• by Sandi Brewster-Walker

Historic Harlem Yacht Club & Racing!

The historic Harlem Model Yacht Club (1855), Harlem Yacht Club (1869), and the third Harlem Yacht Club (1883) have cruised the waters of the Harlem River, East River, and the western Long Island Sound during the era of the Golden Age of Yachting. This was the time of racing, and exclusive yacht clubs! “From our location at the western end of Long Island Sound, we have access to the best cruising in the region. You could spend a lifetime exploring the hundreds of harbors and anchorages within the protected perimeter of the Sound,” the present day Harlem Yacht Club’s web site states. One hundred and sixty-three years ago, a new yacht club called, the Harlem Model Yacht Club with at least fifty-two (52) members, and a fleet of eight (8) yachts was announced in the New York Daily News, July 20, 1855. Henry P. McGowan was the new commodore with Thomas Graham being the vice commodore. The article stated, the new club would meet at the foot of East 125th Street. Their 1st regatta, a series of boat races was scheduled for the last Wednesday of the month of July. The yachts participating included: Walter Brady (Georgiana 15.1 ft.), Issac H. Austin (Louisa Jane 21.6 ft.), Graham & McCucker (Challenge 22.9 ft.), Clinnock, Stockdale, Lynch & Bell (Gipsy 23.4), Mr. Gibson & Dr. Browne (Frolic 24.10 ft.), McGovers & Brady (Storm Bird 25.4 ft.), W. Seaman (Olivia 26.4 ft.), and John S. Austin (J. S. Austin 27.9 ft.). According to the Daily News, the race course would be from Harlem Bridge (probably High Bridge), built in 1848 spanning the Harlem River, the oldest bridge in New York City. The yachts would then sail around a stake at College Point, located north of Flushing (Queens), on Flushing Bay, and the East River. They would turn at Clason’s Point, a peninsula located in the South Bronx, sail around the Throgg’s Neck buoy, where the East River, and Long Island Sound meet, then returning to start. “They were all close together, with the Austin a little ahead, which continued to maintain her first advantage until she reached the College Point buoy, when the Olivia closed upon her, and both made the turn together, the time being one hour and four minutes,” the newspaper told its readers. “On turning this stake, the Gipsy and the Frolic became entangled, which occasioned some delay, and caused them to drop behind a little. Up to this point the yachts had been all quite close, and sometimes sailing in a straight line, and with but very little perceptible advantage on any side.” The yachts sailed two (2) miles to Clason’s Point stake boat with the Olivia and Austin in the lead. The breeze was now barely blowing, and the “boat sailing entirely died away.” This caused the race to be postponed until July 19th. The reschedules race started with the Olivia with Captain Wm Seaman leading, however the Captain was not familiar with the ship channel between the North Brother, a small island in the East River, and Stony Point, caused the vessel to fall behind and she never took the lead again. After rounding the buoys, the Louisa Jane took the lead, closely followed by the Storm Bird and Olivia. “A portion of the tackling of the Challenge gave way twice during the race, causing her a loss of about seven minutes time, and depriving her of a chances of gaining the race.” The winners were Louisa Jane (1st place), Storm Bird (2nd place), Olivia (3rd place), Frolic (4th place), and the J. S. Austin (5th place). The following month a classified advertisement ran in the New York Daily Times, August 1, 1855: “Harlem Model Yacht Club – The members of the club are hereby notified to meet at the club house on Thursday, August 2, at 11 A. M. Owners of yachts are also notified to have their yachts at anchorage at Harlem Bridge at 11 A. M., prepared to start at 12 m. (noon), to rendezvous at Glen Cove. By order of the Commodore.” For 14-years, stories about the Harlem Model Yacht Club appeared in the local newspapers. By the printing of the New York Times, April 6, 1869 issue, the incorporation of the 2nd Harlem Yacht Club was announced, which had been established in 1867. The new club consisted of former members of the Harlem Model Yacht Club, as well as new members. According to a New York Times, April 5, 1873 article, the 2nd Harlem Yacht Club was located on 30-acres with a club house at Stony Point. Their yachts were docked nearby at Port Morris on the East River. The member yachtsmen would take part in regattas, and event throughout the region. