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"Atlantic is a stirring story that illuminates a magical period in our maritime history. Scott Cookman weaves the compelling plot in a manner that will fascinate both the landlubber and the sailor alike. The schooner Atlantic’s transatlantic racing record has remained unbeaten for nearly a centuryand the story behind the race makes that achievement even more impressive. Cookman has done his homework well and unfolds that story page by page . . . the reader can just about feel the icy lash of a North Atlantic swell crashing aboard as the massive sailing craft are driven toward their destination by men and women whose dreams and goals (and even the pride of their countries) hang in the balance."
Peter Isler, America’s Cup veteran, author of the bestselling Sailing for Dummies, and Editor at Large for Sailing World
"Outstanding. Cookman is equally adept at depicting the gut-wrenching tension of ocean racing; the politics, intrigues, and skullduggery of billionaires, society snobs, and sailors who make Captain Ahab seem the model of restraint; and a gilded, vanished era under the gathering storm clouds of war."
Neil Hanson, author of The Custom of the Sea
"In 1905, the key to unlocking America’s economic potential was swift travel across the Atlantic. Scott Cookman recounts in meticulous detail the fanatical race for maritime supremacy. Scions and captains of industry took the challenge by racing across the ocean."
Gary Jobson, America’s Cup—winning tactician on Ted Turner’s Courageous (1977) and ESPN sailing analyst
"Anyone who has ever been to sea, or dreamed of a sailing adventure, will be captivated by this extraordinary seafaring story. It is a perfect balance of history, intrigue, and period personalities that will make your palms sweat as you rush headlong through storm and fog to the finish."
Rockwell B. Harwood, Commodore, Stamford Yacht Club (1999—2001)
Copyright © 2002 Scott Cookman.
All rights reserved.
The Great Ocean Race
It was the final, privileged tournament of a gilded age: the last great race of princes, whether titled by birth in the Old World or minted by money in the New.
It pitted the emperor of Germany, two British lords, and eight American millionaires against one another in a winner-take-all yacht race, without handicaps or time allowances, across the breadth of the North Atlantic—considered by mariners as "the vilest ocean for weather on the planet." Money was no obstacle or incentive. Prestige—winning the solid gold German Kaiser's Cup for nautical supremacy on the high seas—was all that mattered.
Eleven of the fastest, most opulent yachts ever built participated—including masterpieces by legendary yacht designers such as George Lennox Watson, William Fife Jr., Edward Burgess, and John Beavor Webb. Outfitted without regard to expense, their owners included Kaiser Wilhelm II, perhaps the wealthiest monarch in Europe; the twenty-sixth earl of Crawford, among the richest peers in the British Empire; Allison Armour, heir to the vast Armour meatpacking fortune; American steel heir Edward Coleman Esq., prodigal son of Andrew Carnegie's business partner; Wall Street banking heir Edmond Randolph; and Broadway stagecoach heir Wilson Marshall, to name a few. The vessels were skippered by perhaps the single greatest assemblage of professional yacht racing captains in history. They included three-time America's Cup winner Charlie Barr; transatlantic yachting record-holder James Loesch; legendary Gloucester fishing skipper Tommie Bohlin; and Lemuel Miller, winner of the 1904 Cape May, Brenton's Reef, and Astor Cups, something of the Triple Crown of ocean racing at the time. They crossed the starting line off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, at 12:15 P.M. on May 18, 1905.
Before them yawned the North Atlantic, a trackless, largely islandless expanse of 10,588,000 square miles of open ocean—an area three times the size of the United States. By the most direct, great circle course, the finish line at the Lizard, a rocky headland in Cornwall at the westernmost tip of Britain, lay 2,875 nautical miles (3,305 statute miles) away—roughly the distance from Moscow to Beijing. In between lurked the Nantucket Shoals; Georges Bank; Cape Cod; Sable Island's notorious "graveyard of ships"; the Eastern Shoals, 100 miles off Cape Race; near-perpetual fog and foul weather on the Grand Banks; icebergs in hundreds adrift from Greenland; man-killing water temperatures; gales; monstrous mid-ocean seas; and sudden, almost unbelievably violent cyclonic storms. For the yachts contesting for the Kaiser's Cup—completely under sail, without benefit of modern-day weather forecasts or ice reports, without radio or any means of communication beyond signal flags and lamps, and without radar or global positioning systems, wholly dependent upon sun or star sights to fix their position—it was a very hazardous proposition. For twelve days in the spring of 1905, the world watched—horrified and enthralled.
