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Yacht Captains on the Great South Bay - Part II


The results of the 8th American’s Cup Yacht Race in 1893 was the sloop Vigilant beating Valkyrie by 40 seconds in corrected time to successfully defend the cup! Yacht captains along Long Island’s Great South Bay were indignant over the manner; that Captain Terry was treated, and his ability as a master in sailing a yacht to the windward (direction of the wind) was not recognized by the New York City newspapers. 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 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 15, 1893. The question asked, “Why it was that some of the fastest yachts built of late years have been sailed by Great South Bay captains, who have spent the major portion of their lives on the South Bay as oystermen?” Captain Hank Haff, Jr. of Islip replied, “Sailors who are brought up on the Great South Bay are not only great sailors, but they are keen witted in an emergency. They become experts in sailing a boat to the windward.” He continued, “How do they acquire their knowledge of sailing close to the wind? The winds in the Great South Bay are very changeable, and the bay lies in such a position that we have to tack one way or the other every time we go to or from our oyster grounds. It becomes a knack to us in time. Why, I’ve seen the wind blow thirty miles an hour and the baymen would carry every inch of canvas right up into the wind.” Captain Henry Coleman “Hank” Haff, Jr. (1837-1906), born in Islip was the son of Capt. Henry C. Haff, Sr. The senior Capt. Haff is believed to have been lost with his schooner Patron off Cape Hatteras in 1844. With the death of his father, Hank was bound-out to work on the Sands’ farm at Nicoll’s Point, Islip. Next, he found employment on a farm in Half Hollows. In 1854, at 17-years old, he went to work on the Long Island Railroad, as a section hand for 3-years. He returned to the Great South Bay, and home to his family in 1857, where he took his first lesson in navigating a sail boat. At 25-years old during the Civil War (1861-1865), Hank became a mate on the schooner John C. Roach, where his uncle Henry C. Clock (1817-1886) was master. Captain Clock and crew including Hank sailed with the Burnside’s Expedition to Confederate southern waters. General Ambrose Everett Burnside (1824-1881) was preparing to sail south from Annapolis. When the Chicago Tribune newspaper was published on November 30, 1861, it reported: “Most of the vessels are in the harbor of Annapolis including the flag ship (steamer) ‘Admiral,’ but the others have not yet left New York.” Orders had been given to dispatch all future Union regiments from New York to rendezvous at Annapolis to be sent south to Port Royal (VA) as reinforcements for General Sherman’s troops. After the war, the 1870 US Federal Census enumerated Hank, a fisherman, and his wife Adelaide (1838) along with their four children living in Islip. Hank also spent time on the Great South Bay sailing, and improving his yacht racing skills. “His talent as a racing sailor was soon recognized and he rose to the position of “advisor” (tactician) in the afterguard (after part of a yacht) of two America’s Cup winners, Mischief (1881), and Mayflower (1886). He was part of the decision making sailboat racing team, which included a helmsman, tactician, and navigator. In 1887, he was captain of Mayflower, and beat back the dangerous challenger Thistle from Scotland.” Hank became known as “one of the oldest winning skippers in Cup history.” Capt. Haff, Jr. briefly came out of retirement in 1901 for his sixth America’s Cup season as captain of the Independence. But, the New York Yacht Club practically barred the Independence from the Cup’s race. “Captains not brought up on the Great South Bay are not used to as much head wind. We are in it nearly every day of our lives,” Captain Haff stated. After a long illness, Captain Henry Coleman Haff died June 30, 1906 at his Islip home, and is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, Bay Shore. Regarding the 8th American’s Cup Yacht Race, it seems Captain Haff knew the sloop Vigilant, winning was due to the decision making of Captain Norman W. Terry, and his instructions to the sailboat racing team! Norman Wines Terry (1841-1926) was enumerated