Yachting History

In his History of Yachting (1974) Douglas Phillips-Birt writes that the Dutch, who gave the name ‘yacht’ to the world, were almost certainly the first in yachting history to use their commercial boats for pleasure. This is confirmed in The Feadship Story (1999) by Andrew Rogers, who dates yachting in Holland to the end of the 16th century, and says the first yacht harbour was created within Amsterdam harbour in 1604. The pleasures of yachting may have been spread across the Atlantic by the Dutch to their colony of New Amsterdam—New York after 1664.

Yachting, the sport of racing or cruising in yachts, the term applying to both sailing and power vessels built for pleasure, or converted for it. The word has rather an old-fashioned, elitist ring to it, but Britain has not yet adapted the more democratic American word ‘boating’, so ‘yachting’ will have to suffice here as a generic term to cover the various ways of sailing for pleasure. In order to compete, most types of sailing yachts are given a rating and all are subject to international racing rules.

Yachting History: Sail

Inshore Racing

The earliest known sailing race in England was noted in John Evelyn’s diary. In this he records that he was on board Charles II’s yacht Katherine when she raced, and beat, the Duke of York’s Anne on 1 October 1661. The was on the River Thames, from Greenwich to Gravesend and back, and Evelyn noted that the king sometimes steered his yacht himself.

In the 18th century yacht races were organized by the first yacht clubs, but it was not until the 19th century that racing really began as a sport, and it was not until after the visit of the schooner America in 1851, that it became in Britain more than an esoteric pastime for the aristocracy. The creation of what is now the Royal Yachting Association in 1875 and the introduction of rating rules established the sport in Britain on proper foundations. The earliest yachts were mostly schooners, but during the latter half of the century the cutter rig predominated, though yawls were also built.

The latter half of the 19th century was a boom time for yachting, particularly in Britain where the Prince of Wales encouraged the new sport with his presence on the water. Many notable yachts were constructed, but perhaps the most important from the point of view of racing design was the yawl-rigged Jullanar (see Fig. 2). She was built and designed by an agricultural engineer, E. H. Bentall, to have, in his own words, ‘the longest waterline, the smallest frictional surface, and the shortest keel’. She proved phenomenally fast and during her racing life won more races than any other yacht. Her design was the direct forerunner of such famous yachts as the Prince of Wales’s Britannia, launched in 1893, and Lord Dunraven’s Valkyrie II and Valkyrie III, both challengers for the America’s Cup during the 1890s.

In the USA Nathanael Herreshoff was experimenting with hull forms for racing yachts. In 1891 he produced the Gloriana (see Fig. 3). She was a small boat with a waterline length of 14 metres (46 ft) but was completely different in hull form from anything yet seen in American waters. Built with very long overhangs at bow and stern, her forefoot was cut away to produce an entry that was almost a straight line from the stem to the bottom of the keel. It was a revolutionary design, and in every race in which she sailed that season there was nothing that could touch her.

Early English rating rules produced the ‘plank-on-edge’ cutter where the beam became narrower and narrower and the draught deeper and deeper. Those yachtsmen in the USA who adopted this type of design became known as ‘cutter cranks’ and in both countries new rating rules were adopted to counter this extreme type. These formulae worked with varying degrees of success at first, but in trying to evade them designers eventually produced the skimming dish. To counter these extreme designs the Universal Rule was introduced in the USA and the International Rule, which produced the , was introduced in Europe.

By 1911 the Bermudan rig was beginning to be adopted by some of the smaller racing classes. However, the first large racing yacht to adopt it, the Nyria, did not do so until 1920, though a halfway stage to the Bermudan from the rig, known as the marconi rig, was introduced into the larger racing classes in 1913. While it was the big racing yachts, which attracted most public attention—yacht racing was very much a spectator sport right up to the Second World War (1939–45)—yachting grew astonishingly quickly during the first three decades of the 20th century. But after the Second World War (1939–45) everything changed. By then the Universal Rule was dead and yachts built to the International Rule were falling from favour. The age of the racing dinghy arrived, and the ocean racer became confirmed as the racing yacht of the future.

