City Island and the America’s Cup
The America's Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy. In 1851, the yacht America beat the best of the British fleet during the World's Fair and won a sterling silver trophy that would become known as the America’s Cup (named after the yacht, not the country). The first official challenge took place in 1870 in New York Harbor and was won by the American yacht Magic (the aging America finished fourth). Originally built in 1857 in Philadelphia, Magic had been completely rebuilt by David Carll in 1869 (lengthened and widened with increased draft) and converted to a centerboard schooner before winning the first defense of the America’s Cup. And thus began the longest winning streak in the history of sport, a 132-year stretch of domination that saw boats representing the United States successfully defend the trophy 23 more times through 1980—until 1983, when Australia II became the first successful challenger to lift the trophy.
During the 1890s, many of the America’s Cup defenders, contenders, and challengers, including Vigilant, Defender, and Columbia, plus Shamrocks I and II, were serviced and stored at City Island by both the Hawkins and Piepgras yards.
During the first half of the 1900s, the America’s Cup defender Reliance was serviced, stored, and ultimately broken up at the Robert Jacob Shipyard. Defiance and Vanitie were serviced at City Island yards, and the challengers Shamrock III and IV were also serviced and stored at the Jacob yard.
From 1903 to 1958, every America’s Cup defender carried an inventory of Ratsey & Lapthorn sails, including Reliance (1903), Resolute (1920), Enterprise (1930), Rainbow (1934), Ranger (1937), and Columbia (1958).
In addition, between the 1890s and 1980, alterations, rigging work, and new spars were provided for the contenders by many City Island concerns, including Hawkins, Piepgras, B. F. Wood, Robert Jacob, Ratsey & Lapthorn, Henry B. Nevins, Charles Ulmer, and Kretzer Boat Works.
Between the years 1935 and 1980, twenty 12-meter yachts were built in America, twelve of them at City Island. Eight were contenders for America’s Cup defense (Vim 12 US/15, Columbia 12 US/16, Constellation 12 US/20, Intrepid 12 US/22, Courageous 12 US/26, Enterprise 12 US/27, Independence 12 US/28, and Freedom 12 US/30). Of these, five were defenders in seven America’s Cup campaigns, Columbia in 1958, Constellation in 1964, Intrepid in 1967 and again in 1970, Courageous in 1974 and again in 1977, and Freedom in 1980.
The 110-year string of 24 successful campaigns to defend the Cup began with Magic, completely rebuilt on City Island in 1870, and ended with Freedom, built on City Island in 1980. Ironically, in 1983, when City Island had no connection with the defender, America suffered her first loss.