Category: 1887 : CHALLENGE N°7

No sooner had Galatea followed in the wake of Genesta as a defeated challenger than Albion's sons set out for another trial for the cup. This time the challenge came from Scotland, the Royal Clyde Yacht Club sending a letter proposing a race in 1887 on behalf of Mr. James Bell, with a boat of about the size of the Mayflower.

Inasmuch as the prevailing deed of gift called for at least six months notice, but not over seven months, this letter was not a formal challenge, but was merely a friendly communication in an effort to arrive at an amicable agreement, to be followed by the formal challenge at such time as to allow the races to be held the following September. A rather curt answer was made by the New York Yacht Club, which stated that when the challenge came "in proper form" it would be considered, and enclosed a copy of the second deed of gift.

The Scottish club still continued in trying to be forehanded by arriving at a definite understanding as to the size of the boats, so that neither one would be out built, but getting no satisfaction they went ahead with their plans, determined to adhere strictly to the letter of the deed, and not to give out any more information than was required.

The English challenger was unusually successful in home waters, winning eleven first prizes, one second, and one third out of fifteen races before sailing for this country, and beating Genesta and Irex, another fast cutter, easily. So the hopes of English yachtsmen were high that she would bring home the Cup.

She arrived, at New York on August 16th after a fast passage across of twenty-two days, made under a moderate jury rig. After her arrival things began to happen thick and fast.

On account of the secrecy which surrounded her building there was much speculation here as to just what form George Watson had given the new challenger, and many absurd rumors went flying around as to what the Thistle was like under water. Soon after her arrival the enterprising manager of one of the New York daily papers arranged to have a diver go down some dark night and "explore" her bottom. This was done, and the result of his examination was published in a drawing of the boat's underwater form in the paper that hired him. Thistle must certainly have been a queer yacht if she looked anything like this drawing, and Mr. Bell, her managing owner, remarked when he saw the article in question, " The proprietor of that paper will feel like shooting that diver when the Thistle is docked and her real form is seen."

On September 22nd Volunteer and Thistle were officially measured at Erie Basin. Here it was found Thistle exceeded the load water-line length furnished the New York Yacht Club in the challenge from Mr. Bell. This was considered so serious a matter that "a question was raised," to quote the language of the America's cup committee, “whether the Thistle should be allowed to race." The committee consisted of James D. Smith, Gilbert L. Haight, Philip Schuyler, John S. Dickerson, William Krebs, Elbridge T. Gerry, and Charles Coolidge Haight. They decided to refer the question of Thistle's eligibility to George L. Schuyler as referee. The committee's statement of the difference found in Thistle's water-line was as follows : "A great discrepancy was seen to exist [in the measurement] between the load water-line length of Thistle as given by Mr. Watson, her designer, namely, 85 feet, and that of the measurer of the New York Yacht Club, namely, 86.46, a difference of 1.46 feet."

Mr. Watson, when his attention was called to the matter, said it was the result of an "overlook." Mr. Bell, when notified by the committee of the discrepancy, replied that the water-line length as given in the challenge was as accurate as Mr. Watson could give it with the vessel unlaunched, and was furnished without the challengers knowing the deed of gift required it, but to supplement the custom-house certificate, it being given "with the most perfect good faith." He stated that "when measured under the British yacht-racing rule, after she was fitted out, she measured 86.40 on the water-line, as against 86.46 here, and she was rated in this trim accordingly."

Mr. Bell further stated:

"The extra length is penalized more heavily under your rule than under ours, and is not an advantage. If Thistle had been a shorter boat she would have been in receipt of more time allowance; as it is, the two competitors could hardly have been nearer an equality of sailing tonnage by your rules had they been specially designed to sail even."

Mr. Bell agreed to place the matter without reserve in Mr. Schuyler's hands.

His statement, and Mr. Watson's, about the "overlook," did not satisfy all who commented on the matter. New York yachtsmen believed so skilled a designer as Mr. Watson could have told exactly, or very nearly so, on what water-line the yacht would float when launched, for such problems are determined with mathematical precision. However, no one accused the challengers of either intentional deception primarily, or later reservation of facts, but generously accepted the disclaimers of Mr. Watson and Mr. Bell.

On the 24th of September there was a conference at the New York Yacht Club between members of the cup and regatta committees of the club, George L. Schuyler, Gen. Paine, of Volunteer, and Messrs. Bell and Watson, and Mr. York, secretary of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club.

