The Isle of Wight in the Solent has long been the epicenter of yachting in England. In 1851, a schooner painted black arrived there looking to win races. This was the yacht America, owned by John Cox Stevens, the first commodore of the NYYC and other club members. (Photo shows America, winner of a race in 1851 in England and a trophy that came to be called the America’s Cup.)
America crossed the Atlantic on her own bottom and challenged all English yachts to a match race. No yacht was willing to race her, however.
Finally, America joined a free-for-all on Friday, August 22, around the Isle of Wight. Watching the race, which included 15 English yachts and America, was Queen Victoria, who supposedly inquired, “Which is first?” Told it was America, she asked, “Which is second?”
“Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second,” was the reply. Or so the story goes. America won the Royal Yacht Squadron’s “Hundred Guinea Cup.
The NYYC was started seven years before, on July 30, 1844, when John Cox Stevens invited eight friends to his yacht Gimcrack, anchored in New York Harbor. The nine who met 169 years ago resolved to form the NYYC and named Stevens commodore. The theme of the club was, in those days, to race sailing yachts. Three days hence, the new commodore announced, members would be departing on a yacht-club cruise to Newport. Thus, began the historical connection between the NYYC and Newport, RI. The 2013 Annual Cruise, to Maine, will be the Club’s 159th.
The NYYC’s first clubhouse was built in 1845 on land donated by Commodore Stevens, at the family estate at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, NJ, overlooking the Hudson River. (The estate is now the site of the Stevens Institute of Technology, endowed by Edwin Stevens, John’s brother, and the fourth commodore of this club.) The clubhouse, a Gothic revival building, officially opened on July 15, 1846. This was followed the next day by the first club regatta, billed as a “trial of speed.” This became the “Annual Regatta.” Only the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and II and the assassination of New York Senator Robert Kennedy have caused it to be cancelled. This summer (2013), the NYYC will host its 159th Annual Regatta, presented by Rolex.
The first clubhouse did duty as “Station 10” on Long Island and then was on loan and on display at Mystic Seaport for 50 years. It is now on the grounds of Harbour Court, the NYYC’s on-the-water home in Newport.
On July 12, 1857, surviving members of the America syndicate donated the silver trophy they won in England, the “Hundred Guinea Cup,” to the NYYC. They called it the America’s Cup, in honor of the yacht that won it. They invited yacht clubs around the world to compete and promised, “friendly competition between foreign countries.” Finishing first in the America’s Cup, NYYC boats did with amazing regularity. Boats flying the club flag held onto that trophy for 132 years, or until 1983. During that stewardship, NYYC boats won 81 of 93 races. The win in 1851 in England and then 24 defenses, from 1870 to 1980, has been described by journalists as the “longest winning streak in sports.”
The first transatlantic race was held in the winter of 1866. James Gordon Bennett Jr., publisher of the New York Herald and soon to be commodore of the NYYC, was the only owner to go on the race that started on December 11. On Christmas day, his Henrietta finished first in a three-boat race. Newspapers dubbed it, “the Great Ocean Race.”
The NYYC started another famous transatlantic race in 1905, from New York to the Lizard in England. The race was won by Atlantic, a NYYC vessel. Her time of 12 days, four hours, one minute lasted for 100 years or until 2005 as the Transatlantic Race Record for monohull yachts.
In 1898, the NYYC was billeted on the second floor of a house on Madison Avenue. It was chockablock with “models, members and memorabilia,” wrote the New York Daily Tribune. It was then that Commodore J. Pierpont Morgan stunned fellow members by announcing he would donate three lots on West 44th Street to build a new clubhouse. The building, designed in the beaux-arts style by Whitney Warren and Charles D. Wetmore, opened in 1901. It is known for its Model Room and Library. The clubhouse is 112 years old. “Except for the absence of motion, one might fancy oneself at sea,” is how the New York Times described it in 1906.
In 1983, the NYYC finished “second” in the America’s Cup. A significant piece of the club was gone. Then in 1987, it acquired Harbour Court in Newport, the former summer home of NYYC Commodore John Nicholas Brown. When it opened in 1988, 1,500 members and guests attended.
