1902 Encyclopedia > Yachting


YACHTING is the sport of racing in yachts and boats with sails for money or plate, and also the pastime of cruising for pleasure in sailing or steam vessels. The history of yachting is the history of yacht-racing, inasmuch as competition improved yachts just as horse-racing improved horses. It dates from the beginning of the 19th century; for, although there were sailing yachts long before, they were but few, and belonged exclusively to princes and other illustrious personages. For instance, in the Anglo-Saxon period Athelstan had presented to him by the king of Norway a magnificent royal vessel, the sails of which were purple and the head and deck wrought with gold, apparently a kind of state barge. Elizabeth had one, and so has every English sovereign since. During her reign a pleasure ship was built (1588) at Cowes, so that the association of that place with the sport goes back three hundred years. In 1660 Charles II. was presented by the Dutch with a yacht named the "Mary," until which time the word "yacht" was unknown in England. The Merrie Monarch was fond of sailing, for he designed a yacht of 25 tons called the "Jamie," built at Lambeth in 1662, as well as several others later on. In that year the "Jamie" was matched for £100 against a small Dutch yacht, under the duke of York, from Greenwich to Gravesend and back, and beat her, the king steering part of the time -- apparently the first record of a yacht match and of an amateur helmsman.

The first authentic record of a sailing club is in 1720, when the Cork Harbor Water Club, now known as the Royal Cork Yacht Club, was established in Ireland, but the yachts were small. Maitland, in his History of London (1739), mentions sailing and rowing on the Thames as among the amusements then indulged in; and Strutt, in his Sports and Pastimes (1801), says that the Cumberland Society, consisting of gentlemen partial to this pastime, gave yearly a silver cup to be sailed for in the vicinity of London. The boats usually started from Blackfriars Bridge, went up the Thames to Putney, and returned to Vauxhall, being, no doubt, mere sailing boats and not yachts or decked vessels. From the middle to the end of that 18th century yachting developed very slowly: although matches were sailed at Cowes as far back as 1780, very few yachts of any size, say 35 tons, existed in 1800 there or elsewhere. In 1812 the Royal Yacht Squadron was established by fifty yacht owners at Cowes and was called the Yacht Club, altered to the Royal Yacht Club in 1820; but no regular regatta was held there until some years later. The yachts of the time were built of heavy materials, like the revenue cutters, full in the fore body and fine aft; but it was soon discovered that their timbers and scantlings were unnecessarily strong, and they were made much lighter. It was also found that the single-masted cutter was more Weatherly man the brigs and schooners of the time, and the former rig was adopted for racing, and, as there was no time allowance for difference of size, they were all built of considerable dimensions. Among the earliest of which there is any record were the "Pearl," 95 tons, built by Sainty at Wivenhoe near Colchester in 1820, for the marquis of Anglesey, and the "Arrow," 84 tons, originally 61 feet 9 _ inches long and 18 feet 5 _ inches beam, built by Joseph Weld in 1822, which is still extant as a racing yacht, having been rebuilt and altered several times, and again entirely rebuilt in 1887-88. The Thames soon followed the example of the Solent and established the Royal Thames Yacht Club in 1823, the Clyde founding the Royal Northern Yacht Club in 1824, and Plymouth the Royal Western in 1827. In this year the Royal Yacht Squadron passed a resolution disqualifying any member who should apply steam to his yacht, -- the enactment being aimed at T. Assheton Smith, an enthusiastic yachtsman and fox hunter, who was having a paddle-wheel steam yacht called the "Menai" built on the Clyde. In 1830 one of the largest cutters ever constructed was launched, viz., the "Alarm," built by Inman at Lymington for Joseph Weld of Lulworth Castle, from the lines of a famous smugglers captured off the Isle of Wight. She was 82 feet on the load line by 24 feet beam, and was reckoned of 193 tons, old measurement, in which length, breadth, and half-breadth (supposed to represent depth) were the factors for computation. Some yachtsmen at this time preferred still larger vessels and owned square-topsail schooners and brigs like the man-o’ war brigs of the day, such as the "Waterwitch," 381 tons, built by White of Cowes, in 1832, for Lord Belfast, and the "Brilliant," barque, 493 tons, belonging to J. Holland Ackers, who invented a scale of time allowance for competitive sailing. In 1834 the first royal cup was given by William IV. to the Royal Yacht Squadron -- a gift which has been continued ever since (except in 1862, when it was dropped for one year, owing to the death of the Prince Consort), and in recent years supplemented by similar gifts to other clubs. In 1836 the Royal Eastern Yacht Club was founded at Granton near Edinburgh; in 1838 the Royal St George’s at Kingstowen and the Royal London; in 1843 the Royal Southern at Southampton and the Royal Harwich; in 1844 the Royal Mersey at Liverpool and the Royal Victoria at Ryde. The number of vessels kept pace with the clubs -- the fifty yachts of 1812 increasing nearly tenfold before the middle of the century, which was the critical epoch of yacht building.

