During the early part
of the 19th century the
British had established a
reputation for ocean yacht
racing. America's oldest
surviving yacht club, The New York Yacht Club, under
Commodore John Stevens, decided to build a fast racing
schooner which they would take across the Atlantic to
challenge British yachting supremacy.
The club engaged a young designer, George Steers,
who had developed a reputation for fast sailing craft
known as pilot schooners, whose fortunes depended
upon their ability to race out to and reach incoming
vessels first and then to guide them to safe harbor.
Steers modeled his new yacht on the pilot schooner
"Mary Taylor", but made it longer, slimmer, and capable
of carrying more sail. She was delivered in May, 1851,
and was beautifully proportioned. At 171 tons, she was
89 feet long at the waterline, 22 foot abeam, and
possessed an 11 foot draft. Her masts were raked
sharply aft and she carried over 5000 square feet of
canvas. She was named the America.
After reaching England, she was invited to participate against fifteen yachts in the annual 53-mile race around the Isle of Wight conducted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. She won by two minutes despite highly variable winds and intense competition from a wide range of boats. Next she sailed in a match race against England's fastest, the Titania, winning by nearly an hour despite a strong afternoon gale. She was awarded a cup for this triumph which later was presented to
the New York Yacht Club.
The news informing Queen Victoria was simply "America first, Your
Majesty. There is no second". The New York Yacht Club offered the cup they
had just won to any yacht capable of defeating them, and
subsequent competitions became known as "America's Cup"
lithograph by Nathaniel Currier: (c) Copyright The