Part 2: Silver Cup Challenges
Records of the Keuka Yacht Club meetings in Penn Yan circa 1870 are lengthy, detailed, and parliamentary----the "number of white male citizens" doubtless wore their collars buttoned and sat erect. Occasionally, however, one can detect the temper or mirth aroused in a gathering of competitive sailors. Written challenges for the Championship Cup were received; intricate, yet haphazard, handicaps were adopted, amended, and in stated cases excused. Courses were determined a week in advance, apparently without need to consider the winds. Judges, assistant judges, stake boats all were assigned.
A field glass first prize and a silver goblet second prize were offered on the Fourth of July. (From the original minutes...) "At 3 o’clock P.M. the time appointed for the regatta to take place, the rain was falling pretty wet. At 3-40 P.M. the Shoo Fly, J.M. Smith skipper, Marguerita, J.L. Whaites skipper, and the Fly Away, Geo. Smith skipper, started for the Ark in the rain and the merest ghost of a zephyr only to fan their sails. In a few minutes after the wind freshened and blew very fierce. The Shoo Fly went ashore on the west side of the lake to reef her sail, and the Fly Away went ashore on the east side for the same purpose, but the Marguerita, with only her skipper for a crew all told, kept to business with her sail up. The Fly Away, after reefing, put out again and went but a short distance when her skipper fell overboard, and the boat was immediately turned upon its beams ends, but was soon brought ashore and put on her feet again and put on her course in the race. It was agreed among the skippers of these boats to sail around the course but once. The Shoo Fly arrived at 5-30 P.M., the Marguerita at 5-34 P.M., and the Fly Away at 5-45 P.M."
But withhold congratulations until after the meeting of July 7: "The president has been informed that dissatisfaction exists in some quarters charging him with chicanery in the regatta of the Fourth," and a discussion ensued with the judges and sponsors, at which time they "bore witness that the regatta was done regular and without trickery." The winners offered to resail the race, but this was not deemed necessary. Not to experience the chagrin, however, the element of discontent rallied when a picture was offered as a prize by the judges, on condition these sailors purchase the frame. They "took benefit of the bout, and didn’t offer a frame." Finally a hat was passed and $14 contributed.
Careful financial records were kept: John Johnson billed the club $.25 for setting the buoys each race. A $1.00 bill was submitted for the canvas on which the "donated" picture was to be painted. And "the fact of Thomas Harrison losing his spectacles while serving on the stake boat which was fouled by Comet prior to her capsizing in the third Championship Regatta was taken into consideration by the members, and being the season’s end, the remaining $2.50 in the treasury was spent for spectacles."
Today’s Keuka Yacht Club sailors will recognize so many of the current problems of weather, equipment, or logistics in this century-old record, but somehow they are so magnified as to seem charicatures. In the record of the Sixth Contest for the Cup, "it was undertaken to do this regatta on the 18th of August, but the affair was what might be called with appropriate figure, an abortion. The wind on this day blew quite fierce, and only two boats, the Shoo Fly and the Keuka Chief, started. The judges learning from one of these boats on its return that the upper buoy was not on the water, ordered the boat to come in and discontinue the race, but did not succeed in making the skipper hear or understand, and he sailed up the course and back again the second time before stopping. There was dispute as to whether the regatta could be considered regular or not, and the subject was brought up in two extra meetings and finally let fall."