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper on June 23, 1869 reported, the Union Regatta hosted by the Brooklyn Yacht Club, officially known as the Williamsburgh Yacht Club would take place on Thursday, June 23. The yachtsmen from Brooklyn, Atlantic, Hoboken, Bayonne, Columbia, New Jersey, and the Harlem Yacht Clubs would participate. The Harlem Yacht Club members entered the sloops Cornellia, and Grace in the 3rd Division, as well as Favorila in the 4th Division. “The course will be from off the club-house foot of Court Street, to and around buoy of the Southwest Split (buoy 9), and return.” On September 21, 1871, the Eagle reported, the Harlem Yacht Club was sponsoring their annual regatta. Orson P. Raynor, E. W. Gardner, and William Kylec were the judges for the nine (9) entries. Orson Pratt Raynor (c1846-1922), of the Bronx was a self-employed boat builder living on Ogden Ave. He was enumerated in the 1900 US Federal Census with his wife Annie Eliza McLeod (1845-1900), and their son Orson Adrian Raynor (1884-1941), who would become a lawyer. The New York Times, April 12, 1922 reported, “Orson Raynor, 76 years old, a boat builder, was fatally injured by an automobile truck which struck him at Broadway and 125th Street yesterday afternoon. Both legs were cut off and he was internally injured. Rushed to Knickerbocker Hospital in an automobile, he was dead on arrival there.” For the 1871 Harlem Yacht Club race, the 1st Class, Jacob Varian entered his 33.8 ft. boat Joe Jefferson, and Joseph Porter entered the Carrie, a 39.8 ft. vessel. James A. Clark’s Vivid (29.9 ft.), and William Kipp’s General Tweed (28.5 ft.) were placed in the 2nd Class. The 3rd Class had four (4) entries: the Mary Campbell (21.0 ½ ft.) owned by Morris Campbell, J. M. Varian’s Sophia Emma (21.10 ft.), and W. E. Brinkerhoff had two (2) entries: the Mary Eruma (21.11 ft.), and the Defiance (24.2 ft.) vessel. The 4th Class had just one (1) entry: J. Armitage’s Josie J. (19.8 ½ ft.). “The start was from the middle ground at the mouth of the Kills to the Can Buoy off the Stepping Stones, thence returning to and around the spar Buoy off College Point, then back to the place of departure.” The first whistle sounded at 2:00 PM, the Eagle reported. “…at 2:08 the second whistle gave them the signal to start, and in an instant every jib was set, the cable slipped and they were off. The wind was almost two points free, and the yachts went off with flowing sheets at a tremendous rate. The Mary Emma being to the northward had the best position and got the lead, while the Carrie being to leeward was the last boat at the beginning of the race. She did not stay long in the rear, however, but soon came up with and passed the boats nearest her, getting a position in the centre of the fleet as it passed through between the brothers.” The Eagle continued, “The Vivid, too, began to show her sailing qualities and to press toward the head of the line, and the yachts passed through the passage in the following order: Jefferson, Mary Emma, Defiance, Vivid, Carrie, Mary Campbell, Sophia, Emma and Josie.” The Defiance, a new boat, “this being her first race, and thus early in the struggle she had shifted her position from the last end of the line to within two of the first, and bets began to be freely offered on her that she would win in her class.” It was reported at Clauseu’s Point (Clason, Clausen), a small peninsula with boundaries of the Bronx River, Pugsley’s Creek, and East River, “the Jefferson had to give way to the Carrie, which took the lead, and from this point to the termination of the race she kept it. The Vivid also assumed the third position, while the Mary Emma passed the Defiance, and became No. 4.” The Williamsburg Yacht Club yachts were met returning, accompanied by the steamer William Fletcher.” The Eagle reporter mentioned, their yachts were “gaily dressed out with bunting, and crowded with ladies and gentlemen, and the two fleets saluted each other as they passed.” The Vivid passed the Jefferson, and took the second place near Fort Schuyler located at Throgg’s Neck, where the East River meets the Long Island Sound. The fort was built in 1833 and garrisoned in 1861, strategically positioned to protect New York City. Around this time it stopped raining, “Rounding the Throgg’s Point Buoy the fleet had to haul up sharp on a wind for the Stepping Stones, and the Carrie made a fine appearance, as with gib and gaff topsails set, she bent to the stiff breeze till her lee rail was in the water, her topmast bending like a reed, and the spray flying in sheets over her weather bow.” The Carrie turned the Can buoy first, followed by the Vivid and Defiance, the College Point buoy being turned in the same order. By the time the Throgg’s Neck buoy was turned, though the Carrie and Vivid had maintained their positions as first and second, the Jefferson had pulled up to third…The yachts now began the run home!” The Vivid took in her topsail, keeping her gaff topsail set, which gave “her all the canvas she wanted.” The yachts were now in the home stretch! The winners were in the 1st Class, the Joe Jefferson. 