Offshore Racing

Ocean, or offshore, racing in the modern meaning of the phrase began off the east coast of the USA in 1904 when a 480-kilometre (300-ml.) offshore race, from New York to Marblehead, was organized. The competitors were cruising yachts skippered by amateurs, with mostly amateur crews. There was a similar race in 1905 and then, in 1906, the first Bermuda race, a distance of 960 kilometres (600 mls.), was run. The same year, the first Transpac Race, from Los Angeles to Honolulu, also took place. Both are still held today, though both became defunct before the First World War (1914–18) and were revived after it.

The British were slower to take to this type of racing, but in 1925 seven yacht owners took up the challenge of racing round the Fastnet Rock off the coast of south-west Ireland, starting from the Isle of Wight and finishing at Plymouth, a distance of some 968 kilometres (605 mls.) The event was won by E. G. Martin in his French pilot cutter Jolie Brise, and at dinner afterwards the Ocean Racing Club was formed. In 1931 this became the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), now the governing body of offshore racing in Britain. The early competitors in the RORC’s races were all cruising boats, many of them gaff rigged and built more for comfort than speed, but in 1931 a young American yacht designer, Olin Stephens, sailed his 16-metre (52-ft) LOA yawl Dorade across the Atlantic to compete in that year’s Fastnet race, by now a biennial event. She won easily, and did so again in 1933, and won many other races as well. Then in 1935 the Stephens-designed Trenchemer was launched. She was the first yacht built specifically to the RORC rating rule, though Stephens knew nothing of it at the time as his design had been stolen from a book!

At least Trenchemer’s owner knew a good design when he saw one, for Stephens’s creations won every Fastnet race between 1931 and 1937, and many other races besides; and after the Second World War his yachts not only dominated ocean racing for many decades, but the America’s Cup as well. But in 1939 the run of American wins in the Fastnet Race was broken when the English designer Charles E. Nicholson produced Bloodhound. Because of her royal ownership during the 1960s, she is perhaps the best-known ocean racer of all time.

In the USA the Cruising Club of America (CCA), founded in 1922, had the same role as the RORC in Britain. It, too, introduced its own rating rule and organized long-distance events. It did not organize the revival of the 1923 Bermuda race but did so after that year, and the influence of its rating rule steadily expanded along both coasts of the USA. So in 1941, when the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit (SORC) properly began, its organizers adopted the CCA rule. A series of winter events, which included the Miami–Nassau and St Pete–Havana races, the SORC quickly became popular and by the 1970s was a top event. It is still held each year, though the courses have changed.

Admiral’s Cup and Ton Cups

After the Second World War, ocean racers dominated the racing scene, and new long-distance events, like the Sydney–Hobart Race (started 1945) and the Mediterranean Giraglia Race (started 1953), were inaugurated. Then in 1957 the RORC initiated the first international ocean racing event by inviting an American three-boat team to compete against a British one for a new trophy, the Admiral’s Cup, so called after the RORC’s admiral. The teams raced against one another in the Fastnet and Channel races, and two inshore ones, with triple points being scored in the Fastnet and double points in the shorter Channel race. In somewhat dubious circumstances—it was found afterwards that one of the British competitors had inadvertently infringed the rules and the Americans were not informed of this—the British won by 70 points to 68. Two years later the competition was thrown open to any nation and similar competitions were started in the USA (Onion Patch series) and Australia (Southern Cross Cup), each, like the Admiral’s Cup, being held biennially. Another important international competition was the One Ton Cup, a challenge trophy for yachts of equal rating donated by the Cercle de la Voile de Paris in 1965. The success of this series encouraged championships for Quarter Ton, Half Ton, Three-Quarter Ton, and Mini-Ton classes.

