Sir Thomas J. Lipton’s interest in sailing began at the age of fourteen when he talked his parents into letting him sail from his native Scotland to New York. Five years later, he returned to Scotland with the equivalent of $500 and a lot of ideas on how to expand his family grocery store. Within a few years, he had 500 shops all over Great Britain and was well on his way to accumulating the fortune that made him the greatest and most generous sportsman in the history of America’s Cup racing.
Sir Thomas was loved and respected for his sportsmanship as, one by one, all five of his SHAMROCKs were defeated. In the only close series, SHAMROCK IV took the first two races in 1920, but RESOLUTE came back to win the next three. His final challenge came in 1930 with SHAMROCK V, which lost in four straight races to ENTERPRISE, skippered by Harold Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt summed up the feelings of the American public when, after the last race, he said:
“Uppermost in our minds is a feeling of sympathy for that grand old sportsman, Sir Thomas Lipton, with whom our relations have been so pleasant. This is perhaps his last attempt to lift the America’s Cup. The ambition of a lifetime, to achieve which he has spent millions, is perhaps never to be realized. It has been our duty to shut the door in his face. In defeat lies the test of true sportsmanship, and he has proved to be a wonderful sportsman, quite the finest it has ever been our good fortune to race against.”
Although he was never able to win the Cup, the American people presented Sir Thomas with a gold cup in honor of his great sportsmanship. Shortly before his death at the age of 82, Sir Thomas was voted into membership in England’s prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron.