(later Camilla, Memphis, America)
Length/Beam/Draught : 101.8? x 23? x 11? (31m x 7m x 3.4m)
Weight : 180 tons displacement
Hull : wood
Crew : 25
Designed : George Steers
Built : William H. Brown, New York; 1851
In 1851, the New York shipbuilder, William H Brown conceived a plan to build an oceangoing racing schooner for the express purpose of racing ? and beating ? English yachts in England in English waters. Commodore John Cox Stevens purchased the schooner for 000 on condition that she proofed faster than the local competition, and that Brown would buy her back if she lost in England. Underlying Brown?s confident challenge was his desire to build a vessel to represent the United States in races held in conjunction with Britain?s Great Exhibition, which opened at the Crystal Palace on May 1st, 1851, two days before America was launched into the East River. As John Rousmaniere describes it, ?America?s most notable feature was the combination of sharp, wedge-shaped bow tapering very gradually to her widest point about halfway back from the stem, and another subtle taper back to a broad, rounded transom.? Her two masts with a rake of about 2.75 inches to the foot (for an angle of about 14 degrees) carried a main sale, boomloss foresail, and single jib. She sailed for France on June 21st, baring a heavy responsibility for her country?s honour. Stephens decided to compete with the Royal Yacht Squadron?s ?100 Cup on August 22nd.
This was a 53-mile race around the Isle of Wight, without time allowance and ?open to yachts belonging to clubs of all nations?. America was the only non-English entrant. Despite a bad start at 10H00, an hour into the race she was in 5th place. After rounding Noman?s Land buoy, the wind picked up and she stepped up in front. Although she broke a jibboom she had a 7,5-mile lead over the second place Aurora. America?s triumph was admired in England and greeted with rapture in the United States. She had several owners after this and salvaged by Lieutenant John Stevens (no relation to John Cock Stevens). Rerigged and armed with a 12-pdr. muzzle-loading rifle and two 24-pdr. smoothbore guns, USS America was commissioned for service with the South Atlantic Blockading squadron, in which she captured or caused to run aground three Confederate vessels. After a refit at New York in 1863, she began duty as a school ship for U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen. Laid up at Annapolis in 1866, she was recommissioned four years later in order to compete in the first race for the cup name in her honor. America placed fourth in the fleet of twenty-four schooners and centreboard sloops. Her new owner, General Benjamin Butler, raced her for two more decades. After Butler?s death in 1893, she passed to his grandnephew Butler Ames, who raced her for the last time in 1901. Laid up for fifteen years, she was donated to the Naval Academy. In 1940 she was hauled and stored under a shed. When the shed collapsed in 1942 America?s fate was sealed. A near replica was built in 1967, and another in 1995.
Izak J H Hough
Member of The Nautical Research Guild