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D - 16: They Still Hunt at the America's Cup

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

In one of my blogs the previous year, I talked about Turkish Gulets, the slow, commercial freighters for bulky goods, which became the country’s favorite tourist boats. Not designed for speed but for hopping from bay to bay, they provide ample cabin space and a great deck for outdoor dinners. A Gulet is just perfect for sailing close to the shore. But they are not built for rougher water. We experienced this in August 2017 when we got into the Meltemi on the way from Greece to Turkey. The Carpe Diem bounced hard in the two-meter waves. Luckily nobody got seasick!

Our Gulet Carpe Diem just south of Amorgos on the way to Bodrum in 2017 in rough water

The design explains why a Gulet is not ideal for longer open water distances. A Gulet is quite wide and has a relatively flat bottom. All perfect features when you need lots of storage space and can afford to stay close to the coast. But on larger swells, a Gulet just bounces and is unable to cut through waves. Even with its main sail up, the boat is not really stable.

Typical design of a Gulet – the boat is almost square

For open water, a different design is needed. The boat has to be able to cut through the waves, a deep and heavy keel is required to counterbalance the big sail(s), the boat has to be much longer than wide to provide speed and its form is streamlined to effortlessly glide through the water. Of course, this has a significant impact on the design of passenger cabins who are smaller, oddly shaped, more boat like and not as luxurious as on a Gulet. But the boat has a much better performance!

Typical streamline design of a two-mast sailing yacht.

We know how Gulets were “invented” – by conversion of spare commercial vessels into floating hotels when tourists started to show up on Turkish beaches in the early 1970s – a bit like the conversion of empty industrial lofts into living spaces in New York at around the same time.

But how did Yachts come into existence? Nobody will be surprised to learn that these high performance boats have Dutch and English roots. The word Yacht is the adoption of the Dutch word Jacht which a German speaker immediately understands. It is related to our word for hunting and still used in parts of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Jachten were pleasure boats the Dutch upper class developed in the 17th century for competitive racing and naval training of their idle youngsters - and for fun of course. They looked similar to the Dutch East-India ships which went all the way to today’s Indonesia – just smaller.

Dutch Jacht in 18th century

English Kings brought the idea to the British Islands. Charles II who visited the Netherlands several times during his years in exile built several Royal Yachts once he ascended to the throne. Also with him came the idea of arranging formal regattas (regatare is a Venetian word for competing). But I do not know whether this was his own of someone else’s. Regattas were conducted in Venice since the Middle Ages – of course by rowing and not sailing. Someone with an epiphany must have adapted the idea. I guess the first Yacht Clubs like the Cork Harbor Water Club, founded in 1720, or the Cumberland Yacht Club, founded in 1775, helped to establish the necessary rules for the regattas which then became very popular in the 19th century.

Venetian Regatta – painting from 1770 from Francesco Guardi

Yachting got a big boost after the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 when many of the Royal Navy’s fastest ship, the cutter, became available. Used as workhorse for communication and intelligence, the cutters were not only the fastest but also the most agile ships and carried the biggest sails. The boat builders who made cutters could easily transfer their skills to the building of fast yachts for pleasure sailing. And England had the money after the victory over Napoleon!

The idea of yachting did not take long to reach the USA. The members of the New York Yacht Club decided to build a yacht to sail to England (not poor these New Yorkers – not even then!). When the America eventually arrived on the Isle of Wight in 1851, the club members were looking for someone to race. The English yacht Laverock showed up and was apparently beaten hands down by the America. The New Yorker took the day’s trophy home and started the tradition of the America’s Cup, which we still enjoy today. It is all about hunting!

America’s Cup 1893: Valkyrie II vs Vigilant – the American Vigilant won

The AFAED we are going to sail this summer is a typical yacht. It will get us safe across the long distances from Italy to Corsica, Corsica to Sardinia and Sardinia to Tunisia whilst still being a comfortable boat. We are using 200 years old, well proven technology upgraded by modern materials and state-of-the-art navigation. It will make fascinating sailing!

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