Bringing out the silverware

Historic trophies to be awarded for next year's Rolex Transatlantic Challenge

Thursday March 18th 2004, Author: Barby MacGowan, Location: Transoceanic
"To the victor belongs the spoils". If true, perpetual trophies in the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005 yacht race, from New York to England to begin on 21 May, 2005, may well spoil the victors.

The Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, hosted by the New York Yacht Club with the cooperation of England's Royal Yacht Squadron, is for monohull yachts of at least 70 feet LOD, attempting to break the world's oldest yacht-racing record.

In 1905, the three-masted schooner Atlantic, a NYYC vessel, sailed from New York to the Lizard in England in 12 days, four hours, 1 minute and 19 seconds. The 2005 race, registered with the World Sailing Speed Record Council (WSSRC), will also commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Atlantic's record.

The New York Yacht Club is allocating four of its most significant trophies to serve as symbols for the overall transatlantic-race record and for the elapsed line honours times for each of the three divisions: classic, performance cruising and grand-prix.

The Commodore's Cup, left, donated by Commodore Elbridge T. Gerry in 1892, will symbolise the west-to-east transatlantic race record for monohull yachts on the traditional course between Ambrose Tower and Lizard Point. This will be the first time this trophy has been placed in competition since 1892. The Commodore's Cup stands 28 inches in height and is a classic ewer with a maiden sitting beneath the pouring spout. It was crafted by the silversmiths of the Whiting Co. for Commodore Gerry.

Commodore James Gordon Bennett Jr. donated three magnificent silver trophies to the club in 1872. The trophy selected as the elapsed time (line honours) trophy for the Classic Division from New York to the Needles is the Commodore's Challenge Cup for Schooners. This trophy is approximately two feet in height and, along with its two companions, was crafted by Tiffany's in New York. It is an amphora crowned with a sea nymph holding the reins of two wild horses emerging from a roiled sea. The handles of the amphora - see left below - are coiled sea monsters. The names of winners of the Challenge Cup are recorded on silver plates affixed to the base. The most recent winner was A. Robert Towbin's Sumurun in the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup, this race's predecessor, hosted by the NYYC. A. Robert Towbin is the chairman of the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge 2005.

It is fitting that three of these trophies come from Commodore Bennett. Late one evening in 1866, three young New York Yacht Club members fell to boasting about the relative merits of their yachts. Pierre Lorillard had a new centerboard schooner, the 105-foot Vesta; Charles Osgood had his deep and narrow 106-foot Fleetwing, and James Gordon Bennett Jr., the 21-year-old son of the publisher of the influential New York Herald newspaper, had his 107-foot Henrietta. Thus began the world's first transatlantic race. Each owner anted up $30,000 - winner would take all.

The Herald had recently exhorted "our smooth water gentry" to "trip anchors and start out on a cruise on blue water. Get off your soundings, trust your sea legs for a while, reciprocate the visits of your English cousins, visit your own coast, go to South America, try Europe, call on the Sultan; or if you have got the pluck, circumnavigate the world, then come home and write a book. It will perpetuate your memory, reflect luster on your deeds, and redound to the honor of your country."

In that wild-winter race in 1866, which finished on Christmas Day, Henrietta decisively won the inaugural transatlantic race. James Gordon Bennett Jr. was the only owner to be aboard. The next year he took over the newspaper from his father. Bennett had been the youngest member of the NYYC, named at age 16, would be its youngest commodore when age 30 and its only two-term commodore.

The second Bennett trophy, the Brenton Reef Challenge Cup (above) is the elapsed-time trophy for the Performance Cruising Division. The latest winner of this trophy, which shows a statue of Columbus standing beside a globe, was George Lindemann's schooner Adela in the Spirit of Tradition Division of the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup.

The third Bennett trophy, the Cape May Challenge Cup (left), the elapsed-time trophy for the Grand Prix Division. This piece is a striking example of a more modern design concept at the threshold of American artistic experimentation in the 1870s. Tiffany & Co. has cited the Cape May Challenge Cup as a groundbreaking example of its silver work during this time. This trophy was last won by J. Craig Venter's Sorcerer in the Contemporary Division in the 1997 Atlantic Challenge Cup.

These trophies and other perpetual trophies from the club's collection, including the Sayre Cup, awarded to the yacht to set the Fastest Elapsed time from New York to the Needles, will be presented at a prize-giving on the Royal Yacht Squadron grounds following the race. The winners' names and yachts will be suitably engraved on the perpetual trophies, and they will be on permanent display in the New York Yacht Club.

The winners will receive Rolex timepieces as well as keeper trophies that will represent the perpetual trophies on display.

The deadline for entries is 21 January, 2005.

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