Newsletter 16
Spring 2007
Updated on 16Mar2007
Egyptian chaos
F-35 flies
Harrier - tiger on my back
Harrier news
Hawk news
Hawk vs Goshawk
Hawker apprentices
Hawker people news
Old Hawker Aircraft news
Programme for 2007
RAF Club Camm Memorial
Restored Hawker Nimrod
Restoring Hawker biplanes
Sea Harrier set to fly on
Sopwith - America's Cup
Typhoon and Tempest
Typhoon fund
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association

    John Crampton recounts tales of the nautical side of Sir Thomas...
    First the Cup, then Sopwith. In 1851 the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club (NYYC), John Cox Stevens, wrote to the Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, the Earle of Wilton, saying they had a mind to send a yacht called 'America' to England for a little competitive sailing. 'America' was not a NYYC boat but one built by a syndicate within the Club who were intent on winning everything everywhere.
    The way to do that was to build a fast sailing boat along the lines of the pilot schooners which sailed out of New York to meet incoming ships on the basis that the first alongside got the job of piloting the vessel into New York. This was a remarkably lucrative trade and the fastest vessels got the job.
    Eventually on the morning of July 30th 1851 'America' arrived off Cowes, and not long afterwards Stevens approached Lord Wilton with an offer to race any vessel he cared to nominate for the astonishing sum of $50,000. The result was, to say the least, disappointing.
Sopwith And The Americ's Cup

top toptoptoptop toptoptop toptop top
  "Say, Earl. whaddya say to a head-to-head game fer fifty big ones?" "Ah, hum, we'll see, Mister Er...?" Some say the behaviour of the British at the time was either cautious or cowardly, but actually the British simply had no idea what the Americans were talking about.
    In the trophy room at the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS) was a perfectly hideous cup resembling an ornate water pitcher. Members of the Squadron gave shudders of revulsion every time they set their eyes on the silvery excrescence. Here at last was a chance to get rid of the awful thing.
    A race round the Isle of Wight was arranged for August 22nd 1851. The prize was to be the One Hundred Guinea Cup (for that was what the ghastly object was called). 'America' took off like a scalded cat whizzing round the fifty-three mile course in ten hours and fifty-three minutes beating the first of the fourteen RYS competitors by eighteen minutes.
    Thus the trophy became known as the 'America's Cup' and was taken back to New York where it was stowed away for twenty years in Commodore Stevens's house, well out of sight of those of a nervous disposition. Time came for the 'America' syndicate to make their wills, leaving the vessel to the NYYC.
    The Club studied the Deed of Gift and found that the Cup was up for grabs to any foreign yachtsman representing a recognised club. The challenger had to sail to the defender's waters as 'America' had sailed to England in the first place.
    The first serious challenger was James Ashbury representing the Royal Thames Yacht Club who failed to bring the Cup back to the UK in August 1870, and thus set a trend. Space prohibits me from detailing the twenty-nine challenges for the Cup at three or four year intervals that have taken place since those far off days, except to say that America won the first twenty-four of them.
    In 1983 America lost to the Australians and so great were the celebrations down under that their Prime Minister went on nation-wide TV to say that "...any boss who sacked an employee for turning up late for work today is a bum."
    And today? Surprise, surprise, the Swiss have it! In the challenge before last the Kiwis won it. I think, but don't quote me, the Swiss sent a team out to New Zealand and chartered a Kiwi boat for the last challenge; got the help of one or two New Zealanders too. So where will the next, 2007, challenge be held? I think you can quote me on this; Valencia, two hundred miles down from Barcelona on Spain's sunny east coast.
    Now, Sopwith. Always a keen and good yachtsman, he won England's 12-metre  Championship in 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930 and was invited to join the RYS (you do not apply for membership). Early in 1934 he asked Charlie Nicholson of Camper Nicholson, builders of fine boats at Gosport, to build him a J Class yacht, the 'Endeavour', and got the RYS to support his challenge for the 'America's' Cup that year.
