Yacht Racing in New York


The America’s Cup yacht race is one of the oldest sports events. It started in 1854 and is still going strong.

Prevailing Wind by Thomas Dolby is a novel centered on the race, set in the second decade of the 20th century.

Brothers Davey and Jacob Haskell are lobstermen in Deer Island, Maine. Davey is 16, Jacob 21. They see a way to escape their poverty-stricken existence when Harold Vanderbilt brings his yacht to Deer Harbor. He is seeking a crew for the upcoming America’s Cup Race. A generation earlier, Deer Harbor men, including the Haskells’ father, crewed a winning America’s Cup yacht.  Vanderbilt hopes to recapture that lighting.

Both brothers are consummate sailors. Both expect to win a place on the crew and earn high wages. An accident during a tryout race dashes their hopes. It leaves Davey crippled and Jacob bitter. After Davey’s long hospitalization and recovery, Vanderbilt finds Davey a place at the New York Yacht Club in its library. Jacob disappears, shipping out as a sailor, leaving their parents unaided.

At the New York Yacht Club library, Davey becomes involved in preparations for the 1914 America’s Cup race. He is picked to work aboard the committee boat in the trials to choose the American defender in that year’s America’s Cup. He also learns his brother Jacob is crewing aboard the British challenger, Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock IV.

His position in the library puts in him in the position to learn about yacht design, yacht racing, and perhaps a course to a career in naval architecture. It also reveals disquieting secrets about a previous America’s Cup race, the one in which his father crewed aboard the winning yacht.

The opening of World War I in August leads to the cancellation of the 1914 America’s Cup race. It also leads to a climactic challenge race around Manhattan Island by the two yachts that would have raced against each other, Shamrock IV and Vanitie. The purse is $1 million to the winning owner and one of the Haskells is aboard each yacht.

Dolby perfectly captures the excitement of yacht racing. He writes in such a way that even those unfamiliar with sailing will understand its technical aspects. He also extensively (perhaps too extensively) footnotes all nautical terms for better understanding. Prevailing Wind offers a first-rate adventure, set amid the glitter of America’s rich contrasting with the gritty poverty of New York City’s poor.

“Prevailing Wind,” by Thomas Dolby, Archway Publishing, June 2024, 320 pages, $39.99 (hardcover), $24.99 (paperback), $5.99 (ebook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. She Member

    I only have one “America’s Cup” story.  (I know.  Shame…. Do better, She!).  One September in 1964, while we were still living in Boston, my family (being part of a seagoing people) decamped to Newport RI for the America’s Cup final.

    On the last day or so, we were lollygagging about, soaking up the atmosphere (this was before the US defender defeated the UK challenger skippered by Peter Scott), when an attractive woman rode by on a very lovely horse.   My mother (who, these many years later I have come to believe suffered–among other things–from ADHD and who couldn’t remain focused on any one thing for very long) noticed her, and shouted (in Hausa, the language of Northern Nigeria, so as not to alarm the natives) to my Dad–“Look!  There is the very important woman who used to live in that white house!”

    Sure enough.  It was Jackie Kennedy.  Dad–never being backwards when it came to coming forwards–approached her.  They had a nice chat.  She rode off, after Dad asked her if she’d mind if he took a bit of 8mm film of her doing so.  She said that would be OK, rode off a little way, and then turned and waved.

    An unforgettable family memory.



    • #1
  2. Seawriter Contributor

    She (View Comment):
    I only have one “America’s Cup” story. 

    Your “only” America’s Cup story reminds me of the Aesop’s fable The Lioness.

    There was a great stir made among all the beasts, as to which could boast of the largest family. So they came to the lioness. “And how many,” said they, “do you have at a birth?” “One,” said she; “but that one is a lion.”

    You may only have one, but that one is a lion – or perhaps a lioness.

    • #2
  3. Mark Camp Member
    Mark Camp

    Best two-Comment start for a thread in Major League history.

    • #3
  4. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald

    I know nothing about boats.  But during my time in UK, near the Suffolk coast, I was invited to crew a yacht, or some kind of sail boat for racing.  The poor guy must have been desperate.

    • #4
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