A SchoonerMan Page


America arguably the most famous racing yacht in history was designed and built to accomplish a single task: her purpose was to demonstrate to the Old World that New World technology had matured enough not only to be competitive, but also to be superior.

In 1851, at the behest of six members of the fledgling New York Yacht Club, designer George Steers created plans for a fast "pilot" boat, utilizing a reversal of the "cods-head-and-mackerel-tail" style of boat design. The resulting, sharp-bowed, AMERICA-after some growing pains associated with spar sizing and sail rig configuration-sailed for England to answer a challenge from the Royal Yacht Squadron.


LOA: 109'

LWL: 90' 3"

Beam: 22'

Draft:11 '

Sail Area: 5,263 sq. ft

Some early "jousting" with British vessels shortly after AMERICA'S arrival in the English Channel ended any element of surprise the Americans may have hoped to use. It had become quite apparent by all observers that the schooner was very fast and not the sort of vessel to place any large wagers against.

After waiting around for weeks for responses to her challenges, an open race sponsored by the Royal Yacht Squadron for the Hundred Guinea Cup-finally provided AMERICA with a forum for victory.

On August 22,1851, AMERICA was declared the winner of a 53-mile clockwise race around the Isle of Wight. After a large fireworks display viewed by about 7,000 on lookers, the crew was celebrated by the members of the RYS. And on August 25, at her anchorage off Osborne House, the schooner was honored by a visit from Queen Victoria and her entourage.

Upon returning to New York, Commodore Stevens presented the Hundred Guinea Cup (now the America's Cup) to the members of the New York Yacht Club at a gala of "ten courses and 56 dishes "

Then AMERICA, just ten days after her victory at Cowes, was sold to Lord John de Blaquicre, a prominent Huguenot. De Blaquierc raced AMERICA some, but when he became busy with a remarriage and military duties due to the Crimean War, he put the schooner up for sale. She was bought in 1856 by Henry Montage Upton (the Lord Templeton), who renamed her CAMILLA. Lord Templeton used the boat rarely and she spent two years falling into disrepair before being sold to Henry Sotheby Pitcher in 1858.

Pitcher was a shipbuilder and he rebuilt CAMELLIA at his yard near Gravesend (on the Themes). No major changes were Made, but the schooner's hull was recon- structed, her masts shortened (due to rot), and she was given taller topmasts as well as new sails. The golden eagle was removed from her transom. (In 1912 the Royal Yacht Squadron would purchase the eagle and presented it to the New York Yacht Club, where it hangs today-along with the tiller and the ensign which was flown during the Hundred Guinea Cup race-in the club's lobby.)

The rebuilt CAMILLA was sold to Henry Edward Decie in 1860. Decie took her to America the following year, most likely with the intention of providing service to the southern rebels during the Civil War. And in fact she was purchased later that year by the Confederates, in an arrangement that kept Decit as her captain until 1862. However, the schooner had a relatively short history as a blockade runner, (one account shows her renamed as MEMPHIS), and she was scuttled later in 1862 when Jacksonville was taken by Union troops.

A Union Navy Lieutenant had her raised and repaired. She was renamed AMERICA and put back to work, this time on the Union side of the blockade. In 1863 she was ordered to Newport to service as a training ship for midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy: She spent three years there, until the navy laid her up at Annapolis near the Constitution. dic Corr?: But in 1870 Admiral David Porter, the Naval Academy's former superintendent and now the commander of the Brooklyn Naval Yard, had AMERICA recommissioned (at a cost of 819,000 to the govern- ment), so that the schooner could partici- pate in the first race for the "AMERICA Cup" on August 8 of that year. The race , held in New York harbor, was won by the schooner MAGIC, with AMERICA fourth out of 15 finishers on both elapsed and cor- reted time. (The visiting challenger, CAMBRIA, finished eighth on elapsed time and tenth on corrected time.) AMERICA stayed in the navy for the next three years, mostly daysailing in the Chesapeake.

This Photo Is from Detroit Collection

Than, in a somewhat shady deal involving favoritism on the part of the then- Navy Secretary George M. Robeson, AMERICA was sold to Benjamin F. Butler, a former Civil War Commander, for $5,000. However, Butler did love the boat and maintained her well. He used her a great deal, cruising and racing her until his death in 1893. American passed to Butler's son, who had little interest in her and so turned her over to his nephew, Butler Ames. Ames had her reconditioned in 1897. He did some racing and daysailing but did not use her much after 1901, so Ames commissioned Walter Burgess to sell her.

A group from the Cape Verdes was interested in using the schooner as a pack- et bctweed New Bedford and the Cape Verdes but a group on the East Coast of the States was dead set against the boat leaving the U.S. Funds were collected and the boat was repaired and donated to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1921. Unfortunately America was not well maintained at her new home, and by 1940 she was in a state, of serious decay. During World War II she was hauled and stored in a shed but was badly damaged when the building's roof caved in during a snow- storm in 1942.

After years of indecision, what was left of America was finally scrapped and a scale model, which now sits in the Naval Academy's museum, was built.

There have been two recreations of American. Oak was launched in 1966 and is currently in Spain, needing extensive repairs, and the ........... was constructed at Scarano Boat Building in Albany, NY, and launched in August of this year.

The Schooner America USA Project Headed by Ray Giovannoni, a Washington, D.C. restaurateur, the ? America USA project has recrc- ated a historically accurate replica of the gaff-rigged schooner from the waterline up.

schooner america (wind oct 95)">

This article was Published in Summer of 95 (any typos or spelling mistakes are SchoonerMan) in the WING & WING The Official Newsletter of the American Schooner Association.

Official AMERICA Site

Information on American Schooner Association

Sail back to SchoonerMan