957 and officially ended in 2003, after nearly half a century, the Admiral’s Cup will return in 2025, to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, the organizing club of the world’s most important offshore races, including the Fastnet Race (at the time the fifth and final round of the Admiral’s Cup).

Admiral's Cup
The 1989 Admiral’s Cup fleet racing © Rick Tomlinson

Admiral’s Cup returns in 2025

Established in 1957, the Admiral’s Cup was held every two years and was usually contested in odd-numbered years. Organized by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, it was contested among national teams, each of which consisted of three boats. At first only Great Britain and the United States took part, but later several other national teams were added. The last edition in 2003 was contested by teams of two boats, represented any yacht club affiliated with a national federation, thus allowing the possibility of having multiple teams per country.

The Admiral's Cup © Matthew Dickens
The Admiral’s Cup © Matthew Dickens

Comprising triangle races, the Fastnet and the Channel Race, after an absence of more than 20 years, as part of the RORC’s centennial celebration, the (unofficial) World Championship of Offshore Sailing will return in 2025, to continue on a biennial basis. The regattas will consist of a combination of coastal and offshore racing. Teams will consist of two boats representing a yacht club or country.

The history of the Admiral’s Cup

A historic event that has seen some of the strongest sailors ever race and reached its greatest success in the 1970s, when there were no less than three editions that saw the participation of 19 teams from as many nations. The most famous of these was in 1979 when the Australians won the Fastnet race, which was marked by a tragic storm. Then the slow decline. While the RORC was trying to rekindle interest by making some changes to the format, including removing the Fastnet from the trophy, the new IMS compensation system (International Measurement System), which replaced the IOR (International Offshore Rule) in the early 1990s after a brief initial success, Was almost immediately a flop. In the early 2000s, shipowners, disillusioned with a system that rewarded those who had more money and could afford much larger and more expensive yachts, gaining a significant technological advantage that the rule could not account for, shifted to the monohull. Regattas such as the Farr 40, Swan 45, and TP52 marked the decline of fee-based racing. In addition, the increasing participation of European teams in the America’s Cup absorbed most of the sponsorship money, causing the financial support for teams participating in the Admiral’s Cup to dwindle.

Admiral’s Cup 1979: from black day to Italian triumph

1979 was the year of Italy’s third place at the Admiral’s Cup., an achievement (this is the first time our national team has been on the podium thanks to Vanina, Vanni Mandelli, Yena, Sergio Doni, and Rrose Selavy, Riccardo Bonadeo) marked by the Fastnet tragedy, fifth of the five offshore races of the Admiral’s Cup, starting in Cowes, Solent, rounding the Fastnet Rock in southern Ireland and finishing in Plymouth for a total of about 600 miles. 19 sailors lost their lives and 20 boats sank. A tragedy in which the national Admiral’s Cup teams took part at the same time as the Cowes Week boats and many British boats, not entered in the Fastnet, but following the fleet off the leaderboard. On the night of August 13-14, all hell broke loose in the Irish Sea. A violent storm, force 11, with winds up to 63 knots (130km/h), fell upon the fleet of 350 boats racing and in tow.

Admiral's Cup photos
A British Navy Sea King helicopter rescues the crew of the Camargue during the storm that hit the Fastnet fleet in the Irish Sea

What was supposed to be a normal, challenging offshore race turned into an inferno, forcing the British navy to the most massive rescue operation ever carried out by the navy in peacetime and involved 4,000 people including the entire fleet of the Irish Naval Service, lifeboats, commercial vessels, and Sea King helicopters (those created for the war on submarines and later converted to maritime rescue).

Admiral's Cup
The Class IOR Rrose Selavy (13 m) with which Riccardo Bonadeo took part in the 1979 Admiral’s Cup

1985: Italy wins the trophy.

Teams from Great Britain have had the most success, winning the trophy on nine occasions. Germany has won it four times, the United States and Australia three times each, with Australia holding this precious trophy, having won the last edition in 2003. Italy was also among the great protagonists, winning in 1995, after trying for 26 years, with a formidable team: Tommaso Chieffi, at the helm of the Mumm 36 Mumm a Mia!, Francesco De Angelis, at the helm of the ILC 40 Brava Q8, and Flavio Favini, at the helm of the ILC 46 Capricorno.

A photo of Brava Q8 at the 1995 Admiral's Cup.
A photo of Brava Q8 at the 1995 Admiral’s Cup.

Two IRC classes forAdmiral’s Cup 2025

“Reviving the Admiral’s Cup is a wonderful way to celebrate the centennial of the Royal Ocean Racing Club,” commented RORC Commodore James Neville. “The format chosen for the Admiral’s Cup 2025 respects the tradition of the regatta, as does the choice of IRC Classes for boats racing offshore at the highest international level.”

Two IRC classes are planned. The Admiral’s Cup Class 1 for larger boats over 44 feet (13.41 m) up to 56 feet (17.20 m) in length, such as the Cookson 50 (evergreen boat, winner of the last 151-mile race) and the ubiquitous IRC 52/TP 52 fleet. For smaller boats, on the other hand, the Admiral’s Cup Class 2 ranges from 36 feet (11.00 m) up to 44 feet (13.40 m), sizes in which boats such as like MAT 1180, J/125, GP42 fall.

Inclusiveness and new generations

With a mixture of coastal racing and the offshore challenge, the highlight of which is the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Admiral’s Cup will offer exciting racing. There will be no limitation regarding professionals on board, but in keeping with the RORC’s commitment to inclusivity, the IRC crew member limit will be revised by allowing those boats that have a woman or two under-25s on board, or a combination of both, to add a member to the crew.

An invitational regatta

The Royal Ocean Racing Club will invite leading yacht clubs from around the world to participate with a team in this world-renowned regatta, the pre-bid for which will be published on July 19, 2023, which is two years before the start of the first regatta for the Admiral’s Cup 2025.

James Barbaro

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