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Unlike the other boat images we have on the site, there is a storied history behind this Yacht America. In a unexpected feat, America won the Royal Yacht Squadron’s regatta by eighteen minutes. The trophy for the race had previously been called the “One Hundred Sovereign Cup” and was renamed “The America’s Cup” after the winning yacht.
The British regatta—sailing 53 miles around the Isle of Wight—was issued as a challenge from the commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron. The New York Yacht Club saw the challenge as a perfect opportunity to show off the shipbuilding skills of the United States, and to make money by competing in yacht racing. America was designed by George and James Rich Steers using both traditional and modern techniques, which lent to America’s excellent speed. A crew captained by Richard Brown left New York on June 21, 1851 and arrived at the Isle of Wight on July 30. The British yachting community had been following the construction of America with interest and some trepidation. Before the official race, there was one yacht that challenged America to an unofficial race. Though the outcome of that impromptu challenge is unclear, what is apparent is that after that race, no other yachtsmen dared challenge America.
The official Squadron members-only regatta happened on August 22, 1851. At 10 AM, the line of seven schooners and eight cutters started the race. America dealt with a fouled anchor at the outset and was well behind when she finally got under way, but within half an hour held 5th place. In the hands of her skilled pilot, America pulled even further ahead, taking the lead by over fifteen minutes. Legend has it that while watching the race, Queen Victoria asked who was second. The famous reply: “There is no second, your Majesty.”
After her famous race performance, America was sold to various British owners until she returned to the United States in 1860. In 1862, she was taken by Union soldiers, and served the United States Navy in the Civil War, armed with bronze cannons. In one crucial battle, the actions of America resulted in the destruction of the Georgiana, the most powerful Confederate cruiser. It was a critical win for the United States Navy. America remained in the U.S. Navy until 1873, when she was sold to a private owner. She continued racing until 1901, when lack of use caused her to fall into disrepair. Changing hands often over the next few decades, America was seriously decayed by 1940, and completely destroyed by 1945.
Over the course of her nearly century-long life, America put yachting on the map, proving herself abroad and at home.
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