At this meeting Mr. Bell presented a statement to be submitted to the referee, in which he again set forth that the water-line length given in the challenge was the vessel's designed length, but that with equipment aboard she had been found to measure 86.40 feet, and continued :

"As the challenger accepted the measurement and time allowance of the New York Yacht Club, which adjusts all differences of tonnage, and as the vessel had to be measured in New York, the exact water-line length did not seem of any importance.

" Under the New York Yacht Club's rules, which were mutually accepted, competitors are at liberty to shift ballast up to 9 p.m. of the day prior to the race, subject, of course, to after measurement, which precluded the idea that in giving an approximate water-line measurement Thistle was tied down to a fixed load-line length.

"Were Thistle claiming to race at a water-line length of 85 feet having 86.46, there would be grave reason for complaint, but Thistle is tendered for measurement of length and sail area as per New York Yacht Club rules, under challenger's arrangements with your America cup committee, to adjust the time allowance she was to receive or give."

Mr. Watson submitted a statement to the referee, reciting that in his certificate of March 14th, 1887, giving dimensions of the yacht, the beam and depth only were given exactly, but that the water-line was the designed length, of which he at that time stated : " When she is afloat and in racing trim I have no reason to expect that it will be more than an inch or two out, either way."

Mr. Watson asked the referee this question: "Does the Thistle, as now measured and offered to sail, correspond with the particulars of dimensions furnished by her challenger within the requirements of the deed of gift?

The America's cup committee asked the referee: "Is the variation sufficient to prevent the challenger being entitled to race for the cup with the boat named ?"

On the morning of September 25th, Mr. Schuyler handed his decision to the committee.

It is here given in full:

James D. Smith, EsqR.,
Chairman America's Cup Committee of the New York Yacht Club.

My reply to the questions submitted to me by your committee and Mr. Bell is as follows: The clause in the deed of gift which requires, besides Custom House measurement, a statement of the "dimensions" of the vessel, is intended to convey a just idea of the capacity of the same without reference to any rule for racing tonnage which may be in force at the time the challenge is given.

The length of load water-line is an essential element. It was furnished by both Genesta and Galatea, and had it not been given by Thistle, the committee should have demanded it before closing the terms of the match. Mr. Bell did, however, furnish the load water-line of the Thistle, notwithstanding his misapprehension of the necessity of doing so, for the reason, as stated by himself, that if that information was withheld it would be impossible to determine, with any approach to accuracy, the power of his boat, a reason which proves the necessity of length of load water-line being a factor in giving the "dimensions" of the vessel, as well as the desire of Mr. Bell to do everything in his power to make a fair trial between the contestants for the cup.

Your second question refers to the discrepancy between the load water-line of the Thistle as furnished by letters March 16th, 1887, about 85 feet, and the actual measurement made in New York, 86.46 feet. The length of load water-line of a vessel in commission is accurately obtained ; but before launching, as was the case with the Thistle, there was no course left for the owner but to apply to his designer for the necessary information. This was done, and the certificate of the designer was forwarded, stating that " it was impossible to give exactly the water-line length ; this, however, is her designed length, and when she is afloat and in racing trim, I have no reason to expect that it will be more than an inch or two out either way."

The importance of accuracy in giving the dimensions of a yacht challenging for the cup is so great that any decision reached in any one case cannot be used as a precedent in any other which may arise. A great error in any of the dimensions," whether through mistake or design, would vitiate the agreement — a small one should be governed by the circumstances attending it, and always on the liberal side.

Although the variation between the stated and actual load water-line is so large as to be of great disadvantage to the defender of the cup, still, as Mr. Bell could only rely upon the statement of his designer, he cannot, in this particular case, be held accountable for the remarkably inaccurate information received from him, and I therefore decide that the variation is not sufficient to disqualify him from starting the Thistle in the race agreed upon.

Respectfully yours,

George L. Schuyler.


Mr. Schuyler's decision was broad enough to satisfy all concerned, except perhaps Mr. Watson, whom, it may be observed, it censured, and it being accepted promptly, the match went on, without any very great amount of hard feeling being engendered on either side. Indeed the Scotch challengers had much to recommend them as sportsmen, and it was best that the episode of Thistle's measurement should have been settled as it was.