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    Sale 5386

    Maritime

    21 May 2008, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 75

    Shane Michael Couch (b.1963)

    The first defence of the America's Cup, 8th August, 1870: Magic, Cambria, America, Dauntless and Idler racing in the Narrows, off the entrance to New York harbour

    Price Realised  

    Shane Michael Couch (b.1963)
    The first defence of the America's Cup, 8th August, 1870: Magic, Cambria, America, Dauntless and Idler racing in the Narrows, off the entrance to New York harbour
    signed and dated 'Shane Michael Couch 2008' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    28 x 42 in. (71.2 x 106.8 cm.)


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    A few American yachts came to Cowes after 1851 but none was able to emulate America's triumph in that memorable year. In the summer of 1868 however, the brand new schooner Sappho arrived off Cowes determined to repeat America's success and, as the largest yacht built in the United States up until that date, great things were expected of her. Designed and built by C. & R. Poillon of Brooklyn for Colonel W.P. Douglas, Sappho displaced 310 tons and measured 135 feet overall with a 27 foot beam. In her first race around the Isle of Wight she was soundly beaten by Cambria an equally new British yacht owned by Mr. James Ashbury, a member of the Royal Thames Club and a wealthy enthusiast who had made his fortune with an innovatory railway carriage. Cambria, designed and built by Michael Ratsey, displaced 228 tons and measured 108 feet overall, with a 21 foot beam. In fact, Sappho was hardly at her best since she was still in her ocean rig after the North Atlantic crossing and was also carrying several tons of stone ballast from the trip; nevertheless it was a resounding victory for Cambria. Other wins followed, making the 1868 season a brilliant one for her and, by the late summer, Mr. Ashbury had convinced himself that Cambria could beat anything afloat. Seizing his chance to restore the supremacy of British yachting, and thereby immeasurably improve his own rather poor social status, he decided to challenge the New York Yacht Club to a series of matches, one of which was to be for the so-called 'America's Cup' won in 1851.

    Initially the New York Yacht Club declined to accept the challenge on the basis that it could only do so from a Club rather than an individual. A protracted exchange of correspondence then ensued between the protagonists which eventually resulted in the first official challenge for the trophy in 1870. In the event, the New York Yacht Club was less than fair to Ashbury and forced him to race alone against no less than twenty-three of its boats including Magic, Dauntless, Idler and the ageing but still formidable legend America. Not surprisingly Cambria was beaten by the best of the defenders, Magic, but Ashbury was undeterred and mounted a second challenge, also unsuccessful, the next year with his new Livonia. After 1871 other challenges followed on a regular basis; all of them however, were rooted in Cambria's celebrated defeat of Sappho back in 1868 when Mr. Ashbury became the first of so many Britons to become obsessed with winning back the fabled trophy.

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