October 29, 2020

This Week in Herreshoff History: October 29

Rum runners, racing power yachts, America’s Cup Contenders, a very public challenge and a musical interlude

October 27, 1883

HMCo. #101 photographed off Newport in 1883; from the HMM photo archive

The Bristol Phoenix reports that steamer No. 101 (HMCo. #101) has been sold to Mr. Archibald Rogers of Hyde Park, NY. Rogers would name the 68’8″ LOA steam yacht OSSIBOW. Twelve steam yachts were built to this half model between 1881 and 1883, and each is listed in pencil on the back side of the half model. Almost a decade later, Rogers would become the syndicate head for the 1893 America’s Cup Contender COLONIA (HMCo. #435), the first AC Contender designed by N.G.H. and built at HMCo. COLONIA ultimately did not make it past the selection trials against VIGILANT (HMCo. #437).

The half model for OSSIBOW (HMCo. #101) and eleven other steam yachts built between 1881 and 1883; model currently on display in the HMM Model Room
COLONIA (HMCo. #435) and VIGILANT (HMCo. #437) under sail; image courtesy Historic New England, Stebbins Photographic Collection

October 31, 1885

While the brothers Herreshoff famously agreed to “do no advertising” when they joined together to incorporate HMCo. in 1878, there are many examples of the shrewd marketing techniques that they employed to raise the company profile. The race between STILETTO and MARY POWELL and their loan of vessels to the Navy for testing and reporting, and excursions aboard their vessels to Rocky Point are just a few examples. This very public throwing-down-the-gauntlet with Jay Gould is another fine example of their aggressive PR strategies. This is one of several publicly printed challenges back and forth between the men, following a race in summer of 1885 that resulted in a protest against STILETTO. There was general disagreement about courses and racing terms in a potential re-match.


To witness the aptly named 94′ LOA, 11’6″ beam STILETTO (HMCo. #118) race against the 228′ ATALANTA would have been quite a spectacle! Image courtesy Historic New England, Stebbins Photographic Collection

Gould was a founding member of American Yacht Club of Rye, NY. AYC was the first club in the United States dedicated to racing steam yachts as opposed to sailboats. While many eminent yacht club members had power boats as tenders for their sailing yachts, power yacht racing was not endorsed by the New York Yacht Club or other high profile clubs at the time. It was generally frowned upon in the press as an uncouth new-money pursuit. Moreover, the question of how to handicap and compare steam yachts against one another was a question the papers and the public couldn’t get their heads around. But that did not stop Gould and his enormous Philadelphia-built steam yacht ATALANTA. He was much maligned in the press, and so the back and forth with J.B.H. garnered much attention for them both. Pride and racing terms aside, HMCo.’s prowess at designing and building steam vessels was widely recognized. Gould had already commissioned two small launches from HMCo. in 1885, and went on to commission another launch for ATALANTA in 1886. Four other Gould family members also commissioned HMCo. yachts between 1894 and 1908.


John C. Hemment photo showing VALKYRIE II, VIGILANT and Jay Gould’s ATALANTA; image from the HMM photo archive

October 27, 1888

The steam yacht BALLYMENA (HMCo. #151) performs very well in her initial trials, reports the Phoenix.


According to research undertaken by the creators of the Herreshoff Catalogue Raisonn√©, BALLYMENA may be best known today as the unlikely star of a calypso from the Prohibition era. Per the HCR, “It appears that Ballymena ended her days as a supplier for rum runners in Gun Cay Harbor (Bahamas). In the earlier 1920s, at least from 1920 to 1923 and reportedly in decrepit condition, she had transported passengers between Miami and Nassau as S.S. Ballymena, apparently under British flag. In 1925 she was described and photographed (painted black) by William Greenough who published a photo captioned ‘Old Yacht Ballymena Loaded with Rum Anchored in Gun Cay Harbor’ of her in his privately printed book “The Log of the Ventura in the Bahamas”, a copy of which is held in the New York Yacht Club’s library. During this time or shortly after, a calypso about the Ballymena [also named Bellamena] and other rum-running vessels became well known. It later was recorded by Gordon Bok, Harry Belafonte and others and is still known today in the islands. It describes how the Belamena [Ballymena], Mystery [sic, i.e. Mystery J., an auxiliary yacht carrying passengers between Nassau and Miami], and Inagua [Inua] were repainted from white to black to prevent her recognition and how the Inua got in trouble in New York Harbor with the authorities…”