Found Staten Island Stories 5: Defending America's Cup 1870 -1920 Part 2

By Andrew Wilson
June 12, 2017
Dongan Hills Library

Continued from Part 1

The "Outside Course"

On September 27, 1887 the NYYC defender Volunteer beat the challenger Thistle in the last race held on the Inside Course. Staten Island's shore was no longer a Cup destination after that. The large audience all had to head out to sea on spectator boats. Though patrol boats fought to keep the course clear competitors had to navigate steamboats packed with fans vying for the best views. By 1895 the spectator fleet was estimated at over 200 vessels carrying 60,000 people, mostly large steam powered vessels that could handle the rougher seas outside of Sandy Hook.  A big part of the attraction was gambling.  Much like today's Kentucky Derby, bets were taken across the nation on the outcome.  Cities from Manhattan to San Francisco held live events with model yacht courses provided with up-to-the-minute racing positions telegraphed in from Sandy Hook.  The toy boats were then pulled by wires  across their model courses to provide near real-time re-enactments of the races.

America's Cup excursion boat.  New York Tribune, August 23, 1903.

A packed sidewheel excursion boat at the races of 1903.  NY Tribune, August 23, 1903.

Staten Island Ferry passengers observe the Cup Races in 1893.  Historic Richmondtown Photo.

Alice Austen's party observing the Cup Races from the Staten Island Ferry, 1893.  Third America’s Cup race between the American yacht Vigilant and Lord Dunraven's British challenger Valkyrie II on October 9, 1893.  Vigilant won the race that day.  Vigilant was owned by a syndicate, which included one of the Island's yachting Vanderbilts, this time Cornelius II.  Apparently Island ferries were chartered for the occasion as this one appears to be out at sea.  Photo by Alice Austen.  Her notation reads "fine day... windy...2:40PM" Collection of Historic Richmond Town.

The Vanderbilt Campaigns

The great Vanderbilt fortune was born when young Cornelius purchased an old sailboat to operate as a Staten Island ferry. The original "Commodore" passed away in 1877 but the heirs of the crotchety old ferryman sponsored and/or skippered a record six of the New York Yacht Club's 25 consecutive Cup victories in Vigilant, Defender, Reliance,  Enterprise, Rainbow, and Ranger.

Cornelius Vanderbilt (III?) was part of a syndicate that built Vigilant (skippered by the great boat designer Nathaniel Hereshoff) and defeated Lord Dunraven's Valkyrie II of the Royal Yacht Squadron in 1893.  William K. Vanderbilt's Hereshoff-designed Defender defeated Lord Dunraven's Valkyrie III in 1895. William was the son of Staten Island Railroad owner William H. Vanderbilt (whose estate later became Miller Field). William K. is buried in the Vanderbilt Mausoleum in Moravian Cemetery.

In 1903, Reliance, built by a syndicate including Cornelius Vanderbilt III, defeated Thomas Lipton's Shamrock III.

Then, after the cup was moved to Newport, Harold Stirling "Mike" Vanderbilt, a great grandson of the "Commodore"  would skipper three winners including Enterprise  (1930), Rainbow  (1934) and Ranger  (1937).  William K. Vanderbilt, who had bested Lord Dunraven in 1895, was also a financier of the 1930 campaign along with others in the family. 

William K. Vanderbilt's Defender vs. Valkyrie III off Staten Island.  Library of Congress photo.
Uncle Sam holds the cup in the British publication Puck, October 9, 1895.  Library of Congress.

William K. Vanderbilt's Defender (left) vs. Valkyrie III (right), 1895.  Collection of the Library of Congress. Puck magazine pictured Lord Dunraven as the rag doll in this cover cartoon of October 9, 1895. Uncle Sam is carrying the America's Cup and other sporting awards following the victory  over Valkyrie III. Collection of the Library of Congress.

The NYYC Casts Off

There was some criticism of the club giving up its waterfront Island locations.  In 1887 the nation's leading yachting writer, Captain R. F. Coffin, wrote "I think it may be safely assumed that if a yacht club has no headquarters and anchorage it will drop astern of its sister organizations.  The New York Yacht Club may be cited as an exception to this rule, but that club has not progressed as it should have done, since its house on Staten Island and its anchorage at Stapleton were given up, and, therefore, the rule holds good even in regard to that organization."

Two Staten Island Yacht Designers

While Staten Island shipyards worked on existing America's Cup boats, no defenders were actually designed or built on the Island.   However, Islanders did achieve notoriety in early New York yachting scene and local shipyards produced winners in many other sailing races.  Here are the stories of two of the leading Island designers:

  1. Jake Schmidt

Jacob "Jake" Schmidt of Tompkinsville was noted sandbagger, the dominant harbor class of from about 1850-1885.  He's remembered as the second best skipper of the type, behind the Brooklyn ferry captain Ira Smith.  Schmidt was a  former Brooklyn hatter who, in 1879, partnered with Arthur Panick to open the legendary Tompkinsville boat shop and saloon "The Good Success Anchorage."   The establisment stood on Bay Avenue about half way down to Stapleton.   Outside "a flaring sign invited old salts to come to anchor, and where such as did come shivered their timbers over many a good yarn spun by the host."  Schmidt's constant companion was a mastiff who wore a sign on his collar reading: "Touch me not, but let me jog, for I am Jake Schmidt's dog: Sailor."   On at least one occasion, race officials ejected Sailor from Jake's boat  as an illegal "extra crew member" for his habit of riding on the high rail, boosting the speed of the boat.

