Harold Vanderbilt, The American Cup, Sailing photos

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   In 1950-51 Sam Younghans worked for Harold Vanderbilt on his yacht "Versatile," a 90' motor sailer. He boarded her in West Palm Beach, Florida. Harold Vanderbilt and his wife cruised the Florida coast during the winter season. In the Summer, they sailed north to Swampscott Bay, Massachusetts. Later they sailed down to City  Island, New York. City island was on the Long Island Sound where shipbuilders and sail makers lined the coast. The Versatile was hauled out at Nevin's Boatyard for refinishing.

Sam left the Versatile to work on the Anstan II out of Flushing Boat Basin, and then was drafted into the army. He was put into the Amphibious Engineers and ran a Landing Craft (LCM),

113.51 VERSATILE; 88.69 ft. motor sailer Designer, Stanley Potter for Sparkman & Stephens, Inc.; Design #873; Builder, Simms Brothers; Built in1950. The photos below are from Sparkman & Stephens, Courtesy of Josephine Ilagan,
Design Department Administrative Assistant, Sparkman & Stephens, Inc. A link to their site.

This was home for about nine or ten months.

One of the features that was not mentioned in the article, is the ability to lower the main mast in order to pass under bridges lower than than the mast. It was fastened with turnbuckles that, when unbolted, allowed the mast to be lowered aft. On the trip north there were two bridges that required us to lower the mast. It was quite interesting. The helm was aft of the main mast and the wheel was from the Ranger, with the names of Mr. Vanderbilt's other American Cup winners engraved on it. It was a thrill to hold on to the spokes as we sailed the Gulf Stream.

This was Harold Vanderbilt's yacht, Versatile. While sailing up the East Coast we traveled partially on the inland waterway, sailing through Norfolk Harbor. 

Both, Mr. & Mrs. Vanderbilt were on board. Many a watch I stood with Mr. Vanderbilt. A story of that trip will appear here in the future.



On the way north from Palm Beach the Versatile was hit by a twister, which blew out a storm sail on the mizzen. We were off of Cape Caniveral, Florida at about eight in the evening, I was on watch with the Captain. It was quite an experience.
        Picture the boom on the mizzen mast flying a tattered storm sail, swinging back and forth across the top of the aft cabin. Then picture a sailor, me, hanging on to that boom, swinging back and forth over the cabin and out over the sea. All of this while being hammered by a twister.  That will be in the story as well as our run in with a destroyer.


  I ran across this trivia item while doing some research - "Stirling Punch" is an alcoholic punch made from grain alcohol, Mount Gay Rum and a dash of whiskey.

The drink was named after Harold Stirling Vanderbilt, a famous yachtsman who won the America's Cup three times in a row in the 1930s. Stirling Punch is most often found served at yacht club bars and parties, although its potency and ease of production allows it to be made anywhere. Many variations of Stirling Punch exist, but all include large quantities of fruit juices and water to balance the alcohol.

My first experience (1949) with rum was in Nassau in the Bahamas. I was young, but thought I could hold my own until I drank rum. Anyway, The rum they sold then was "Mount Gay" and a local rum called "Robin Hood" nicknamed "Erroll Flynn." Both had a unique taste.
Now, years later, I have almost given up on rum. It is not made the same as it was then, or they water it down so much you don't get that great taste that pirates liked so much. Then a wonderful thing happened. My Son, Torre, brought me a bottle of rum from the Dominican Republic that was great. Now I can have a drink of rum and remember the good old days.

Funny thing, I had been adding brandy to my rum to give it some taste - and adding fruit juice. Nothing new.


The America's Cup

 AmericaOne: more information about the America Cup.
Original name: 100 Guinea Cup
Height: 26-5/8 inches
Material: 134 ounces of silver-plated Britannia metal*
Crafted by: R. & G. Garrard, Queen’s jewelers, London, circa 1848
Cost: 100 guineas (about £100 sterling)
The cup was made for England’s Royal Yacht Squadron as a yacht racing trophy. It was orginally dubbed the 100 Guinea Cup, as that was its worth. A guinea was roughly equivalent to one British pound (£) sterling.
A seven-inch base was added to the America’s Cup in 1958 to accommodate the additional winners’ names.
* Britannia metal is an alloy, similar to pewter.

