Atlantic Print E-mail
Monday, 24 January 2005

“Atlantic” is probably the best known schooner ever built in the United States. Designed by William Gardner and built by Townshend and Downey, in 1904, Wilson Marshall’s beautiful yacht was admired by everyone who saw her.

Staten Island began to be a major boat building region in the early 1800s, due to increased commerce, growth in oyster fishing and a the geographical benefit of being at the entrance to New York Harbour. By the turn of the century, expansion of the US Navy and increased international trade meant that the construction and repair of metal hulled vessels was the island’s major industry. 18 large shipyards were around its shores, one of which was Townsend and Downey.

In that era, yacht racing was the favourite summer pastime of the rich and famous from both sides of the Atlantic and a regular participant was Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who commissioned the Townsend and Downey yard to build the schooner Meteor”. Unfortunately, “Meteor” did not achieve what he had hoped, which was to enable him to beat his uncle King Edward VII and, having been frequently thrashed by Britannia”, Wilhelm decided to boost his standing among his yachting peers by organising a trans-Atlantic race for yachts over 80 tons Net Customs measurement. There were to be few rules, only that propellers had to be removed and sails must be hoisted without the help of steam driven winches.

On May 17, 1905 the fleet was towed to the Sandy Hook starting line, accompanied by members of the New York Yacht Club who gave them a rousing send off, from a chartered tug with a band on board. There were eight schooners, one yawl, and two square-rigged barques; one of the schooners was “Atlantic”, built the previous year by the yard which had produced “Meteor”.

“Atlantic” was skippered by Charles Barr, famed for his successful America’s Cup defences and, from all  accounts, he pressed the yacht very hard throughout the race. Legend has it that at one stage the owner begged him to reduce sail, to which he retorted "Sir, you hired me to win this race and that is what I will do." 

‘Atlantic’ reached the finishing line at the Lizard, where the Imperial German cruiser “Pfiel” was stationed,  in 12 days, 4 hours, 1 minute; the fastest crossing ever made by fore-and-aft rigged vessel. Her best day's run was 341 miles from noon to noon; an average of 14.5 knots for nearly 24 hours and she beat “Hamburg”, the second yacht to finish, by nearly a whole day. 

“Atlantic” served in the US Navy in World War I as a mother ship for submarines. Between the wars she was owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt and Gerard Lambert, who also owned the America's Cup J-Class “Yankee”. In 1935,  the two yachts, with “Yankee” under reduced yawl rig, crossed to England where the schooner acted as mother ship to the racing yacht. During World War II, “Atlantic” served as Coastguard vessel and then was laid up for several years, until turned into a tea shop in New Jersey. 

In 1969, “Atlantic” was bought by Captain Al Urbelis who intended that, after a refit she would join the fleet of the  Seafarer's International Union School at Piney Point, Maryland.

It appears this never happened for, according to the last report I could find about her, in 1979, this most beautiful of schooners was a sunken derelict off Norfolk, Virginia.

Marian Martin


Length overall 187ft (57m); Waterline length 138ft (42m); Beam 29.5ft (8.84m); Displacement 303 tonnes; Sail Area 18,514sq. ft. (1,722sq. m)

Last Updated ( Monday, 24 January 2005 )
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