In 1848, after J Scott Russell had repeatedly drawn attention to the unwisdom of constructing sailing vessels on the "cod’s head and mackerel tail" plan, and had enunciated his wave-line theory, Mare built at Blackwall an entirely new type of vessel, with a long hollow bow and a short after body of considerable fullness. This was the iron cutter "Mosquito," of 59 feet 2 inches water line, 15 feet 3 inches beam, and measuring 50 tons. Prejudice against the new type of yacht being as strong against the introduction of steam, there were no vessels built like the "Mosquito," with the exception of the "Volante," 59 tons, by Harvey of Wivenhoe, until the eyes of English yachtsmen were opened by the Americans three years later. About this period yacht racing had been gradually coming into favor in the United States, the first yacht club being founded at New York in 1844 by nine yacht owners; and in 1846 the first match between yachts in the States was sailed, 25 miles to windward and back from Sandy Hook lightship, between J. C. Steven’s new center-board sloop "Maria," 170 tons, 100 feet water line and 26 feet 8 inches beam, with a draught of 5 feet 3 inches of water, and the "Coquette," schooner, 74 tons, belonging to J.H. Perkins, the latter winning; but the appearance of the "Maria," which had a clipper or schooner bow, like that of the newest racing cutters of 1887-1888, did much for yachting in America. Stevens then commissioned George Steers of New York, builder of the crack pilot schooners, to construct a racing schooner to visit England in the year of the great exhibition, and the result was the "America" of 170 tons. Like the "Mosquito," she had a very long and hollow bow, with considerable fullness aft. She crossed the Atlantic in the summer of 1851, but failed to compete for the queen’s cup at Cowes in August, although the club for that occasion threw the prize open to all the world, as her owner declined to concede the usual time allowance for difference of size. The members of the Yacht Squadron, not whishing to risk the reproach of denying the stranger a fair race, decided that their match for a cup given by the club, to be sailed round the Isle of Wight later on in the same month, should be without any time allowance. The "America," thus exceptionally treated, entered and competed against fifteen other vessels. The three most dangerous competitors being put out through accidents, the "America" passed the winning post 18 minutes ahead of the 47-ton cutter "Aurora," and won the cup; but, even if the time allowance had not been waived, the American schooner yacht would still have won by fully a couple of minutes.

The prize was given to the New York Yacht Club and constituted a challenge cup, called the America cup, for the yachts of all nations, by the deed of gift of the owners of the winner. Not only was the "America" as great a departure from the conventional British type of yacht as the "Mosquito," but the set of her sails was a decided novelty. In England it had been the practice to make them baggy, whereas those of the "America" were flat, which told materially in working to windward. The revolution in yacht designing and canvassing was complete, and the bows of existing cutters were lengthened, that of the "Arrow" among others. The "Alarm" was also lengthened and turned into a schooner of 248 tons, and the "Wildfire," cutter, 59 tons, was likewise converted. Indeed there was a complete craze for schooners, the "Flying Cloud," "Gloriana," "Lalla Rookh," "Albertine," "Aline," "Egeria," "Pantomime," and others being built between 1852 and 1865, during which period the center board, or sliding keel, was applied to schooners as well as sloops in America. The national or cutter rig was nevertheless not neglected in England, for Hatcher of Southampton built the 35-ton cutter "Glance" -- the pioneer of the subsequent 40 tonners -- in 1855, and the "Vampire" -- the pioneer of the 20 tonners -- in 1857, in which year Weld also had the "Lulworth," an 82-ton cutter of comparatively shallow draught, constructed at Lymington. At this time too there came into existence a group of cutters, called "flying fifties" from their tonnage, taking after the "Mosquito" as their pioneer; such were the "Extravaganza," "Audax," and "Vanguard." In 1866 a large cutter was constructed on the Clyde called the "Condor," 135 tons, followed by the still larger "Oimara," 163 tons, in 1867. In 1868 the "Cambria" schooner was built by Ratsey at Cowes for Ashbury of Brighton, and having proved a successful match sailer, was taken to the United States in 1870 to compete for the America cup, but was badly beaten, as also was the "Livonia" in 1871.