The J-Boat Era

The 14th defense heralded the entry of the stately "J" Class sailboat in America's Cup competition. It was the largest boat designed under the American Universal Measurement Rule. Gone were the gaff rigs, long bowsprits and booms, clouds of sail, and the enormous crews, to be replaced by the "marconi" or "Bermuda" rigs, 150-foot masts, 120-foot hulls and sophisticated "coffee-grinder" winches to raise, lower and trim the sails.

1930 - Enterprise Sends Lipton Home Cup-less, 4-0

The aging Sir Thomas Lipton received a thrashing at the hands of another Vanderbilt, this time Harold S. "Mike" Vanderbilt, who became the first owner to sail his sailboat in America’s Cup competition. Enterprise (pictured left) defeated the Nicholson-designed Shamrock V by as much as nine minutes. Designed by Starling Burgess (son of Edward Burgess), Enterprise is renowned for its "Park Avenue" boom, The large, flat boom, wide enough for a crewman to walk its length, allowed a curve to be put into the foot of the mainsail, thus achieving a more aerodynamic shape.

Copyright Mystic Seaport Museum, From the book America's Cup '95: The Official Record, published by Tehabi Books.

1934 - Close Call for NYYC, But Rainbow Pulls Out 4-2 Victory Over Endeavor

Sir T.O.M. Sopwith, the British aviation pioneer, turned his technological ingenuity toward the water, challenging with what has been judged as the superior sailboat, the Nicholson-designed Endeavor. Indeed, like Lipton’s earlier series, Sopwith took a 2-0 lead over the NYYC’s Rainbow in the best-of-seven match. But the 128-foot American sailboat, designed by Edward Burgess’ son, Starling, won the next four races—including Race 4, marred by a controversial luffing incident, and Race 5 in which a crewman was fell overboard—to win the series. Clever tactics on the part of Vanderbilt’s crew and bungled opportunity on Sopwith’s part are credited with the American victory.

1937 - Ranger Thrashes Endeavor |, 4-0

Sopwith returned in 1937 with Endeavor | (pictured right), but she proved no match for Vanderbilt’s Ranger, at 136-feet the largest "J" boat ever built. One of the most remarkable points of this defense was that it was the first of eight that involved the legendary Olin Stephens, of Sparkman & Stevens, as a designer. It was Stephens who pioneered and refined the use of towing tanks in sailboat design.

Copyright Mystic Seaport Museum, From the book America's Cup '95: The Official Record, published by Tehabi Books.

About Harold Vanderbilt's 12 Meter, the Vim - Built in 1937 and the fastest 12 Meter on the water at that time. It was the forerunner of the Columbia. 


VimVim was a stepping off point for Sparkman & Stephens and our involvement with 12-Meter design. Following the 1934 and 1937 victories by Ranger, which had successfully campaigned for the America's Cup with Olin Stephens as helmsman, it was only natural for the firm to turn to the task of twelve meter design.

Designed and built for Harold S. Vanderbilt in 1938, Vim was built to be an all-out racehorse. The sole purpose was to win races, and nothing was included in her design which did not contribute toward that goal. S&S took advantage of major developments utilizing smaller scale (3-foot versus the normal 20-foot) models at the Davidson Institute Vim Sail Plantowing tank to perform extensive performance modeling. At the same time, Vim was the first twelve to have rod rigging and an aluminum spar package. She was shipped to England for the 1939 season and proceeded to easily beat such famous contemporaries as Tomahawk and Evaine, sending a clear message to the Royal Yacht Squadron that American designers had leaped ahead in design technology.

Vim was to remain the standard by which other twelves would be measured for the next twenty years, as she sat in storage through World War II, awaiting the changes to the International Rule that would bring about the 12-Meter revolution of the America's Cup in 1958.

In 1958 a new class of sailboats, the 12 Meter class, was introduced as the racing class of the America's Cup. Off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island sleek and fast, Columbia (12 Meter US-16), stunned its competition with a sweeping win of the first 12 Meter America's Cup, proving that 12 Meters were justifiable competitors in the coveted America's Cup!

