The boats started, arranged under anchor, in two rows off Cowes. As the start gun fired at 10:00am, the yachts slipped anchor in the light breeze and made their way to the East. America actually started poorly, and was in fifth place when the yachts passed No Mans Buoy. But after slipping inside the Nab Lightship, she passed Culver Cliff in a dominant position and would never be overtaken.
America finished the race at 8:37 pm, 12 minutes clear of Aurora. The last boat to finish, Brilliant, cleared the line at 1:30 am the next day. The owners of America briefly considered melting down the trophy they had just won to create medals. Fortunately, they had a change of heart and donated it to the New York Yacht Club under a Deed of Gift that still governs the America’s Cup competition to this day.
That day in August was notable too for giving us perhaps the most famous quote to be associated with the America’s Cup – ‘There is no second’.
This is how it came about. Of that first race in 1851, The Times newspaper reported: “Off Cowes…was heard the hail, Is the America first? The answer, yes. What is second? The reply – nothing.”
In his history of the America’s Cup, An Absorbing Interest, Bob Fisher recounts this and continues: “This almost certainly gave credence to the apocryphal story that the Queen (Victoria) had asked a signalman, on being told that the America was first, ‘Who is second?’ And the signalman was said to have replied, ‘Ma’am, there is no second’.”
To this day, 160 years later, it still represents a fine description of the sporting contest of the America’s Cup.