0:00 Our Boatbuilding Heritage I am not a sailor. However, since the age of 7, I have traveled the world on ships of all kinds […]

Published June 10, 2023 3:37 PM
4 min read


Our Boatbuilding Heritage

I am not a sailor. However, since the age of 7, I have traveled the world on ships of all kinds — freighters, troop transports, cruise ships, and ocean liners — always returning to Rye, my home port and safe harbor. Boats and ships fascinate me, and I’m always excited to learn significant tidbits of Rye’s maritime history. 

American Yacht Club was established at the tip of Milton Point in 1883, founded by railroad magnate Jay Gould, owner of a new 228-foot steam yacht, the <Atalanta>, and men in the shipbuilding and engineering businesses. The following year, AYC held the first steam yacht races in America.

Interestingly, some three decades earlier, David Kirby was building exquisite racing sailing boats, including a famed America’s Cup winner, on another site on Milton Point. Kirby founded Milton Boat Yards at the head of Milton Harbor in 1854, challenging himself to produce the “fastest racing yacht that floats.”

A friend of mine, who was on the 1974 America’s Cup team, informed me that “Building an America’s Cup-winning sailboat in little Rye, New York was a big deal.” Big it was to model and construct an America’s Cup winner; and big it still is.  

The America’s Cup is the oldest international competition still operating in any sport. In 1851, the British Royal Yacht Squadron held a race known as the 100 Guinea Cup. Members of New York Yacht Club sent a schooner to England to race against the best of British yachts. The winning schooner of that race was <America>.  

In 1857, New York Yacht Club was given the trophy, thereafter the America’s Cup, under a “deed of gift” to establish a perpetual international sailing race whenever the reigning yacht club was challenged by a yacht club that met the many requirements. Over the years, the America’s Cup has occurred every three to four years. 

The New York Yacht Club had the longest winning streak — 132 years — in any sport.

Meanwhile, David Kirby, regarded as one of the best boat builders in the country, continued his pursuit of making beautiful sailing vessels that were fast and could win. He built the 130-foot <Madeleine>, as a sloop, which he later altered extensively to schooner rig, centerboard type. It was the American defender in the 1870 America’s Cup and the winner in 1876. She outraced the famed <America>, entered as a pacer, by 8 minutes and came in 27 minutes ahead of the <Countess of Dufferin>.  

Kirby built other contenders for the America’s Cup, including <Arrow> which lost to the British, and <Pocahontas,> which never made it past the trials, as well as sailing vessels for the wealthy yachtsmen of his day.

After his death, the boatyard went through many owners, including Richard Wainwright, who operated the yard for ten years and continued to make yachts for the wealthy. Today, such yachts can be seen through services like yacht charter sint maarten. Get a boat rental in Dubai for the best memories. You may visit Dubai Yachting Company to learn more.

The boatyard later became part of the larger Milton Point Boat Yards, Inc., where a boat building revival took place. It was the birthplace and exclusive builder of the Wee-Scots sailboat, a favorite among juniors who had mastered the fundamentals in the roughest weather Long Island Sound had to offer and wanted to eventually sail larger boats. The designer, Thomas Scott, also owned the yard for a number of years.

In 1937, William Edgar John took over the Milton Boatyard. He had a degree in Naval Architecture from Franklin Institute of Philadelphia and experience working in at least fifteen engineering or shipyard operations. In 1913, he designed the <Delphia II>, thought by some to be the fastest hydroplane of her rating in the country. In 1937, he co-skippered the hydro that set the course record in the Albany-New York run.

During World War II, Milton Boatyard served as an emergency shipyard, and Edgar John & Associates built 246 boats of various sizes — patrol boats, tow boats, cargo barges — for the war effort. Thousands of tent poles and shipments of war materials were packed and shipped from there too. Their personnel grew from 75 to over 600 during those years. They received $5,815,770 in U.S. government contracts. After the war, it was reported, but never substantiated, that a small submarine was also built there “without the neighbors knowing of its existence.” 

Soon after the war ended, the boatyard returned to making recreational vessels, many of them custom.

The rapid increase in boating was taxing boat basins, making it difficult to continue building, servicing, and storing boats in relatively small harbors like Milton. Edgar John applied to create a boat marina on his property, which was denied because of vigorous opposition from his Milton Point neighbors who felt that the needs of boaters could be met by private clubs. 

The battles between Edgar John and the Milton Point Association continued for years.

The 110-year history of shipbuilding, and a boatyard on Milton Point, came to a close in 1964 when the property, including its gray shingled buildings and their contents, were auctioned off. The buildings were torn down to make way for a residential complex, Milton Harbor House. 

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