Commodore Henry Sears and Briggs Cunningham, along with other financial investors, formed one of the syndicates for the 1958 America's Cup and commissioned Columbia to be their racer. The New York Yacht Club's primary syndicate for the 1958 America's Cup defense, hired Olin Stephens of Sparkman & Stephens to design Columbia and she was to be built at the well known Nevins Boatyard in New York. Her design was based on the successful, pre-war 12 Meter, Vim (12 Meter US 15). Although 19 years old at the time, Harold Vanderbilt's Vim was, up until then, the fastest 12 Meter sailing, and provided the foundation for Sparkman and Stephen's winning design for Columbia.

Columbia began her path to America's Cup victory with hard fought preliminary races off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island. The America's Cup defense trials during 1958 were probably the most exciting ever held. Columbia was one of four American boats competing to defend the America's Cup. The others, Weatherly (12 Meter US-17), Easterner (12 Meter US-18) and Vim (12 Meter US-15), like Columbia, were also very fast boats and had excellent crew. Columbia was skippered by Briggs Cunningham and had a crew that included the finest sailors in the United States including Olin and Rod Stephens, Harry Sears, Colin Ratsey, Wallace Tobin, and Halsey Herreshoff.

The preliminary America's Cup defense trial series started on July 12, 1958 of the coast of Newport, RI. Easterner and Weatherly were the first to be eliminated in the America's Cup trials which left the two Sparkman and Stephens designed boats, Vim and Columbia. In the end 19 year old Vim was unable to defeat the newer and faster Columbia who won the series by only twelve seconds in the final race.

The challenger for the 1958 America's Cup finals was the Royal Yacht Squadron's Sceptre (12 Meter K-17). Sceptre, the first of two twelve meters designed by David Boyd, had trained extensively on The Solent and won the America's Cup trials to be the first 12 Meter challenger of the America's Cup. Sceptre was shipped to the United States and began racing in Newport, RI on September 20, 1958.


Harold Vanderbilt

The Enterprise 1930

Rainbow 1934
Harold Stirling "Mike" Vanderbilt (1884-1970), the younger son of William Kissam and Alvah Vanderbilt was the family's most famous yachtsman, he defended the America's Cup three times, but otherwise a quiet, well balanced man. He is also remembered as the inventor of the rules for contract bridge, which won him the nickname "professor" from his mother Alvah. After he inherited from his father, Harold S. Vanderbilt, who recognized that the times of inconsiderate spending were over, sold Idle Hour for 460'000 $. This may seem little for a palatial estate on 7'000 acres, but compared to what became of other large Vanderbilt estates just a few years later, it was still a good deal. Harold also pushed for the sale of the mansion at 660 Fifth Avenue, property of which he shared with his brother William Kissam jr. In business, Harold Stirling Vanderbilt served on the Board of Directors of the New York Central Railroad for four decades and was actually the last Vanderbilt to do so. But Harold Vanderbilt steadily divested from his railroad properties and he owned only 10'000 shares in 1954, when the Vanderbilt faction was ousted from the Board by a group of financiers headed by Robert Young and including Texas oil millionaires Clint Murchinson and Sid Richardson. Harold Stirling Vanderbilt married Gertrude Lewis Conway.

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The Ranger - 1937

Gertrude Vanderbilt was the first woman to race aboard an America's Cup yacht during an actual defense. She took an active role in helping her husband, Harold S. Vanderbilt, when he skippered ENTERPRISE, RAINBOW, and RANGER in successful Cup defenses. Harold Vanderbilt was the first to develop the timed start, for ever known as the Vanderbilt start. It was Gertrude Vanderbilt who kept time for starts, using analytical techniques developed by her husband. She was also a trusted observer and advisor concerning the conduct of the races.

Along with Olin and Rod Stephens, Sherman Hoyt and Arthur Knapp, Gertrude Vanderbilt was a full-fledged member of Mike Vanderbilt's champion after-guard.


Links to other sailing sites.

Charter a 12 meter sailing yacht.
About the Columbia and the Vim.