Sea History 097 - Summer 2001

Page 13

The Earl of Wtlton: Protagonist for the America's Cup by Commodore Henry H. Anderson, Jr.


hile Prince Albert was the protago nist for the G reat Exhibit - the first world's fair- the Earl of W ilton , commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS) in 185 1, was the pro tago nist for the fl 00 C up. T his was the first signi fica nt international regatta that led to the transfo rmation of the sport of yachting fro m a national pastime to an international one. T he Earl of Wilton is described in Mem orials of the Royal Yacht Squadron as a "Nobleman of unfailing urbani ty and a fin e manner, a capacity for business, and a love of order and punctuality . .. a skilled musician, amateur surgeon, 1 sportsman." His legendary personality is succincdy captured in the following doggerel: Next upon a switch-railed bay with wandering eye Attenuated William canters by His character how difficult to know A compound of psalm tunes and tally-ho, A forwa rd rider half inclined to teach T hough less disposed to practice than preach An amorous lover with a sai n dy twist And now a jockey, now an orga nist.

T he stage was set for the transfo rmation when at a May 1851 meeting chaired by Co mmodore Wilton the RYS resolved to present a cup of fl 00 for a race open to the yachts of all nations, to be sailed fo r under the sailing regulations of RYS around the Isle of Wight. According to Memorials it was "a decision which was the natural

The Earl of Wilton, commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, headquartered at Cowes in the Isle ojWight-the senior Englishyacht club, chartered to fly the Royal Navy's white ensign. (From The Royal Yacht Squadron (1903))

complement to Lord W ilton 's offer of hospitality in his Jeerer of February [to the New York Yacht C lub)," bur elsewhere it is noted that the event may have been militated by the plan "to entice yachts fro m Sr. Petersburg and Germany to visit the Great Exhibition- they turned out to be no-shows." Regardless, it was Lord Wilto n who had already taken the "initiative on the part of myself and the members of the Royal Yacht Squadro n to welcome visitors to the clubhouse at Cowes during their stay in England ." W ithout the creation of the ÂŁ 100 C up regatta the gesture, as it turned out, wo uld have been fu tile, since the only racing available to the America wo uld have been matches with individual yachts on a wager without handicaps. T he traditional regattas on th e Solent we re open only to members of the clubs co nducting them. The sailing regulati ons of the Squadron p rescri bed time allowances based on ton-

The course for the 1851 H undred Guinea Cup took competitors around the Isle of Wight, the same course that wiff be run this summer to commemorate the l 5 0th anniversary of the race. (From T he Lawson Histo ry of the America's C up (1902))


nage fo r fl eet racing. At some point, perhaps swayed by Commodore John C ox Stevens [of the N ew York Yacht C lub] , the RYS had waived "the already accepted principle of time allowance for tonnage, which if applied wo uld have reduced America's lead to less than two minutes." In conjunction with the waive r also granted was the America's request to be allowed to boom o ut h er sails. As no ted in Bell's Life, "America's [raked] mas ts prevented her having full advantage of her sails unless she booms them our. " Typifying the character and leadership role of Lo rd W ilton is the comment in the press, 'The note ofh armony, indeed, which h ad been struck by Lord Wilton's letter to Commodore Stevens in February had continued to vibrate throughout the season. " T his observation was repeated by others in statements such as "Wilton set the stage for the fri endl y spirit .. ."; "Stevens and his afterguard were also praised for their comportment, as were the British yachtsmen. " A potential protest over the failure of the America to observe the Nab when rounding the Isle of W ight was dropped. 2 T hus th e America's C up Jubilee recognizes no t only the victory of the yacht America but also the role of the commodore, T he Earl of W ilton, in creating the venue that led to the transformation of yacht racing into an international sport. ,!, H enry H . Anderson is a former commodore of the New York Yacht Club and chairman emeritus of the American Sail Training Association. This piece is reprinted with permission from the New York Yacht Club N ewsletter 14: 1 (March 2 001). 1 His practice appears to have been Limited to operating on a friend in an emergency and saving his Life. 2 Respecting the course sailed by the America, there is reference to the two sets ofconflicting sailing instructions that were issued to the yachts: one, "containing the names and colors ofthe yachts in which the course is described as merely round the Isle ofWight, "which were the ones received by the America, "while theprinted program stated, 'around the Isle of Wight and outside the Nab (Tower)."' (Bell's Life) Not having to observe the Nab provided her with a comfortable weather berth over her opponents.