The New York Yacht Club and the America's Cup

Earlier this year in England the football club Leicester City completed a remarkable title run to the Premier League title.  It was classic Cinderella tale by a small club and a feat considered impossible by experts.  The conversation sparked comparisons with other unlikely champions.  The 1980 US Olympic hockey team was mentioned, as was the Greece football team at Euro2004.  But one was not mentioned that ought to have been.  In 1983 an Australian ship Australia II broke a 132-year winning streak, defeating the New York Yacht Club in the America's Cup--the pinnacle of the sport of sailing.  It remains one of the most dramatic events in sports history.

The America's Cup was first held in 1851, a race (or 'regatta') around the Isle of Wight in England won by the ship America of the New York Yacht Club.  The NYYC would defend the trophy, called the 'Auld Mug' 25 times.  The regattas were hosted by the NYYC, first in New York Harbor and later  at NYYC's Harbour Court clubhouse in Newport Rhode Island.  Challengers for the America's Cup came from counties in the English-speaking world such as Britain, Canada and Australia.

The America's Cup, called the 'Auld Mug'.

The America's Cup, called the 'Auld Mug'.

A Currier and Ives picture of a New York Yacht Club Regatta in 1869 in New York Harbor.

A Currier and Ives picture of a New York Yacht Club Regatta in 1869 in New York Harbor.

In the 2nd half of the 20th century, Australia began to send several strong challengers for the America's Cup and the race generated serious interest Down Under.  A wealthy businessman from Western Australia named Alan Bond began to finance challenges in an attempt to wrest the cup.  He failed three times.  in 1977 he was defeated by the ship Courageous skippered by Ted Turner. But in 1983, he tried again, this time sending a golden wrench along to unscrew the cup from his place.
The 1983 America's Cup was held in Newport and was a best of 7 sailing race. (over the years the series has varied from a single race to as many as 19 races)  The Australian ship was the Australia II, while the American ship was the Liberty, captained by  the skilled yachtsman Dennis Conner.  The Liberty won three of the first 4 races and looked set to defend the Cup yet again.  But Australia II won the next two races to even the series at 3-3 and set up a dramatic climax.  On September 26th, 1983, the Australia II won the deciding race to take the America's Cup from the New York Yacht Club for the first time in history.  Australians, used to watching their teams compete abroad at odd times, watched the race in the late hours of the night.  Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously said, "Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum".
The New York Yacht Club has never regained the America's Cup.  In the 1987 America's Cup (hosted in Fremantle, Australia), captain Dennis Conner returned to the race with the San Diego Yacht Club and won the America's Cup.  Today the Cup is held by the Golden Gate Yacht Club in San Francisco.
On May 7-8 2016 the America's Cup returned to New York Harbor for the first time since 1920 in the form of the America's Cup World Series, a preliminary competition in advance of the 2017 America's Cup in San Francisco.  6 international teams competed.  The event will be shown on NBC in recorded form at 2:00 p.m. EST on Saturday May 21st. 

The America's Cup in New York Harbor for the first time since 1920.  Photo Americascup.com

The America's Cup in New York Harbor for the first time since 1920.  Photo Americascup.com

The New York Yacht Club remains a proud private social club devoted to yachting, with their main clubhouse on 44th Street in Midtown as well as Harbour Court in Newport RI (a town where historically many wealthy New York families owned summer houses).. It was founded in 1844.  Over the years, members have included many of New York's financial elite and various celebrities including several Astors, JP Morgan, Walter Cronkite, Ted Turner, David Rockefeller, William Buckley, and Bernie Madoff. The original clubhouse was in Hoboken, New Jersey. (The small modest building has been moved several times and now is located in Newport.)  Other clubhouses have been located various places in New York City.  in 1901 they moved into their current club on 44th Street.  The NYYC is one of New York's oldest social institutions.  It's older than the West Side Tennis Club, the New York Police Department, the New York Yankees (or the Major Leagues for that matter), the NY YMCA, the Metropolitan Opera, the Metropolitan Museum, the Players Club, etc.  It outlasted Tammany Hall and St George's Cricket Club.

 

Here are several sites in New York related to the New York Yacht Club you can visit:

The 44th Street Clubhouse, built from 1899-1901

The 44th Street Clubhouse, built from 1899-1901

1. The 44th Street Clubhouse.  
The NYYC's clubhouse on 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues is one of the true architectural gems of the city.  Opened and 1901, the Beaux Arts masterpiece was built by the firm Warren and Wetmore, who also built Grand Central Terminal.  The limestone exterior has numerous nautical features including carvings meant to represent 17th century Dutch yachts.  The interior is even more exquisite, featuring many many model ships and the general plush you you expect in an exclusive club.  However, to get in one must be either a member or invited by one, except on rare days when it is open to non-members such as Open House New York.  In any case, there's a strict dress code (absolutely no denim) and photos are not allowed.  Still, even if you can't get inside, just the exterior is worth the trip.  It's just a few minutes walk from either Times Square or Grand Central. 

The McFarlane-Bredt House in Alice Austen Park.  The building is currently closed for restoration.

The McFarlane-Bredt House in Alice Austen Park.  The building is currently closed for restoration.


2. The McFarlane-Bredt House at Alice Austen Park on Staten Island.

View of New York Harbor from near the McFarlane-Bredt House

View of New York Harbor from near the McFarlane-Bredt House

This house built in the 1840s as a private home was purchased by the NYYC in 1868 and was their clubhouse for 3 years.  From here, members watched the 1870 America's Cup in New York Harbor, the first defense of the Cup.  The building is an Italian-Swiss style villa and sits in Alice Austen Park, and until relatively recently was a residential building (after the NYYC sold the building in 1871 it was divided into 4 apartments).  Unfortunately the building is fenced off today and is undergoing a slow restoration process. The park plans to eventually open it to the public as an exhibit on the NYYC.  Still, Alice Austin Park is worth a visit, which also contains the late 1600s Alice Austen House, named after a famous Staten Island photographer who lived there.  The park has stunning views of New York Harbor, Manhattan and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  The park is also near several attractions, including the Garibaldi Meucci Museum and Fort Wadsworth.  

Hoboken Cove Boathouse, a recreation of the original NYYC clubhouse once located here.

Hoboken Cove Boathouse, a recreation of the original NYYC clubhouse once located here.

3.  Hoboken Cove Boathouse, Hoboken, NY

Located at the intersection of Frank Sinatra Drive and Sinatra Drive North, this is the original location of the first New York Yacht Club Clubhouse, founded in 1845.  A plaque marks the site.  The building there today is a recreation of the NYYC's first clubhouse and is a place for kayaking lessons today.  The original clubhouse still stands, but it was moved to Newport, RI, on the grounds of the NYYC's Harbour Court Clubhouse.

The mast of the Columbia, winner of the 1899 and 1901 America's Cup

The mast of the Columbia, winner of the 1899 and 1901 America's Cup

4.  Mast of the Columbia, standing in Forest Hills Gardens in Queens.

At roughly 150 Greenway Terrace in the tranquil neighborhood Forest Hills Gardens stands a seemingly unlikely monument--the mast of Columbia, winner of two America's Cups in 1899 and 1901.  The flag was dedicated here by former President Theodore Roosevelt in 1917.