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Joseph Weld - to the America's Cup 2003

The Weld family were undoubtedly a family of great wealth, but were perhaps better known as an eminent Catholics. On the death of his wife in 1815, Thomas Weld, the father of Joseph, was to embrace the priesthood fully as did many other members of the family. Joseph was not to follow the example of his father and his elder brother and in 1828 succeeded his Cardinal brother to become Squire of Lulworth.

Joseph Weld (born. 27 Jan., 1777; died at Lulworth Castle, 19 Oct., 1863). Joseph's early years at Lulworth were under the guidance of a Jesuit priest, Father Charles Plowden. Thomas Weld had strong views on the education of his eldest children and in 1791 the family migrated to Liege where the Jesuits were in residence. The French revolution cut short the family stay at Liege and in 1794 Joseph entered a newly appointed college at Stonyhurst studying philosophies. It is said the school was founded on a gift to the Jesuits by the Weld family.

At Stonyhurst, Joseph demonstrated an interest in ship design and a practical aptitude with his hands. He began building ship models, his first being the model of a frigate. His interest progressed and in his teens the first yacht he owned was an 18 tons burthen that he built at Lulworth with the assistance of a wheelwright from the village.

In 1802 Joseph married Charlotte, the daughter of Lord Stourton, and by way of a marriage settlement Thomas Weld settled the 2,000 acre Pylewell estate near Lymington in favour of Joseph. They lived in a smaller property on the estate, which with its frontage on the Lymington river enabled him to fully indulge his interest in yachts.

Pylewell a site that had been used for shipbuilding since 1688, if not earlier. The first cutter he built there was reputedly the Charlotte of 60 tons. Other cutters of note were two vessels, Julia, 40 tons and King Cole, 12 tons, both built for Joseph's younger brother, James. The first recorded Round the Island Race was won by Julia.

Between 1800 and 1811 Joseph was actively seeking and engaging in competitive sailing with anyone who would accept the challenge such as his neighbour Charles Sturt. There were also a growing number of gentlemen of a similar disposition who were indulging in their sailing pursuits from Lymington. The press of the day contained reports of various races, often referring to the yachts involved as "gentlemen's cutters".

In later years he is remembered as one of the first to build and handle fast-sailing yachts. One of his best known boats was "The Arrow" which he built in 1821. She was 84 tons, originally 61 ft. 9 in. long, with a beam of 18 ft. 5in.

On 10th May 1830 he launced his most famous yacht, Alarm, from Inman's yard. She cost £20,000 (£1.10m today 2003) but exceeded all other cutters in terms of tonnage and was the final development of racing cutters at that time.

Alarm won the King's Cup in 1830 beating Mr Maxse's Miranda, in 1831 beating Lord Belfast's Louisa and in 1832 beating the Duke of Norfolk's Arundel. Lord Belfast gained some revenge in 1831 by beating Alarm with this Louisa for 1000 guineas in another match race. In 1833 she met Lord Belfast's new yacht Waterwitch and, in spite of beating her by over 34 minutes, was disqualified, as the Memorials of the Royal Yacht Squadron records, "as a result of Mr Weld's unfortunate habit of breaking the rule of crossing an opponent on the larboard tack".
The cutter Alarm wins the Royal Yacht Squadrons's Kings Cup in 1831

Alarm (shown above in her original form) was enlarged in 1852. She was one of the most famous of the early Squadron yachts. Probably as a result of America's influence, Joseph Weld had her lengthened by 20 ft at the bow, which was remodelled, and rigged as a schooner in 1852. This increased her tonnage to 248 tons.

Joseph Weld was both designer and builder and continued to be actively involved with Thomas Inman in the construction of all his vessels, even with the cutter yacht Lulworth built in 1857 when he was in his eightieth year.

He died at the age of eighty-two years on October 20th, 1863. Local legend has it that he died at sea onboard his second but smaller cutter named Lulworth

The America's Cup

Joseph Weld was a founding father of the Isle of Wight based Royal Yacht Squadron.

In 1851 the schooner America arrived in Cowes for the racing season. The New York Yacht Club, through the America's owner, Commodore Stevens, issued a challenge to any Schooner to be selected by the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron. Lord Fitzhardinge offered to take the challenge "provided that Mr Weld would lend his cutter Alarm for the occasion". In the event the Squadron decided to put up a £100 cup for the race around the Isle of Wight, which took place on the 23rd August 1851.

in jade

model of America at
the Auckland Maritime Museum
The cup itself was donated to the Royal Yacht Squadron by the Marquis of Anglesey and the sterling silver ewer was made by the Royal jeweller, Garrards.