Schmidt's most famous designs included the yachts Parole, a sloop owned by C. E. Van Name of the West Brighton Yacht ClubPluck And Luck, andDare Devil owned by 3-time America's Cup skipper and syndicate leader, the banker Charles  Oliver Iselin.  Iselin ordered Dare Devil after Pluck And Luck defeated his boat Mary Emma.  Schmidt won $500 in a bet with Iselin on the round-trip race from New Rochelle.  Iselin later purchased Pluck and Luck as well.

Schmidt served as a Vice Commodore of the Williamsburg Yacht club and sailed a mark boat for many years for different yacht clubs, including Seawanhaka and the New York Yacht Club.  He managed their start lines along with Sailor the dog.

Pluck-And-Luck, designed by Jake Schmidt in 1875.
Dare Devil designed by Jake Schmidt.
Standings of the First Union Regatta, NY Times, August 10, 1880
Jake Schmidt's design for the yacht Parole, owned by Calvin Van Name.

Jake Schmidt's famous sandbaggers Pluck And Luck and Dare Devil. Motor Boating, October 1939.  Standings of the First Union Regatta of the National Yachting Association with Dare Devil in first and Parole in 7th.  Top captain Ira Smith placed 8th.  NY Times August 10, 1880.   Jake Schmidt's design for Parole. Motor Boating September 1939.

2. Ralph Munroe

As a child Munroe's family knew both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  His father's younger brother was Alfred Munroe a classmate of Throeau who wrote the book Concord Sketches about his hometown.  His father, Thomas Munroe, lived in the Staten Island home of fellow Concordian, and Richmond County Judge William Emerson, brother of Ralph Waldo Emerson, during the Civl War.   In 1843 Henry David Thoreau had spent a year at William's original house, "the Snuggery" which burned in 1855.  William then built a second home up the hill from his original residence.  Emerson left Staten Island in 1864 which is probably when Thomas Munroe moved in.  Ralph Munroe was sent to Concord Massachusetts during the Civil War along with his mother and sister (possibly because of the commotions of caused by the draft riots and many Union army encampments on the Island. ) 

Ralph Munroe aboard the Wabun.  Photo by Alice Austen.  Collection of the Staten Island Historical Society.

L-R  Ralph Munroe at the wheel of the yacht Wabun, Alice Austen blowing a conch shell,  Thomas Quincy "Butterball" Browne Jr. in the "H"arvard sweater and Ellen "Nellie" Munroe Austen, Ralph's sister and Alice's aunt (by marriage to Peter Townsend Austen).   The Wabun was built at A. C. Brown in Tottenville and she sailed down  to Biscayne Bay, Florida where she became the flagship of the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club, the largest yacht club south of Philadelphia.   The papers reported "They had a very pleasant trip all the way, doing a little fishing and duck-shooting occasionally."  Alice and her aunt disembarked at Annapolis, Maryland. Photo by Alice Austen.  October 24, 1892. Collection of  Historic Richmond Town.

Ralph married Eva Amelia Hewitt in Clifton in 1879 and the family built their Great Kills estate at about this time. Ralph's daughter Edith was born on the Island in 1881. Eva contracted tuberculosis and Ralph brought her to what would later become Miami, Florida in hopes the warmer climate would cure her.  Eva died in 1882 and Ralph returned to the Island only to find that his daughter Edith had died of influenza.  He spent the next four years living in Great Kills and summering in Miami before moving there permanently in 1886.  He established the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club and set up his house, The Barnacle,  there.  It is the oldest standing house, in its original location, in Miami-Dade County and is now a five acre historical site open to the public.

Ralph later became a close friend of Nat Herreshoff, who was a frequent house guest at the Barnacle, spending the last summers of his life there.  Herreshoff's son Francis wrote of his father "It was doubtful that anyone but Commodore Munroe ever influenced him." Munroe's most famous designs were  "sharpies"  shallow draft oyster and fishing boats.  A. C. Brown was Munroe's primary shipyard on Staten Island.

Ralph's most famous boat design was the Presto.  The 41 foot sharpie launched in 1885. When its Staten Island builder, "Uncle" Chris Brown, stepped aboard the newly constructed boat he nearly buried the rails.  Munroe wrote  “he at once condemned her,” and then added 4.5 tons of ballast to her and set off to “see a cup race off Sandy Hook, where, in a fresh breeze she handled perfectly and showed no signs of tenderness.”

Ralph Munroe, Staten Island yacht designer.
Ralph Munroe's Breezy Knoll estate at Great Kills, Staten Island.

Ralph Munroe and Breezy Knoll, the Munroe family estate at Great Kills, Staten Island.  Great Kills was the home of another giant in the world of boating.  William H. Aspinwall, President of Howland and Aspinwall,  the company which owned the Sea Witch, the sailing ship which still holds the China to New York speed record. Aspinwall then formed the Pacific Mail Steamship Company fueling the American Gold Rush with speedy passenger service to the West Coast. He owned the first American steam pleasure yacht, Firefly, an 1854 sidewheeler built specifically for cruising.  He used the Firefly as his own private ferry for the commute to Manhattan. University of Miami Libraries.

Staten Island Shipyards

At one point there were seventeen shipyards on Staten Island.  The best known of the wooden boat builders was the A. C. Brown yard in Tottenville. A. Cary Smith, twenty first member of the New York Yacht Club and designer of the Cup winner Mischief in 1881, lived across the Kill Van Kull in Bayonne, New Jersey. He had several schooners built at A. C. Brown shipyard including the schooner Uncas.  Uncas was still afloat until 1990.  Several other wooden vessels from this shipyard are still operating today, including a Munroe design, the Carib II, built in 1924 and the Virginia,  built in 1916.  The Virginia was constructed for William K. Vanderbilt with instructions by the Cup winning yacht firm (Weatherly 1964) Cox & Stevensto model her after the America's Cup boats of the day.

