Yacht captains along the Long Island shores of the Great South Bay were indignant over the manner Captain Norman Wines Terry, of Center Moriches, was treated by the New York City press during the 8th American’s Cup Yacht Race in 1893. Captain Terry, an expert seaman had exclusive charge of the sails, and helmsman on the winning yacht Vigilant according to a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 15, 1893.
On the 1st day of the racing series, the Eagle told its readers, “The wind is blowing steady and strong from the west by southwest, and late in the forenoon it freshened up to seventeen miles an hour with indications that it would increase.” The Vigilant, the United States defender was racing against the British challenger Valkyrie II. The course was a 15-mile “run to windward or leeward (opposite direction of the wind), and return, and east by south,” over three (3) days, October 7, 9, and 13th.
The yacht Valkyrie II, a gaff-rigged keel cutter yacht was designed by George Lennox Watson (1851-1904), and owned by Lord Dunraven (1841-1926), of the Royal Yacht Squadron.
The yacht Vigilant, a centerboard sloop with a construction of steel and bronze was designed, built, and skippered by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff (1846-1938), of Bristol, RI.
Nathanael “Nat” Herreshoff was known as an innovative sailboat designer. He increased production by using power tools, and paid craftsmen “the highest boat-builder wage in the State of Rhode Island”.
The Vigilant was launched on June 14, 1893 by her wealthy yacht ownership syndicate: Charles Oliver Iselin (chair), Edwin Dennison Morgan, August Belmont, Jr., Cornelius Vanderbilt, Charles R. Flint, Chester W. Chapin, George R. Clark, Henry Astor Carey, Dr. Barton Hopkins, E.M. Fulton, Jr. and Adrian G Iselin.
The yacht ownership syndicate chair was Charles Oliver Iselin (1854-1932), a banker, and yachtsman, who had also been the captain of racing yachts. He had assets in other yacht ownership syndicates, such as the Defender (1895), Reliance (1903) and Columbia (1899) yachts, which participated in other America’s Cup races.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 8th wrote, “The first of the contests for America’s Cup was won yesterday by the Vigilant.”
The Eagle stated, “The waters of the bay were covered with craft of every description, from the decks of which thousands of eager spectators watched the struggle for supremacy of the crack yachts of England and America.”
The newspaper’s technical story was “The Vigilant was taken in tow off Bay Ridge by her tender, the tug Commander, at 8 o’clock, and the Valkyrie by the Lewis Pulver (tug) a few minutes later…About 8:15 the rival racers were well under way, heading down the main ship channel in the direction of Sandy Hook (NJ).” It was a pleasant run down the harbor in the soft and genial sunshine and a light westerly breeze promise of something better to come”
Some Vigilant owners were onboard, and Herreshoff steered the yacht from start to the first turn, after which he turned over the helm to Captain Hansen. “At 11 o’clock the flagship May steamed down the harbor and took her position about one hundred yards to the northward of the Sandy Hook lightship to establish the line.”
The Sandy Hook lightship might have been the steam engine-powered ship LV-51 built in 1892. She is believed to be the last ship to hold the post on the southern side of the channel near Sandy Hook. As soon as the two yachts cleared the starting line, close attention was paid to the trim of their sails.
The Vigilant, the Eagle stated, “seemed to have trouble with her spinnaker, which for some reason got afoul of the starboard shrouds. After clearing this, she hauled down her jib-topsail and set the balloon…and for a time it looked as though the American was a beaten boat.” The Valkyrie was a full two lengths ahead and gaining!
The Vigilant crew closed the gap, overtook, and passed the Valkyrie “placing at least one-third of a mile of clear water between them at the end of the first hour”. Around 1 o’clock, when the turning point was in sight, there was just a light wind, “both yachts seemed almost dead in the water, their sails hanging limp and lifeless to the spars.”
Twenty-five minutes later, according to the Eagle, “the wind again hauled to the southward and the Vigilant took in her spinnaker…”
The Eagle continued, “The Vigilant was then carrying the same canvas forward, but she soon ran up her forestaysail and jib.”
The day’s race ended with the Vigilant running for “the mark it blew a whole sail breeze and she luffed around in fine style, hauling down her balloon jib topsail as she went in stays. Once around in port tack, she again hoisted an intermediate jib topsail and stood for the finish on a close reach.”
