Historical Stories – The “America’s Cup” comes home

By Dr. Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA

Bermuda is rightly agog at the prospect of having the America’s Cup in local waters in 2017. However, it is perhaps fair to say that “the America’s Cup is coming home”, for such competitive racing with fore-and-aft sail technology owes much to events at Bermuda in the early decades of settlement after the arrival of the good ship Plough in the summer of 1612.

As suggested by the late Eldon Trimingham, the geographical orientation of the island led to the invention of the “Bermuda Rig” before 1674, when it appears in a manuscript drawing of ten sail types of the world as the “Bermoodes saile”, the distinctive triangular cloth that today adorns most racing yachts of the world. Other than the people-related “Tartar Saile”, it is the only one of the ten named for the country in which it was born and evolved, with the help of the diverse Bermuda boating community of the day. With the addition of high-tech enhancements, it is the Bermuda Rig which basically drives the “Search for Speed under Sail” that is the reason for being of the America’s Cup.

As Charles Dickens later opined (and as may be suggested), the Rig and the Bermuda sloop (of indigenous cedar) made “Every Bermudian…amphibious…White or black, they were all sailors and seafaring to a man, almost to a woman…”. In 1859, one Samuel Truscott (sic) presented a model of a Bermudian Sloop to the United Services Museum, at which time it was noted: “this gentleman appears to have had great experience in the Bermudian sloops, and states that beating to windward nothing can compete with them”!

An article in the Newport Daily News of 17 June 1954 alludes to the sponsors of the epic race from that town to Bermuda as the Cruising Club of American and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and suggests that “What some call the first international yacht race ever sailed was held in 1849 between the Bermuda ship [sloop] Pearl, owned by Samuel Triscott, and the Brenda, owned by George Collamore of Boston. The race, held off Bermuda, was won by the Pearl by a 55-second margin.”

So we can say, in a sense, that the first “America’s Cup” was won in the waters of the American hemisphere off Bermuda fully two years before the 1851 race around the Isle of Wight, for which a trophy was awarded by the Royal Yacht Squadron to the vessel America. That cup was subsequently named for that boat and given by the Royal Yacht Squadron to the New York Yacht Club, “which made the cup available for perpetual international competition”.

No doubt Samuel Triscott and Eldon Trimingham and all sailing Bermudians of generations past would be delighted that the “America’s Cup” is coming home after 168 years. To Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, the Bermuda Government, and all the sponsors, officials, competitors and interested visitors: “Fair winds and following seas” for the America’s Cup 2017 at the island of the Bermuda Rig.

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