Incredibly, when it was over, the winner had set a monohull transatlantic racing record that has yet to be beaten.
After the race itself, however, all its participants—winners and losers—were caught up and swept away by unforeseen events. Some in the so-called Great War. Others by the Great Depression. All of them in the end of an age that had seemed timeless.
Before the world turned upside down, however, there were no wealthier, more powerful, or more daring men than those who raced across the Atlantic in 1905 for the Kaiser's Cup. This is their story.
Man has not reached the North or the South Poles.
There is no Panama Canal.
By steamship, it takes a week to cross the Atlantic. By express train, it takes more than three days to cross the United States.
The British Empire, largest in history, rules a fifth of the earth's landmass and 375 million subjects—a quarter of its population. London is the globe's economic, military, and diplomatic capital.
The United States is a second-rate power.
Three out of five Americans still live on farms, without plumbing, electricity, or telephones. Outside major cities, virtually no roads are paved. Few Americans have ever seen an automobile. According to the 1900 census, fewer than 5,000 are produced annually (1,681 coal-powered steamers, 1,575 battery-powered electrics, and but 936 newfangled gas-powered models).
The average American laborer earns $12.98 per week (for 59 hours of work), or about $675 a year. It does not go far. Annually the New York Times estimates it costs an average American family $200 in rent (homeownership is out of reach for all but the well-to-do), $200 for food, and $150 for clothing. There are no vaccines for measles, mumps, chicken pox, typhus, diphtheria, influenza, or polio. Life expectancy is 47.3 years.
For rich Americans, however, it is wonderful time to be alive. There is no Federal income tax. No inheritance tax. No Federal Reserve Bank. No Securities and Exchange Commission, no Commodities Trading Commission, no Federal Trade Commission. There are no unions to speak of. No labor laws. No minimum wage. A handful of imperially wealthy American capitalists either own or control production of an estimated 90 percent of the world's oil, 37 percent of its steel, 34 percent of its iron, and 32 percent of its coal. Family dynasties run the nation's railroads (Vanderbilts, Harrimans, Goulds), banks (Morgans, Belmonts), and its commodities (Armours, Swifts, Morrises, Cudahys), shipbuilding (Cramps), and tobacco industries (Dukes, Lorillards).
The U.S. map looks starkly different. The Philippines are a colony. Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alaska, and Hawaii are territories, not states. Buffalo, New York, is the nation's up-and-coming city—with four times the population of little-known Los Angeles.
America's national pastime looks different, too. In baseball's National League, the New York Highlanders (ancestors of the Yankees) confront the Boston Pilgrims (ancestors of the Red Sox). In the American League, the Brooklyn Superbas (father of the Brooklyn Dodgers and grandfather of the Los Angeles Dodgers) face off against the New York Giants (ancestors of the San Francisco Giants).
Paper clips, picture postcards, safety razors, ice-cream cones, and the Yellow Pages are among the latest fads.
Internationally, Russia and Japan are at war.
An unknown Swiss patent worker named Einstein has just published three arcane theories on physics. The one concerning relativity excites the least interest.
Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly opens at La Scala—a public failure.
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who will precipitate the bloodbath of the First World War nine years later, issues a challenge for an international, transatlantic yacht race, the first ever. It will be run boat against boat, with no handicaps or time allowances. The prize is a fantastic, solid gold trophy cup.
Like the race, it is of his own design—intended for his own special purpose.
Was the thing sensible anyhow? It was the North Atlantic. That the month was May and not far removed from summer was true. But it was the North Atlantic ... the vilest ocean for weather on the planet.
