Lord Dunraven: America’s Cup Hall of Fame 2016
Published on October 19th, 2016
Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl is one of two new members of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, with the 2016 Class to be inducted at a ceremony in New York City on October 21 at the New York Yacht Club.
Lord Dunraven was an Oxford graduate, cavalry officer, war correspondent, adventurer, big game hunter, politician, racehorse owner and yachtsman. A fully qualified yacht captain and helmsman, he did much to encourage yacht racing and the advance of yacht design. He was also a prolific yacht owner with myriad small racing yachts, Big Class racers, cruisers, and power yachts.
In 1893, Lord Dunraven challenged the Cup’s holder, the New York Yacht Club. During the negotiations over the conditions of the match, Dunraven achieved the concession to drop one of the mandatory courses used in previous matches: the notorious Inside Course, riddled with shoals and strong currents that favored the defender. From that point on, only an ocean course, free from headlands and largely clear of shoals, was used for the races, leveling the playing field in one respect.
Dunraven hired the brilliant George L. Watson to design his contender, Valkyrie II. While she was out-sailed by the defending Vigilant, the first Herreshoff Cup defender, the races attracted vast crowds and increased the popularity of the Cup as a sporting spectacle. The last race in the series was one of the most exciting in America’s Cup history, with Vigilant trailing for many miles until finally overtaking Valkyrie II near the finish, winning by just 40 seconds on corrected time—the closest Cup race up to that time.
Having caught “America’s Cup fever”, Dunraven returned in 1895 with another Watson design, Valkyrie III, a pioneer of the modern challenger that was better adapted to local racing conditions. But the race series descended into acrimony by misunderstandings and disagreements between the competitors.
The spectator fleet had grown to unmanageable proportions and was perceived as a major problem by the challenger. A minor collision in the second race for which Valkyrie III was found to be at fault led Dunraven to withdraw from the series. Thereafter he made increasingly intemperate accusations, and the contentious match made headlines for all the wrong reasons.
However, Dunraven’s two campaigns for the Cup raised the level of Cup racing and were directly responsible for ushering in the Cup’s classic golden age from Sir Thomas Lipton’s challenges to those of T.O.M. Sopwith.
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