The decade between 1870 and 1880 may be termed the Golden Age of yachting , inasmuch as the racing fleet had some very notable additions made to it, of which it will suffice to mention the schooners "Gwendolin," "Cetonia," "Corinne," "Miranda," and "Waterwitch;" the large cutters "Kriemhilda," "Vol au Vent," "Formosa," "Samaena," and "Vanduara;" the 4- tonners "Foxhound," "Myosotis," and "Norman;" the 20-tonners "Vannesa" (Hatcher’s masterpiece), "Quickstep," "Enriqueta," "Louise," and "Freda;" and the yawls "Florinda," "Corisande," "Jullanar," and "Latona." Lead, the use of which commenced in 1846, was entirely used for ballast after 1870 and placed on the keel outside. Of races there was a plethora; indeed no less than 400 matches took place in 1876, as against 63 matches in 1856, with classes for schooners and yawls, for large cutters, for 40 tonners, 20-tonners, and 10-tonners. The sport too was better regulated, and was conducted on a uniform system: the Yacht-Racing Association, established in 1875, drew up a simple code of laws for the regulation of yacht races, which was accepted by the yacht clubs generally, though a previous attempt to introduce uniformity, made by the Royal Victoria Yacht Club in 1868, had failed. The Association adopted the rule for ascertaining the size or tonnage of yachts which had been for many years in force, known as the Thames rule; but in 1879 they altered the plan of reckoning length from that taken on deck to that taken at the load water line, and two years later they adopted an entirely new system of calculation. Subsequently to these repeated changes yacht racing gradually waned, the new measurement exercising a prejudicial effect on the sport, as it enabled vessels of extreme length, depth, and narrowness, kept upright by enormous masses of lead on the outside of the keel, to compete on equal terms with vessels of greater width and less depth, in other words, smaller yachts carrying an inferior area of sail. Of this type are the yawls "Lorna" and "Wendur," the cutters "May," "Annasona," "Sleuth-hound," "Tara," and "Marjorie," -- the most extreme of all being perhaps the 40-tonners "Tara," which is six times as long as she is broad, and unusual deep, with a displacement of 75 tons, 38 tons of lead on her keel, and the sail spread of a 60-tonner like "Neva."

In 1884 two large 80 ton cutters of the above type were built for racing, viz., the "Genesta" on the Clyde and the "Irex" at Southampton. Having been successful in her first season, the former went to the United States in 1885 in quest of the America cup; but she was beaten by a new yacht, called the "Puritan," built for the purpose of defending it, with a moderate draught of 8 feet 3 inches of water, considerable beam, and a deep center-board. The defeat of the "Genesta" is not surprising when it is re-collected that she drew 13 feet of water, had a displacement or weight of 141, as against the "Puritans" 106 tons, and a sail area of 7887 square feet the American’s 7982, -- a greater mass with less driving power; but she did not leave the States empty-handed, as she won and brought back the Cape May and Brenton Reef challenge cups, though they were wrested from her by the "Irex" in the following year. The same thing happened to the "Galatea," which was beaten by the "Mayflower" in 1886. in 1887 a new cutter, called the "Thistle," was built on the Clyde to try to win back the America cup; but, although built very differently from the "Genesta" and "Galatea," i.e., of a much greaster width than modern English racing yachts generally, the "Thistle," when matched with the new center-board "Volunteer," had no better fortune than her predecessors. These new American racing vessels are something very different from the old flat-bottomed sloop "Maria," with one head-sail and a trivial draught of water, inasmuch as they are lead-ballasted cutters with two head-sails and a draught of nearly 10 feet of water, with the additional advantage of a center-board descending as much as 8 or 10 feet below the keel. In this connection it is noteworthy that a prize won by a fixed-keel schooner should be defended by center-board craft with a single mast.

From 1887 an entirely new system of measurement for competitive sailing has been adopted in the United Kingdom, the old plan of measuring the hull having given way to the more rational one of taking the length on the water-line and the sail area of the vessel as the factors for rating. This leaves naval architects free to adopt a long and narrow or a short and "beamy" hull.