There were 15 starters, six schooners and the remainder cutters, which included Alarm and Arrow, which by that time belonged to Thomas Chamberlayne. Off Ventnor Arrow went aground (not an uncommon experience) and and Alarm stood by to assist and relinquished the race. In very light winds America came home just eight minutes ahead of the smallest cutter Aurora, 47 tons, owned by Mr Thomas le Marchant. which was known thereafter as America's Cup, named for the yacht, not the country.

Now, more than 150 years later, the British are still striving to return the America's Cup cup to its original home. In the first 114 years, 16 British challengers crossed the Atlantic to tackle the defending New York Yacht Club, so unsuccessfully that they managed just six wins out of 54 races. The format changed from time to time, but the outcome was always the same: defeat for the challenger.

America Waives the Rules

The New York Yacht Club was shameless in its determination to win at all costs, constantly stacking the rules in favour of the defender, drawing accusations of cheating and bad sportsmanship from the likes of James Ashbury (1870 and 1871) and Lord Dunraven (1893 and 1895). The New Yorkers were not averse to asking the challenger to take on a whole fleet, rather than a single defender.

The Royal Dorset Yacht Club was formed in 1875 originally for the landed gentry who would watch their large ‘J’ class yachts racing in Weymouth bay - the club was granted an Admiralty Warrant in that year and so could prefix it’s title with the word Royal. A famous patron was George V who sailed his yacht ‘Britannia’ competitively in the Bay for many years.
The British approach was often less than hard-nosed and always amateur. When William Henn challenged in 1886, his yacht Galatea was laden with rugs, pot plants, mirrors and curtains, and the complement included Henn's wife, a pet dog and a monkey. Dunn was easily beaten 2-0, by brand new defenders.

Sir Thomas Lipton

In the twentieth century, a new breed of self-made men entered the fray from the British side. Grocer and tea magnate, Thomas Lipton was not granted membership of the exclusive Royal Yacht Squadron until the age of 80, after he had mounted 5 campaigns in the name of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. He described his failure to win in campaigns stretching from 1899 to 1930, as the greatest disappointment of his life. But he also attributed his long life to the cup, which he said had kept him "young, eager, buoyant and hopeful".

Another Lulworth, (pictured right) named after Joseph Weld's earlier vessel was designed by Herbert W. White and built in England near Southampton at White Brothers Shipyard on the river Itchen in 1920 for Mr. Richard H. Lee. Her hulk was rediscovered in recent years and is presently undergoing extensive restoration. Doubtless it will be a fine day when she sails once more.

Lulworth racing with Shamrock
America's defenders were hugely wealthy, ruthless and utterly determined. Steel baron John Pierpont Morgan was one of the richest men in the world, while Henry Vanderbilt was credited with bringing the management of a racing yacht into the modern era. He reputedly made the British look like amateurs during the 1930s.

Decline of the British

Shamrock racing with Endeavour
The last pre-war challenges came from aircraft manufacturer T.O.M Sopwith, who was beaten twice, in 1934 and 1937, before the modern era of multiple challenges began. The challengers now had to sail an elimination series, as they do today, and with the introduction of the 12-metre class rule in 1958, they also had to sail boats of a similar style. These changes greatly reduced the defender's advantage, and ultimately brought an end to the longest winning streak in sporting history.

During this period, the British influence also began to wain, with the rise of Australian challengers, including Sir Frank Packer, who was prominent with two unsuccessful campaigns. At least Packer won his elimination series. Baron Bich, who made his fortune selling the Bic biro pen, made four attempts from 1970 to 1980, but never managed to even challenge for the Cup.

Ted Turner and Dennis Conner dominate the Defence

The 70s and 80s also saw two highly combative Americans dominate the defence. First Ted Turner, the "Mouth from the South", and later Dennis Conner ensured that the Cup stayed in the cabinet at the New York Yacht Club. CNN founder Turner reportedly downed two bottles of rum after winning 4-0 in 1977 and passed out cold under the table at the media conference.

Conner brought modern professionalism to the Cup, along with a methodical hard-working approach that worked superbly well for him until he came up against Alan Bond and Australia II equipped with a radical new winged keel.

