Excerpt from Fair Winds by Mary Kuttel

November 25, 2014

“…  I have left the pages of Fair Winds in their entirety as they are a wonderful glimpse into a sailing age that will not be seen again.  The book itself is a fascinating account of early competitive sailing in the Cape and well worth finding…”

Pages 35, 36 and 37 of Fair Winds at the Cape, written by Mary Kuttel, published by A.A. Balkema/Cape Town/Amsterdam (1954) …

“…………With his gift cheque, the Brassey Cup was bought. It was sailed that year in a hard wind, and appropriately enough won by Sooloo, the only one of the three starters to complete the course, the two others having to be towed in, one of them after dark from the island.

The two English contestants in the Emperor’s Gold Cup had thus visited South Africa, and in the following year an American millionaire came out in his beautiful steam yacht, which belonged to that club which numbered among its fleet the winner of the Gold Cup — the Atlantic — and the yachts that had beaten Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrocks: the yachts designed by the great Nathaniel Herreshoff — the Columbia, Constitution, and Reliance, winners in 1893, 1901 and 1903, of the America’s Cup, for which the Shamrocks had raced.  This wealthy visitor was Mr. G. W. Childs Drexel in his S.Y. Alcedo, of the New York Yacht Club.

The Table Bay yachtsmen entertained him too to a smoker — in the Minor Hall of the City Hall. The new Brassey cup was among the sparkling trophies awaiting his presentation of them, and on the table as well stood a great trophy towering above the other cups — the most valuable sporting trophy in South Africa, and also the largest. Only recently has that great cup been rescued from its immolation in the vaults of a bank, to travel once more to Durban for the races revived there after a lapse of twenty-eight years.

That great cup is the Lipton Cup, and the first contests for it were to take place in the very year of Mr. Drexel’s visit — 1911.

Mr. Drexel had already traveled extensively in South Africa, and he intended sailing round Africa in his two-masted, one funneled steam yacht, A hundred yachtsmen applauded the lucky winners of the cups. The club wished to institute a class of fourteen foot sailing dinghys, which would be more evenly matched than the larger yachts, and would form a good school for helmsmanship and for junior members. Mr. Drexel, interested, offered a prize for this dinghy class, which became known as the Alcedo cup, to be won outright by any skipper winning three times, or twice in succession. It was won in 1913 by Charles Eglen with No. 3 Redwing, and outright by the same helmsman in 1924.  The club’s commodore, Mr. L. A. Solomon, and Mr. Jack Rose visited England in 1912 to select a design for these fourteen footers, and to place an order for six of them.

Messrs. Solomon and Rose visited Sir Thomas Lipton at his office in London. As could be expected from the head of Lipton’s, he treated them to a most gorgeous tea, and introduced them to Captain Sycamore, his yachting captain, who accompanied them to Ratsey and Lapthorne’s premises, where the best yacht sails in the world were made, on the Isle of Wight, home, too, of the most exclusive yacht club in the world — the Royal Yacht Squadron. Sir Thomas gave Mr. Solomon one of Shamrock’s racing flags, and Captain Sycamore promised to inspect the six dinghies which were ordered from Joe White to a design by Linton Hope.

Colonel Rose also went aboard the sumptuous Erin, Sir Thomas Lipton’s steam yacht, in which he cruised to the Mediterranean, and where he entertained Royalty and notabilities. It was said that the King of Spain proposed to the Princess Ena on board her.

Erin’s accommodation was roomy, as down below a long passage from bow to stern along the side of the ship left the staterooms, saloons, etc., to one side, so that they were spacious. What particularly impressed Colonel Rose was the fact that in the lounge the place of honour over the mantelpiece was accorded to Sir Thomas Lipton’s humble parents, — Irish peasants who had migrated to England — while their pictures were flanked by portraits of King Edward the Seventh to the left and the German Kaiser to the right.

