Both the yachts depicted in this work played prominent parts in the events surrounding the first-ever defence of the fabled America's Cup by the New York Yacht Club in 1870.
Dauntless, built by Forsyth & Morgan at Mystic Bridge, Connecticut, in 1866, was launched with the name L'Hirondelle and originally rigged as a sloop. Sold to the colourful New Yorker James Gordon Bennett in the spring of 1867, he re-rigged her as a schooner, renamed her Dauntless and introduced her to the New York yachting scene that same summer. Grossing 299 tons, she measured 121 feet in length with a 25 foot beam and proved a flyer from the start. Although Dauntless was never actually selected to defend the America's Cup, she nevertheless played a leading role in both the 1870 and 1871 British challenges. During both series she took part in a number of races and, more significantly, had earlier participated in the famous transatlantic race from Daunt's Rock, Cork Harbour (Ireland) to Sandy Hook which preceded the 1870 Cup match. James Ashbury won that transatlantic dash in Cambria but Dauntless was less than two hours behind him in the race that had lasted twenty-three days. Straight after his failure to recover the Cup in 1871, Ashbury then pitted his brand new Livonia against Dauntless in a private race which Livonia won so convincingly that it merely made Ashbury feel even more aggrieved that he had been so decisively beaten for the Cup two years in succession. Dauntless's career continued for a further twenty years and she was still collecting trophies as late as 1896.
Sappho, grossing 392 tons and measuring 128 feet in length with a 27 foot beam, was designed and built by C. & R. Poillon at Brooklyn for Colonel W.P. Douglas in 1868. In her maiden season her owner took her to Cowes where he hoped to emulate America's legendary win in 1851; in the event, she was soundly beaten by Mr. James Ashbury's Cambria, a win which convinced the latter that he should make the first challenge for the America's Cup. In fact, Sappho had fared badly at Cowes because she was still in her ocean rig after the North Atlantic crossing and was also carrying several tons of extra stone ballast from the trip over. Therefore, once those restrictions were removed back home, she more than held her own in future competitions and even found herself pitted against Ashbury's Livonia in the 1871 America's Cup challenge races.