Ninety-eight miles offshore, Paul Stevenson, special correspondent for the yachting magazine Rudder assigned to cover the 1905 German Emperor's Cup transatlantic race, awoke bewildered. A westerly wind stripped away the early morning rain and mist, revealing a stark 360-degree expanse of empty, lead-colored ocean. There was no sign of the other ten "grand yachts" that had crossed the starting line with Ailsa eighteen hours before. The fleet of spectator boats that had blackened the waters around Sandy Hook, New Jersey, had vanished. The only thing that remained was little Ailsa, second-smallest yacht in the race, rolling beneath his feet. She was all that was left between him and the immensity of the North Atlantic.
The noon sight showed they'd logged fewer than 100 miles since the start. Despite all Captain Lem Miller had done, Alisa had averaged a dismal speed of only 4 knots (fewer than 5 miles per hour, the pace of a brisk walk). That left almost 3,000 nautical miles of angry, open ocean to the finish line at the Lizard, the treacherous headland off England's southwestern coast.
Miller hove the lead to sound the depth. It showed 32 fathoms (192 feet), the sea bottom black-speckled sand and gravel—a sign they were still over the long, downward-sloping continental shelf, not quit of America, not yet over the abyssal depths of the North Atlantic. The skipper took the water temperature, too. It registered 50 degrees Fahrenheit—cold enough to kill a man overboard in an hour.
It was a discouraging beginning to what Rudder had for weeks been calling the "Great Ocean Race." The start had been postponed a day because of blinding fog that had made a shambles of everything. With less than a quarter-mile visibility, some competing yachts had anchored in the protective Horseshoe Bay behind Sandy Hook, others in New York's Lower Bay, others back near Staten Island. At about dawn, a tugboat towing a long line of garbage barges in from sea had materialized out of the gloom on top of the anchored American yacht Fleur de Lys—the smallest boat in the race. Veering to avoid a collision, the last barge in the tug's towline swung out and struck her squarely amidships. It tore away 40 feet of her rail and bulwarks.
Behind Sandy Hook, the big, new British Cunard luxury liner Caronia, carrying spectators, lost her bearings. She grounded on the East Knolls Bank, her fine bow buried 10 feet deep in sand and mud. It would take two days for tugboats to drag her off. The chartered passenger steamer Sirius, crammed with Atlantic and Indian Harbor Yacht Club members to see the start of the race, blundered out of the main shipping channel in the fog and grounded as well. The tugboat Vigilant, carrying the racing committee, caught fire when an overheated smokestack ignited the roof of her deckhouse. While battling the blaze, she ran afoul of the fishing pounds off Sandy Hook and grounded on a sandbank. The fleet of steamers, ferries, and launches come to watch the start of the race muddled around, narrowly missing one another in the pea soup fog. When they learned of the postponement, they beat a retreat back to New York.
Excerpted from Atlantic by Scott Cookman. Copyright © 2002 by Scott Cookman. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
1. The Great Ocean Race.
2. The World of 1905.
3. Land Fading in the West.
4. Death Race.
5. Third Day at Sea.
6. Sore Hearts and Heads.
7. Fourth Day at Sea.
8. Another Kind of Race.
9. The Man Nobody Liked.
10. Fifth Day at Sea.
11. Spoiled Sports.
12. Clubs and Kings.
13. Sixth Day at Sea.
14. Contests of Will.
15. The Germans.
16. The British.
17. Crown Princes of Capitalism.
18. Hired Guns.
19. Greatest of All Yacht Captains.
20. Too Many Cooks.
21. A World in Waiting.
22. Starting Gun.
23. In for a Fight.
24. "You Hired Me to Win".
25. "Are We First?"
26. The Empty Cup.
27. End of an Age.
Appendix I: Entries: 1905 Kaiser's Cup Transatlantic Race.
Appendix II: Summary: 1905 Kaiser's Cup Transatlantic Race.
Appendix III: Winning Finishes: Transatlantic Races 1866-1905.
Notes and Sources.