These competitions drew yachts from every corner of the world—there were nineteen national teams in the Admiral’s Cup competitions of 1975–9—but during the 1990s interest dwindled. The Admiral’s Cup was cancelled in 2001, and though in 2003 it was re-established on an inter-club basis efforts to make it an international event in 2005 failed, and it was again cancelled.

Transoceanic Racing

This has a long history, for the first organized race was held in 1866. It was contested by three schooners, Henrietta, Fleetwing, and Vesta. The owner of each yacht put up a stake of US $30,000, with the winner—Henrietta—taking all. Other transatlantic races followed, most notably the one held in 1905 in which the schooner Atlantic won in a time not beaten until 1980, and they are still held today. However, attention is now centred on the astonishing speed achieved by racing in transocean racing, and on those who take part in the various round-the-world races.

In the late 1950s two yachtsmen, Francis (later Sir Francis) Chichester and ‘Blondie’ Hasler, wagered half a crown (25p/65 cents) as to who could win a single-handed race across the Atlantic east to west. Transatlantic races in small yachts were not a new idea—a similar event to what Chichester and Hasler were proposing had taken place as early as 1891—but the race, which attracted three other starters, caught the public’s imagination. It was held in 1960, was won by Chichester, and developed into a quadrennial race sponsored by a newspaper. Called the OSTAR (Observer Single-Handed Trans Atlantic Race), it started a trend in single-handed, and double-handed, competitions. It is still held today (2004) with multihulls and monohulls competing in different classes, but the spotlight has long since shifted to the even longer events it spawned.

Among the best known of these are the French-organized single-handed Route du Rhum (Saint-Malo–Guadeloupe) and double-handed Transat Jacques Vabre (Le Havre–Brazil). These events are dominated by multihulls, though monohulls, especially those with swing keels, have their successes. All are high-tech ‘formula one’ machines which use state-of-the-art materials and the latest design expertise, and their crews are funded by sponsorship deals which run into millions.

Round-the-World Competitions

Even longer events were prompted by the first single-handed round-the-world race held in 1968–9. Sponsored by a British national newspaper, the Sunday Times, it was a non-stop race and was won by Robin (now Sir Robin) Knox-Johnston in his ketch Suhaili, in a time of 313 days. This, too, captured the imagination of the public—and the eye of the advertising industry—and has led to an ever-increasing number of round-the-world events. Regular quadrennial ones include the Volvo (previously Whitbread) Round-the-World Race, a crewed monohull race first held in 1973; the single-handed ‘Around Alone’ Race; and the Global Challenge in which identical yachts, with crews who pay for the privilege, race round the world against the prevailing winds. All these are held in stages, but the Everest among round-the-world races is the non-stop single-handed Vendée Globe. Yachtsmen taking part in all single-handed, or short-handed, events, including those described in the next sections, use a vane self-steering gear.

Racing Against Time

Not exactly racing, but certainly not cruising, are the yachtsmen who race, not against anyone else, but against time.

In previous centuries the clipper ships had raced to be first home with their cargoes and this gave Francis Chichester the idea of trying to beat the 100 days it usually took them between England and Australia, and to do it single-handed. It took him 107 days in his 16-metre (53-ft) ketch Gipsy Moth IV, but he then went on to circumnavigate the world, returning to a knighthood and acclaim in May 1967.

This voyage, too, set a trend and soon everyone was trying to establish new speed records. In 1970–1 Chay (now Sir Chay) Blyth made the first single-handed circumnavigation against the prevailing winds in a time of 293 days, but the current record-holder for this feat, Jean Luc van den Heede, finished the same course in 2004 in just 122 days. Women have accomplished equally astonishing voyages racing against time; in 1988 Australian Kay Cottee became the first woman to complete a solo non-stop circumnavigation, finishing in 189 days. The present holder, for both men and women, is Englishwoman Ellen (now Dame Ellen) MacArther. In February 2005 she beat the then current world record of just under 73 days, established by Frenchman François Joyon in 2004, by completing her non-stop circumnavigation in her catamaran B&Q in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes, and 33 seconds.