2nd class, the Vivid, 3rd class, the Mary Emma, and 4th class there was no competition, so the Josie J. won. All winners received a gold medal valued at $100 dollars. The club’s growth and racing continued for the next two years. In 1873, the officers of the club were: Edgar Williams (commodore), William Johnston (vice commodore), Mr. Ridley (secretary), Mr. Briggs (treasurer), and Dillon Ransom (measurer), a boat builder living on East 127th Street. Edgar Williams (1833-1904), the owner of the sloop Dudley resigned the same year, he became commodore. The New York Times would publish his obituary on August 11, 1904. Born in Hudson, NY, he was a life member of the New York Yacht Club, and at different times Commodore of the Knickerbocker, and Harlem Yacht Clubs. Edgar served in the 7th Regiment in the Civil War, after in the real estate business with William H. Reynolds. Edgar died from paralysis at the home of his daughter in Somerville, NJ. At the beginning of the 1880 summer season during the Golden Age of Yachting (1880-1905), the club organized an early regatta in June on a course from their club house to Sand’s Point, located on the Cow Neck Peninsula on the north shore of Long Island, and return. At the time, the club’s fleet consisted of yachts, and sloops including: Mary Ann, West Wind, Joe Jefferson, Sophia Emma, Vivid, W. P. Connor, Edith, W. M. Twead, Maud, Thos. Creamer, Mary Emma, Mary Louisa, and Mary C. Campbell. The New York Times, October 5, 1883 announced a regatta of the Harlem Yacht Club based on City Island, NYC took place on October 4th with seventeen (17) yachts in four (4) classes. Within the same month, the Club incorporated a second time on October 23, keeping twenty (20) original members. It seems the club had reorganized again between 1880 and 1883. During the winter of 1883, they would meet at 2376 Third Avenue. Plans were being discussed for a new club at a meeting in Joe Golding’s boat house float at the foot of 124th Street on the East River. During the spring of 1884, the club was headquartered on the East River at the foot of 120th Street with about 100 members. The club had over forty (40) boat in their fleet including the yachts: Henry Ward Beecher, Sasqua, Peerless, and Nettie Thorp. The first season regatta took place June 12th with guest being hosted to view the race on the steamboat Magenta. The New York Times, August 10 issue announced another regatta being co-hosted by the Harlem Yacht Club, and the Knickerbocker Yacht Club to be held at Oak Point on August 26th. The race would have six (6) classes with $300 in prizes. The official organizing committee was composed of Commodore John W. Thorp, of the Harlem Yacht Club, and Commodore George R. Hobby, the Knickerbocker Yacht Club. The newspaper listed those that would participate, and stated, “Entrance fees should be paid to J. H. Golding, foot of East One Hundred and Twenty-Fourth Street. The start, which will be a flying one, will be made at 11:30 A. M., or as soon thereafter as possible.” The following year on June 16, 1885, forty (40) yachts participated in the annual June Regatta. A years later, one of the Harlem Yacht Club’s prizes surfaced in Huntington, NY. The Long Islander (Huntington), December 4, 1886 stated, “Wm. C. Ogier, who is in the employ of George E. Doty at the Fabian Hostlery has on exhibition at that place the ‘Queen’s Cup’ of bronze which was sailed for and won in one of the Harlem Yacht Club races.” The year of the race, or yacht, who won the cup was not mentioned. The Long Islander (Huntington), September 21, 1895 issue reported, the sloop yacht Wanderer with Captain Chrystie, of the Harlem Yacht Club is cruising between New York City, and New London, CT. “She came into our harbor (Huntington) last Wednesday, and her company, Messrs. Alley, Jones, and Cumsey were royally entertained by Capt. Wink White of this village. They also visited friends in Huntington. The Wanderer left Thursday for Northport.” As the Harlem Yacht Club members cruised the Long Island Sound in nautical tradition, they visited the towns known for maritime activities along the shores. The Corrector (Sag Harbor), January 2, 1897 reported A. Gardiner Cooper had purchased the 27-foot cabin sloop Nomad, formerly belonging to the Harlem Yacht Club. “The Nomad won 1st prize in the regatta on Long Island Sound last summer.” During the Golden Age of Yachting, the Harlem Model Yacht Club, Harlem Yacht Club, and the third Harlem Yacht Club would reorganize several times, but never stopped cruising, and racing their exclusive yachts on the waters of the Harlem River, East River, and the western Long Island Sound.

Sandi Brewster-walker is an independent historian, genealogist, freelance writer and business owner. She is the chair of the Board of Trustees and acting executive director of the Indigenous People Museum & Research Institute. She has served in President Bill Clinton’s Administration as deputy director of the Office of Communications at USDA. Winner of the Press Club of Long Island’s 2017 Media Award – 3rd Place for Narrative: Column. Readers can reach her in c/o the LI.Indiginous.people.museum@gmail.com.

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