Yacht racing as at present conducted is simple and easily managed. A course is chosen by the committee of the club giving the prizes, averaging for first-class vessels 40 or 50 nautical miles in length, such as the old queen’s course from Cowes eastward to the Nab lightship, back Cowes to Lymington, and returning to the starting post. The competitors, i.e., cutters, yawls, and schooners, -- cutters sailing at their full, yawls, at four-fifths, and schooners at three-fourths of their tonnage or rating -- cruise about under way in readiness for crossing an imaginary line between the club-house or committee vessel and a mark-boat, which forms the starting as well as winning place, on the signal being given. No time is allowed at the start, but only at the finish, and consequently there is a good deal of maneuvering to get across the line first and to windward. The yachts make the best of their way onwards, running if the wind is abaft them, reaching if it is on the beam, and close-hauled if it is foul, the greatest skill being shown in cross-tacking and getting the weather gauge. When close-hauled and reaching, the ordinary fore-and-aft sail (see SAIL, SEAMANSHIP, AND SHIPBUILDING) is used; but when going free a large racing sail called a spinnaker is set on a long boom projecting from the foot of the mast at right angles to the vessel. This sail, which is a triangular one, extends from the topmasthead to the deck, on the opposite side to that occupied by the main boom, though occasionally shifted to the bowsprit end. After leaving all the marks on the port or starboard hand, as may be directed in their instructions, the competing yachts arrive at the winning place generally in single file, the moment at which each competitor passes the line being noted by a timekeeper. It is then ascertained whether any and which vessel has saved her time allowance, which varies according to the length of the course, and the first which has done so is declared to have won. The amount of prize money gained by the most successful vessel of the season-almost always a cutter-generally exceeds 1000 sovereigns, exclusive of cups or plate. The expense of racing is enormous; in the case of an 80 or 100-ton cutter it amounts to fully £2000 a year. The cost of cruising is of course not so great, the wages of non-racing crews (which are much smaller in number) being less, and averages perhaps £10 a ton. There are not such frequent renewals of sails; there are not so many breakages of spars, no entrance fees, and no "winning money" to pay the crew, nor any of the thousand and one extras which go to swell the yearly account of the racing owner. Racing yachts make good cruisers if their spars are shortened and their wings clipped; and it is a very common practice to turn an ex-racing cutter into a yawl, by shortening her boom and adding a mizzenmast and mizzen-sail to her counter. The yawl rig is comfortable for cruising, but not so successful for racing as the cutter. The speed of yachts varies according to their length, and this is one reason why an allowance in time should be given by a large yacht to a smaller one. As instances of pace it is on record that the "Arrow" in 1858 sailed 45 knots in 4 h. 19 m., and 50 knots in 1872 in 4 h. 40 m. In the latter year the "Kriemhilda" did 50 knots in 4 h. 37 m., while the "Marjorie" did the same distance in 4 h. 26 m., and the "Samaena" in 4 h. 15 m. in 1883; the "Lorna" (yawl) in 4 h. 14 m., and the "Irex" in h. 7 min., both in 1885,- all these distances being sailed inside the Isle of Wight, irrespective of the state of the tide. A greater pace has been developed by schooners in bursts of speed with a fair tide and half a gale of wind behind them, but in racing inside the Isle of Wight the "Egeria" in 1870 did 50 knots in 4 h. 27 m., the "Olga" in 4 h. 25 m. in 1875, the "Enchantress" in 4 h. 18 m. in 1879, which is not so quick as the cutters.

As to the number of yachts now afloat, cruisers as well as racers, the British yacht fleet, which in 1850 consisted of 500 sailing and 3 steam vessels, now numbers 2209 sailing yachts, of 64,051 tons, and 700 screw steam yachts, of 68,667 tons, or a gross total of 2909 yachts, of 132,718 tons -- in round numbers 3000 yachts, allowing for small craft not included in the above total. They are constructed of wood, iron, or steel -- this last gradually coming to the front in the pleasure fleet as well as in the mercantile marine and royal navy. Next to Great Britain the United States possesses the largest numbers afloat, amounting the nearly if not quite 1200 yachts; and, if to the foregoing are added the yachts of other countries included in Lloyd’s list, a grand total of upwards of 5000 is reached. While the taste for sailing vessels has made marked strides since 1850, that for steam yachts has made still more extraordinary progress, one noteworthy feature being the increase in their size, and another their enormous prime cost. More than thirty of those recently built exceed 500 tons, while double that number range from 300 to 500 tons; two or three even exceed 1000 tons each.

Admiralty warrants are granted to clubs and their members to fly the white, blue, or red ensign with device on it, such yachts being registered according to the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts. The white man-of-war or St George’s ensign, used by British warships, is flown by the Royal Yacht Squadron alone of yacht clubs. The ordinary red ensign of the merchant navy may be flown by any English vessel without permission of Government, as it is the national flag. Yachts with Admirably warrants are entitled to certain privileges such as exemption from excise and some other dues; they may enter Government harbors without paying dues, and may make fast and lie to Government buoys when these are not required by any of H.M. ships; they need not have their names painted on their sterns, though it is better that they should; and their masters need not hold Board of Trade certificates.

Literature. Vanderdecken, Yachts and Yachting (1862); H. C. Folkard, The Sailing Boat (1870); Stonehenge, British Rural Sports (1876), Dixon Kemp, Yacht Architecture (1885), Yacht Designing (1876), and Yacht and Boat Sailing (1878-86); Yacht-Racing Calendar (annual); Lloyd’s Yacht Register (annual); and Hunt’s Yacht List (annual). ( E.D.B.)

The above article was written by Edwin Dampier Brickwood, author of Boat-racing, or The Arts of Rowing and Training, by "Argonaut".

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