Category: 1895 : CHALLENGE N°9

In the meantime steps were taken to build a boat to defend the cup. The superiority of Herreshoff vessels was such that no one was found willing to take chances against them, and as a result only one boat intended for defense was laid down, on order of a New York Yacht Club syndicate composed of William K. Vanderbilt, K. D. Morgan and C. Oliver Iselin. Extraordinary precautions were taken to make her a potential winner.

She was to be a keel boat, the first of the type to defend the cup, a cutter in everything but name. Indeed, on the other side the challenger of those times was always called a cutter, while here she was called a sloop.

The cutter, or sloop, that was to meet Valkyrie III. was named Defender. She was built at Bristol, of bronze, steel and aluminum, and was launched June 29th, 1895. The greatest secrecy was maintained regarding her. Lightness to the last degree consistent, with speed was the chief aim in her construction. Expense was not regarded in building her, and in the use of so light and strong a metal as aluminum in her construction Herreshoff realized a dream — though an empty one, it seems — of yacht designers.

Defender was commanded by Capt. "Hank" Haff, and manned by an entire crew of Yankee sailors shipped at Deer Isle, Maine, a nursery of yacht sailors now as famous as ever was Wivenhoe in England. They were the first wholly American crew employed on a cup defender, as all former crews contained numbers of Swedes or Norwegians, who for many years were relied upon as our best yachting sailors. The Deer Isle men were superior to Scandinavians in racing work chiefly because of their higher order of intelligence.

04318SDefender was given her first sailing trial July 6th, in Narragansett Bay. On Julv 7th she was sailed against Colonia, which she distanced with ease. At first her spars and sails, which were made at the Herreshoff works, were far from satisfactory. Vigilant, owned by George J. Gould, was put in the best of racing trim to act as a trial boat against her, about $50,000 being expended by Mr. Gould to make good the wear and tear of her two previous seasons, and her voyage, made in April, from England, where she raced in 1894. She was under the management of Mr. E. A. Willard and commanded by Capt. Charles Barr who brought Minerva to this country in 1889 and had sailed Wasp, Gloriana and Navahoe.

The season's racing between Defender and Vigilant was productive of some interesting incidents, in which friction between the partisans of the two boats was not lacking; while the season of Defender was filled with minor accidents, and reports of structural weakness, which were not without foundation, though strenuously denied by Mr. Iselin, her manager.


20 juillet 1895

Defender first race

22 juillet 1895

Croisière du New York Yacht Club

2 août 1895
Goelet Cup

5 août 1895
Vineyard Haven - Newport

6 août 1895
Drexel Cup



On July 20, at the first confrontation, Defender beat Vigilant of nearly three minutes on a course of 30 miles.

On July 22d, Defender and Vigilant met in a practice race off Sandy Hook, for the purpose of giving Defender a trial over an ocean course. Shortly after the start Vigilant displayed a protest flag, and at the end of the race Mr. Willard handed in a protest, claiming Defender violated section II of rule 16 by bearing down on Vigilant in the start, when Defender was off the wind, the rule in question being, "A yacht running free shall keep clear of one close hauled." Mr. Willard requested that the regatta committee's decision on his protest should not be announced until the yachts reached Newport, after the New York Yacht Club cruise.

In the runs and races of this cruise Defender met not only Vigilant, but Volunteer and Jubilee. Gen. Paine had gone to considerable expense to again fit out Jubilee. Her bow had been lengthened five feet, which improved her in running. Yachtsmen believed that had her mast been stepped forward after this change she would have done better, while her sails were unfit for use in racing.

On July 29, during the Commodore Cup, Defender beats Vigilant less than two minutes on a course of 21 miles.

On July 30, Defender has a problem and abandons; it would certainly have been beaten by Vigilant.

On July 31, in the cruise to Newport, Defender beats Vigilant of 12 mn and Volunteer of 24 mn.

August 2, dans la Goelet Cup race for sloops, over the Block Island course, in a good sailing breeze, Defender cut out a pace that would have resulted in her winning by a wide margin, but off West Island her gaff snapped in the middle, and she was obliged to retire, when leading Vigilant 11m., Volunteer 14 m. and Jubilee 30 m. The spar was of wood, built hollow, and was unequal to the strain put on it. It was replaced iiy another hollow spar, somewhat larger, and two feet longer, the length being nearly sixty-five feet.

On August 3, in the run to Vineyard Haven, Vigilant beats Defender of 5 min 32 s and Volunteer of 20 min 35 s.

On August 5, between Vineyard Haven and Newport, Defender beats Vigilant de 9 mn 9 s and Volunteer of 19 mn 58 s.

On August 6, in the Drexel Cup, Defender again met Vigilant off Newport and another complaint was made by Mr. Willard, who was a clearheaded and able Corinthian yachtsman of good standing, against the manner in which Mr. Iselin's boat was handled in the start. Mr. Willard refrained from protesting, for the reason that a boat twice found in the wrong under protest could not again sail in the races under the club's auspices. If he made two protests, and they were sustained, Defender would be barred, under the New York Yacht Club's rules, from defending the cup. As he believed he had cause for a second protest, however, he withdrew Vigilant from further racing against Defender, to relieve the regatta committee of a possible cause for embarrassment.

The situation which led to this action is worthy of description here, as it involved one of the nicest points in racing tactics, namely, the question of when one yacht unduly crowds another in making for a starting-line, both on the same tack, one close hauled, and the other with started sheets. The situation, which was similar to that resulting in the foul between Defender and Valkyrie III in the cup races that year, was as follows:

The wind was southwest, and after the preparatory gun both boats stood for the line on the starboard tack from the north. Vigilant, close hauled, was steered to come under the stern of the windward mark-boat in crossing. Defender was also on the starboard tack, to windward, but not close hauled. She was going the faster, and established an overlap. At this point Vigilant appeared to bear off, and Defender bearing off immediately, prevented Vigilant from luffing, and got the weather berth for the start. On the point of the vessels' bearing off the protest was based, Capt. Barr, who steered Vigilant, claiming that he was forced off his course.
Mr. Willard's withdrawal of Vigilant from further racing with Defender raised a tempest in a teapot, all parties concerned expressing their views through the newspapers. Mr. Willard stated in an interview that he believed had Vigilant held to her rights Defender would have been sunk in collision, and the country would have been left without a boat fitted to defend the cup against Valkyrie. He also defined his position regarding protests.

Capt. Barr felt his professional dignity was hurt, saying: "I have declined positively to sail again unless things are changed. I have been made a fool of. Vigilant has had the better positions, and it is unfair that we should have to give way all the time. If these races had been for the cup Valkyrie would have held her course each time. I know we were right, and I wish to go on record."
Capt. Haff stated that Vigilant bore off first, and forfeited her right of way, justifying Defender in following her.

The regatta committee took this view of the matter, for the next day it addressed a letter to Mr. Willard in which he was informed that the committee believed him in the wrong. The committee's decision on the protest of July 22d was made public with this letter. It was against Vigilant. Mr. Willard accepted the committee's rulings, but not its views. The whole affair showed that in a start between two modern racing machines, it is very easy for the men sailing each to think themselves in the right, and not always clear how a committee reaches a decision as to which is right.

On August 8th, Defender met Jubilee for an individual race, and defeated her by 9 m. 19 s. in twenty-one miles over a triangular course.
August 9th Defender grounded on a sand bar in Narragansett Bay, but came off uninjured.

The trial races that year were more a matter of form than in 1893 and the yachts met for the first race on August 20th.