The sport of racing or cruising in yachts, the term applying to both sailing and power vessels built for pleasure, or converted for it. The word has rather an old-fashioned, elitist ring to it, but Britain has not yet adapted the more democratic American word ‘boating’, so ‘yachting’ will have to suffice here as a generic term to cover the various ways of sailing for pleasure. In order to compete most types of sailing yachts are given a rating and all are subject to international racing rules.
In his History of Yachting (1974) Douglas Phillips-Birt writes that the Dutch, who gave the name ‘yacht’ to the world, were almost certainly the first to use their commercial boats for pleasure. This is confirmed in The Feadship Story (1999) by Andrew Rogers, who dates yachting in Holland to the end of the 16th century, and says the first yacht harbour was created within Amsterdam harbour in 1604. The pleasures of yachting may have been spread across the Atlantic by the Dutch to their colony of New Amsterdam—New York after 1664.
The earliest known sailing race in England was noted in John Evelyn's diary. In this he records that he was on board Charles II's yacht Katherine when she raced, and beat, the Duke of York's Anne on 1 October 1661. The course was on the River Thames, from Greenwich to Gravesend and back, and Evelyn noted that the king sometimes steered his yacht himself.
In the 18th century yacht races were organized by the first yacht clubs, but it was not until the 19th century that racing really began as a sport, and it was not until after the visit of the schooner America (see Fig. 1, overleaf) in 1851 that it became in Britain more than an esoteric pastime for the aristocracy. The creation of what is now the Royal Yachting Association in 1875 and the introduction of rating rules established the sport in Britain on proper foundations. The earliest yachts were mostly schooners, but during the latter half of the century the cutter rig predominated, though yawls were also built.
The latter half of the 19th century was a boom time for yachting, particularly in Britain where the Prince of Wales encouraged the new sport with his presence on the water. Many notable yachts were constructed, but perhaps the most important from the point of view of racing design was the yawl-rigged Jullanar (see Fig. 2). She was built and designed by an agricultural engineer, E. H. Bentall, to have, in his own words, ‘the longest waterline, the smallest frictional surface, and the shortest keel’. She proved phenomenally fast and during her racing life won more races than any other yacht. Her design was the direct forerunner of such famous yachts as the Prince of Wales's Britannia, launched in 1893, and Lord Dunraven's Valkyrie II and Valkyrie III, both challengers for the America's Cup during the 1890s.
In the USA Nathanael Herreshoff was experimenting with hull forms for racing yachts. In 1891 he produced the sloop Gloriana (see Fig. 3). She was a small boat with a waterline length of 14 metres (46 ft) but was completely different in hull form from anything yet seen in American waters. Built with very long overhangs at bow and stern, her forefoot was cut away to produce an entry that was almost a straight line from the stem to the bottom of the keel. It was a revolutionary design, and in every race in which she sailed that season there was nothing that could touch her.
Subjects: Maritime History.