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On The Bay: September 19, 2013

In 1851, a radical looking schooner ghosted out of the afternoon mist and swiftly sailed past the Royal Yacht stationed in the Solent, between the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England, on an afternoon when Queen Victoria was watching a sailing race.

As the schooner, named America, passed the Royal Yacht in first position, and saluted by dipping its ensign three times, Queen Victoria asked one of her attendants to tell her who was in second place. “Your Majesty, there is no second,” came the reply. That phrase, just four words, is still the best description of the America’s Cup, and how it represents the singular pursuit of excellence.

That day in August, 1851, the yacht America, representing the young New York Yacht Club, would go on to beat the best the British could offer and win the Royal Yacht Squadron’s 100 Pound Cup. This was more than a simple boat race however, as it symbolized a great victory for the new world over the old, a triumph that unseated Great Britain as the world’s undisputed maritime power. The trophy would go to the young democracy of the United States and it would be well over 100 years before it was taken away from New York.

Thus was born the America’s Cup, named after the winning schooner America, as opposed to the country. In the more than 150 years since that first race off England, only four nations have won what is often called the “oldest trophy in international sport.” The winning team keeps the Cup and has the privilege of choosing the racing venue to the next Cup. The two venues vying to host the Cup were Newport and San Francisco. The latter won and the America’s Cup finals began last week.

As of this writing, the 2013 America’s Cup contest, between defender Oracle Team USA and the challenger, Emirates Team New Zealand, is unfolding on San Francisco Bay. After winning six races to Oracle’s one, the Kiwis need only to win 3 more to take back the trophy.

While the actual racing score is 6-1, the Kiwis lead on points 6-0, as Oracle has a minus-1 after a two-point penalty was assessed before the America’s Cup even commenced. Thus the Kiwis need nine victories overall to Oracles’ 11. But with the Kiwis better boat speed and control on the upwind leg of the racecourse, and already leading with six wins, it will take almost a miracle for the USA to keep the Cup.

To keep all of this in perspective, enter Dawn Riley, Executive Director, Oakcliff Sailing Center. She is out in San Francisco, having been asked to help comment on the action. She will bring all her insights to the Port Washington Public Library on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. This presentation is sponsored by the Nautical Advisory Council at the library and is open to the public.

Joshua M. Smith, an associate professor of Humanities at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, as well as interim director of the American Merchant Marine Museum, and a Nautical Advisory Council member, will be at the library on Thursday, Oct. 3, at 7:30 p.m. to speak about the War of 1812. Signed editions of his book, Battle for the Bay: The Naval War of 1812 (Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions, 2011) will be available for purchase. This presentation is timed to coincide with the library’s exhibit on the War of 1812, which can be viewed during the entire month of October. More information about the presentation and the exhibit next week.

The mission of the Nautical Advisory Council of the Port Washington Public Library is to serve as an archive and a forum of the history of boating and yachting and the facilities which serve them on Manhasset Bay. The council actively seeks to promote nautical interest by sponsoring programs for the nautically minded as well as the general public. The council is known for their evening presentations throughout the year and for the summer boat tours on Manhasset Bay.