When Canvas was King – by Robert B. Townsend
A History of the Canada’s Cup
A match having been arranged in the winter of 1895–96
between the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and the Lincoln
Park Yacht Club, Chicago, for a race between top–notch
cutters, a syndicate was formed by Canadian yachtsmen
– Aemilius Jarvis, George Gooderham, George H.
Gooderham, : S.F. McKinnon and F.. Phillips, all of
Toronto and James Ross of Montreal – to provide the
These amateurs spent $6,000 and their valuable time in
getting the boat, and seven other amateurs – eight,
including Jarvis, devoted their whole summer to sailing
her to victory. The seven others were J.H. Fernside of
Hamilton, and : Gerald Boulton, Wm. Moran, Edward
Bailey, : Herbert Parsons, Sidney Small and W.C.
Clouson of Toronto.
The Lincoln Park club’s commodore, : Charles E.
Berriman, had begun to build a fin–keel cutter, the latest
wrinkle. She was designed by Theodore Poekel, a
draughtsman in the famous Herreshoff establishment,
which had produced the phenomenal cutter Niagara
owned by Howard Gould, Niagara had swept the board
in British waters in 1895 racing with the 20–raters. The :
Berriman candidate, named Vencedor, was said to be a
copy of her.
There were half a dozen good cutters on Lake Ontario at
the time, but the Canadian syndicate did no shopping
around. They cabled to Will Fife, Jr. of Fairlie in
Scotland, the leading British designer, to let them have
plans and specifications for a fin keel cutter, of 42–ft.
racing length, the minimum agreed upon. Within two
months of the arrival of the plans, the new yacht was
sailing the first of her trial races on Lake Ontario. She
had grown like a mushroom from the ballast up, in the
building shed of : Capt. James Andrew of Oakville. She
was ready for caulking six weeks after her keeltimber
was cut. Her sails were by Ratsey and Lapthorne, and
her standing rigging was prepared under Fife’ direction.
Ten weeks after the boat had been ordered by cable, she
was launched and had sailed her maiden race against
Zelma, another Canadian build boat designed by William
Aemilius Jarvis, then 36, and manager of the Bank of
Hamilton, was the managing owner in the syndicate
from the day the cable was sent to Fife – on his
suggestion – and he was not one to let the grass grow
under his feet.
Four months after her blueprints arrived from Scotland
the Canada, as she was happily christened, was racing off
Toledo on Lake Erie for the trophy which has borne her
name ever since.
Nor was she pitchforked into the contest half rigged and
with the fresh paint peeling off her bottom and the crew
running around in circles looking for the key of the
keelson and trying to find which way the sails went up.
She had been perfectly groomed for two months, and her
crew had done nothing but train daily in the same
Jarvis ruled ship and crew, syndicate and race
committee, with a rod of iron, nicely polished, never
flourished, seldom seen.
The Canada’s racing crew of prominent business men
did all their own work, from pot leading to palm–and–
needle. They lived on board. No pullmans, no cocktail
lounges, no parties while the Cup was unwon. They did
have one good pro sailor, Ed Roach, for “beef on the
rope” and shipkeeping and cooking. But they all,
including Jarvis, worked as hard as Roach and harder.
They sailed Canada on her own bottom all the way from
Toronto to Toledo. It gave more opportunity for training.
Before starting, Jarvis explained to his gentlemen crew
that to live together in comfort in small compass it was
necessary to have a place for everything and everything
in its place. Each day after breakfast he would make an
inspection of the ship.
The first morning he found pajamas sticking out of
lockers, the odd shoe on the cabin floor, and a shaving
brush rolling around. The Canada towed up the Long
Level of the Welland Canal with a wake of loose
belongings floating till they sank.
Next morning one of the amateurs – at home a business
magnate – was howling for the towel and toilet kit. He
hadn’t even a toothbrush.
“Isn’t it in your bag, So–and–so?” asked Jarvis. He always
used the sur–name in formal address.
“No Aemilius,” replied the big shot, “I don’t remember
bringing it down yesterday after I shaved on deck.
Dammit, it must have blown overboard!”
