“America”: the reputation of the question

July 10, 2019

      "America": the reputation of the question
      Is it really fast was the famous schooner? Sergey Borisov tried to find the answer to this question. His essay study was published in the July issue of Yacht Russia.

"America": the reputation of the question

The English defeat in the race around the Isle of Wight in 1851 was a turning point in the history of sailing.

No one argues with this: the schooner "America" ​​was the first at the finish, the Cup of Guineas got it by right and went across the ocean on absolutely legal grounds. It is also quite possible that a remarkable dialogue did indeed take place on board the royal yacht, Victoria and Albert. “Do you see yachts?” Asked the queen. “Yes, Your Majesty,” replied the watch officer. "Who is ahead?" – "America". – "And the second?" – "The second is not, Your Majesty."

The whole story, including the words of Queen Victoria, has long been apocryphal. Meanwhile, there are a lot of pitfalls in it, and let them not be able to send the legend to the bottom, but leave a gaping hole in it – very much so.

To do this, you just need to agree that the victory of the schooner "America" ​​was not logical, that this is the result of the cunning calculation of clever Yankees and a favorable set of circumstances. The British insist on this, and it should be noted, their arguments are very weighty. However, here it is necessary in order …

Challenge thrown

By the middle of the XIX century, the British Empire was finally established in the status of the Lady of the seas. She possessed the most powerful fleet, the profession of a sailor was popularly revered, every boy knew the names of Cook and Nelson, and every gentleman considered it necessary to be a member of one of the many yacht clubs.

It is important that the "numerous", because in other enlightened countries, yacht clubs at the time were a "piece" phenomenon, and somewhere they did not exist at all. In Britain, sailing was not even a hobby, it became a passion, a sign of national identification.

This was largely due to the favor of Queen Victoria. In 1840, intending to pay a visit to related European yards, she and her husband Albert set off on a voyage on their yacht. Having risen on its board, the queen exclaimed in admiration: “I love the ships!” Later, the royal couple acquired the Osborne estate on the Isle of Wight, and this choice was not accidental – the Royal Yacht Squadron residence was located next door, and Victoria loved watching how sailing yachts defile along the coast.

It seemed undeniable that these yachts, as well as their crews, have no equal in the world. In fact, there was no need to prove this, but once again it was not superfluous to show its superiority. It was decided to do this as part of the World Industrial Exhibition of 1851, in which Prince Consort Albert and Queen Victoria took the most active part in organizing.

The challenge was made on behalf of Royal Yacht Squadron, but there were no hunters willing to fight the British yachtsmen. Only the Americans pulled back with a response, and not without reason.

The commander of the New York Yacht Club, John Cox Stevens, was not only a rich and prudent man, but also a great patriot. Initially, his plans were to send a schooner to the shores of England – one of those who built in Baltimore and who were so fond of pilots, because they were quick and easy to manage. What is not a worthy exhibit for the World Exhibition?

However, the schooner, let's say, did not suit the commander of the “production”, the ship should have been perfect in all respects. Therefore, Stevens turned to famous designer George Stiers with a request to make changes to the traditional design, based on the latest achievements of shipbuilding. And suddenly I received a counter offer, which surprisingly coincided in time with the message of the Royal Yacht Squadron.

Challenge accepted

George Steers promised to design the yacht, which is faster and impossible to imagine. She will bring all the best that is in his “Mary Taylor” schooner, built two years ago, but it will be another step towards perfection.

Of course, John Cox Stevens knew about the numerous victories of Mary Taylor, created on the basis of the theory of the "wave line" (Wave Line) of the Englishman Scott Russell, of which Steers was an ardent supporter. He abandoned the time-tested underwater part of the vessel – “cod head, mackerel tail” in favor of the “nose-clipper”, and did the stern with great gaze to improve streamlining. The yacht’s excellent maneuverability was ensured by a long bowsprit, on which large sails were raised. These changes have a very positive impact on the yacht's seaworthiness.

The “bonus” to the Steers proposal was that William Brown New York Shipyard agreed to build the yacht as soon as possible. It was a significant moment: the exhibition will open on May 1, sailing races near the Isle of Wight will be held in August, thus, only nine months remained to build a yacht, run in it, cross the ocean on it.

It is clear that Stevens required guarantees, and he received them, both from Steers and from the shipyard owner. In a letter addressed to the authorized syndicate created by Stevens, William Brown indicated that he would build a schooner, the hull of which would be sheathed with copper sheets, equipped with cabins, a kitchen, everything necessary and relying. The finished vessel with masts and sails will be handed over for testing, during which it must confirm its claims to be considered the fastest in the United States. If the rivalry with any other sailboat ends not in his favor, then the money claimed for the construction of the yacht will be returned to the distinguished Mr. Stevens. And even beyond that: if the schooner is sent to England and is defeated there, the money will also be returned.