The Australians break the mould

Millionaire Alan Bond was making his fourth bid for the cup in 1983. His boat's winged keel was fast, he outgunned the New York Yacht Club's efforts to ban it, and his sailors came from 1-3 behind to take the Cup. Conner judged it "the race of the century", and set about planning to win the Cup back.
Bond himself was eliminated from the defence in 1986, when Kevin Parry won the right in Kookaburra. But they were no match for Conner, who beat KZ7 in the Louis Vuitton series and then downed Kookaburra to win back the Cup and take it to a new home in San Diego.

The rest is recent history. In 1988, Sir Michael Fay's challenge in the majestic "big boat" KZ1 came to grief when the crafty Conner defended in a lightning fast catamaran, with the outcome subject to lengthy and acrimonious legal battles in America.

In 1992, the New Zealanders were back and the contest was between yachts of a new kind, the bigger, faster International America's Cup Class. New Zealand's Bruce Farr designed NZL20, was beaten by the Italian Il Moro di Venezia in the Louis Vuitton Cup, and the Italians in turn were defeated by the defenders, Bill Koch's America 3.

KZ1 with Stars and Stripes
The New Zealand Era In 1995, Dennis Conner, eliminated from the previous defence, won the right to defend against Team New Zealand, who had defeated One Australia for the Louis Vuitton Cup. Conner's Stars and Stripes was defeated 5-0, earning him the dubious honour of being the only American to lose the America's Cup, not once but twice. The Cup found a new pride of place at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron.

Once more, Dorset would play a part in the America's Cup challenge when the Royal Dorset Yacht Club accepted the challenge from the Royal Auckland Yacht Club, holders of the cup. Little more of the Dorset Club has been heard since then.

In 2000, Team New Zealand did what the Australians could not and became the first syndicate outside America to successfully defend the Cup. The Kiwis beat the Italian Prada challenge 5-0, to set up the 31st Defence in February 2003. Ten challengers vied for the right to take on Team New Zealand. The Swiss team, Alinghi were to challenge New Zealand for the America's Cup.

The 2003 Race Series

Team New Zealand reveiled their two Arerica's Cup boats on the 7th January 2003. The New Zealand Herald headline read "Rivals question radical designs" with a second header of "Team New Zealand lift the veils from their two America's Cupboats to admiring gasps from the public and murmering of legal moves from lawyers".

New Zealand Herald 03.01.03
Much of this fuss was casued by an addition to the hull that has the effect of lengthening the waterline and consequently the speed. This has become known as the "hula". As it transpired, there were no legal challenges as it seemed likely that the two remaining contenders had similar ideas for their own boats.

One of the Team New Zealand design team is Nick Holroyd, a cousin of the wife of the present lord of the manor of Winterborne St Martin. Rather more science may be used today but it can be argued that much of the radical hull design work on the New Zealand boats follows in the great tradition to the earliest days when Joseph Weld was persuaded to lengthen his boat Alarm after the thrashing by America in that first race.

Nick Holroyd

Alinghi, owned by Swiss businessman Ernesto Bertarelli, made few modifications to emulate those of Team New Zealand. Although Team New Zealand certainly had the better boat, it was not race hardened and its crew lacked the experience of those on Alinghi. Much angst was caused in New Zealand as many of the Swiss boat's crew was made up from more experienced members of the New Zealand 2000 America's Cup challenge tempted by the largess offered by Bertarelli.
After a series of problems with their new boat, New Zealand lost the challenge after the fifth race in a best of a nine race series in early March 2003. As the Swiss challenger Alinghi crossed the finish line to win the America's Cup for the Société Nautique de Genève, Commodore Pierre-Yves Firmenich received a formal challenge for the next America's Cup from the Golden Gate Yacht Club of San Francisco.

The San Francisco club that backed Larry Ellison's BMW Racing Team in the 2003 competition, became the "Challenger of Record" for the 32nd America's Cup. The Challenger of Record negotiates the rules for the next event with the Defender, representing the interests of all eventual challengers. It will be interesting to see if the design rules change once more and who they might benefit. Commodore Pierre Yves Firmenich said, "Société Nautique de Genève is proud to be taking the Cup event back to Europe for the first time since 1851. It is a great honour to have Golden Gate Yacht Club, and Mr. Ellison's ORACLE BMW Racing Team, as partners with our club, Ernesto Bertarelli and team Alinghi as we go forward with planning for the next event." It will be interesting to see if the waters around the Solent may host this event once more or perhaps even Weymouth Bay.

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Copyright Gerald Duke 2002-2003