Harbour Court created a new energy and focus at the NYYC. In 1994, it hosted its Sesquicentennial Celebration, for members and friends. In 1998, the NYYC hosted Race Week at Newport, presented by Rolex, the Disabled World Sailing Championship and the ILC Maxi World Championship. In 2000, as part of Race Week, the NYYC hosted the Rolex IMS Offshore World Championship. In 2003, the club hosted the Laser Masters North Americans and the Swan North Americans. In 2005, it hosted the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, the Rolex Swan American Regatta, the 12-Metre Worlds and the Grey Goose ISAF Team Racing Worlds. The eighth edition of Race Week at Newport, presented by Rolex, was in 2012. The NYYC has also hosted the IFDS Blind Sailing World Championship.
Youth, too, is being served at one of the oldest yacht clubs in America. Harbour Court has twice hosted the Optimist Dinghy Association US Championship and the IYRU O’Neill World Youth Sailing Championship. In 2000, Harbour Court hosted the U.S. Junior Championships for Sears, Bemis and Smythe Trophies. In 2002, the NYYC hosted the ICSA Sloop National Championship with Brown University. In 2008, the club hosted the Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) National Championships.
The club is extremely active in Team Racing and match racing. It purchased 13 Sonars that are dedicated to these activities. In 2002, the NYYC hosted the UBS Challenge — an international match-racing championship.
In 1997, the NYYC hosted at its Manhattan clubhouse the Atlantic Challenge Cup, a transatlantic race for the world’s largest yachts. The course was from the site of the Sandy Hook Light off New York Harbor to the Lizard in England — the same course Atlantic sailed in 1905.
In 2003, the NYYC supported a new Transatlantic Race, the DaimlerChrysler North Atlantic Challenge — organized by Norddeutscher Regatta Verein. More than 60 yachts raced across the North Atlantic from Newport, RI, to Cuxhaven, Germany — this is the largest fleet to ever race across the Atlantic.
In August 2001, the New York Yacht Club joined with the Royal Yacht Squadron for the America’s Cup Jubilee, in Cowes, England. This was a weeklong regatta and party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the regatta that came to be called the America’s Cup. A highlight was a race around the Isle of Wight — the course America sailed in 1851.
“For sailors, the America’s Cup Jubilee had it all,” wrote the New York Times. “Fleet racing, J Boats, vintage gaff riggers, an incomparable collection of 12-Meters, and some of the greatest yachtsmen of any era. It could be another 150 years before there is another event like it.”
The 1997 transatlantic race — the Atlantic Challenge Cup — was reprised in May, 2005, as the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge; the race was hosted by the NYYC with the support of the Royal Yacht Squadron. Here Atlantic’s then-100-year-old record was eclipsed by Robert Miller’s Mari-Cha IV. The new NYYC transatlantic race record, as recognized by the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC), is 9 days, 15 hours, 55 minutes and 23 seconds. In 2011, the NYYC and the RYS hosted the Transatlantic Race 2011 (TR 2011) — from Newport, RI to England. Since 1866, there have been 26 transatlantic races — 12 of which were hosted by the NYYC.
Since 2009 the NYYC has conducted the NYYC Invitational Cup presented by Rolex. This biennial event, now in its third iteration, will be sailed September 7-14, 2013. The racing — for yacht club teams from around the world and Corinthian (amateur) sailors — is in NYYC Swan 42s – the eighth one-design class created by the New York Yacht Club since 1900. In the first Invitational Cup in 2009, 19 yacht club teams from 14 countries, from four continents competed. The winner was the New York Yacht Club. The second Invitational Cup in 2011 included 22 yacht club teams from 16 nations from six continents. The winner was the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. In even-numbered years, clubs from the United States have the opportunity to earn invitations to the next Invitational Cup by competing in the U.S. Qualifying Series — most recently (2012) held in J70s and the NYYC’s fleet of Sonars. The top three American yacht club teams: Larchmont, Seattle and San Francisco earned berths in the 2013 NYYC Invitational Cup.