Harken Derm

In the Spirit of the America’s Cup

Published on September 27th, 2018

The 2018 America’s Cup Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was held August 31 at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, UK. Recognized were Class of 2018 inductees Syd Fischer (AUS), Ken McAlpine (AUS), John Marshall (USA), and Doug Peterson (USA).

Hamish Ross, a member of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee, explains how the event also took the opportunity to celebrate a new award.

The America’s Cup Hall of Fame Selection Committee has recognized there was room for other America’s Cup awards, in addition to induction into the Hall of Fame to mark important contributions by people and organizations to the America’s Cup.

In doing so the Committee endorsed the creation of what is officially called the “Sir Richard Francis Sutton Medal”, to recognize those who have exemplified the intentions of the founders of the America’s Cup, as expressed in their Deed of Gift, “to promote friendly competition between foreign countries.”

Their intention may today sound unexceptional, but in 1851-52 when the founders first discussed the objective of the America’s Cup, international sport was practically non-existent. Outside horse racing, nationally organized sport as we know it today barely existed.

Football in all its variety of forms and codes had yet to be organized outside a small clique of British public schools each playing a different version; the invention of modern tennis was twenty-three years into the future; twenty-four years before modern hockey was first played; thirty-seven years before golf crossed the Atlantic from Scotland to America; forty years before basketball was to be invented; the creation of the modern Olympic movement was forty-three years away.

The founders’ intent to recognize the value of sport to develop good international relations was, for its time, farsighted and remarkable. To quote Nelson Mandela on the power of sport:

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they can understand. Sport can create hope when there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down barriers…”

It’s too easy to be cynical about awards for friendly competition in the America’s Cup because it has, on occasion, been notorious for being unfriendly. However, those inside the America’s Cup know well that there have been much international sportsmanship, camaraderie, goodwill, and understanding generated by the competition.

This is evidenced by sailors from all corners of the world, gathering to honor their fellow sportsman and sportswomen from foreign countries at the Induction Ceremonies of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame over the past 25 years. It is important to pay tribute to the underlying intent behind our sport, as well as to recognize its winners.

The Sir Richard Francis Sutton Medal. © America’s Cup Hall of Fame.

Sir Richard Sutton 5th Baronet of Norwood Park
The Committee selected Sir Richard Sutton, 5th Bt as the Medal’s charter-recipient. Sir Richard’s actions in the 1885 match exemplified the spirit of friendly competition. His yacht, Genesta, the first challenger from the Royal Yacht Squadron, faced the New York Yacht Club’s defender, Puritan, for a best-of-three match, held on courses near New York City.

During the match, on September 8, when maneuvering for the start, Puritan failed to clear Genesta, resulting in a collision. Within minutes of the collision, the race committee disqualified Puritan, which was on port tack at the time of the accident.

However, Sir Richard, in an act of sportsmanship, refused to accept a win by default. Instead, he informed the race committee: “We are very much obliged to you, but we don’t want it in that way. We want a race; we don’t want a walkover.”

After repairs were made to both yachts, Genesta lost to Puritan in the next two races. It was not all bad news for Sir Richard in American waters that year, as he went on to the lift the Cape May Challenge Cup, the Brenton Reef Cup, as well as a NYYC club trophy—which remains in the hands of the Sutton family.

He left New York an honorary member of the NYYC and the first challenger to leave a match on friendly terms.

Sadly, Sir Richard, who owned extensive estates in England, died few years later at the young age of 41, leaving a posthumous son, who also died childless as a serving soldier, during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19.

Coincidentally, Sir Richard is buried near Cowes where the Medal was first awarded last month at the Royal Yacht Squadron. The present Baronet Sutton, the 9th, also named Sir Richard, is descended from a cousin of the America’s Cup challenger.

After the Committee selected Sir Richard to be the founding awardee, it was intrigued to discover that Winfield Thompson, in his famous Lawson History of the America’s Cup (1902), had written of Sir Richard’s actions as being, “worthy of being commemorated in bronze.”

One hundred and sixteen years later, his immortal act is finally commemorated in a 5-inch diameter bronze medal.

On August 31, the Committee posthumously awarded the Medal to Sir Richard at his former yacht club, the Royal Yacht Squadron, during the Hall of Fame’s 2018 Induction Ceremony and Dinner.

Receiving the Medal on behalf of the awardee was David Sutton—the heir presumptive to the Sutton baronetcy, and his wife, Gay. David acknowledged the feats of his ancestor continued to be a source of family pride and that mementos of that time, including the NYYC cup, remain treasured by the Sutton family.

Top photo: Steven Tsuchiya, Chairman, and Hamish Ross, member, of the Selection Committee posthumously awarded Sir Richard F. Sutton, 5th Bt as the charter-recipient of the Sutton Medal. The medal was presented to David Sutton, the heir presumptive of the Sutton Baronetcy, at the 2018 America’s Cup Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on August 31 at the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes, Isle of Wight. (L to R: Hamish Ross, David Sutton, and Steven Tsuchiya.)

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