The Jules Verne Trophy, awarded to the fastest circumnavigation by a crewed yacht, was conceived by the Frenchman Yves Le Cornec, who based his idea on the Jules Verne novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Frenchman Bruno Peyron was the first skipper to compete for it in 1993, and Sir Peter Blake was among others who later held the trophy. In April 2004 Steve Fossett established the fastest crewed circumnavigation in a time of 58 days, 9 hours, 32 minutes, and 45 seconds, but he was not racing for the trophy. Its current holder is Bruno Peyron who in March 2005 completed his crewed circumnavigation in the catamaran Orange II in a new world record time of 50 days, 16 hours, 20 minutes, and 4 seconds.

Cruising Under Sail

What must have been one of the earliest cruises took place in 1809 when Sir William Curtis decided to sail to Spain to view the Peninsular War at first hand. He was allowed to do so provided he put his yacht under the command of a naval squadron, which he gladly agreed to. Then in 1815 he took a party of friends aboard his yacht at Ramsgate and visited St Petersburg. In those days wars attracted the attention of cruising yachtsmen. Despite a demand from some professional crews for ‘no Baltic cruizing’, several English yachtsman sailed there during the Crimean War (1854–6) to see if they could witness any actions against the Russian fleet, and one nearly got blown out of the water. Others sailed to the Crimea with supplies for the soldiers fighting there. The first yacht to cruise across the Atlantic was the 25-metre (83-ft) LWL American brigantine Cleopatra’s Barge which sailed to the Mediterranean, via the Azores and Madeira, in 1817, and then returned.

All these voyages were undertaken in large yachts crewed by professional seamen, indeed some were so large and fast that they rivalled anything the Royal Navy could build. But by the middle of the 19th century, cruising was no longer a rich man’s pastime and yachtsmen were sailing their own yachts. Among the best known of these was E. F. Knight, who cruised to the Baltic in a 9-metre (29-ft) converted ship’s lifeboat, and R. T. McMullen, who cruised in British waters, often alone, and their writings inspired a generation of enthusiasts to follow in their wake. Other cruising yachtsmen have also been adept at writing about their experiences and encouraging their readers to copy them. The first man to sail around the world alone, Joshua Slocum, wrote about his adventures in a book which is still in print. In the 20th century, the books written by Susan and Eric Hiscock, Bill Tillman and others, inspired a whole generation of cruising yachtsmen.

A feature of modern cruising is the rallies and meets held by yacht clubs where owners and their families cruise, either alone or in company, to an agreed destination, or series of destinations, so as to socialize at the end of the voyage. Perhaps the best known of these is the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), which held its first meet in 1986. The participants do compete on each of its legs, but in a low-key kind of way. There are different divisions for different types of yachts, and the prizes reflect the relaxed nature of the contest.

History of Yachting: Power

Steam and Motor Yachts

With the introduction of team propulsion during the early 19th century it was only to be expected that some yachtsmen should look to this new means of propulsion. A steam yacht, as well as being more popular with ladies, was also far more suitable for the lavish entertaining of the period as well as being a status symbol. Most of the steam yachts of that century were luxuriously fitted out, with heavy carving and panelling, thick carpeting, and large staterooms equipped with every conceivable convenience.

Like many innovations, the introduction of steam was not accepted immediately. Indeed, The Royal Yacht Club, as The Royal Yacht Squadron was then called, banned members from owning steam yachts. In 1829 one of its members, Thomas Assheton-Smith, preferred to resign rather than accept the ban, and the following year he built the 400-ton Menai, the first steam yacht to be built in Britain. In the USA the first steam yacht was the 1,876-ton North Star, for Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, which was launched in 1853. Both vessels were paddle steamers, and steam had no rival in pleasure craft until about 1885, when launches fitted with an engine using naphtha gas in place of coal and water in the boiler appeared in both Britain and the USA. However, fires were a frequent occurrence, and when a few years later the more compact, if noisy, internal combustion engine was introduced the naphtha launch disappeared.

