Category: 1901 : CHALLENGE N°11

Three American yachts of the cup class were put in commission at the opening of the sailing season of 1901. One was Columbia, defender of 1899, the other was a new “Herreshoff" boat built for a New York Yacht Club syndicate and called Constitution, and the third was built in Boston, for Thomas W. Lawson, and was called Independence. An authentic detailed description of this boat is given in another chapter of this book.

>The season opened with a revival of the old time spirit of rivalry for cup defense between Boston and New York. Boston expected the Lawson boat to bring honor to Massachusetts Bay as did its three Burgess defenders of the cup, while the new Herreshoff vessel was expected by her backers to far excel in speed any yacht ever built. These opposing hopes were in turn shattered, and that the cup did not go abroad was due more to the challengers' shortcomings than acquired merit in the defenders.
Columbia and Constitution had already met off Newport, July 1st, with a result of victory for the older boat, and on July 3d they started for a second race which was abandoned because of an accident to Columbia.

July 1 — Special race, New York Yacht Club. Course fifteen miles to windward and return. Start three miles east of Brenton Reef light-vessel. Wind light S. W. by W., sea smooth. Constitution carried away clew-cringle of her jib, losing about ten minutes. Columbia won by forty-eight seconds elapsed time.

July 3 — Special race. New York Yacht Club. Course thirty-mile triangle, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel. Wind moderate S. W., sea smooth. Columbia disabled after sailing twenty-two minutes, by bending of martingale. Race abandoned with Columbia leading.

Independence went into dock at New London to prepare for her first races, remaining until July 3d, when she was put over, and proceeded to Newport under sail.

The arrival of the Boston boat, and the approaching races in which she was to appear, were subjects of great popular interest. On July 5th Independence was measured by Mr. John Hyslop, with the following results: Length of water-line 89.16 feet; fore side of mast to forward point of measurement 74.89 feet; fore side of mast to end of boom 111.36 feet ; deck to under side of topsail halyard block 137.96 feet ; topmast 57 feet ; gaff 64.44 feet; sail area 13,816.91 square feet; racing length 103.35 feet. On this measurement Constitution allowed Independence 42.6 s over a thirty-mile course and Columbia 1 mn 16.8 s, Independence allowing Columbia 34.2 s.

On July 6th, for the first meeting of the yachts in the cup class, the day was not auspicious for such an important event. The wind was light, and the sea carried a swell not at all favorable to the yachts. There was a large fleet of pleasure and excursion craft on hand. Boston was represented by delegations of enthusiasts come down to witness the first performance of their champion.

The course of this race was fifteen miles to windward and return, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel, the wind E., light, with an old sea. At the start Independence was two minutes behind the other two yachts, which went off jauntily in the light air, while she moved like a sleep-walker. At the outer mark she was so far behind that the committee did not wait to time her, while darkness had fallen before she passed the finish, marked only by a cat-boat, the committee yacht and all other craft having gone home long before. At nine o'clock that evening Independence groped her way into Newport Harbor and came to anchor in Brenton Cove.

Constitution won by 9 mn, 49 s, corrected time, from Columbia, which she allowed 1 mn, 17 s.

On July 8th the second race was sailed in a light breeze, S.W., with a long roll. The course was a thirty-mile triangle, and the starting-point five miles IL.S.E. from Brenton Reef light-vessel. Constitution won by 28 mn 8 s from Columbia, and by 1 h 18 mn 31 s from Independence, corrected time, allowing Columbia 1 mn 17 s and Independence 43 s.

On July 10th the three boats met again, but were unable to make a race. The course was fifteen miles to windward and return, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel, the wind S., very light, with fog. Constitution withdrew shortly after the start on account of the fog. Columbia and Independence rounded the outer mark, Columbia leading, but were not timed, and neither finished.

Before sailing her third race, July 11th, Independence was lightened by the removal of about two tons of lead, and some changes were made in her head sails, with the hope of correcting a lee-helm. The course was fifteen miles to windward and return from Brenton Reef light-vessel, and the wind from eight to ten knots S.S.W. In the beat to the outer mark Independence weathered Columbia twice and Constitution three times, turning the outer mark ahead of the new Bristol boat by two seconds, which was considerably better than being beaten forty minutes in ten miles to windward, as she was in her first race.

The run home was made through patches of fog, but the wind held true. Independence's partisans hoped she would make enough gain off the wind to overhaul Columbia and hold Constitution, but this she failed to do, finishing third, 6 mn 18 s behind Columbia and 2 mn 58 s behind Constitution. Nevertheless these figures showed an improvement in the boat.