Schooner under construction.

The New One design schooners p. 407 Outing; Sport, Adventure, Travel, Fiction, Volume 32

On the North Shore Shooter's Island  was a great yachting center. On March 18, 1905 the Richmond County Advance reported:

"The management [of the Townsend Downey Shipyard on Shooter's Island] turned their attention to yacht building, and with Messrs. A. Cary Smith and others for designers they successfully turned out the schooner yachts Thistle, Elmina and Mariel (two of the fastest boats of their kind), Ontariow, Sculpin II , Corona, Egress, Teckla, Resolute, Cornell, the three-masted schooner yacht Shenandoah (the only one of its kind in the world), the Atlantic (which with the Thistle, will enter the great ocean yacht race in May), and the Meteor (built for the German Emperor). "

 The three masted schooner Atlantic, which set a Tran-Atlantic crossing speed record in 1905 with  three-time America's Cup winning skipper Charlie Barr at the helm.  Her twelve day, four hour record stood until 1980.  Other famous yachts were produced on the North Shore at Burlee, later the Staten Shipbuilding Company, including John Jacob Astor's Noma, later the U.S.S. Noma, financier David G. Reid's Rheclair and NYYC Commodore Robert E. Todd's three masted schooner Karina.

Shooter's Island Shipbuilding plant. Richmond County Advance, March 18, 1905.

"The Big Shooter's Island Ship-Building Plant " Townsend & Downey.  Richmond County Advance March 18, 1905.

"Corinthian" Innovations

Corinthian Yacht Club emblem, 1892.

A Corinthian Yacht Club of New York publication with the dates "Organized 1886" and "Incorporated 1887" when the club was at Tompkinsville. It is available in an online edition.

Besides being the home to the NYYC the Island was also the on-water home of the (Seawanhaka) Corinthian Yacht Club in Tompkinsville "adjoining the ferry landing" beginning in 1881 and was active for there for at least a decade.   According to the club's website, the club had a series of firsts in NY Harbor:

 "The first open Corinthian race (in NY bay) ...Prohibition of professionals on the helm in most local races...The first spinnakers flown in a race (off Staten Island)"

The club moved activities from Oyster Bay to New York Harbor in 1875 but lacked an on-water headquarters.  Social events were held at Delmonico's restaurant while sailing was administered from the club's flagship.  In 1881 the club leased a yacht basin and clubhouse at Tompkinsville. It was at Staten Island when the Seawanhaka club added "Corinthian" to their name becoming Seawanhaka Corinthian. "Corinthian," in this sense means "amateur", and was generally used as a term of derision by yachting professionals.  Though  an "anti-Corinthian"  sentiment is understandable considering the complexity, cost and safety concerns around of the big yachts of the day.  The NYYC also sponsored Corinthian racing almost from the beginnning, but America's Cup racing remains one of the few races primarily for professionals.   Members of the Seawanhaka Corinthian would go on to become influential in the racing world, including the yacht designer A. Cary Smith.

Apparently, the club occupied two locations, the first at William St. by the old U. S. Navy homeport in Stapleton. In 1887 the British challenger Thistle used the Tompkinsville site as a site for shore operations.  It was reported: "Everything in the shape of weight that could be dispensed with was taken on shore and stored in the storehouse of the Corinthian Yacht Club in Tompkinsville and the yacht will come to the line in perfect racing condition." The Seawanhaka Corinthian club remained at Tompkinsville for about a decade before finding a new home at Oyster Bay, Long Island in 1892. 

Several accounts of the day seem to draw distinctions drawn between the Staten Island Corinthians and the Seawahaka Club writing of"Corinthian Yacht Club of New York" without the name "Seawanhaka." One account of the founding states there was a committee to acquire the Tompkinsville location "previously occupied by the Seawanhaka club and to report on designs for a distinguishing burgee."  Members of the Corinthians also belonged to the New York Yacht Club and races included America's Cup boats such as the 1886 challenger Galatea.  August Belmont was an "Admiral" of the Corinthian Club and his steam yacht Ituna served as flagship.

Model-room of the Corinthian Yacht Club of New York, at Tompkinsville, Staten Island

Model-room of the Corinthian Yacht Club of New York, at Tompkinsville, Staten Island

"Under the lee of Staten Island's majestic hills lies the little club-house and basin of the Corinthian Yacht Club. This spot is known among yachtsmen as the “cutter nest," for here the believers in narrow and deep craft have their winter and summer home. Even the undisputed successes of the beamy centreboard sloop have not shaken for one instant the faith of this organization in the cutter type. The club and its successful administration owe much to Admiral Tweed and his efficient secretary, M. Roosevelt Schuyler. The model-room of the Corinthians is similar to that of the New York and Seawanhaka Clubs, and is visited in the winter principally by those members who live on Staten Island in the vicinity of Tompkinsville. "   "The Illustrated American, Volume 5  DECEMBER, JANUARY, FEBRUARY 1890–1891. 