It was about 30 thousand dollars, the amount at that time was huge, but, on the other hand, John Cox Stevens and his partners in the syndicate did not risk anything. In fact, only George Steers was risking – with his name and his money, since the "brave man" William Brown, in any case, presented him with some undisclosed conditions that were rumored to resemble bonded. Nothing personal, just a business approach.

In this scenario, why not agree? And the good from Stevens was received. A dispatch was sent to England in which the commander of the New York Yacht Club informed Commander Royal Yacht Squadron: “If the yacht we have built meets the expectations of our builders, we will use your friendly invitation and appear with our ship in your turbulent waters.”

Having transferred the money and pledging not to interfere in the design and construction process, the syndicate demanded one thing: the schooner should be ready by April 1. And it looks like it was a ploy: it was impossible to build a yacht at such a time, which opened up the possibility for correcting the agreed amount.

Steers and Brown "twisted arms", and yet they agreed. And lost: the schooner was launched on May 1. However, until the end of the tests, the syndicate decided not to rush to claims. And after a few days there was another trump card in his hands.

First surprise

The yacht, built by Steers and Brown, received the name "America", but how else? Its length along the deck was 28.5 m, with a bowsprit – 38.25 m. Width – 6.86 m. Displacement – 170.5 t. Ballast – 61 t. Height of masts – 24.3 and 24.69 m. Set was oak, also used cedar and chestnut. White oak boards with a thickness of 76 mm went to the trim, the deck was covered with boards from yellow pine with a thickness of 64 mm. Coamings were made of mahogany. The total sail area was 489 square meters. m; the canvas was woven from cotton yarn at a factory in New Jersey; the best master of the east coast, Ruben Wilson from Port Jefferson, made the sails. We note to the point that at that time the sails on most boats were made of flax, and before the races they were doused with water to make them more rigid, and these sails were “pot-bellied”, while George Steers ordered to cut them flat so that they are better. ” pulled on sharp courses.

The schooner was a miracle as good, although it looked unusual. Now we had to test it on the water. The 97-foot “Maria” dinghy, built in 1845 and capable of a speed of 17 knots with a strong breeze, was chosen as an opponent. Several races were held, and in each of them “Maria” was ahead of the new schooner.

Yes, it would be good to set Mary up against the English, but, alas, she was not adapted to the ocean transitions. On the other hand, if she was ready for them, it would not be so fast …

Formally, Commander Stevens had every reason to return the “America” to the shipyard and demand the money paid in advance. However, he did not do this, because, yielding to Mary, the schooner "America" ​​overtook all other vessels, which inspired certain hopes. However, John Cox Stevens also could not benefit from the current situation, and the price for “America” was reduced from 30 to 20 thousand dollars.

In general, no matter how you look at it, the results of the tests turned out to be disappointing: the schooner "America" ​​WAS NOT THE FASTEST SHIP in the United States. As such, she set off across the ocean.


On board the yacht were 13 people, including George Steers, his brother James, their 15-year-old nephew Henry. The captain was a professional sailor Dick Brown, for several years as head of the crew of the schooner Mary Taylor.

The transition took 20 days. On average, a day, “America” covered 200 miles, and one day it showed an excellent result at all – 284 miles. True, the wind favored her, and can the fact that the schooner easily and easily overtook British barges heading to Europe, which were unprofitable for themselves a sharp course, could be considered significant? DURING THE FALLING WIND, THE SCRHUNK DID NOT SHOW HIGH SPEED.

It is noteworthy that the initial goal of the Americans was not Caus, but the French Le Havre. There they were to re-equip the yacht, as well as meet with John Cox Stevens and other representatives of the syndicate. They went to Europe in advance to purchase champagne in Paris, which they would most certainly need in England – they could equally be either celebrating a victory or pouring over grief.

The loss was more than likely, almost inevitable, as the American ambassador openly spoke to Stevens, advising him not to participate in the races. The same was repeated by the editor of one of the New York newspapers, Horace Greely, stating that "your defeat will be an insult to your homeland, and it is better for you not to return, the country will not accept you."

However, calls to listen to the voice of reason did not work, and "America" ​​sailed to the British shores. By that time she was repainted, her rigging was set up, all identified defects were eliminated, and most importantly – now she was going under her sails. In the Atlantic, on the “America” they lifted smaller sails of the same “Mary Taylor”, while the “native wardrobe” was neatly folded in the storeroom for the sake of keeping the shape.