On July 11th, the next day was an admirable one for the last race between the three yachts, and exciting sport was afforded, of which the feature was the performance of the Boston boat. She sailed the race after losing her topmast, and though greatly delayed by the wreckage of the spar, and by her jib-topsail dragging alongside, she made a splendid showing and actually outsailed her rivals on parts of the course, which was a thirty-mile triangle, with the second leg to windward, the course being laid S., N.E. by E. and N.W. by W.

There was a northeasterly breeze of twelve knots, freshening, and a lively sea, when the yachts came out for the start. They were given the preparatory whistle at 11.05, and maneuvering for place began at once. As the time for the starting whistle approached all stood for the line on the port tack, under good way. Columbia had the better of the start, but Independence was close up, while Constitution was nearer the leeward end of the line and did not get over it until twenty-one seconds after the handicap gun.

All three boats broke out jib-topsails at the line. Columbia and Constitution carried their second club-topsails, but Independence had on one of the largest size. The two leaders forged ahead at great speed. Independence gaining rapidly on Columbia, when, about two minutes after the start, the manila end of her weather backstay parted at the cleat, and her topmast went by the board, breaking off short at the cap, and dropping a short distance below the gaff, where it hung and slatted vigorously against the mainsail. Her jib-topsail went overboard, formed a bag, and dragged heavily.

Such an accident is enough to take the heart out of a racing skipper, but Captain Haff kept bravely on until compelled to bring the boat into the wind to get clear of the wreckage, which could not be disposed of under way. About five minutes was lost freeing the jib-topsail. Then the boat filled away again, but with her topmast and topsail still hanging to leeward. After a few minutes more sailing she was again luffed, and the topmast was cut clear and left for her tender to pick up. More than ten minutes were lost in getting rid of this wreckage.

Columbia led at the mark, turning at 11.59.49, with Constitution 2 mn 2 s behind, and Independence 6 mn 5 s behind Constitution.

After rounding the mark the Bristol boats split tacks, while Independence went about for a long board to starboard. In a series of short tacks Constitution gained on Columbia. The Boston boat kept up her long tacks, and the three rounded the second mark as follows: Columbia, 1.25.32; Constitution, 1.26.08; Independence, 1.36.16.

From the second mark to the finish was a broad reach, and the Bristol boats set jib-topsails and balloon fore-staysails. The only added sail Independence could carry was her balloon fore-staysail, which she set. Without topsail or jib-topsail she had no chance to hold her own with her rivals. On the first part of the leg Constitution gained on Columbia, but failed to overhaul her, the latter winning by 2 mn, 19 s from Constitution, and by 10 mn, 44 s from Independence, corrected time.

While Independence was in dock the Bristol, boats were on the New York Yacht Club cruise, the race runs in which showed Constitution to be a little faster than Columbia in the light airs that prevailed at the time in Long Island Sound. A summary of these meetings of the two boats is as follows :

July 22 — Squadron run. New York Yacht Club, Glen Cove to Huntington Bay, Long Island Sound. Course twenty-one and one-half miles, in three legs. Wind light, W.S.W., water smooth. Constitution won from Columbia by 4 mn 18 s, elapsed time :

July 23 — Squadron run. New York Yacht Club, Huntington Bay to Morris Cove, twenty-eight miles. Wind very light, S.E. to westerly points, water smooth. Constitution won by 5 mn 16 s, elapsed time :

July 24 — Squadron run. New York Yacht Club, Morris Co\e to New London, thirty-seven miles. ^Vind moderate, S.W., and water smooth. Constitution won by 8 mn 23 s, elapsed time :

July 25 — New London to Newport, thirty-eight miles, wind twelve knots N.E., sea smooth. Constitution took bottom near Race Rock light, but was not damaged. Columbia won by 3 mn 22 s, elapsed time :

The Astor cup race, with which the cruise was wound up, was sailed July 29th, over the old Block Island course, a twenty-eight-mile triangle, with the start at Brenton Reef light-vessel, and was won by Columbia. The wind was N. bv E. , fresh to strong, with a moderate sea. Columbia's margin at the finish was 4 mn 28 s, corrected time. Constitution allowed her 1 mn 34 s.

After the race, W. Butler Duncan, Esqr., manager of Constitution want change many things : "It will take about a week to make the change and then we shall be ready for more racing".

With Constitution in hospital at Bristol, only Columbia and Independence were on hand for the second series of races of the Newport Yacht Racing Association, scheduled for August 1st and 3d.

On August 1st, the first of these was sailed over a thirty-mile triangular course, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel. There was a one-gun start. The wind was light to moderate S.W. by W., and the sea smooth. A schooner class, and the yawls Vigilant, Ailsa and Navahoe had part in the racing.
The first leg of the course was to windward. Independence and Columbia crossed the line on the starboard tack, under the stern of the judges' boat, and very close together. Columbia was to weather, but not far enough ahead to break Independence's wind. The Boston yacht footed quite as fast as the champion, and stepped off in sprightly fashion in the six-knot breeze prevailing. Columbia was unable to blanket her as the race progressed, but the "lumber-hooker" steered badly, carrying a hard lee helm, which made holding her up impossible. This, and the fact that the wind on three different occasions broke her off by shifting a point, and helped Columbia, accounted in part for her falling behind before the first mark was reached. At this mark Columbia was leading her 1 mn 9 s.

