August 19, 2021

This Month in Herreshoff History: “Designing an America’s Cup Defender”

W. Starling Burgess reflects on past designs and designers and considers the Cup's future in 1937

Naval architect Edward Burgess (1848-1891)

"In the early eighties, the narrow, deep and heavily ballasted English cutter was in full flower..."

So begins this generation-spanning reflection on what it takes to make a winning America's Cup design. Of course, the author is referring to the 1880s, not the 1980s.* This article for the August 1937 issue of Yachting Magazine was written by the then-dominant Cup designer himself, W. Starling Burgess. Though dated August on the cover, at the time this issue went to press the 1937 Cup races (scheduled for the last days of July and first days of August) had not yet taken place off of Newport, RI.

Burgess's design for that defense would prove to be his most spectacular success to date: RANGER was the fastest J-boat yet, beating the challenger ENDEAVOUR II by 17 minutes in their first race. But to bring his readers up to 1937, W. Starling Burgess begins by describing his own father's contributions to the defense of the America's Cup in the 1880s. Before Captain Nat's era of domination between 1893 and 1920, Edward Burgess was the man the New York Yacht Club looked to for their winning defenders. Edward Burgess delivered in three back-to-back contests, first with PURITAN in 1885, then MAYFLOWER in 1886 and finally VOLUNTEER in 1887.

Naval architect W. Starling Burgess (1878-1941)

Edward Burgess's career was cut tragically short by his untimely death in 1891 at just 43 years old. Captain Nat was there to step into the breach with VIGILANT (HMCo. #437) in 1893. After after Captain Nat's last Cup defense (the 1914 design and 1920 defense with RESOLUTE, HMCo. #725) W. Starling Burgess picked up where Captain Nat left off with his design for ENTERPRISE (HMCo. #1146) in 1930. Interestingly, ENTERPRISE and another candidate - WEETAMOE (HMCo. #1147), designed by Clinton Crane - were both built at HMCo., despite the fact that they were not Herreshoff designs.

W. Starling Burgess and Edward Burgess were both inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1994, among earliest inductees to be so recognized. You can learn more about each of them on their own America's Cup Hall of Fame pages: Edward Burgess; W. Starling Burgess. If you read Burgess's Yachting article (linked below) carefully, you will also notice a reference to another up-and-coming young designer who would also go on to forge his own significant legacy in future Cup racing.

Click here to read "Designing An America's Cup Defender"...

*Imagine an English cutter in with this mix...!