New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Sailing

Mike Vanderbilt

Mike Vanderbilt (Sailing.  Born, Oakdale, NY, July 6, 1884; died, Newport, RI, July 4, 1970.)  Harold Stirling Vanderbilt was the son of William K. Vanderbilt, president of the New York Central Railroad at a time when the industry was dominant and the Central was one of the dominant roads in the industry. Yet, despite his millions (or perhaps because of them), Mike Vanderbilt led a very active life. In 1925, he invented the modern form of contract bridge and actively promoted the game.  But it was Navy service during World War I that had given him a taste for the sea and led him to his most famous exploits. Three times in the 1930s, Vanderbilt was to carry the U.S. flag into international competition and three times he successfully defended the America’s Cup.  In 1930, Vanderbilt skippered the Enterprise in its successful defense against Sir. Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock V from Ireland, winning in four straight races.  Four years later, Vanderbilt was at the helm of Rainbow for its victory over T.O.M. Sopwith’s Endeavor from England, taking four of six races. In 1937, it was Ranger under the helmsmanship of Vanderbilt for a four-race sweep of Endeavor II, another Sopwith English entry.  During the 1934 series, Vanderbilt pressured the racing committee into allowing his wife, Gertrude, aboard Rainbow, breaking the long-standing tradition against women on racing yachts. (Mrs. Sopwith was also allowed on board her husband’s Endeavor). She later said her role was to keep the stopwatches wound and report on the position of the challenging yacht.  Vanderbilt was also a trustee of Vanderbilt University, which was founded by his great-grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Cornelius Shields

Cornelius Shields (Sailing.  Born, St. Paul, MN, Apr. 7, 1895; died, New Rochelle, NY, Oct. 15, 1981.)  Cornelius Shields, Sr., is recognized in America as one of the most highly respected sailors of the 20th century.  As an ambassador-at-large for yachting, he served the sport for five decades.  Shields was also a tough championship-caliber competitor who earned the nickname “the Gray Fox of Long Island Sound.”  He had the rare distinction of twice winning the fabled Sawanhaka Cup, the internationally known event for small boats (1935 and 1937).  His living memorial is the International One-Design Class, which he founded in 1936 and nurtured thereafter.  Of all his sailing experiences, one of his finest was his Mallory Cup win for the North American Men’s Sailing Championship in 1952, the first year it was contested.  His son and daughter also won the North American championships.  Two years after suffering a heart attack, Shields served as an advisor and part-time helmsman, aiding Columbia in her final trials to defend the America’s Cup.  In 1962, Shields entered the same boat in the defender trials but lost a close series to Weatherly.  Another of his contributions to the sports was the Shields Class, beautiful racing sloops, designed on rigid specifications that represent the epitome of one-design racing boats.  In 1976, Shields was awarded the Nathaniel G. Herreshoff Trophy presented by the U.S. Yacht Racing Union to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the sport of sailing in America

Arthur Knapp

Arthur Knapp (Sailing.  Born, Bayside, NY, Jan. 5, 1907; died: Greenwich, CT, June 15, 1992.)  For decades before and after World War II, Arthur Knapp, Jr., of the Larchmont Yacht Club was  one of the country’s leading competitors in boats of all sizes and descriptions.  In 1924, he was one of the first winners of the Sears Cup, the national junior sailing championship; four years later he captured an intercollegiate title for Princeton in a triangular with Harvard and Yale. In 1937, Knapp was a sail-trimmer in Harold S.(Mike) Vanderbilt’s afterguard aboard the great J-boat Ranger that successfully defended the America’s Cup against Britain’s Endeavour II.  Lacking activity in the winter, Knapp led a group of Long Island Sound enthusiasts who formed the Frostbite Yacht Club in 1932 for the purpose of sailing dinghies in interclub competition.  From the end of World War War II until he retired from winter competition in 1966, Knapp won the annual Larchmont Yacht Club’s frostbite racing series 14 times. Aside from his dozens of trophies over a six-decade career, Knapp also authored one of the finest how-to sailing books ever in 1954.  Knapp’s strongest imprimatur in his sport was made on the Sound as the wily skipper of Bumble Bee in the famous International One-Design fleet against such renowned competitors as Bill Cox, George Hinman, Bill Luders, Bus Mosbacher and Cornelius Shields. Since the whereabouts of the most-feared competitor is so essential in yacht racing, it’s no wonder this all-star fleet heard so long and so often the shout, “Where’s Knapp?”

Emil (Bus) Mosbacher

Emil (Bus) Mosbacher (Sailing. Born, Mount Vernon, NY, Apr. 1, 1922; died, Greenwich, CT, Aug. 13, 1997.) During the post-World War II era, Emil Mosbacher, Jr., was the pre-eminent yachtsman in the United States. It was a position he earned through diligent effort and dedication. His training started very early. At age five, Mosbacher was given a dinghy by his grandfather. Within four years, he was sailing his own small boat. After military service (in the Navy, naturally) during World War II, Mosbacher started a successful business career, but found time to focus energy on sailing. When the America’s Cup competition was revived in 1958 after a lapse of over 20 years, Mosbacher sailed an aged boat, Vim, in the trials and nearly won the right to defend the Cup, losing the final to Columbia. In 1962, however, in the new Weatherly, Mosbacher handidly defeated the Australian challenger, Gretel, 4 races to 1. An even more remarkable win came in 1967, when he skippered the Intrepid to a four-race sweep of Australia’s Dame Patti. Along with Olin Stephens, Mosbacher had helped design the boat, but it was his seamanship that impressed observers, since Dame Patti was theoretically a faster yacht.

Charlie Barr

Charlie Barr (Sailing.  Born, Gourock, Scotland, July 11, 1864; died, Southhampton, England, Jan. 24, 1911.)  Perhaps the most successful of all America’s Cup skippers, Charles Barr is the first one to have handled three successful defenses of the international trophy.  His unexpected death at age 46 may have deprived him of even further triumphs.  Barr’s second defense (in 1901) came under the most difficult circumstances.  Having successfully defended with Columbia in 1899, Barr was expected to be supplanted by a new boat (Constitution) to sail against Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock II, but the new boat failed to meet expectations.  The competition was delayed by the assassination of President William McKinley in September, but Barr coped with the old boat and the delay.  Columbia won all three of its trials against Constitution, although Barr’s boat was disqualified in the final trial.  This gave him the unique distinction of being disqualified in a trial and still being selected to defend the Cup.  In 1903, Barr was back with a new boat of his own, Reliance, and defeated Shamrock III for his third America’s Cup victory.  Barr won on all waters.  He won 19 of 22 races in English and German waters with Ingomar and, in 1905, won the German Emperor’s Cup in a trans-Atlantic race.  From 1905-09, he was in command of August Belmont’s Mineola and then Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Rainbow.  He came to the U.S. in 1884 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1889.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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About Bill Shannon

A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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