On the second leg the wind was very nearly aft. The yawls used spinnakers, letting them flow well forward, and an attempt was made on Independence to set a spinnaker, which was sent up in stops. A stubborn stop refused to break out, and the sail had to be taken down, causing a loss of time. Columbia turned the second mark 6 mn 32 s ahead of Independence; but once around the Boston boat started on the reach home at a pace faster than her rival's, showing a fine burst of speed, and outsailing Columbia 1 mn 49 s on the leg, but losing the race by 5 mn 14 s, after conceding an allowance of 31 s.

On August 3rd Columbia and Independence met again, a day well adapted to a trial of the type represented by Independence. There was a piping "smoky sou'wester" off Newport, and not too much sea. When the racers came out of the harbor at 10 o'clock they met a twelve-knot breeze. This strengthened later to eighteen knots. Both boats had all the sail they could comfortably carry in this breeze.

The course was laid S.W. by S., ten miles to windward, E. ten miles, and N.N.W. ten miles. This gave an end-on beat on the first leg, a broad reach on the second leg, and a close reach home.

In the preliminary skirmish for position Capt. Barr tried tactics that he had employed with success on Constitution, by getting on his rival's weather and pouncing on him as if to scare him into giving way. Old Capt. Haff was not to be frightened in such a manner, but held his course, with the result that Columbia fouled Independence. The manager of the Boston boat, Dr. John Bryant, made no protest, not desiring to claim a race on a foul, though the committee's decision could not have been other than in his favor, under the rules.

Columbia reached the line too soon at the weather end, and was obliged to tack to port to wait for the gun. She went over on the starboard tack a few seconds after Independence, at the weather end of the line.

In the thresh of ten miles to windward Independence sailed as fast as Columbia, but failed to hold as high. Columbia therefore got farther out to windward and led by 3 mn 12 s at the windward mark. On rounding the mark Columbia broke out a No. 2 jib-topsail, and when Independence wore around she did the same. Independence hauled around the next mark at 1:32:30, having gained 1 mn 37 s on the leg, and now only 1 mn 35 s behind her rival.

The entire thirty miles was made by Columbia in 2 h 51mn and 48 s ; by Independence in 2 h 52 mn and 28 s, which was better than the existing record for thirty miles. The twenty miles of reaching was made by Columbia in 1 h 34 mn 17s, and by Independence in 1 h 31 mn 45 s This was record time for twenty miles on any point of sailing.

After these races Independence lay for some time in Newport Harbor, having been entered, by invitation of the Indian Harbor Yacht Club of Greenwich, Conn., to sail against Columbia and Constitution in a special match in Long Island Sound. The club was obliged to abandon the match, owing to the fact that Columbia and Constitution were withdrawn, leaving Independence alone in the class.

As the Larchmont Yacht Club was arranging a special match for ninety-footers, it was expected by the public that Independence would be invited to participate; but no such invitation was extended to her. It now being apparent that no more races could be secured for the Boston yacht, she was taken back to Boston, where on September 3d, three months to a day from the date of her first trial, she went out of commission, and the work of breaking her up began.

Constitution and Columbia resumed their meetings August 10th, off Newport, and raced through the remainder of the month, with honors for the older boat, the record of their races being as follows :

August 10 — Special New York Yacht Club race off Newport. Course fifteen miles to windward and return, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel. Wind fifteen to twenty knots, S.S.W. Columbia was in the wind five minutes to secure her bowsprit, which was loose. Constitution won by 4 mn 9 s, elapsed time.

August 12 — Special New York Yacht Club race off Newport. Course thirty-mile triangle, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel. Wind at start N.N.K., variable, four to seven knots, long swell. Columbia lost on actual time by thirty-three seconds, though winning on allowance as subsequently figured by forty-seven seconds.

August 14 — Special New York Yacht Club race off Newport. Course fifteen miles to windward and return, starting at Brenton Reef light-vessel. Race declared off with Constitution leading, six miles from the outer mark, 3 h 45 mn after the start, as the boats could not finish within the time limit of five and one-half hours.

August 16 — Larchmont Yacht Club races. Long Island Sound. Course thirty miles, in three legs, twice round. Wind light S.S.W. , water smooth. Constitution won by 31 mn 23 s, corrected time, allowing 1 mn 20 s.

