Category Archives: Curator’s Notes

110th Anniversary of RELIANCE

110th anniversary of RELIANCE being turned over to the Iselin Syndicate.

April was an exciting month for RELIANCE.

April 11th: RELIANCE was launched
April 25th: RELIANCE first sailed
April 28th: RELIANCE was turned over to the Iselin Syndicate

From this date RELAINCE has about 130 exciting days in the water to conclusion of America’ Cup and her career. Follow her journey with posts from John Palmieri, Curator Emeritus.

RELIANCE, The Hope of America Afloat

Saturday April 11, 1903

The excitement about the forthcoming launch of the new cup defender had been building for days. The usually quiet little burgh of Bristol took on a holiday atmosphere with bunting and flags decorating its streets and homes. On Saturday, a sunny clear day with moderate winds, thousands arrived by special trains until in the hour before launching, the wharves for half a mile on either side of the Herreshoff south boat shed were literally black with people. In the water more than one hundred small craft, the majority occupied by newsmen or photographers, were grouped on either side of the marine railway.

Doors of the big shed opened for ticket holders at 5 PM and at the appointed hour of 5:30 RELIANCE, on her cradle, was slowly lowered down the ways. Just as she started, the sponsor Miss Nora Iselin broke the traditional bottle of wine with a hammer saying: “I christen thee RELIANCE and God bless you. Success.”

She floated clear some ten minutes later to the cheers of the crowd and the tremendous screeching of whistles from the assembled steam yachts, the crew tender SUNBEAM and the US Navy torpedo boat CUSHING. Thus began the illustrious career of the greatest of the America’s Cup yachts.


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

Lining up the “A Team” for the 1903 America’s Cup

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.

John Palmieri