Keble Chatterton on the early development of racing yachts, part III

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America schooner yacht painted by Bard

America, schooner yacht, oil on canvas by James Bard – taken from the Wikipedia

Here’s another scrap from Keble Chatterton’s history Fore and Aft Craft. See the previous extracts here and here.

Writing about the America, he says:

‘We may briefly add that after being built at a cost of £4000 she reached Cowes in August of 1851, and on the 22nd of that month won the special cup offered by the Royal Yacht Squadron. She beat the best of our crack cutters and schooners so handsomely, and was so great a departure in many of her features from the existing British convention, that it did not take our fellow countrymen long to realise that the America was mostly right and we were mostly wrong. To begin with, the America had similar lines to the depised Mosquito of a few years earlier, and the characteristics of the Yankee were, briefly, small displacement, small midships sectional area, and her hull was distinctly small in proportion to her dimensions. Her waterlines were also much sharper than had previously been attempted in the case of large yachts.

‘She was also a contrast in other respects as compared with the best contemporary English yachts. Firstly, she was a schooner, whereas most of our yachts were cutters. Secondly, her sails, unlike those horrible looking windbags which we have seen from Daniell and Cooke, were cut so that when set they were tight and flat.l Consequently, with the fine entrance lines of the hull and the well-fitting sails to propel her the America went to windward in a splendid manner.

After her departure there remained her influence. As the America had been a schooner, the Alarm (193 tons) was in 1852 lengthened by 20 feet at the bow and rigged as a schooner, which made her to be of 248 tons. As the America had the newer type of close-fitting, flat sails, so the Alarm copied her example, and she subsequently appeared with one enormous triangular jib but no staysail, the foresail having a gaff but no boom and the mainsail with both boom and gaff. In other words, she was very similar to the prevailing pilot schooners of North America. Furthermore, instead of the old idea which England had copied from the Dutch, to which she still clung, in having the loose-footed mainsail, the latter was laced to the spar, the jib worked on the forestay and was laced along the foot to a boom also.

The net result of all this was that English sail-makers began to cut better sails and English designers began to evolve better hulls. For a time, from about 1852 to 1865, there was a craze for American centre-board craft, but there was also a craze for schooners, thanks to the America’s success. In the ‘sixties the yawl rig also became the fashion, following the popularity of the schooner, for it provided a half-way stage between the schooner and the single-masted cutter.

Amazon has a few copies of Fore and Aft Craft, and more information about the history of the America’s Cup can be found in this discounted book from Amazon: The Story of The America’s Cup: 1851-2007 Keble Chatterton on the early development of racing yachts, part II.

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