America's Cup
Sail through nearly twenty years of America's Cup challenges through this album, selected by Flickr member Charley Seavey.

Drawing on his knowledge of this historic match race and his close examination of pictures in the Library of Congress' Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Seavey put together this chronology (challengers listed first), which highlights both the twists and turns of the race and the pictorial record made of it by an American photographic publishing company that produced souvenir photographs and photographs for publications, starting in the 1890s.

1870 Cambria vs fleet. Magic wins.

1871 Livonia vs Columbia and Sappho. Columbia was damaged in the second and third races, and unable to continue. Sappho substituted and won the Cup.

1876 Canadian Countess of Dufferin vs Madeline. Both of these boats, and all the previous contenders were schooner rigged.

1881 Canadian Atalanta vs Mischief. These were the first sloop rigged contenders. The picture of Mischief was taken in 1891.

1885 Genesta vs Puritan. These were the first sloops built to a common rating rule. The rule takes into account sail area, length (variously measured) and other factors. Both boats had to be built to these specifications that penalized boats with waterlines more than 85 feet. The British Genesta was ideally suited to the heavier seas around Great Britain, but not so much the lighter airs and calmer water off New York, for which the Puritan was better suited. The British would make the same mistake with Sceptre in 1958.

1886 Galatea vs Mayflower.
The two boats seen together and the Mayflower in drydock.

1887 Thistle vs Volunteer. With these two we are getting closer to pure racing machines. Previous contenders had all been more or less working yachts, with all the then modern conveniences. Both Thistle and Volunteer were completely unfurnished below deck. (The photo of Volunteer was taking during the defense.)

After the 1887 races, the New York Yacht Club adopted the Seawanhaka Rule, leading to extreme racing machines that would dominate racing up until the adoption of the Universal Rule in 1914, although no races using that rule were held until 1920, because of the Great War.

1889 Preparations for the 1889 races were underway, and the Earl of Dunraven’s challenger, Valkyrie, was on the way across the Atlantic. A change in the rules caused the races to be cancelled, and considerably annoyed Dunraven.

1893 Valkyrie II vs Vigilant and Captain Nat Herreshoff. Herreshoff not only designed and built Vigilant but skippered her to a successful defense of the Cup.

These photos show both boats, probably before the start, or possibly even just on their way to the race. Vigilant is white, Valkyrie II is the darker hull, and Valkyrie II, is putting up a spinnaker- a huge balloon like sail for going downwind (wind coming from directly behind the boat.) In this photo Valkyrie II is in the lead. It did not last.

1895 Valkyrie III vs Defender, ends in chaos with Dunraven withdrawing after uproar. This photo shows pre-start maneuvering, which explains why they are going in opposite directions. Getting a better start than your opponent can be critical in a match race (one on one) like this. A much later generation of Cup sailors would refer to pre-race maneuvering as the “…mating dance of the lead bottomed money gobblers.”

Defender and her crew. The headcount will give you an idea how big these vessels were.
Valkyrie III

1899 Shamrock vs Columbia. The 1899 races introduced two great characters to the races: Sir Thomas Lipton (challenger) and Charlie Barr (American skipper, and one of the great racers ever.)

Columbia dismasted, August 2, 1899. The mast was quickly replaced, and she resumed racing on August 10 (Brenton Reef to Vineyard Haven).
Shamrock, (the darker boat) following Columbia shortly after the start. Both have long poles out to starboard (right) for setting the spinnakers.
The two in a light wind. Columbia has the white hull, Shamrock probably green.

1901 Shamrock II vs Columbia and Charlie Barr. Shamrock II was the first Cup boat whose hull form was tank tested before final construction. The two boats maneuvering for the start and the start, with Columbia leading (according to the Detroit Publishing Company captions).

1903 Shamrock III vs Reliance and Charlie Barr. Photographed at the start, Reliance being the boat nearest the camera (they are very difficult to tell apart). And another photo, in which Reliance is in the lead.

Reliance was the largest racing sloop ever built. This photo showing
Reliance in drydock gives you an idea of how big she was compared to the photo of Mayflower in drydock just 17 years earlier. And here's Shamrock III in drydock.

Notes Seavey, "There are stories to tell about all of these races, particularly 1895: 'Britannia rules the waves, but America waives the rules.'"

For more of Charlie Seavey's commentary on the races, see his two albums devoted to photos of the America's Cup:

Racing photos
Drydock shots

Learn More:
• Explore the Library of Congress Detroit Publishing Company Collection, which captures many aspects of life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

• View more photographs relating to the America’s Cup race.
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