The fog poured over Long Island and tumbled across the Sound, threatening American Yacht Club’s annual regatta.
By Mark Keegan
The fog poured over Long Island and tumbled across the Sound, threatening American Yacht Club’s annual regatta. Freshly constructed only six years earlier, in 1888, the handsome clubhouse had quickly become a hotbed of yachtsmen, and the annual regatta hosted there was a major event. The club was founded by railroad baron Jay Gould in order to race steam yachts, including his own.
Gould launched the magnificent 248-foot Atalanta in 1883. Two steam boilers powered her to over 17 knots, a speed that marveled spectators at the time. She was a Gilded Age crown jewel, with mahogany paneled staterooms, smoking rooms, and silver-plated toilet sets. It took a crew of 57 to keep the Atalanta speeding along.
Very quickly, however, steam yachting gave way to traditional sailing. Perhaps the arms race of ever-larger boilers tired these men of the sea. Merely six score from our nation’s founding, the sails of schooners, sloops, cats, and raters dominated the racing off the tip of Rye on Sunday, July 6, 1896.
As the weather that day threatened, the Regatta Committee debated postponement. Persuaded perhaps by the robust easterly wind, by noon it decided to ‘run the keels.’
A sporting 23-year-old J. Nelson Gould (no relation to Jay Gould) captained the Edwina that day, a 25-foot open catboat named after his bride of three years. Her massive gaff-rigged sail heeled the Edwina far over as she scooped up the steady wind. Through the fog, Gould pierced his cat around the stake boat at Parsonage Point, a windward leg to Hempstead Harbor, downwind to a Larchmont marker before jibing back to the Scotch Caps off AYC.
Despite a considerable handicap given to his opponent, Edwina won her class comfortably with a time of 2 hours, 41 minutes, 18 seconds. How proud Gould must have been when he hoisted the sterling silver trophy, pictured.
The regatta was an event not to be missed by society, and many of Rye’s turn-of- the-century luminaries braved the rain that Sunday to watch the racing. William H. Parsons and his son, Margaret Livingston Stuyvesant (wife of J. Howard Wainwright) and her daughter-in-law Mrs. Stuyvesant Wainwright, and H.P. Van Wagenen, to name a few, bore witness to the Edwina’s triumph aboard the steam yacht of AYC Commodore John H. Flagler.
Sadly, Gould would have only one more season with his speedy craft. In mid-September, 1897, the Edwina, along with several other boats that summer, was stolen from her mooring at the Huguenot Yacht Club in New Rochelle. Recognized as one of the fastest boats in her class, this catboat was never recovered.
The Edwina had an interesting history and was already well known prior to Gould’s ownership. She was originally built for General Tom Thumb of P.T. Barnum fame. The ‘General’ was so famous that none other than President Lincoln received him and his new bride for a honeymoon party at the White House in the winter of 1863. Tom Thumb raced the catboat built for him with much success in the waters off Bridgeport, Connecticut, his hometown.
Gould continued sailing other crafts despite the difficult loss of the Edwina. The following season he purchased a 15-foot half-rater and christened her the Edwina II. Two years later, he was elected as the Rear Commodore of the Huguenot Yacht Club, a post often reserved for the most respected and knowledgeable racers. That summer he was racing a 21-footer named, of course, the Edwina III.
The sterling silver cup awarded the captain of the Edwina, on July 6, 1896 at the AYC Annual Regatta, is currently on display in the Square House museum. This unique Rye artifact has been donated as an auction item to be sold at the Rye Historical Society’s annual gala fundraiser. Gene and Pam McGuire are hosting this year’s event, “An Elegant Summer Picnic,” on June 1.
Tickets may be purchased at the Square House, at www.ryehistory.org, or by calling 967-7588. All silent auction items can be viewed and bid on at https://www.501auctions.com/rhs/. All proceeds benefit the mission of the Historical Society.