August 17 — Larchmont Yacht Club races. Course same as on preceding day. Wind S.S.W., eight knots, water smooth. Constitution won by 58 s corrected time.

August 22 — Seawanhaka-Corintliian Yacht Club special race, off Oyster Bay, Long Island Sound. Course twenty-nine and one-half miles, twice around a triangle. One-gun start. Wind southerly, five to ten knots. Columbia won by 2 mn 57 s, corrected time.

August 24 — Seawanhaka-Corinthian Yacht Club special race, off Oyster Bay. Course thirty and one-half miles, twice around a triangle. One-gun start. Wind S.S.E. to F2.S.E., flaky, averaging six knots. Columbia led at end of first round. Constitution withdrawn in a rain squall, when leading. Columbia completed the course.

On August 25th Constitution went to Bristol for a final attempt by the Herreshoff Company to put her in proper form before the trial races, which were sailed August 31st and September 2d and 4th, off Newport.

The trial races for the defender 1901

First race : August 31st

The first race was fifteen miles to windward and return. There was a seven-knot breeze S.E. by E. at the start and a smooth sea, except for an easy roll. At the start Columbia forced Constitution over the line before the gun and was compelled to follow her, but tacked quickly and re-crossed. Constitution jibed and crossed with a handicap. Columbia quickly worked out to windward, and the race seemed lost to Constitution within the first half-hour. At the outer mark Columbia was leading by two minutes. The wind had shifted somewhat, which made a long and a short leg to the mark, and a reach home. Columbia gained on the run home 1 mn 53 s, making a total gain of 3 mn 48 s in 3 h 20 mn 53 s of sailing.

Second race : September 2nd

In a second trial, over a triangular course of thirty miles, Constitution had the weather position at the start, in a faint breeze, but Columbia soon worked out from her lee, and at the first mark had gained 4 mn 55 s. On a ten-mile reach to the second mark Constitution gained fifteen seconds. On the last leg the vessels were becalmed, Columbia being ahead a quarter of a mile four miles from the finish, when the race was called off at 6.15 p. mn

Final race : September 4th

Before the final race was sailed Constitution's new mainsail was unbent, and the mainsail used in her first races and subsequently discarded was put on in its place.

The wind at the start of the last race was about seven knots S.S.W. The signal was given at 1 p.m. Columbia violated the rules at the start by bearing down on Constitution three times, luffing each time, and giving her a back-draft which deadened her headway. Columbia led around the outer mark by less than a minute. The run home in a light breeze with balloon jib-topsails set, and spinnakers to port, was made in slow time. Constitution on several occasions pulled up abeam of Columbia, but failed to pass her. When nearing the mark spinnakers were taken in, and the boats having made some leeway from the course, sheets were trimmed for the finish. Constitution's crew was clumsy in handling their spinnaker, which collapsed across her stays, and later dragged in the water. This helped give Columbia a clear lead. Near the line Constitution's balloon jib-topsail was split in a puff. Columbia lowered hers, and later set a large one in its place. She led over the line by nineteen seconds. Constitution lost the race by seventeen seconds corrected time.

Columbia disqualified but Columbia selected

Capt. Barr was disqualified next day by the regatta committee without protest from Constitution for bearing away at the start; but as the special committee decided the same day to select Columbia to defend the cup, the race thus credited Constitution did not count. Had the issue been determined on the total number of wins alone, the boats would have had to meet again, as each had a race to her credit at the end of the trials.

The committee, however, was satisfied that Columbia was the safer boat to select as defender, and exercised its right to name her as such without further trials, its announcement being made September 5th through this notice, posted at its station in Newport :

Station No. 6, N. Y. Y. C,
Newport, R. I.,

Sept. 5th, 1901.

At a meeting of the committee on the challenge of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club, held on the flagship at half-past eleven o'clock this day, the Columbia was selected as representative of the New York Yacht Club.

J. V. S. Oddie,


the unloved

Naturally there was much discussion among yachtsmen over the shattering of Herreshoff's hopes in Constitution. The causes of her defeat were not charged up to inherent defects in her hull, but to bad sails and rig, and bad management.

Mr. Herreshoff was greatly chagrined over the rejection of Constitution, and his feelings could not have been soothed by the reflection of critics that he was in a large measure responsible for the vessel's failure, not only on account of the defects noted, but by a sin of omission in not insisting that the yacht be placed in more competent hands. Mr. Herreshoff was quoted in an interview at the beginning of the season as saying Constitution was the fastest yacht he ever designed, and would readily defeat Columbia.

After the trial races, Columbia and Constitution proceeded to Bristol. Here the defender's sails were put in shape for the cup races, a new suit being taken on board. Columbia was then taken to New York for docking and measurement. Constitution was stripped, her mast was lifted out, and she was towed to New London where she was hauled out.

the unlucky