Meanwhile, back in Cape Town, motorboats were creeping into the club. To-day the attitude of many sailing men then, that an engine was not quite sporting, seems very outmoded, but it was a view then generally held, especially by pukka blue-nosers, such as Advocate Upington. The first motor-craft owned by a club-member was the launch Zaza, belonging to Mr. van Helsdingen, which was most useful to the club in a functional way.  Often enough yachts would have to get out the long sweeps which they all then carried to get them out of a calm patch into the wind.

*I wish we had a motor’, the perspiring Mr. Fismer would sigh, as he rowed the Canada back in a dead calm from the Island.  ‘Rowing teaches you patience’, his skipper, Sammy Solomon, would heartlessly reply.

Jack Rose with his ‘Mullins’ took part in the first motor-boat race for the Churchill Mace prize on the 2oth of July 1912, and won it. There were only three contestants.  The pioneer Ocean race for South Africa was sailed at the end of 1911.

The cup for this race was presented by Mr. Warington-Smyth, Secretary for Mines, and author of several books, one of which: ‘Mast and Sail in Europe and Asia’, is still used as a text book by the Royal Navy. The course for this race was to be from Cape Town to Simonstown, where Advocate Upington had made arrangements with the naval authorities for the finish at the Selborne Dock. Cordial relations existed between the Navy and the yachtsmen, who, in 1908, had held a Regatta for the Squadron visiting Cape Town.

On Saturday, the 50th. December, 1911, four starters appeared for the Ocean Race: Innisfallen, Patricia, Canada, and Sooloo. The weather was threatening — there was a high sea running outside, the glass was dropping, the sky overcast with a northwester blowing. Innisfallen crossed the line first at 3 p.m. followed closely by Sooloo, Pat, and Canada.

With a big load of onlookers, the little pleasure steamer Magnet rolled about in the wake of the yachts. She put up a scrap of canvas to steady herself off Camps Bay. Now Canada had passed Sooloo, who put into Hout Bay having carried away a stay. She spent a night there and so was out of the race, but she completed the course. Innisfallen was well in the lead.

With the wind right aft, steering was trying. The weight of the wind also so much increased that mainsails were stowed and trysails set. In the rain-squalls, and the intermittent haziness and fitful moonlight, those on Innisfallen did not see Cape Point and ran down ten miles south of it. This was I.F.’s first trip round the Cape, where the Anvil and Bellows Rocks, round which the course was, and the South-west reefs reaching out in that direction from the Cape of Good Hope, are a very real danger.  Patricia, however, who had on board the skipper of a fishing boat who knew the coast like the back of his hand, lost no time in rounding the danger spots off the Cape and beating up False Bay.

After rounding Canada hove-to till dawn at 4.50 a.m. Neither Innisfallen or Canada saw Pat rounding the Cape or beating up False Bay, and their crews wondered where she was. At 4.50 a.m. Canada shook out her reefs and proceeded to beat up the Bay. Somewhat later Innisfallen could be seen far astern, coming up quickly.  To her astonishment, on reaching the line, Canada found that Patricia had beaten her by some hours, having crossed the line at 7 a.m. Pat’s skipper, Charles Eglen, was jubilant, and they had all just had breakfast on board the flagship Hermes — a meal originally planned for another crew!

The naval officers later entertained the skippers and crews from Canada and Innisfallen on board, where one may be sure, Beauclerk Upington had his leg thoroughly pulled! Sooloo arrived at a quarter to seven that evening.  It was twenty years before another Ocean Race of more than fifty miles was sailed.

The first Redwing dinghy races took place on September the 28th, 1912. Five boats, skippered by Messrs. Rose, Eglen, Howes, Ritchie-Fallon and van Helsdingen, participated. During the next year there were many dinghy points races, and the gay little red-sailed boats sailed a race for the opening of the fine new Pier at its Gala in November, 1915. Many Galas were to punctuate the Pier’s existence: Police Galas, Boy Scout Galas, Railway Orphans Galas, Nazareth House Galas and so on, …

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