Curator Log October 2012
This is the seventh in a series about Nathanael G. Herreshoff and the America’s Cup
Lining up the “A Team” for the 1903 America’s Cup
Preparing to face a new challenge from Sir Thomas Lipton to “lift” the Cup from America the New York Yacht Club faced significant financial issues. Lipton, with a seemingly bottomless purse, was challenging every other year. Defending the Cup had become an expensive proposition. Each new challenge required the NYYC to form a syndicate to build a new defender, as well as additional syndicates to recommission prior year Herreshoff-built Cup winners to campaign against the new boat for the right to defend. This time NYYC Commodore Cass Ledyard had one overriding objective, to beat Sir Thomas so badly that he would go away for a long time.
To make that happen they needed the “A Team”. The skillful C. Oliver Iselin to manage the new boat syndicate, Capt. Nat Herreshoff to design and participate in leading the campaign, and the redoubtable Charlie Barr to skipper the boat.
Iselin had committed to the task very early in 1902. Capt. Nat and Barr were the problem. In the spring, when Iselin corresponded with Capt. Nat about the forthcoming challenge he received a disturbing response. Nat declined, writing that while he had the greatest respect for Iselin and had enjoyed their previous campaigns, he was no longer up to the rigors of a Cup defense because “my best days are behind me”. The Cup defender would be very demanding of his time on top of an already full order book, his wife was seriously ill and he was suffering from rheumatism.
It took Iselin’s best powers of persuasion to change Nat’s’ mind. He also enlisted Commodore Ledyard who assured Nat that the well-funded syndicate had Barr locked up. Nat came onboard, fully committed (as he was to any task that he undertook), creating the magnificent RELIANCE.
But Ledyard had written prematurely because Barr had already signed with August Belmont. To break that commitment would be expensive. At a time when the going pay for a Cup skipper was $4,000, Barr was demanding $10,000. Barr was the last to join.
The “A Team” was in place. It was well worth the effort to assemble. RELIANCE beat SHAMROCK III in three straight races. Lipton did not challenge again until 1913.