You thought I forgot, didn’t you? Oh, no, mon ami.
Surprisingly enough, the English had been keeping a close eye on American shipbuilders for a while. In the mid-1850’s they were particularly scouting out two designers named James and George Steers of the George Steers and Co. There was a traditional design to yachts called the “cod-head-and-mackerel-tail”, but the Steers’ pilot boat designs were arguably the fastest and most seaworthy to be had. Pilot boats had to be both fast and hearty to operate in any kind of weather and to withstand the unpredictable seas. Plus, the harbor pilots only made money if they were there first to guide the ships in. It was always a race.
A group of Americans hired the Steers to build them a yacht with an eye to the British 53-mile regatta around the Isle of Wight known as the Squadron’s “One Hundred Sovereign Cup”. They named their entry the America and everyone was watching her. Only one yacht would take up the challenge before the race and she won her race handily. This put even more fear in the men who’d been watching the ship closely even as she was being built.
On August 22, 1851, the race started at 10:00 AM with seven schooners and eight cutters. America fouled her anchor and was off to a bad start, but had closed to fifth within thirty minutes. She broke a jib boom at one point and it took them fifteen minutes to replace it. Even so, she finished eighteen minutes ahead of the Aurora.
Queen Victoria is said to have asked who finished second and someone replied, “There is no second, your Majesty.”
The race was thereafter named after the gallant yacht and is forever after run as the America’s Cup.
The story might end there, but beautiful ladies are always more interesting when they have tragic stories. She was sold a month later to John de Blaquiere, 2nd Baron de Blaquiere who changed her name to Camilla and raced her only a few times. He sold her in 1856 to Henry Montagu Upton, 2nd Viscount Templetown, who let her fall into disrepair and shame and sold her again in 1858. Finally, she passed on to a man named Edward Decie who bought her from a shipbuilder who had rebuilt her.
Decie claimed to be an Irish lord when he arrived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1861. There were serious doubts about him, but he was charming enough to get some backers and was soon flush with money and a letter of marque, or so he said, from President Davis. The Camilla was now a Confederate blockade runner. Decie ran her until 1862 when he scuttled her to keep the Union troops from getting her. He didn’t do a good enough job, however, as they raised her, re-equipped her and used her until the end of the war in the Union blockade. She was eventually donated to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, but they failed to maintain her and she was burned in 1945.
Well, of course, this story was too good not to use in The Rain Crow. Lorena’s bodyguard Carl has decided to go to sea.