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AMERICA (1851)

AMERICA  (1851) - click to enlargeAMERICA  (1851) - click to enlarge
During the early part of the 19th century the British had established a reputation for ocean yacht racing. America's oldest surviving yacht club, The New York Yacht Club, under Commodore John Stevens, decided to build a fast racing schooner which they would take across the Atlantic to challenge British yachting supremacy.

The club engaged a young designer, George Steers, who had developed a reputation for fast sailing craft known as pilot schooners, whose fortunes depended upon their ability to race out to and reach incoming vessels first and then to guide them to safe harbor. Steers modeled his new yacht on the pilot schooner "Mary Taylor", but made it longer, slimmer, and capable of carrying more sail. She was delivered in May, 1851, and was beautifully proportioned. At 171 tons, she was 89 feet long at the waterline, 22 foot abeam, and possessed an 11 foot draft. Her masts were raked sharply aft and she carried over 5000 square feet of canvas. She was named the America.

After reaching England, she was invited to participate against fifteen yachts in the annual 53-mile race around the Isle of Wight conducted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. She won by two minutes despite highly variable winds and intense competition from a wide range of boats. Next she sailed in a match race against England's fastest, the Titania, winning by nearly an hour despite a strong afternoon gale. She was awarded a cup for this triumph which later was presented to the New York Yacht Club. The news informing Queen Victoria was simply "America first, Your Majesty. There is no second". The New York Yacht Club offered the cup they had just won to any yacht capable of defeating them, and subsequent competitions became known as "America's Cup" races.

lithograph by Nathaniel Currier: (c) Copyright The Granger Collection.