"The premises secured at Tompkinsville for the use of the club are particularly suitable for its purposes, consisting of a picturesque frame building, two stories high, built like an ancient lake-dwelling on piles, at some distance from the real shore of Staten Island. The the lower story contains bathrooms, lavatories, a large reading-room, and
living apartments for the store-keepers. Above there is a commodious veranda commanding a magnificent view of the harbor, and a large model room which, in one respect at least, is unique and promises at one distant date to rival in interest, if not in size,  the famous collection of the NEW YORK YACHT CLUB." 
The Yachts and Yachtsmen of America

The New York Yacht Club (briefly) at Tompkinsville

While Staten Island may have been a prime location for sailing it was not a convenient party spot for Manhattanites.  The club would re-appear briefly on Staten Island shores in 1899.  The July issue of Outing (No. 4)   reported that year:  "Station #1 of the New York Yacht Club has been removed from Bay Ridge L. I.  to Tompkinsville, S.I.  It is still in charge of Mr. William H. Thomas, of the club."  Thomas was the owner of the noted yacht Zinga.  This was a much smaller house designed for support of the boats, not the parties.  It seems likely the move was related to the America's Cup competition. Sir Thomas Lipton made his first challenge in Shamrock that year and would anchor off Tompkinsville.  At the third general meeting of the NYYC on May 16, 1901 "The matters of the new station on the East River and the removal of Station 1 from Staten Island to Bay Ridge were referred to the Committe on Uniform and with power to act."

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on August 20, 1899:

"Tompkinsville and its neighborhood was even livelier than South and Midland Beach yesterday afternoon. The shore was crowded all afternoon with people curious to get a view of the Shamrock and the waters literally swarmed with craft of ail sort, which, in their eagerness, crowded closer than real safety warranted." Then on September 3, 1899 the story continued: "Upon his arrival at Tompkinsville, Sir Thomas at once went aboard the Erin, where he was joined shortly by [his own] Captains [Archie] Hogarth and [Robert] Wringe the first he had seen of them since his arrival. The entire party then proceeded to the Shamrock, which was carefully inspected inside and out, and a long consultation was held. It is believed to have resulted in an agreement to make Sandy Hook the future anchorage of the challenger."  

Shamrock I and II fell to Columbia in 1899 and 1901. Tompkinsville was designated in the club's signal code with the letters U N.

New York Yacht Club, Station 1.
Shamrock at anchor off Tompkinsville. New York journal and advertiser, August 19, 1899.

New York Yacht Club's Station 1 established at Bay Ridge in 1894 was briefly at Tompkinsville in 1899.  Image: Wikipedia.  "Broadside View of the Cup  Challenger as She Lay at Anchor off Tompkinsville Yesterday Afternoon."    New York Journal and Advertiser, August 19, 1899.

Lipton in America's Cup

Shamrocks at Tompkinsville. New-York Tribune., June 15, 1903.

"Shamrocks at Tompkinsville" reads the headline of the New-York Tribune, June 15, 1903. Thomas Lipton arrived at Tompkinsville in his personal yacht Erin, towing Shamrock III.  Lipton brought along more than one Shamrock for practice competitions.

Despite what Queen Victoria may have been told, there is a second-place in the races and one man made a rather successful career out of being second. His name was Thomas Lipton. The Scottish/Irish grocery chain owner and tea magnate made five challenges for the Cup from 1899 to 1930. He numbered his boats Shamrock I - V and they came in second every time.  Lipton joked "I drank my tea from the saucer for the reason I could not lift the cup"

One NYC mayor dubbed him "the world's most cheerful loser" but that's understandable as the cost of his second-place finishes, tens of millions of dollars in today's money, was far below what he would have had to pay in advertising fees for the same kind of publicity. 

Historians credit the rise of his tea company in America to, among other things, the public grace with which he handled his losses.  His image, in full yachting uniform, appeared prominently on many of his tea products into the 1990's - long after much of the American public had forgotten his connection to the America's Cup.   Though he truly tried to win one has to wonder if his company would have been as successful in America had Sir Thomas actually taken the America's Cup away with him.  In 2016 Lipton Inc. sold more than $275 million worth of tea bags in the U.S., more than $100 million in front of the next competitor.

Lipton Tea box.
Sir Thomas Lipton, cigar label.

  A modern Lipton tea box illustration and a vintage Lipton cigar box label featuring the America's Cup.

Unlike many of his fellow yachtsmen Lipton was not born into wealth. He grew up a poor boy, of Irish descent in Glasgow, Scotland. At 14 he sailed to America where he spent 5 years, part of that time working as a New York City grocery store assistant and a New Jersey farmhand. He went on to build a chain of several hundred grocery stores in Britain. He raced on behalf of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club.  He was blackballed by the more prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron, the original Cup host.  Squadron members objected to his common work "in trade," until finally admitting him two years before his death.  Lipton's marketing efforts were also boosted by the American press portraying him as the "world's most eligible bachelor," though it is now believed he was a gay man with a life partner.

Many of Lipton's fans were on Staten Island. Lipton visited Lewis Nixon, the famed naval architect of Ward Hill, aboard Nixon's yacht Loudoun.  Lipton even joined an Island yacht club, which regularly sailed the waters of the Cup course - The Clifton Boat Club.  It would surely have been a good source of local knowledge about the Cup's course waters.  

Sir Thomas Lipton, member of the Clifton Boat Club.  Advance, August 8, 1903.
Clifton Boat Club, from the Alice Austen House, 1887.  Collection of the Staten Island Historical Society.

"Sir Thomas Lipton is a  member of the club." Advance, August 08, 1903.  The “Clifton Boat Club” was organized in 1881.  The pointed roof of the clubhouse can be seen on the left side of the photo above  taken from the Alice Austen House lawn, looking north,  in 1887.   It was a an active New York rowing and sailing club with over 200 members at one point. "The club house is charmingly situated at Clifton, and is a delightful place to visit during the boating season. The house is 60 feet deep by 35 feet wide, with a plaza 12 feet wide on 2 sides, facing the Narrows."  Collection of Historic Richmond Town.  

