Thomas Ratsey’s career spans the classic era of the America’s Cup. His entry into the family business at 15 heralded one of the most important contributions to America’s Cup sailmaking made by a single individual. He was directly involved in seven challenges and the firm he controlled supplied sails for 10 challengers and four defenders during his lifetime.
At first, Ratsey’s firm was in the shadow of the Lapthorn loft, but such was his promise that the latter initiated an 1882 merger to form the long-lived firm of Ratsey & Lapthorn. Tom Ratsey was then personally responsible for the sails of every challenger until Shamrock IV after his first involvement crewing on Livonia at age 20. His continuous involvement with the Cup began with the Thistle challenge of 1887 when his close friend G. L. Watson involved him in his designs at an early stage; his presence in New York during that challenge laid the foundations of many lifelong friendships and Ratsey & Lapthorn’s US expansion.
Ratsey’s attendance at the 1895, 1899 and 1901 Cup races became more than the now expected attendance of the challenger’s sailmaker. On all these occasions he took home significant orders from American yachtsmen who recognized his unique talent. By 1901 many these were lobbying him to establish a loft in the US which he did within Robert Jacob’s City Island boatyard in 1902. What resistance there was to the English invasion was effectively overcome with his firm’s production of a near perfect mainsail for Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York 70, Rainbow.