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Race Day

My charming social-media assistant loves his Throw-Back Thursdays!

It’s time I got into the act.

Especially as today is the day which ended a long campaign for a group of Americans (and without it, I wouldn’t have started my own endeavour of writing a book).

A quick reminder: 168 years ago, these Americans were sailing on the yacht ‘America’ around the Isle of Wight, on a course which was described by one of them as ‘the most dangerous course possible for a stranger – in the water of the IoW, with their currents and eddies, familiar only to those accustomed to the water’. (1) They competed against a fleet of 14 English yachts for a silver Cup worth £100.

The day itself started according to Queen Victoria as a ‘dull day early, but turned out beautiful’. The mist which had hung over the fields and woods from sunrise was carried off about 9 o’clock, an hour before the starting gun. (2)

The start of the race was in Cowes and ‘in the memory of man, Cowes never presented such an appearance as upon that day: the beach was crowded…and the esplanade in front of the Club thronged with ladies and gentlemen, and with the people inland, who came over in shoals with wives, sons and daughters for the day.…From sea and shore arose an incessant buzz of voices mingled with the splashing of oars, the flapping of sails and the hissing of steam, from the excursion vessels preparing to accompany the race. Even the Queen of England did not deem the occasion unworthy of her presence.’ (3)

The Queen not only witnessed the race that day, she also describes the event in her diary (as tweeted by @AmericasCup today) (see

She enters in her journal that the family had ‘embarked in the (HMY) ‘Victoria & Albert’ and had steamed up to the Needles to see the racing yachts’. At the time no vessel had been in sight. They then stopped ‘nearly an hour at Alum Bay, to enable Albert to land there, & then to see the yachts. The ‘America’ came round triumphantly & then we set off, going slow, in order to examine her.’

Although not at the finish line yet, it was to be the result of the day: the novel yacht had beaten ‘the yachts which started against her in the most complete and triumphant manner.’ (4) The conduct of the Americans since their arrival in the Solent was described by one reporter as ‘bold, manly and straightforward – qualities which Englishmen respect wherever they are found, and love to see, even in an opponent’. (5) Perhaps not unlike the yacht’s proud eagle on her stern, chosen for its power and strength.

I wonder what she would have made of the 2 sea eagles released over the Isle of Wight only yesterday.

Illustration: watercolour of the ‘America’ from a sketchbook by Pehr Wilhelm Cedergren (1851) courtesy of the Nordiskamuseet, Stockholm.

(1) National Era 6 October 1851, quoting James A. Hamilton

(2, 3, 4 & 5) Times 25 August 1851

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