Nathanael Greene Herreshoff and the America’s Cup: Part 9 – Building the 1903 Defender

Curator’s Log November 2012

Sometime, possibly late July 1902, NGH starts considering his design for the defender at his home Love Rocks. A new challenge from Lipton is expected. At 54 he is reluctant to take on the responsibility ”my best years of work are past. I have not the ability or stamina and endurance I had 5 years ago”. (1897 when Lipton first challenged). Looking at the power & beauty of RELIANCE it is hard to understand where he maybe lacking. He designs the most powerful Cup vessel ever. He incorporates within its hull and rig improvements from his previous designs. She will achieve the fastest time over the 30-mile course.

In early September he writes C. Oliver Iselin that the model is very nearly complete, but Iselin pushes him to do more. Nat responds with a second design that is more powerful and more extreme in type. In Iselin’s words “Pikes’ Peak or Bust”.

Shortly after the contract to build the defender is signed on Oct. 16, W. Butler Duncan sees the half model and writes Iselin, “Nat has gone far enough this time… she ought to be fast if you can hold her sails and hull together.”

Nat, assisted by 4 draftsmen goes to work on the drawings and material bills necessary to order plating, shapes, castings and forgings. as well as start construction. Designs developed for COLUMBIA & CONSTITUTION are adapted or further improved.

One of the first construction drawings is the mold for the lead keel that is to be built on the marine railway cradle in the South Shop. This is a major structure as it must contain the molten lead until it cools to a solid. The form is built and on Nov. 26, in seven hours (plus several more hours of finish pouring) 204,000 lbs. of molten lead keel is poured into the mold from a house and furnace specially set up for the job.

This is one month earlier than previous defenders. Construction of the new defender will be pushed to achieve an early delivery. The mistakes of 1901- an ill prepared CONSTITUTION- will not be repeated.

John Palmieri

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