Strong winds and headwinds forced Dick Brown to stop at Solent, 6 miles from Kaus. On the morning of August 1, “America” was supposed to raise the anchor when the English tender “Lavery”, known for its excellent driving performance, entered the bay. The captain of the tender, who happened to be in Solent by no means accidentally, being sent “for reconnaissance” by the commander of the Royal Yacht Squadron, immediately offered a “racing duel”. And it was done in such a Jesuit form that the failure of the Americans to compete would mean “loss of face”. I had to set sail …

"Laverok" did not hesitate, immediately rushing ahead. “We were about 200 yards behind,” John Cox Stevens later recalled. – There was no sound, except, perhaps, the beating of our hearts. People were immobile as statues. Our captain's hand lay limply on the tiller. And then everyone breathed a sigh of relief. We were catching up with the British. ”

They went around the Laverock and were the first to arrive at Cowes.

The outcome of this informal race is often cited as the first evidence of the invincibility of the schooner America. But … Bell's Life correspondent paid attention to this: the captain of an English yacht, going to the race, did not consider it necessary to leave a heavy boat in the Solent, he towed it along with him. THE CONFIDENCE OF THE BRITISH CAPTAIN COSTED VICTORY TO HIM. In any case, in England, many hold exactly this opinion.


Further actions of John Cox Stevens are interpreted differently. One thing is certain: an ultimatum was presented. He sounded, if in brief, like this: “The yacht“ America ”is ready to take part in the race against any number of schooners belonging to any yacht flotilla of the kingdom, but the race must pass along the English Channel, in its coastal part, with a wind of at least 6 knots , at a distance of not less than 20 and not more than 70 miles, the rate in the race must be at least 10 thousand guineas. "

In general, in those years huge sums were put on sailing races, but 10 thousand guineas? It was too much. Not surprisingly, Stevens’s challenge was not accepted, after which the question arose: will the Anglo-American sailing battle take place at all?

Americans tend to believe this ultimatum is evidence of Stevens, Steers, Brown, America’s entire crew’s unlimited faith in the ability of their ship. The British simply chickened out, recognizing the superiority of the American schooner. As an illustration of this version, such a colorful fact is cited: after the victory of “America” over “Laverok”, Royal Yacht Squadron commander Lord Wilton and Lord Uxbridge, who is also the Marquis of Anglesey, took aboard, and the latter wanted to make sure that the schooner had no or a mechanical propeller, he was so impressed with her speed, and when he became convinced of his absence, he exclaimed: "It seems that this yacht is really flawless."

The version of the Americans, of course, does not suit the British. They put forward their own: they say, after an unexpected victory over “Laveroc”, Stevens realized how small the chances of “America” in the main race, and therefore insisted on such an astronomical rate in the hope that it would scare off rivals. In principle, this can be considered a sign of unfair competition. How not gentlemanly!

For a whole week, there was a debate within the walls of the Royal Yacht Squadron residence, what to do with these pristavuchimi Americans. On the one hand, they themselves were invited, but on the other hand, the Yankees insist on the conditions of the race that are exclusively profitable for themselves.

To accurately indicate overseas upstarts in their place, they were denied participation in competitions organized by the Victoria Yacht Club in the port of Ryde: they say that only the yachts owned by one owner can compete in these races, and you, gentlemen, have a syndicate . Such an attitude was all the more offensive in the fact that in other, less significant regattas in which “America” participated out of the competition, she came first.

It is not known how this situation would have been resolved if not for the caustic comments of the British press. Thus, the Times wrote: “It all resembles a hawk and a flock of pigeons, which, seeing a predator, fall to the ground, pretending to be dead. And although the gentlemen of Solent are neither pigeons, nor even larks, and the schooner America doesn’t have a sparrowing hawk, nevertheless its appearance in the waters of Kausa paralyzed British yachtsmen. It is hard to imagine such a thing, but it seems that this stranger will return to her homeland, and there with proud boasting she will say that she threw the glove, and in England there was no one who would have raised it. ”

Other newspapers expressed even more harshly, and the foreign press openly gloated. This was a consequence of the general attitude towards Britain: no one likes the rulers, who dictate their will to the whole world, and everyone is happy when they stumble.

If one could not pay attention to the injections of the foreign press, as usual, hiding behind arrogance, then getting them from one's own was a blow to the back, due to pride, and the more painful it was. Lord Wilton was deprived of choice, and he decided to retreat, but not to surrender. The commander told his colleague Stevens that, to his great regret, it is not possible to assemble the best British yachts from the Isle of Wight anytime quickly, however, he proposes to hold a race for the Cup, specially instituted by Royal Yacht Squadron: 134 ounces of silver; cost of 100 guineas; made by jeweler Garrad in the style of High Renaissance; it does not have a bottom, so that a sober way of life can triumph, as its majesty Queen Victoria commands. ”

After reviewing the other conditions of the race, John Cox Stevens realized that he was being cornered, because the English are well aware of the features of this water area, for them it is like a home. But the other was also clear: refuse him, and the same press, which is now on his side, immediately showered him with mockery and glorify the invincible British yachtsmen.

"We agree," replied Stevens.

Fully feature-study by Sergey Borisov – in the July issue of the journal Yacht Russia.

212 July 10, 2019 # 9238

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