The America’s Cup and its effect on sailing at Belfast Lough, 1897

Did the America's Cup destroy Belfast Lough Sailing

I don’t follow racing by choice – I’m interested in the technology but can’t bring myself to care who wins. But even I know that the America’s Cup seems to be endlessly controversial and often seriously troubled.

And in Belfast in the last years of the 19th century it may have done more harm than good, or so this piece argues. And there’s some nice news about a restoration of a grand old boat too…

My thanks go to boat designer and home boat building guru and sailmaker Mik Storer.

Here’s the publisher’s introduction:

‘The 35th America’s Cup series will be staged in Bermuda in 2017, and already the first team – Ben Ainslie Racing – is starting to settle into its base in the islands at the beginning of a developing process which, it is hoped by locals, will contribute significantly and sustainably to an economy which is by no means as prosperous as the popular image of Bermuda would suggest.

‘Yet past experience of being involved with the America’s Cup circus suggests that while there are definitely immediate and highly visible benefits, they’re ephemeral and are more than offset by a hidden but very definite downside. And the pace of the event at its peak is at such a level that almost immediately afterwards there’s a sense of anti-climax and recrimination which can poison a sailing centre’s atmosphere for years. W M Nixon considers how sailing’s most stellar event affected Irish sailing, looks at a more recent continuation of this story, and then takes up the tale of an old boat whose class’s health suffered collateral damage from America’s Cup fallout.’

The race winning schooner 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.

Why don’t you learn to swim Grandad?

‘Why don’t you learn to swim Grandad?’

‘It just prolongs the agony boy.’

In the first of two videos from Cornish Voices (via the Looe Maritime Archive) two ex-fishermen Ken and Tony Pengelly talk about falling in the harbour and about fishing down there, and reveal some old fashioned attitudes to the sea and swimming.

Did you know that congers make a barking noise that sounds like a dog?

And here AJ Pengelly – (perhaps their grandfather – it’s not clear) talks about racing the huge J-class racer Shamrock V in the 1930 America’s Cup and  crossing the Atlantic in her. She doesn’t sound at all comfortable!