“No, So–and–so,” said Jarvis, “I threw it overboard, when
I found it draped around the skylight. A place for
everything, and everything in it’s place, you know.”
Later Jarvis threw another erring amateur onto the deck
at Cleveland and left him there for an indiscretion
connected with hoisting, although he was a life long
Big Shot gnashed his teeth but the result of such
discipline was that the crew of the Canada cold lay hands
on anything that was wanted, daylight or dark, blow
high, blow low. They could reef the 1,000–foot mainsail
in two minutes, they could shift jibtopsails in 30 seconds
and gybe the enormous spinnaker in a minute flat. They
knew where everything was, for they had put it there
hundreds of times, and they knew where everything
should go. That wins races.
It – and Jarvis’ skill and judgement – won the Canada’s
“Quick in stays as a bike and stiff as a church” was the
way schooner hands described Canada when she came
out. The bicycle, on which “scorcers’ could knock off 15
miles an hour, was then out fastest personal vehicle.
Such comment requires interpretation. Being quick in
stays meant that Canada cold turn fast from tack to tack.
Stiff as a church meant that she stood up to her work and
carried a press of canvas well.
She was really revolutionary in those days. All her ballast
outside. It was not in a cigar–shaped bulb at the bottom
of a metal plate like an enlarged centre board. This was
the fin–keel reliance of such yachts as the Vencedor. It
saved bulk but gave more friction. Canada’s ballast was
so streamlined into the body of the yacht that all seemed
of one piece. Viewed end on, out of water, Canada’s
silhouette was that of a lily plant, springing from its bulb
(the ballast) on a sweetly curved stalk (the deadwood)
and swelling out into cup–shaped bloom (the hull).
Seen broadside, out of the water, Canada startled
onlookers by her overhangs and reversing curves. hers
was the first Canadian with a spoon bow. The convex
curve of the stem swept in a segment of a circle to the
waterline. There it flattened out and descended in boldly
reversed curve to the forefoot of the ballast. This
rockered back in another flatter curve to the heel of the
sternpost. The sternpost slanted upward in a straight
line – the only one in the whole profile – towards the
waterline. From there aft the hull tapered out to a
feather edge. This cutaway forefoot and raking sternpost,
and the long overhang made her so quick in turning.
Hull, deadwood and ballast, all emphasized the
suggestion of the fast–swimming fish. The Elizabethans
used to draw a fish first and line out their hull profiles
from that. Designers were so modern in 1896 that they
had forgotten that, and we were “discovering” the idea
that you could sail faster over the water than through it.
Canada was finished like a piece of jewellery, black
enamel above, white enamel below, showing at the
waterline in smart straight boot–topping. One line of gilt
ribbon in a cove ran all around her, at deck level. On the
port bow the arms of Canada’s seven provinces, the well–
known patchwork quilt,” were enamelled in full colour
surrounded by a gilded wreath of maple leaves,. On the
starboard was the blue white– burgee of the R.C.Y.C.,
crown above and beaver below, circled in naval
Pretty? – Pretty as a picture. But all the prettiness, from
the gilt ribbon downwards, except the enamelled crests,
disappeared under a dull grey coat of plumbago –
blackened stove polish – when she went forth to war.
Especially was the white enameled underbody doomed
to a kitchen darkness. It looked lovely, but it was not
nearly as soothe and slick as the polished blacklead
which replaced it.
Canada’s gentlemen amateurs put the blacklead on and
polished it with their own strong hands and plenty of
Vencedor, Canada’s opponent was the larger yacht. In
light weather she needed a thundering big clubtopsail.
Jarvis insisted that its increase in sail area would throw
her over measurement, and disqualify her. He was right.
She abandoned it, and lost the race. The next day, when
it was blowing hard and raining Vencedor asked for a
postponement. He didn’t want to shrink her brand new
mainsail out of shape. Jarvis, weather wise, agreed. He
knew Vencedor could outsail Canada if it blew hard
enough, and that by afternoon or the next day the blow
might be over and Canada would have the better chance.
When they did race it was blowing quite fresh, but dry,
and Canada outwinded Vencedor so much that the latter,
although leading, could not give the required time
allowance and lost the race and the cup by 26 seconds.