In an era before the automobile or airplane, the sleek and graceful racing yachts of 1890s New York were the real hot ticket. Pushing the limits of sailor and machine, they battled it out in hotly contested titles like the newly founded America’s Cup. They flew as much sail as possible, stretching the often experimental boats so far that masts sometimes came crashed down in the process. The expensive sport was a hangout of the upper class and the culture was as lavish on land as on sea.
Above: Kittie, a catboat on June 15, 1895.
Below: Vigilant, a cutter, victorious defender of the eighth America’s Cup in 1893.
The photographs featured here were taken by the little known photographer John S. Johnston of New York City. Most likely born in England or Ireland in the late 1830′s, he was known for his New York cityscapes and his yacht photography. According to his obituary:
“J. S. Johnston, a photographer at 1263 Broadway, New York, died at Niagara Falls yesterday of heart trouble. Mr. Johnston would not give his home address or the names of any friends in New York, even when he was told that his death was near.” … “It was while taking photographs of the Columbia-Shamrock races that he caught a severe cold, on account of which he left town last Tuesday for Niagara Falls, to benefit his health.”
Ursula, a Newport catboat.
The images featured here come from the excellent and extensive collection at The Yacht Photography of J.S. Johnston. If anyone has information about this talented and unknown photographer or the boats pictured on their site, they’d love your help.
Two pictures below: The Mayflower after conversion to a schooner, victorious defender of the sixth America’s Cup challenge in 1886 against English challenger Galatea.
Following four pictures: Defender, the victorious defender of the 1895 America’s Cup against British challenger Valkyrie III. The boat was designed in the utmost secrecy with her construction shrouded in mystery. No one was allowed to enter the yard, especially not press or photographers.
Valkyrie III, the unsuccessful English challenger to the ninth America’s Cup in 1895, losing to Defender.
Wasp, a 45 foot gaff rigged cutter built in 1892, just ahead of Acushla, a 34 foot gaff rigged sloop.
Nymph, a sloop.
Following two photographs: Columbia, successful defender of the America’s Cup in 1899, here with a buckled mast the same year.
Tomahawk, an all steel sloop built in 1889.
Loyal, a 79 foot, 47-ton schooner built in 1893. Hard aground off Indian Harbor the same year.
Mary, a catboat.
Ethelwynn, a sloop in 1895.
Emma K., part of the Riverside Y.C. Regatta in 1890.
Electra, Aug. 3, 1895.
Larchmont Yacht Club, 1897
View from Piazza, Larchmont Yacht Club