This week we have been helping to prepare team brochures and other documentation for the upcoming AC 32 events here in VLC. In the various drafts, the number of British vessels said to have been bested by the schooner America
in that fateful race on 22 August 1851 ranged from 4 to 17!
We checked Wikipedia
, the free online encyclopedia and a source we often quote, which reports:
The schooner-yacht America, owned by a syndicate that represented the New York Yacht Club, raced 15 yachts representing the Royal Yacht Squadron around the Isle of Wight. America won by 20 minutes.
As you will see below, Wikipedia (and hence the highly regarded Answers.com
) is wrong both about the number of British vessels America beat, and her margin of victory.
Historically, the confusion appears to stem from differences in the number of yachts that entered the race, the number that actually started, and the number that were given finishing times by the Royal Yacht Squadron -- whether or not other yachts also completed the course but too late to have had their time taken.
In an effort to get the facts korrekt
and end the confusion once and for all, this week your Ed. emailed two old friends widely recognized as experts on Cup history: the esteemed American author and historian, and longtime NYYC member, John Rousmaniere; and the popular British yachting author, commentator and raconteur, still
regarded by most as the dean of the AC press corps, R. Percival Fisher.
These learned gentleman from either side of the Atlantic usually, but not always, see eye to eye on Cup matters. Happily, on this question we find mutual agreement, as both say that their investigations over the years confirm:
Did Not Start (DNS): 3
Fish reports that his recent research (for an upcoming AC historical tome) shows that of the 18 entires, on race day there was one "no-show" and two did not otherwise start. Bob reports the finishers and finishing times as:
Brilliant, 01:20 (23 August)
A couple evenings ago I ran all this by Alinghi's Hamish Ross, another keen student of Cup history with a book currently in the works, and AC Regatta Director and former NYYC Commodore Dyer Jones. They concurred with John and Bob, and added that it really doesn't matter how many yachts finished or when -- a yacht "beats" the number of starters, not the number of entries or finishers.
As to the few number of finishers, Hamish said his research shows that several of the starters were so far behind that they were still on the south side of the Isle of Wight when the tide turned (back from the west), and some chose to retire rather than continue to sail against the tide late into the night.
Apparently, then, the other 10 were not timed either because the race committee had stood down sometime after Brilliant finished at 01:20 on the 23rd, or they did not complete the course. Those details, not relevant to the question at hand, seem to have been lost in the fog of passing time.
Finally, the number of 15 starters is confirmed by the venerable Royal Yacht Squadron. Relevant excerpts from their excellent website:
The RYS Minutes of 9 May 1851 record the decision to hold a race on Friday 22nd August, during the club's Regatta, which would be open to yachts of clubs of all nations. This first such race was arranged so that America could take part if she came to England. Squadron races were normally open only to their own yachts....18 yachts entered; 15 raced. Fernande, a 127 schooner built by William Camper at Gosport and owned by Major Francis Mountjoy Martyn, did not take her station in the two lines of yachts off the harbour entrance. Stella, a 39 ton cutter built by George & James Inman at Lymington in 1851 and owned by Richard Frankland Esq, and Titania, built by Robinson and Russell at Millwall in 1850, took their stations but did not start....Brilliant [finished] at 1.20 am, by which time the fireworks and the dinner were over. Any yachts finishing later were not recorded.
See the RYS website for a concise, and presumably precise, history
of the events of 1851.
Therefore, once and for all we should be able to agree -- and in future always report -- that, on 22 August 1851, 15
yachts started, and the winner, America
, beat the other 14
[And can someone please get Wikipedia to fix their AC article? We note the ACM site
has it right, but that the America-Cubed site
, among many others, does not.]
The race started from anchor in Cowes (top, center) at 10:00 on 22 August 1851. The yachts raced clockwise around the Isle of Wight -– some 53* miles -- and finished (at least the five that were recorded) that night back at Cowes.
*though, it should be noted, the NYYC Yearbooks in the 1980's and prior years state that the race course was 58 miles. But we'll let someone else sort out that one!