The first yacht to have steam turbines fitted was the Turbinia, which was launched in 1897 and the first large yacht to be powered by diesel engines, the 360-ton Pioneer, was launched in 1913. From that time the diesel engine quickly became accepted as the easiest, cleanest, and most economical way of powering a yacht, and without boilers and bunkers there was much more room for the passengers.

The largest privately owned motor yacht ever built was the 4,646-ton American designed Savarona III. Just over 125 metres (408 ft) long and with a crew of 107, she was owned by an American, Mrs E. R. Cadwalader, from 1931 to 1938, and subsequently became a school ship in the Turkish Navy. The American magnate J. P. Morgan built four yachts called Corsair. The last, 105 metres (343 ft) long and 2,142 tons gross, was the largest of them, and was the second largest motor yacht ever built.

Some of the motor yachts built between the wars are still afloat, and grace the harbours of Monte Carlo and the French Riviera, but many were commandeered at the start of the Second World War (1939–45), as their predecessors had been in 1914, and were sunk or had to be scrapped. Only one, T. O. M. Sopwith’s 1,620-ton Philante, was large enough to be armed and serve in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, as a convoy escort, and is now the Norwegian royal yacht Norge. In the USA the larger motor yachts were also commandeered and used as anti-submarine patrol boats in the US Coast Guard. Today, the successors of these luxury vessels, or super-yachts as they are now called, reflect the enormous wealth of their owners as well as the talent of their designers to produce a beautiful, visually dramatic, vessel.

Offshore Powerboats

Racing powerboats offshore began as soon as the marine internal combustion engine had been introduced. By the early 20th century it had become almost as popular as racing motor cars, and it was given further impetus when the International Harmsworth Trophy was first awarded in 1903. The trophy was competed for until 1939 when it was withdrawn, and it was not resurrected until 2002, when it was awarded to powerboats up to 12.2 metres (40 ft) in length, manned by a crew of two.

Initially, powerboat racing took place in sheltered water, and the first offshore event in Britain was not held until 1905. Though the British held offshore races before the First World War (1914–18), from London to Cowes, by the 1950s the Americans had begun to dominate the sport. The first 295-kilometre (184-ml.) Miami–Nassau Race was held in 1956—it later became the 580-kilometre (362-ml.) Miami–Nassau–Miami event still held annually—and other long-distance events included the Around Long Island marathon and the Miami–Key West Race. Then, in 1961, the newspaper magnate Max Aitken, inspired by the Miami–Nassau event, started the 286-kilometre (179-ml.) Cowes–Torquay Powerboat Race—it became the Cowes–Torquay–Cowes Race from 1968—and the following year the Italians began the 317-kilometre (198-ml.) Viareggio–Bastia–Viareggio Race.

The modern powerboat is a huge advance on the 10-metre (34-ft), 21-horsepower wooden monohulls that raced in the 1950s at an average speed of 32 kph (20 mph). Today catamaran powerboats made of advanced composites such as Kevlar and carbon fibre race at speeds that sometimes exceed 200 kph (125 mph). In the 1950s and 1960s the two-man crew would stand at the controls; nowadays they are enclosed in canopies made of materials borrowed from the aerospace industry, and in 2003 the Cowes–Torquay–Cowes Race was won at an average speed of 122.4 kph (76.5 mph).

As in sailing, speed for its own sake is also a great challenge to those who drive or own powerboats and in 1985 Richard (now Sir Richard) Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Challenger II beat the transatlantic blue riband record held since 1952 by the ocean liner United States. She did so at an average speed of 67.3 kph (42.1 mph), the six-man crew covering the 4,757 kilometres (2,973 mls.) in 3 days, 8 hours, and 31 minutes. However the trustees of the blue riband prize, the Hales Trophy, later ruled that powerboats were not eligible to compete for it.

“Yachting.” The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Oxford University Press. 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2009 from Encyclopedia.com.

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