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History of The New York Yacht Club

The New York Yacht Club is more than a clubhouse. It's at the core of American sailing, and leading the sport forward.

In 1851 a schooner freshly painted black arrived at the Isle of Wight, the center of yachting in England, looking to win races and wagers on those races. This was America, owned by John Cox Stevens, the first commodore of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), and other club members.history1a

No yacht was willing to race her, however. Finally, America joined a free-for-all on Friday, August 22, around the Isle of Wight, hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. Watching the race, which included 15 English yachts and America, was Queen Victoria, who supposedly inquired, "Which is first?" Told it was America, she asked, "Which is second?"

"Ah, Your Majesty, there is no second," was the reply. Or so the story has it. America won the Royal Yacht Squadron's "Hundred Guinea Cup."

The NYYC was started seven years before on July 30, 1844, when John Cox Stevens invited eight friends to his yacht Gimcrack, anchored in New York Harbor. The nine who met 171 years ago resolved to form the NYYC and named Stevens commodore. Three days later, the new commodore announced, members would be departing on a yacht-club cruise from New York to Newport, R.I. The 2015 Annual Cruise was the Club's 159th.

The first clubhouse was built in 1845 on land donated by Commodore Stevens at the family estate at Elysian Fields in Hoboken, N.J., overlooking the Hudson River. The clubhouse, a small Gothic-revival building, officially opened on July 15, 1846. This was followed the next day by the first club regatta, billed as a "trial of speed." This became the Annual Regatta. This summer the NYYC hosted its 161st Annual Regatta presented by Rolex.

On July 12, 1857, surviving members of the America syndicate donated the silver trophy they won in England, the "Hundred Guinea Cup," to the NYYC. They called it the America's Cup, in honor of the yacht that won it. The NYYC invited yacht clubs from around the world to compete and promised, "friendly competition" between nations. One of the first international sporting events, this was nearly 40 years before the first Modern Olympics; four years before America's Civil War. Yachts flying the club flag held onto that trophy for 132 years, or until 1983. During that stewardship, NYYC boats won 81 of 93 races. Journalists dubbed it, "The longest winning streak in sports."

The first transatlantic race was held in the winter of 1866. A 26-year-old James Gordon Bennett Jr., soon to be the publisher of the New York Herald and soon to be commodore of the NYYC, was the only owner to go on the race from Sandy Hook, N.J. to the Lizard in England that started on December 11. On Christmas day, his Henrietta finished first in a three-boat race. Newspapers dubbed it, "the Great Ocean Race."

The NYYC started another famous transatlantic race in 1905, from New York to the Lizard in England. The race was won by the famous Atlantic, a NYYC vessel. Her time of 12 days, four hours and one minute lasted for 100 years. A 1997 transatlantic race—the Atlantic Challenge Cup—organized by the NYYC with Rolex was reprised in May, 2005, as the Rolex Transatlantic Challenge with the support of the Royal Yacht Squadron. Here Atlantic's then-100-year-old record was eclipsed by Robert Miller's Mari-Cha IV. Since 1866, there have been 29 transatlantic races, 12 of which were hosted, co-hosted, or started by the NYYC. This includes the most recent Transatlantic Race 2015 hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron, New York Yacht Club, Royal Ocean Racing Club and Storm Trysail Club.

In 1898, the NYYC was billeted on the second floor of a house on Madison Avenue in New York City. It was chockablock with "models, members and memorabilia," wrote the New York Daily Tribune. It was then that Commodore J. Pierpont Morgan surprised fellow members by announcing he would donate three lots on West 44th Street to build a new clubhouse. The building, designed in the beaux-arts style by Whitney Warren, opened in 1901. It is known for its Model Room and Library. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, it is 114 years old.

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In 1983, the club finished "second" in the America's Cup. A significant piece of the club was gone. As the saying goes: "One door closes, and another opens." The "door" that opened was Harbour Court, in Newport, the former summer home of NYYC Commodore John Nicholas Brown. When the club's second clubhouse opened in 1988, 1,500 NYYC members and guests attended.

In 1994, Harbour Court hosted the NYYC's Sesquicentennial Celebration for members and friends. In 1998, the NYYC hosted the first Race Week at Newport, presented by Rolex, the Disabled World Sailing Championship and the Maxi World Championship. In 2000, as part of Race Week, the NYYC hosted the Rolex IMS Offshore World Championship. In 2003, the club hosted the ISAF Team Racing Worlds. The ninth edition of the biennial Race Week at Newport presented by Rolex, was in 2014. The 2015 Transatlantic Race was completed this summer with new records being set.

In August 2001, the NYYC joined with the Royal Yacht Squadron for the America's Cup Jubilee, in Cowes, England. This was a weeklong regatta to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the competition that came to be called the America's Cup. A highlight was a race around the Isle of Wight —the course America sailed in 1851. "For sailors, the America's Cup Jubilee had it all," wrote the New York Times. "Fleet racing, J Boats, vintage gaff riggers, an incomparable collection of 12-Metres and some of the greatest yachtsmen of any era. It could be another 150 years before there is another event like it."

The NYYC will now host the fourth biennial New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup, Presented by Rolex. The regatta is for Corinthian (amateur) sailors representing their yacht clubs and their nations. Said Sailing World magazine about the first Invitational Cup in 2009, "The New York Yacht Club pulled out all the stops for its first Invitational Cup, creating what is sure to become a high-profile Corinthian Classic." This year seventeen teams will compete for the Cup. Royal Canadian Yacht Club is back after winning the last two Invitational Cups.

Written by Michael Levitt