It took the Vigilant, 2-hours, 25-minutes, 50-seconds, and the Valkyrie 2-hours, 33 minutes, 50 seconds to make the run of 15-miles to leeward.
The 2nd race on October 9th was covered by the 4 o’clock edition of the Eagle, under the headline, “Vigilant! Another Victory for the Peerless Yankee Sloop”. “The course to be sailed was a triangular one of 10-miles on each leg, starting from the Sandy Hook Lightship.”
The newspaper continued, “A freshening breeze from the southwest is blowing and if it holds steady the yachts should make better time than on Saturday.” A detailed description of the race followed.
At 10:30 AM the wind was blowing from the southwest at about 18-miles an hour. The steamboat St. John would carry the guest, and fly the flag of the New York Yacht Club. The signal gun was fired, the Valkyrie crossed the line about a length ahead of the Vigilant according to the Eagle, had jib topsail, club topsail, mainsail, forestaysail, and jib spread.
By noon, “both yachts still on starboard tack, standing south-southeast” near Atlantic Highlands. Fifteen minutes later, the Vigilant had taken the lead, and “appeared to be six-lengths in front, and to the windward of the Valkyrie”.
Reaching Sandy Hook by 12:26 PM, the Vigilant took in her jib topsail and increasing her lead. Just before 1:00 PM, both yachts went about on the starboard tack near Highlands of Navesink.
The Eagle continued, “…the Vigilant is a mile and a half in the lead and is going through the water with almost steamship speed. She is now about four miles off Sea Bright.”
At 1:38 PM, the two yachts had gone about 4-miles on the 2nd leg of the race with the Vigilant holding her lead not increasing it. “The Valkyrie took in her balloon forestaysail as soon as she rounded and hoisted her regular forestaysail as she fell into the wind. It is now a close reach for the Fire Island Lightship,” around 2:08 PM.
“Oak Island Life Saving Station (New York) reports that the Valkyrie turned stake boat at 2:33 PM, the Vigilant at 2:35.” It was not long before the Vigilant had sailed over half way from the offshore stake to the finish line. “The Valkyrie was three miles astern as the big white sloop (Vigilant) raced over the line a winner.”
he 3rd and final race, the 4 o’clock edition, of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 13th headlines read, “VIGILANT! The sloop wins, and the cup is ours.” The drama started around 3:23 PM, the Eagle correspondent wrote, “Valkyrie is in the lead now. Vigilant is not more than a boat’s length in rear. They are about five or six miles from the finish.”
A few minutes later, the Vigilant was closing up the gap and had sailed alongside the Valkyrie. At Rockaway Beach, both yachts were neck-and-neck. Seaside Rockaway found the Vigilant clearly ahead of Valkyrie. The American yacht continued to increase her lead. “She has spinnaker and balloons jibs set.”
At the finish, Vigilant beat Valkyrie by 40 seconds in corrected time to successfully defend the cup. International newspapers reported it as the fastest race ever sailed, over a course of 15 miles to windward and return under reefed sail and a gale.
The day after the race, the Eagle published a story, “Won by a Center Board” telling how America’s Cup will remain in the United States. The English newspapers stated, “The next yacht which sends a challenge for the cup must be built with a center board.” The article continued, “American yachtsmen agree with this opinion. They believe that no yacht can profit by the full force of the wind which is not so equipped…” It seems the Great South Bay yacht captains did not totally agree!
They were indignant over the manner in which Captain Norman W. Terry had been treated by the city’s press, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle issue on October 15, 1893. “The victory is more complete because it was won in varying winds!”
A year after the 8th America’s Cup, the Vigilant was bought by Howard Gould, becoming the first America’s Cup defender to sail in Europe for the British yachting season. From 1896, the Vigilant had six (6), different owners, until it was broken up at a New London junkyard in 1910.
Part 2 will discuss the yacht captains along the Great South Bay, who were indignant over the manner, Captain Terry was treated, and his ability as a master in sailing a boat to the windward (direction of the wind) was not recognized by the New York City press during the 8th American’s Cup Yacht Race in 1893. Captain Terry, an expert seaman had exclusive charge of the sails, and helmsman on the winning yacht Vigilant.