One Island couple, Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Bergner, admired Lipton so much they asked him to be godfather of their son. They named the boy "Sir Thomas Lipton Bergner."  The couple was inspired by a series of coincidences between Lipton's American arrival dates (for three Cup races) and the birth dates of their three children. Though unable to attend the christening at St. Peter's Church in New Brighton, Lipton accepted the offer and sent each of the Bergner children their own shamrock stick pin.  Lipton's recounting of this story to the Chicago White Sox in Ceylon, as the team travelled on their world tour of 1913-14, is described in the book The Tour to End all Tours  by James E. Elfers:

After the game Lipton hosted a ball for all the players.  He was a gracious host autographing all of their menus. ..and inviting them all to visit him on his yacht when he challenged for the America's Cup later in the year...One of [Lipton's] favorite tales involved his beloved yachts.  When the first Shamrock was anchored off the coast of Tompkinsville...a local man was blessed with a son.  In honor of the famous yacht's arrival, the German farmer gave his son the first and middle names of Thomas and Lipton. A few years later Shamrock II weighed anchor off Tompkinsville, and again the farmer's wife delivered a son.  Sure enough when the Shamrock III arrived in Tompkinsville, so did another German baby boy.  When Lipton heard of this amazing coincidence, he invited the couple to tour his yacht, and they in turn sincerely wished that he would win the cup.

Sir Thomas Lipton, Staten Island godfather.  Advance, July 18, 1903
Tompkins Department Store ad, Reliance v Shamrock.  Richmond County Advance, August 22, 1903

Announcement of the Bergner Christening, Richmond County Advance, July 18, 1903.  Local stores also featured Lipton's races in their advertising.  Pictured above is a 1903 Advance advertisement for Tompkins Department Store, West New Brighton.

Patrol Boats at Tomkpkinsville 

In addition to managing the lightships which served as marks for the course, the Lighthouse Depot served as the center for the support ships for the races in 1903 (and possibly other years as well.)  Lead by Treasury Service Revenue Cutters, the yachts of America's wealthiest were "deputized" into service by hoisting a Treasury flag. The patrol boats kept the course clear while also providing the best viewing for their owners and onboard guests.  

One of these patrol boat guests, Mark Twain, wrote a parody of a 1903 race featuring his yacht's owner, Henry H. Rogers. Rogers, besides being a major stockholder of Standard Oil, was the owner of a Staten Island trolley system.  Twain, the former steamboat captain, had some familiarity with the Lighthouse Depot having previously done a reading on behalf of the Blue Anchor Society, a charity for shipwreck victims, located on the depot grounds.

The New York Times reported on the cutter deployment on August 21, 1903:

“The line of cutters formed just off Tompkinsville and went steaming down the bay at 9 o’clock. The yachts assigned to assist in the work dropped into their places when the line separated into two wings near the Hook.”

NY Times, August 21. 1903.

However, the man who oversaw the Treasury Department's procession that year, Treasury Secretary Leslie M. Shaw, went missing.  Mr. Shaw's secretary, Mr. Edwards,  had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of his boss dockside in Manhattan.  Edwards had with him a “wagon load of provisions and several waiters to care for the Secretary and his guests.” They were scheduled to depart at 9 AM aboard the cutter Onandoga at Tompkinsville. Unable to wait any longer Mr. Edwards finally departed [for Tompkinsville] with provisions and waiters on the last available Revenue Cutter, Manhattan, at 8:45.  Edwards left word for the Secretary of the Treasury “to take the Staten Island Ferry and to hurry or the boat would go from Tompkinsville without him."  When Mr. Edwards arrived at Tompkinsville he found his supervisor waiting for him.  Secretary Shaw had taken an earlier train and had already crossed to Staten Island.  "The Manhattan was notified and went about her assigned work somewhat late.”

Revenue cutters at the 1903 America's Cup.

Revenue cutters at the 1903 America's Cup.  Library of Congress.

The 1914 America's Cup races were scheduled to begin just after Germany declared war on Britain.  Thomas Lipton was crossing the Atlantic for New York in his personal steam yacht Erin accompanied by Shamrock IV when he received the news by radio.  "Mike" Vanderbilt had already dispatched his personal sailing yacht Vagrant to Bermuda to meet Lipton before the news broke. The Vagrant carried no radio and found that upon its arrival in Bermuda all  navigational aids had been removed from the local reefs so as not to aid a German attack.  The shore battery met their arrival with a warning shot.  Vagrant was eventually allowed to enter the port and the next day met Lipton there. The 1914 races were cancelled and Lipton made his yachts available to various medical organizations for the transport of doctors and medicine, even travelling to some hard-hit locations personally.

By the time of the next challenge, in 1920, the NYYC wanted to move the race Newport, Rhode Island.  However, as sailing historian John Rousmaniere explains: "The only person who wanted to have it in New York was Sir Thomas Lipton...All the people from his club and the New York Yacht Club wanted to have it in Newport where there was better wind, cleaner water and better sailing. But Lipton had a lot of followers and friends in New York and he made the decision." NYC hotels were filled to capacity for the event and special trains had to be commissioned from as far away as Canada to handle the incoming crowds. 

Prepping at Port Richmond

The Island's shipyards provided maintenance and last minute modifications to the competitors going back at least to the British challenger Countess of Dufferin in 1876 and continuing on until 1920 when the last races were held in New York Harbor.

Shamrock IV Comes to SISCO Drydock.  Advance, July 22, 1920.

Daily Advance headline July 22, 1920 announcing the arrival of both  Resolute and Shamrock IV at the Staten Island Shipyard Co. docks in Port Richmond.

Americas Cup repairs at the Staten Island Shipyard.

1920's defender and challenger in the dry docks at Port Richmond.  Port of New York Annual. Port Richmond had been a work site for America's Cup boats dating back to 1876 when the British challenger Countess of Dufferin had her hull worked on.  Shamrock II is known to have had her sails fitted out at Tompkinsville and likely had hull work done at Port Richmond in 1901.

