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Three ‘firsts’ for the 37th America’s Cup

There are three ‘firsts’ in the 37th Americas’ Cup scheduled to start on 22 August in Barcelona. It is indeed the first time that an edition of the America’s Cup is flanked by events not directly related to the challenge for the challenger title or the final duel. But that’s not all, because it is also the first time that the regatta to win the Auld Mug is flanked by two events that will bring to the fore crews made up of young sailors and entirely female. (Here all our posts about America’s Cup)

America’s Cup: Youth and Women

We are talking about the UniCredit Youth Americas’ Cup which will take place from 17 to 26 September and is open to young people between the ages of 18 and 25 and the Puig Women’s America’s Cup for all-female crews scheduled from 5 to 13 October. An event that has its finale between races 3 and 4 of the Louis Vuitton 37th America’s Cup, which starts the day before: 12 October.

A further sign of the importance that the organisers wanted to give to this all-female ‘first time’ within the Americas’ Cup.

The Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Youth & Women Team.

The first woman at the America’s Cup

The America’s Cup has, however, already seen female presences. The first even at the dawn of its history. That of Susan Matilda Cunninghame-Graham-Bartholomew, wife of English nobleman William ‘Paddy’ Henn who, after a brief stint in Her Majesty’s Navy, abandoned life in uniform while retaining the title of ‘lieutenant’ as a matter of habit.  The fact remains that Lieutenant Henn and Mrs Henn were both keen sailors and decided to build a cutter, the Galatea, designed by John Beavor-Webb and, seeing that it was very expensive to do it themselves, together with the Scottish Royal Northern Yacht Club in Clyde they launched the challenge for the sixth America’s Cup in 1886. 

Susan Matilda Cunninghame-Graham-Bartholomew, alias Lady Henn
© Ian Dear Archive/PPL

Galatea, the yacht of Mr and Mrs Henn

Galatea, 31.22 metres long and with a beam of 4.57 metres, was entirely made of steel with riveted planking, the keel was filled with lead and the deck was teak. She could raise 675 square metres of sail. She was launched in 1885 and in the summer of 1886 crossed the Atlantic to New York to challenge the Defender. On board, of course, alongside the ‘lieutenant’, and here begins the female story of the America’s Cup, were Lady Henn and her inseparable monkey Peggy. Awaiting them was the Defender Mayflower, designed by Edward “Ned” Burgess (30.55 metres long by 7.19 metres beam and 774 square metres of sail) for the railway magnate (and general) Charles Jackson Paine. Mayflower, unlike Galatea, was entirely made of wood (oak and fir) and had defeated the other American pretenders to the title of Defender: Puritan, Priscilla and Atlantic. 

Galatea, project by John Beavor-Webb.

Mayflower wins and holds the America’s Cup:

The sixth America’s Cup was raced on 9 and 11 September 1886 in the best of three races on a club course outside New York. Galatea came to the challenge with a set of sails considered better than her opponent’s but weighed down by everything that the Henn couple, strictly on board during the races, had brought from Scotland on their yacht. In short, few of their household goods and equipment were brought ashore from Galatea to compete in the America’s Cup races, and Mayflower clearly dominated her opponent: in the first race by 12 minutes, in the second by 29 minutes. 

America's Cup
Mayflower (left) e Galatea racing. © John S. Johnson, Detroit Publishing Co.

From racing to cruising

Defeat did not dampen the spirits of Lady Henn and her husband, who proposed another challenge to the New York Yacht Club to race in the stronger winds of spring 1987. Their request was accepted and so Galatea with her amiable owners, soon at the centre of the city’s social life, spent the winter in New York. In the spring, however, the regatta came to nothing and Lady Henn and consort bid farewell to their friends and headed Galatea south for an eight-year cruise between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

America's Cup
Galatea’s crew and interiors

This cruise was saddened only by the death of the monkey Peggy, to whom Lady Henn wanted to give a proper burial with a proper nare funeral. Lieutenant Henn died aged just 47 in 1894 but his wife kept Galatea in service by living on board for long periods until 1911 when, at the age of 58, the first woman to write her name in the history of the America’s Cup left. When the owner died the following year Galatea was scrapped.

Emilio Martinelli

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