How Yachts Became Standardized – Summer 1969

The Great Lakes… 84% of the continent’s fresh water… a different story in every drop.

By A. A. Mastics

Yachting as a form of recreation threads its way through the pages of early history. Cleopatra had her barge, King Robert of Scotland went sailing for fun in 1326. Shipping magnates of the Renaissance had craft built for their personal use.

King Charles II yacht, MARY

Yachting became a sport in 1660 when Dutch admirers gave young King Charles II a boat as a present upon his restoration to the throne of England. Called Mary, she was a 52-footer with a beam of 19 feet and rigged in the fashion of today’s cutters. Her wide leeboards let her point close to the wind. Charles loved sailing so much he personally designed his next boat, Jamie. In 1675 he gave the seafaring world a notable gift —       Greenwich observatory. That set off the furor for sailing and it is common knowledge that when two sail yachts come close together they are going to race.

Everyone who could afford it began to get into yachting. Boats, of course, were custom-built in those days, Each was different even as large, custom-built yachts are today. The result was that as boating continued to mushroom in succeeding centuries, chaos developed. Boat sizes varied in length overall, length waterline, beam, draft, sail area and displacement. Something had to be done to give small boats an equal chance at the prize hardware with the big boats.

As yacht clubs were formed on the boating waters of the world all sorts of handicap rules were developed. The story was still the same on the North American continent in the late 19th century. Yacht clubs were sprouting everywhere and each had its own set of handicaps. How could you stage an equitable and workable interclub regatta?

George Gardner

George Gardner of Cleveland, mayor of the city in the ‘80s and founder of the Inter-Lake Yachting Association as well as Cleveland Yachting Club, decided to do something about it. During 1896, he effected the organization of the Yacht Racing Union of the Great Lakes to produce a closer bond with the Lake Michigan Yachting Association and the Lake (Ontario) Yacht Racing Association. The next goal was a national or continental governing body for yachting.

A meeting of North American yachts clubs was called at New York’s Fifth Avenue Hotel on May 1, 1897. Commodore S. O. Richardson of Toledo represented I-LYA and the area clubs in the Yacht Racing Union of the Great Lakes, in company with Commodore Aemelius Jarvis of Toronto’s Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Jarvis, in his report to Ernest W. Radder of Cleveland, secretary of I-LYA, who was unable to attend, stated:

Every yachting organization of any standing in North America was represented, except the New York Yacht Club; it was the unanimous opinion of those present that concerted action on the part of yacht clubs to bring about uniform rules throughout the continent was in the best interests of yachting and formal resolutions were passed to this effect.

A committee was selected to prepare plans for the national organization. Jarvis was a member. Richardson in his report added, “All of the Eastern delegates were much pleased at what the Lakes Yachtsmen had done, and with the interest they had taken in the matter.” The lakers fought for immediate organization and the committee was their answer. The next meeting was set for October.

The meeting to form the North American Yacht Racing Union was called to order at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York on Oct. 30, 1897. Delegates representing 109 yacht clubs from every part of the continent including seven from the Pacific Coast were on hand. Radder represented I-LYA.

Yacht Racing, c. 1900

They voted to form the North American Yacht Racing Union, elected a council of 15 members of which Radder was one and adopted a set of racing rules. Two council members were sent to Europe to study the measurement and classification rules in effect there. J. M. Clark of Boston was elected the Union’s first president. Reported Radder:

We will have eventually a (measurement, handicap and classification) rule that will not promote the plank-on-edge cutter, the fin keel or the flat, beamy, dangerous centerboarder but tend to build up a fleet of yachts safe, comfortable and speedy and at a cost within the reach of the average yachtsman

From the spark that meeting generated came the Universal Rule of measurement, the first equitable handicap system. Refined and developed it led to the present rating systems so necessary where boats of different classes or custom-built craft race against each other.

That gift just before Christmas of 1897, created through the efforts of dedicated yachtsmen Radder, Gardner, Richardson and Jarvis seemed important then. It is even more important now that yachting is no longer a rich man’s sport but enjoyed by a vast cross section of American people.

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