Staten Island Shipbuilding Company, 1919.

Staten Island Shipbuilding Company, 1919.  Port of New York Annual. In this Staten Island Advance graphic, Lipton embraces a wooden American eagle, from the original Cup-winner America as his mascot for Shamrock IV in the races of 1920.

Shamrock IV put a scare into the Americans that year, taking a 2 race to 0 lead, before Resolute came from behind, winning 3-2.

New York to Newport and Beyond

After half a century in New York Harbor, the races were finally moved to Newport in 1930.  While the move made for better racing it was a blow to the city's economy and the thousands of local fans.  Thomas Lipton made his final unsuccessful challenge in Shamrock V there.  He was again defeated, this time by Mike Vanderbilt.  

Racing continued for 53 years at Newport until Australia II, sporting a revolutionary winged keel, ended the New York Yacht Club's record-setting 132 year winning streak in 1983.  The Cup then traveled between the U.S., New Zealand and Switzerland for several years.  America regained the Cup in 2010 when Team USA defeated the Swiss in the 33rd competition, bringing the Cup to San Francisco for the first time.  In 2013, at San Francisco Bay, Team USA  trailed New Zealand 8 races to 1 in the 34th series and seemed destined to lose the cup for a second time.  Then, one of the greatest comebacks in all sports history occurred. Team USA came roaring back, defending the Cup 9 - 8.  

After a 96 year absence Cup racing returned to New York Harbor on May 7 & 8, 2016 when qualifying races for the 35th competition were held off the shores of Manhattan. Organizer Harvey Schiller described the Cup staff's first meeting with NYC officials: "When we had the original meeting, the one thing they said was, 'Don't interfere with the Staten Island Ferry,'   The races were moved to a new, "way-inside" course, from the mouth of the Hudson down to the Statue of Liberty, with plenty of good viewing for members of the Shaolin Yacht Club.  Schiller said: "The harbor's ability to bring fans so close to the action is what made New York the mecca of sailing 100 years ago and an ideal home for the America's Cup..."

Cup racing isn't nearly as popular as it once was.   Still, the sight of the speeding boats commands everyone's attention. The new boats have turned an ancient art on its head, capable of sailing at over 50 mph in a 20 mph breeze. The competitors' twin hulls ride above the water like hydrofoils.  The Lipton-style yachting cap has been traded for a crash helmet.   Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill called the sport "NASCAR on water." While this may not please some traditionalists, the origins of this "new" style racing can be traced back to Staten Island in the 1870s.

The Americas Cup returns to NYC, 2016.  Americas Cup website.

 Team USA "flies" past lower ManhattanImage:

The first, and most famous New York racing catamaran was Nathaniel Hereshoff's Amaryllis.  She raced her innaugural, and only race , the 1876 U.S. Centennial Regatta, from Stapleton.   Though not a NYYC race, the start was from the NYYC's Stapleton clubhouse.  The World reported on June 24, 1876:

From an early hour yesterday morning the little vessels that were to compete for the honors of the day began to arrive at the rendezvous, near the New York Yacht Club House on Staten Island, and each ferry-boat that arrived brought large numbers of people from the city to witness the race, which evidently attracted quite as much, if not more, interest than the one of the previous day between the large vessels...The bay in front of the club-house was all alive with craft of every description, and them all none attracted more attention than the schooner-yacht Magic, the winner of more annual regattas than any other schooner of the New York Yacht Club. She has been restored as near as possible to her old appearance when she raced for the Queen's Cup, in 1871, and has been put in perfect order...As the time drew near for the start of the yachts several excursion steamers arrived from the city literally packed with passengers to witness the race... A small stake-boat was anchored just off from the club-house, and it was arranged that the start should be from a line drawn between this boat and the club house. Outside of this stake-boat was the yacht of Vice Commodore Kane, of the New York Yacht Club, dressed off with long lines of bunting, extending from trucks to sails, and here the starting gun was fired.

The Rudder magazine summed up the race in one line:  "One Hereshoff hailing from Bristol Rhode Island, crossed the starting line of the Centennial Regatta at the helm of the little catamaran Amaryllis, and he sailed through the fleet like a greyhound through a drove of cows."

After the victory of the Amaryllis, the captain of the boat Clara S. protested her design because she was not a "yacht" without sleeping quarters.  Hereshoff objected that she had a tent and "the tent affords sufficient shelter".  The race committee disqualified Amaryllis.  Her consolation prize was a certificate declaring Amaryllis "the world's fastest sailing vessel."   The winner of the class was declared to be Jake Schmidt aboard Pluck and Luck.

The disqualification of Hereshoff's Amaryllis from the Centennial race did not sit well with many who feltshe had won fairly.  The World editorialized on this fact and included a warning  to those who sought to block disruptive designs from racing:

So the owners of racing-machines have really no reason to complain that somebody should invent a racing-machine to beat them. This the inventor of the Amaryllis has done. It behooves the owners of the large schooners, however, to take counsel together lest somebody should build an Amaryllis a hundred feet long and convert their crafts into useless lumber. It is a matter quite as important as keeping the America's Cup...

It did not take long for two NYYC members to do exactly what the World predicted. 

A banker from West New Brighton, Charles Meigs also followed with his own "double huller" built in Brooklyn.  Meigs was a member of the original "Hoboken Model Yacht Club", circa 1840,  which later changed its name to "The New York Yacht Club" after a misunderstanding was discovered.  The club's boats were actually small sailboats, in which members sailed, rather than the toys that formed the fleets of their namesakes, the European "model yacht" clubs.  

