Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

It may be a surprise for many to learn that the first International 6 Metre races in the New World took place not on Long Island Sound in 1921 with the advent of the British American Team Races, but at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. President Woodrow Wilson presented for competition a large silver trophy which sat atop a pedestal made from a California redwood burl. Invitations to participate in the event were sent to many nations in Europe and the trophy itself sent on a tour of major US cities to stir interest in the Exposition and in the yacht races. The representative from the USA was specially built for the regatta. A.J. Weil and Captain John Barneson commissioned J. S. Dickey to design the “Lady Betty”, pictured above. She was built by W.F. “Frank” Stone and steered by  Captain Barneson.
World War I raged in Europe and only King Christian X of Denmark sent a challenge. Captain Meulengracht Madsen represented the King with the current European champion, Nurdug IV. She was the first Marconi rigged sailboat, 6 meter or otherwise, to appear on the West Coast of the USA. Barneson tried his best with the small and gaff rigged Lady Betty in a typical San Francisco heavy air series, but it was no contest. Captain Madsen won the series 2-1, only losing one when Nurdug’s mast broke in 2 places, and took the trophy and Nordug IV back to Denmark. Press reports of the day described the difference between the boats: Lady Betty carried a “regulation mainsail” and Nordug carried “a towering leg of mutton.”

This first bright showing of the class in the USA quickly faded from memory with no new sixes appearing on the West Coast of the USA for another 13 years.
The photos above come from a scrapbook made by Jack Ehrhorn. I am certain it is the first time the second image has been seen in public, and it may be the only image of the actual sailing of the regatta nearly 100 years ago. The impressive breeze of San Francisco Bay is apparent, and Nurdug is not only under shortened sail, her boom is dragging on this tight reach. The hills above Sausalito appear in the background.

Here is another excellent photo of the racing used for a varnish advertisement which appeared in Pacific Motor Boat magazine. This shot much more clearly illustrates the differences in the boats and their rigs. The US Navy battleship in the background is not named, but by her bow profile and great smokestacks could have been one of Teddy Roosevelt's famous Great White Fleet attending in celebration of the Fair.

It’s interesting to note that the Royal Danish Yacht Club re-deeded the Woodrow Wilson trophy to the sixes at the 2002 European Championships held at Rungsted. It was most recently won by Ross MacDonald with KC 10 Gallant at the 2012 European Championships in Nynashamn, Sweden.

Here is a photo of the trophy in the case at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club (courtesy of Team 6mR Vancouver).

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