The America's Cup; Defender v Valkyrie III , 1895
By John Goto, 2007



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By any standards the America's Cup race of 1895 was an unsportsmanlike and ill-tempered affair, which strained relations between America and Great Britain, and caused questions to be raised in the House of Commons.   The tussle between the Anglo-Irish aristocrat Lord Dunraven in Valkyrie III, and the New York Yacht Club's captain Henry 'Hank' Haff in Defender , was conducted as much through the press as on the high seas.

The three races were held in sight of the Statue of Liberty, starting and finishing at the Sandy Hook lightship off New Jersey. Defender won the first race comfortably, but that evening Lord Dunraven filed a protest suggesting that the crew of Defender had added ballast the night before the race, thus changing the boat's waterline and giving her more speed. This imputation of fraud became the subject of hearings, pamphlets, books, and bitter controversy for years to come.

In the second race, Dunraven protested about the presence of an unruly mob of spectator boats, but the race went off. A steamship named Yorktown blundered across the course causing Valkyrie III to swerve in order to avoid a collision, but her boom struck Defender , bringing down the topmast. Defender ' s crew quickly repaired the damage and she raced on to victory. Dunraven argued that Valkyrie III was far enough ahead to own the right of way before the collision, and should be awarded the victory.   But the regatta committee of the New York Yacht Club thought otherwise and she was disqualified.

By the time it came to the third race Dunraven was livid and pulled out on the starting line.   This did not go down too well with the American press. The journalist Winfield M. Thompson wrote '...to an American, it is hard to justify what is popularly known as 'quitting'.   There is a feeling in this country that a sportsman should 'take his medicine' when once embarked in a sporting venture, come what will.   This Lord Dunraven did not do'.

Goto's picture hints at more recent tensions between the two countries over a venture which they both willingly signed up to.   In rough seas the yachts drift towards an ominous black rock, which has a familiar cartographic profile.   Close inspection of the antics of the crew further suggests that things are really getting out of hand...