in the 1860 Federal Census living with his parents: George Terry (1815-1899), and Charity Maria (1817), as a bayman, of East Moriches. By the time, Norman completed his US Civil War Draft Registration in 1863, he was a 22-year old, and had married Annie (1842-1932) in 1862. Norman would serve in the Union’s 10th Regiment, New York Calvary. After returning from the Civil War, Norman, a seaman was enumerated in the 1870 US Federal Census with his wife Annie, and their son Howard (1866-1891). Nine-years later, the couples’ 2nd child Olive E. (1879-1966) was born. Appearing in the South Side Signal (Babylon) newspaper on July 9, 1881 was a letter, “Mr. Editor: - In last week’s Signal, there was a communication headed ‘A Challenge’ from Capt. Norman W. Terry, of Centre Moriches, in which he says in order that there may be a race between Babylon and Moriches boats he challenges the owner of the Harvey to sail a 20 mile race 10 to windward, and back for $25 aside, race to take place at Bellport or Patchogue.” The letter continued, “Now Mr. Editor, as I have neither the time nor inclination to go to Bellport or Patchogue to sail a race for $25. I will make a proposition to Capt. Terry which is this, I will match the Harvey against the boat owned by him for $100 aside race to take place off Babylon on any day which we may agree upon. Yours Respectfully, Fred P. Conklin.” Frederick Platt “Fred” Conklin (1852-1924), of Babylon was the son of William Conklin (1820-1890), and his wife Henrietta Smith (1823-1886), of Huntington. Fred was married to Alice C. Wood (1855-1915), and one year before the letter appeared in the Signal, he was working as a clerk in a shoe store. By 1910, he was living on Fire Island Avenue, and had worked more than 10-years as superintendent of a stable. Fred and his wife are both buried in the Babylon Rural Cemetery. Six years later, the Corrector (Sag Harbor) newspaper on May 21, 1887 reported Capt. Terry would be sailing master of Mr. Fish’s schooner yacht Grayling. The week before on May 17, the Eagle reported, “Mr. Latham Fish’s schooner Grayling was hauled out on to the ways at Mumm’s yard yesterday afternoon to have her bottom scraped and painted. Her spars and rigging are all in place and she will go into commission soon after she comes off.” The May 21, Eagle issue also mentioned, “The Grayling slid off the ways yesterday afternoon, looking very pretty in her summer dress. Her bottom has been coated with verdigris and she is in racing trim.” She also had her decks scoured with a soft sandstone or holystone. On May 22, the Eagle stated, “She will go into commission some time during the week.” The Grayling was an experimental shallow-draft centerboard racing schooner designed by Philip R. Ellsworth, and built at the Richard & Cornelius Poillon shipyard (1883). Latham Avery Fish (1842-1909) commissioned, and owned the schooner Grayling between 1883 and1900. “On the other side of Mumm’s Basin (Bay Ridge), the schooner yacht Grayling is lying, looking neat and trim in as fresh coat of bla

ck paint,” according to the Eagle on June 5. Latham Fish, a member of the Atlantic Yacht Club had entered the Grayling in one of the club’s regattas. The Atlantic Yacht Club was founded in 1866 by members of the Brooklyn Yacht Club. In 1881, the club moved to a new facility in rural Bay Ridge. At the club, the Ladies Day Festivities event took place, the Eagle reported on June 15, 1887. Commodore Fish’s schooner Grayling would win the 8-mile triangular for the Class A. category. Each yacht was allowed to carry “one lady for every ten feet of their water line measurement. “The ladies on the winners in each class got the prize and the skippers the glory…” But, at the 8th America’s Cup race the wealthy ownership syndicate and the yacht designer got the prize and the glory, whereas the skilled Great South Bay seaman: Captain Terry, the helmsman, tactician, and navigator got no recognition. Especially bitter about the lack of recognition besides Captain Hank Haff were other “old tars:” Captain Henry Kramer, Captain Oliver B. Smith, and Daniel Havens, also from the shores of the Great South Bay. A brief review of the lives of these seaman will be discussed in Part 3. 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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