Sea History 089 - Summer 1999

Page 37


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Schooners Race in New York A crowd of schooner yachts began to frequent New York waters annuall y, begin ning in 1967. It had been the rul e for yea rs rhat sailing vessels mighr carry sail in New York H arbor only if rhey had rheir engines running as well. The vagaries of rhe w ind seemed to rhe authorities to carry too great a risk of collision to be permitted. But we in rhe struggling crew ar the justfounded South Street Seaport Museum felt we had to make some notable m ark in city wa ters to make the titans of Wall Street aware of the fled gling museum o n their doorstep. Accordingly we schedul ed the first Schooner Race for the Mayor's C up , easily securing the sponso rship of Mayor Lindsay, a considerable sailo r himself. Getting the US Coas t Guard to bend the rules was anoth er matter. Fortunately, F. Briggs D alzell , Fleet Cap tain of the New York Yacht C lub , stepped forward wirh his customary aplomb and qui etly arra nged rhi ngs w irh rh e Captain of rh e Porr. "Yo u ca n sa il! " we were cold. And so, o n Saturday mornin g, 21 Ocrober, rhe quier harbor was alive wirh c reaking gaffs and cheerin g crews as sail again took over rh e harb o r for a day. Ir was slow go in g ar firsr, bur rhe breeze picked up for a spectacul ar fini sh , wirh rhe famo us sraysa il schoo ner Nina carrying all befo re her w irh spinnaker and go lliwobb ler fl yin g. We aboard Athena fini shed fifth , well beh ind Bill Werrenbaker's slippery Tyehee, wh ich wo n rhe traditional class. We gave a prize to rhe cook aboard rh e lasr boar to finish ar a rolli cking dinner as ho re (arrire: bl ack rie and sneakers). The prize? A borde ofBeefearer gin and a box of com fl akes-the legendary breakfast of Co mm odo re D eCo ursey Fales, the great sailo r who had raught Nina her w innin g ways, w here o rh ers befo re him had fa iled. And yes, rh e race did pur So urh Sn eer o n rhe map, as nothin g else had. A few yea rs lare r rhe museum acq uired irs own schoo ners, rhe woode n G lo ucesrerm an Lettie G. Howard of 1893 and rhe iron cargo schooner Pioneer of 1885, which course rhe warers of New Yo rk harbor an d neighborin g sounds, rivers and seas today, while rhe Mayor's Cup Raceconrinueswirh vessels of differenr rigs-sr ill including schooners.


Wi lli am H. Albury sailing out of Miami (left) and Spirit of M assachuserrs sailing

into New York in Operation Sail (above) "Luffez pour Madame!" T he 1890s and ea rl y 1900s we re rhe heyday of rhe great racing schoo ners. T he 135foor sreel schoo ner Westward, launched in 19 10 in Bristol, Rhode Island , earned a name as "H erreshoffs fl ye r," rhe fas test of rhe fasr. She soo n crossed rhe ocean to E ngland fo r the fas hi onable round-rhemarks racing off Cowes, o ne of her principal ri vals being rhe King's currer Britannia. In the 1930s, rhe owner's daughter, a wizard helmsm an, li ked to rake parries across rhe C hannel to Dinard fo r a lirrle wind, sunshin e and moul es marinieres. In 1950 I m er a man who remembered rhis nobl e vessel. H e had served as maintopman aboard rhe grear bird, a job he enjoyed , up wirh rhe seagulls away from rhe fas hionable charter on deck. He was mysrified to no rice char on the return trip to Cowes the vessel would srrai ghren up wirh shaking sails, rhen bear way, and rh en afte r a few minutes, co me to again before res uming her course. On deck o ne day he learned the secret of this ritual when he heard rhe o rder: "Luffez pour M adame!" U nder her eno rmous press of canvas the schooner's aged strucrure gave a lirrl e, jamming th e door to the head (WC). When Westward was luffed M adame could open th e door, go in , and th en rap on the door so th e schooner would be luffed again, and she could rhen slip out to rejoin her guests. I have no idea of rhe truth of rhis yarn. A Good Home for Schooners In 1978, NM H S was hosr to rhe wooden rhree-masrer Berta of Ibiza, a sco ur oaken

The Stan.fords' Arhena in the Mayor's Cup Race in New York Harbor, 1967, by Yachting cartoonist Paul Loring, who sailed aboard.

cargo schooner built in Spain in 1945. This wasar rheFulton Ferry Landing Pier NMHS rhen occupied. Berta sailed with a miscellaneo us cargo fo r rhe Wesr Indies, the first cargo schoo ner to sail from New York since rhe four-masted Constellation sailed for Sourh Africa in July 1943 in rhe depths of Wo rld War II. The great schoonerman Francis "Bi ff" Bowker questioned whether cargo ca rrying wo uld wo rk for rhe Berta in a sa ilo rly report in Sea History 13 (pl 3) . Ir rurned our ir didn ' t, so she rurned to passenger carrying in rhe Pacific. Another visiting schooner ar our Brooklyn pier was rhe Bahamas-builr schooner William H Albury, which today does exemplary sails from Miami in training trips for city kids (see SH 85, ppl6-18). We hugely enjoyed her yo ung crew led by Caprai n Joe Maggio, and after he ser sail southward , he wrote us saying rhar our pier was "a good ho me for schooners." We' re no longer ar rhar pier, bur I hope NMHS will always be rhar-"a good home for schooners." -


Schooner races this season are listed on page 39.

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