The book Legends, Stories and Folklore of Old Staten Island tells the story:

It is claimed for Charles Meigs, who at first lived in the Beckerman house on First St., but later removed to Davis Avenue, that he was the first man on Staten Island to construct a catamaran, those twin hulled boats which originated in the southern seas, and that he sailed it with considerable success, while Anson Phelps Stokes of New Brighton was a close second. The latter's vessel, however, had a disconcerting way of taking a header — as the landlubber who told the story put it — and tossing its occupants into the sea with a splash. In fact, she appears to have been more in the nature of a bathing machine than a boat. 

"An old salt gives his recollection of this pleasing diversion as follows: "Remember the catamarans well, and Nat. Herreshoff was the first to revive their use and the first successful designer of them, and the ball and socket attachment of the hulls to each other. This feature was patented, and very many, not realizing its importance, tried to evade royalties by making rigid attachments, among them the parties you mention. The Stokes one, plans of which were submitted to me by a bidder on construction, I condemned and was not mistaken. Her remains were for a long time on the beach in Mulford's Basin, opposite the Commodore Vanderbilt home on Bay Street, Stapleton. She was quite a ship with under deck cabins in both hulls, and must have cost a pretty penny. Never heard of her performing any serious stunts, simply wouldn't go fast. The under water act was peculiar to all styles when over-crowded with sail. The lee hull would take a dive and fetch up while the weather one would somersault over it. Fred Hughes, of the old Cremorne Gardens,  [at 14th St & 6th Ave.] New York City, was the great exploiter of catamarans. He spent many thousands on them, and his craft, sailing rings around the Staten Island ferry boats, which were by no means slow, was a common sight every favorable breeze ."

Anson Phelps Stokes, 1873.
Anson Phelps Stokes mansion, New Brighton, Staten Island.

Anson Phelps Stokes in 1873.  The former Stokes mansion in New Brighton near Daniel Low Terrace.

 Anson Phelps Stokes of New Brighton was the NYYC Vice Commodore.  At first the other members objected to his catamaran  but a special meeting was held and it was decided a double hulled schooner would be permitted to race.  Unlike Amaryllis Stoke's boat had sleeping quarters.

Stokes yacht was the Nereid  (a sea nymph in Greek mythology ).  She was built by Islander Captain Louis Towns with hulls 3 feet wide and five feet deep and 10 feet apart.  Unlike modern catamarans the single rudder was located in between the two hulls.   The Nereid became known as "Stokes' folly."  She raced unsuccessfully for a time but Stokes felt she was not the total failure others portrayed her to be as "she proved herself well able to accompany the squadron."

The multi-hull Nereid under sail.
Twin hulled yacht Nereid owned by Anson Phelps Stokes.


Anson Phelps Stokes' Nereid  and herdeck plan.  Images: Stokes records; notes regarding the ancestry and lives of Anson Phelps Stokes and Helen Louisa (Phelps) Stokes 

Monohulls continued to be the Cup standard until 1988 when Dennis Connor's catamaran Stars and Stripes went up against New Zealand's enormous monohull KZ 1, nicknamed the"Aircraft Carrier". The catamaran won easily on the water but, just as in 1876 and 1877, there was much disagreement over the legality of the twin hull design.  Court battles ensued in the New York courts, first awarding the 1988 Cup to KZ 1 and then giving it back to Stars and Stripes.

The vessels have changed since the old races but much of the original the spirit has been renewed.  2016 ferry riders enjoyed the show just as Alice Austen and her party did in 1893.   The city shorelline was again a prime viewing spot, for the first time since the days of the inside course. Cup racing had come back as a spectator sport for all New Yorkers. 

The home of the first Cup defense still stands. Its exterior is mostly boarded though a few upper windows still provide views of the passing boats to the empty rooms.   The broad front porch is now gone and weeds surround the building.  The building was stabilized in 2013 and awaits restoration and remind us of the glory days when Shaolin ruled the waves.

The New York Yacht Club Clubhouse, Rosebank Staten Island today.

The NYYC Clubhouse on Staten Island today.

The 2017 Cup Finals are scheduled for Bermuda on June when Team USA will face off against the top qualifying challenger.  (I will be presenting a talk about the material presented here at the National Lighthouse Museum, at the old U.S. Lighthouse Depot, next to the ferry terminal on Staten Island.  The event starts at 12 PM. Afterwards we will revive the old Island tradition of the America's Cup viewing party, this time via video, on Sunday, June 25, 2017.   Check their website for details.)

The City and the Sea

The sea is the great wilderness of New York City. 165 square miles of the City are water.  Within the city limits the sea occupies mores space than Manhattan, The Bronx and Brooklyn combined.  It is our "sixth borough", 

Now the usual talk of the sea in New York is in terms of rising water levels, pollution, super storms and spending millions keeping it all in check. Venturing out in anything smaller than a  ferryboat or cruise ship is becoming a rarity.  Once the sea was a more welcome part of our city.   A century ago average New Yorkers not only watched the magnificent racing yachts, in numbers that would make today's Yankees or Mets envious,  but they also sailed themselves.  Old pictures of Staten Island beaches are filled with small boats, resting at anchor or on the sand, waiting for someone to shove off on a sunny day.   With the City's old commerical and industrial waterfront fading away we now have unique opportunities to enable many more people to return to the water.  

Historical Staten Island Boat Club List

Neptune Boat Club  (rowing at West New Brighton, 1863, later merged with Staten Island Athletic Club)

New York Yacht Club  (at Clifton 1868-1870, Stapleton c1876, Tompkinsville 1899-1901)

Staten Island Athletic Club, Yachting Department  (1871, boat house constructed 1881 between York and Franklin Avenues in New Brighton then destroyed by a passing tow in 1886, moved to "the old Campbell mansion in 1887, yachting deparment active in 1892 in the NY Yacht Racing Association)

New York Canoe Club   (sailing-canoe club at Tompkinsville, 1871. It later became the North Shore Yacht Clubin Port Washington, Long Island.)

