The race winning schooner America

America

‘The schooner, fittingly named America, was modeled on the highly successful pilot boats that navigated New York’s busy harbor. A stark contrast to the “cod’s head and mackerel tail” shape that typified British yachts, America had a long, sharp bow and a blunted stern.

‘Her masts were sharply raked and rigged with taut cotton duck sailcloth, which stretched less than the flax sails used by the British, providing more power in varying wind conditions.

‘Upon crossing the Atlantic, America’s unusual appearance made an immediate impression, with one British sailor declaring, “If she’s all right, then we’re all wrong.”‘

The story of America is a great tale and a dire warning to anyone who might be just a little too comfortable in their nice cosy paradigm. It is told at the SFO Museum website.

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

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J Russell Scott

Naval architect J Scott Russell advocated a wave approach to the problem of resistance to hulls moving through water

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

‘Between the years 1823 and 1844 the Royal Thames, Royal Northern, Royal Western, Royal Eastern, Royal St George’s, Royal Southern, Royal Harwich, Royal Mersey, and Royal Victoria Yacht Clubs had been established, additional, of course, to the Royal Yacht Squadron. Thus, in all parts of the country the builders and designers of the fore-and-aft craft received every incentive to create the best which materials and existing knowledge could bring about. Presently these clubs were to be added to by the instituting of many more similar organisations in almost every suitable harbour or estuary in the United Kingdom. Royal patronage had also helped, and the first royal cup was given by William IV to the Royal Yacht Squadron in the year 1834.

‘All sorts of theories had for the previous hundred years been advanced in connection with the resistance of water in the progress of a vessel, and many an attempt had been made to design such a hull as would offer the least possible resistance compatible with seaworthiness. Of these theories many were of Gallic origin. But in the ‘forties Scott Russell made very valuable contributions to this science, suggested certain theories for dealing with resistance, and advocated a wave-like system. Others have since increased this body of information by further experiments. It was during the ‘forties that designers began to realise thoroughly that the old ‘cod’s head and mackerel’s tail’ was a long way from the ideal design. So in the year 1848 there was built on the Thames a cutter named the Mosquito, which was entirely original in that she posessed a long hollow bow, and a short after body of great beam, and generally was in conformity with the lines advocated by Scott Russell. She was of 70 tons displacement, and built not of wood but of iron. However, so great was the existing blind prejudice that she was not popularly received.

‘But in the meantime the Americans had developed the schooner and improved on the pilots and fishermen until they were able to produce a schooner yacht. During the early ‘forties the yachtsmen of the United States had been engaged in racing both in sloop and schooner. In 1844 a memorable race took place between two American yachts, of which one was the 178 ton centreboard sloop Maria, which had a clipper bow, and the other was the schooner-rigged Coquette of 74 tons. The result was that the schooner won, for, thanks to the influence of the Gloucester fishermen and pilots, this type of vessel had been  brought very close to perfection considering the amount of knowledge then extant.

‘There was a man in New York of the name of George Steers, who had obtained a first-class reputation for the building of crack pilot schooners, and to him now came the commission to build a racing schooner yacht that was to cross the Atlantic on her own bottom and see what she could do in English waters against English craft… when we say that she was the famous America, after which the historic races for the America Cup have been named, the reader will not feel himself disinterested.’

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.

Lessons from America

America's_Cup_yacht_America

Lithograph of the original 1851 America’s Cup champion yacht
America. Click here for a site about the America – it’s written
in German but has some small-ish drawings and photos

Paul Austin of Dallas, Texas, has written an essay for Duckworksmagazine shooting down British theories about way America won, and draws two conclusions from her career. The first concerns her lines and the second the way her subsequent owners failed to care for it.

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