on May 26, 2002
Mention this time to any serious sailor you know and they'll usually respond it's the schooner Atlantic's time across its namesake ocean in the 1905 Kaiser's Cup race. Well maybe they won't remember the name and date of the race and that it was from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Lizard Point in Cornwall, England, but it's a fair bet that they will know that it was an incredible race and remains a remarkable yachting accomplishment.
Indeed Atlantic set a crossing record and while the time has since been bested, it's only a few that have done so and only fairly recently, and most significantly, only with custom-built boats designed specifically for that purpose. It required a carbon-fibre, hydrofoil trimaran to first beat the record in 1980. The Atlantic was a 185-foot-long steel three-masted schooner weighing 206 tons. The best compliment still paid to her is that every few years yachtsmen hold the Atlantic Challenge Cup. This is not named in recognition of the ocean on which they race, but instead is a nod to the still formidable challenge this yacht of yore holds for modern racers.
Scott Cookman does an excellent job giving us a feel for the Atlantic and the thrilling race. He also brings alive the times, the places, and the people involved. Kaiser Wilhelm II suffused in Germany's imperial glow was the one who proposed an open race across the Atlantic. The German cruiser Pfiel would be stationed at the finish line ready to fete the winner and award a gold cup. The Kaiser could afford to be so magnanimous because with his own personal yacht - the 143 ton schooner Hamburg - in the race, he was certain of victory.
Cookman vividly describes the racing conditions during this 11 yacht race. Quickly a smaller yawl Ailsa, the Atlantic, and the Hamburg established themselves in the lead. Fog had initially delayed the start but once underway and at sea, freshening winds sped the contestants along. Cookman reports that the logbooks indicated strengthening winds as the race progressed but it is to a famous story the he turns to give us a true glimpse of what it was like on deck. Atlantic was owned by millionaire Wilson Marshall and he had invited a few guests on board for the race. The hired skipper was a dour Scotsman named Charlie Barr who as an experienced sailor, relished the opportunity afforded him by this splendid yacht and took full measure of it, mercilessly pushing the Atlantic onward. During the height of a storm and supposedly fearing a catastophe, Marshall came up on deck to demand his boat be reigned in by shortening sail. Captain Barr shouting above the noise of the storm told Marshall "you hired me, sir, to win this race, and by God, that's what I am going to do". He promptly ordered the owner below.
The Atlantic did win, beating Hamburg by almost a day. With her nearly 19,000 square feet of sail she completed the 3,000 mile race at an average speed of over 10 knots. On her best days she covered over 350 miles at close to 15 knots. In addition to the splendor of ATLANTIC and it indeed being "The Last Great Race of Princes", Cookman's book tells us a little about the owners of these boats. We learn about the sailing lives of those princes of industry: J.P. Morgan, Thomas Lipton, and Alexander Belmont. All had entries in the race.
This is a well written and thrilling tale of a fantastic yacht race. It will obviously be appreciated by sailors but it has a much broader appeal. Anyone with interest in not just maritime history, but history in general, will enjoy the descriptions of the people and times of Victorian England and our own age of big industry egos.
on September 14, 2003
This is as good an account as we will get of the 1905 trans-Atlantic yacht race. Cookman sets the race in its time, describing how different American life was then. Social classes were more separated from each other, and lives were shorter. Cookman depicts the main players, nearly all of them rich and powerful men who looked down on ordinary mortals. The most interesting commoner is professional yacht racer Charley Barr, who captained the great three-masted schooner Atlantic to victory despite the yacht's self-centered owner. Racing across an ocean was more dangerous then; no radio, no global positioning system, no weather faxes, no emergency beacons. The outcome was unpredictable until the lead yacht appeared off the Lizard. If you like sailing and adventure, this one is worth reading.
on June 17, 2002
Reading this book is like eating a bowl of Grapenuts w/o milk. It's like dropping ones clothes off at the cleaners only to hear the clerk say "Sorry, we have no chemicals with which to clean your garments." This farce is Cookman's second endeavor & sorry to say, it is worse than his first attempt at "MegaAuthorDom." His "historical prose" only lends to the lack of page-turning "joie de vivre" most readers experience when settling down with a "supposed good read." Mr. Cookman should revisit his New York roots before attempting such a wayward endeavor, regardless of Mark Rodgers' ministrations on the lack of welfare aid in the State of Ohio.
on August 9, 2002
If I'd wanted a case of the doldrums, I'd have continued watching The Discovery Channel...Cookman's latest tragedy only intensifies the questions behind readers' minds...the search for "the answer" is exacerbated by the trials & tribulations of the individual characters...this approach tends to "muddy" what Cookman wants us to see as the crystal clear waters of his vision...