Stapleton Yacht Club   (10 member vessels in 1872)

Hesper Boat Club  (1870s, later merged with the Staten Island Athletic Club.  The founding meeting of the SIAC was held in the Hesper boathouse.)

Excelsior Yacht Club station (a Brooklyn club at Great Kills, 1874)

West Brighton Yacht Club (1879?)

Clifton Boat Club (The new boat house was started in 1880, and was finished far enough for habitation the following season, so the club moved what few boats, etc., it had to its new quarters, and thus boating was added to the already many attractions of this club. This fine house started a boom in the membership, as the roll room ran up to 260, while a year before but 60 names were enrolled in all. The boat house is one of, if not the finest around New York, and the members are always delighted to show their friends and visitors around at any time. - Richard M. Bayles 1887)

 Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club  (at Stapleton and Tompkinsville, 1881-1891?), 

Ocean Yacht Club,  (Front Street, Stapleton 1891- present, the oldest existing yacht club on Staten Island, 60 members in 1900)

Kill Von Kull Yacht Club  (founded November 25, 1890. colonial clubhouse at Sharp Ave., boathouse at John St.,  Port Richmond, 1892.  150 members in 1900.)

Knickerbocker Canoe Club station (at Stapleton 1892)

Staten Island Yacht Club  (organized 1891, incorporated  1896/7, at Dock Street, Stapleton, 1897, 90 members in 1900, 150 members in 1901 and 28 vessels.  Station at Shrewsbury River, Highlands N. J.)

Rahway Yacht Club station  (at Prince's Bay, 1904)

Great Kills Yacht Club  (1906)

Tompkinsville Boat Club  (1912)

Tottenville Boat Club  (1914)

Mariners Harbor Yacht Club  (foot of South Avenue, 1915)

Elizabeth Yacht  Club station (Chelsea S.I., c. 1915)

Bentley Yacht Club  (Named for Christopher Billopp's home / boat, Bentley, which legend (?) says won Staten Island for the New York Colony, in a dispute with New Jersey, in 1675, by circumnavigating the Island in under 24 hours. At 5372 Amboy Rd., Tottenville,1909)

North Bentley Yacht Club  (at Tottenville 1920s)

Yvette Yacht Club  (named for a French hairnet designer by the Yvette Company owner, Henry Salomons.  He ran a chain of "Barber Bill" children's barber shops featuring hobby-horse barber chairs and founded the club at Great Kills, 1923.  In 1926 the club got national attention by christening a yacht by showering "its bow with talcum from a huge powder puff instead of wine from a bottle of old vintage." The Yvette became the Richmond County Yacht Club in 1929.)

Princess  (Prince's) Bay Yacht Club(at Prince's Bay c. 1929)

Prince's Bay Boatmen's Association (organized 1934)

Lemon Creek Boatmen's Association(?)

Tottenville Yacht Club  (1940)

Kayak Staten Island (2009?)

Historical Staten Island Model Yacht Clubs

The Staten Island Model Yacht Club (at Port Richmond was active until at least 1940.   The founding date is another question.  Scribner's Monthly of August 1872 announced the formation of a model yacht club on Staten Island:  

"These clubs were common in Paris in the last 10 or 12 years, and lately one has been organized on Staten Island."

If so,  Staten Island definitely had one of the first, and *possibly* the first, model yacht club in America.   The Prospect Park Model Yacht Club, the oldest American club in operation today, was founded July 4, 1872. That was probably close to the founding announced by Scribner's in August 1872 - depending on the specifics of " lately one has been organized on Staten Island." and the date the article was first written.  

A 1939 publication titled "Recreation" states that  "In America, New York and San Francisco compete for the honor of having organized the first model yacht club in the early seventies...Central Park lake and lakes across Staten Island lay claim to model sailors at about the same time." San Francisco Model Yacht Club was founded in 1898 and Central Park Model Yacht Club was founded in 1916.  

 The Staten Island Model Yacht Club competed in the Eastern Division of the Model Yacht Racing Association of America against clubs from Philadelphia, New Jersey, Brooklyn and Long Island.Sailors' Snug Harbor was also a well-known early model yachting center and the Clove Lakes Park Model Yacht Club was active around 1940 and probably earlier.

Staten Island Yacht Club burgee.

Staten Island Yacht Club burgee.

Prince's Bay Yacht Club, Staten Island

Princess (Prince's) Bay Yacht Club, Staten Island

Great Kills Yacht Club Staten Island, N.Y.

Great Kills Yacht Club, Staten Island

Staten Island Athletic Club, yachting department race, 1892 by Alice Austen.

The July 3, 1890 issue of Field & Stream includes the "Mariposa" in a list of competitors that sailed in a Staten Island Athletic Club race on June 28: "The Yachting Department of the Staten Island Athletic Club sailed a very successful regatta on Saturday on New York Bay, the start being off Robbin's Reef Light. The wind was strong and puffy from the west...."  Alice Austen photo.  Collection of Historic Richmond Town.

"Yacht and Boat Clubs of Staten Island in the the Nineteenth Century" an article by Anita Jacobsen can be found in the Staten Island Historian , Jan-March issue, 1979.  An article on the "Hesper Boat Club" can be found in the Oct. - Dec.  1977 issue. "The Austen Family and Their Home and the Former NYYC" is in Apr.-June 1967 issue.

Thanks to the Historic Richmond Town for the use of their images.