    The new J Class boats were big, seriously big. For instance, the top of the mast was one hundred and sixty feet above the water. One day they had a problem up there and sent a young member of the crew up in a bosun's chair. When ten feet from the top the weight of the halyard bearing the weight of the chair and its occupant weighed more than the chair and its crew member. The load was therefore taken gently to the top of the mast by the halyard's weight without any effort required from the deck crew.
    So there was the young gent marooned at the mast head! How to get him down? Fortunately there was an external signal halyard within reach of the young gentleman who was instructed to grab it and pull himself down ten feet when the deck crew below started to take the strain.
    On another occasion they got on board 'Endeavour' while it lay to its mooring at the top of Southampton Water on a day when there was no surface wind. Not a whisper. Even a candle flame would not have moved had one been lit in the cockpit. And yet the flag atop the mast was fluttering quite happily in what looked like a ten knot westerly breeze. Sopwith asked for the mainsail, weighing a ton, to be raised. They cast off and the big boat sailed happily southwards down Southampton Water with the top one third of the sail full and the lower two thirds flapping in what appeared to be a ten knot headwind.
    Sometime in the 1980s, could have been the early 1990s, Jo and I were sailing happily up Southampton Water at five knots in our 30 ft Westerly 'Renown' auxiliary ketch. Lovely day. Wind Force 4 from the west. Suddenly there was an awesome noise; roaring, flapping, swishing sound. Quite frightening for a moment or two. Nothing ahead nor to port or starboard. I looked over my right shoulder, and there it was - 'Valsheda'. A J Class yacht from the 1930s once owned by a gent with three pretty daughters so he joined their names together; Valery, Sheila and Daphne and made up Valsheda.
     Beautiful thing, roaring up to overtake us at about twenty-five knots. The roaring and the flapping was the wind in the sails and the rigging, and the swishing was the movement of the hull through the water. I looked up and the top of its mast was directly over us when she passed. Breathtaking..!! Some lads had got hold of her and done a good rebuild. She was on charter for about eight hundred quid a day - per person..!! Ooooooh , how I longed to have a go, but t'weren't to be. You had to be very careful when sailing a thing like that in the crowded waters of the Solent. Some people do silly things. I once saw a horrible photo of a J Class yacht sailing OVER a smaller boat which had crossed the big boat's path without warning. Yes, casualties and fatalities. The little boat went to the bottom.
    'Endeavour' proved to be a great success with good handling and won several trial races. All preparations had been made for departure for America when disaster struck; the crew asked for more money. Sopwith wouldn't agree so the crew walked off! Sopwith collected a scratch crew of twenty-seven and they departed on schedule.
    Great beginnings! Sopwith won the first two races (out of five) and then things went seriously wrong. During one of the subsequent races Sopwith was being overtaken by the defender and so quite legitimately tried to 'luff' the American boat. They were beating to windward and naturally the Americans steered a course upwind of Sopwith to try to put his sails in their shadow. Sopwith gently steered his vessel into the American's course to make the defender point a little higher into wind so hopefully reduce its speed.
    There is a golden rule in racing - Overtaking Boat Keeps Clear. The defender should have altered its course to keep clear of Sopwith, but it did not. There was the immediate risk of collision. Sopwith eased back and let the American go ahead. "I did not go all that way to drown people", he said later. By not altering course to keep clear of Sopwith the Americans were in breach of the rules. This gave rise to an English newspaper headline, "America waives the rules." But Sopwith made an error; he should have flown his protest flag, but didn't because they were well out of sight of the Committee Boat and there was little point in flying the flag unless the Committee Boat could see it.
    There's another little wrinkle to the story; once the overtaking boat's bow is in line with the slower vessel's mast it can proceed on its course. The exact position of the overtaking boat's bow in such circumstances is always a matter of spirited argument at later hearings. It took a while for the NYYC to agree to hear Sopwith's protest and when it did Sopwith lost his appeal.
    Sopwith never liked telling the above story but when he did he normally followed it by the one about the occasion when just before the start of another race he had a big problem with his mainsail; it would not go up. The Committee Boat saw his difficulty and signalled to both yachts, "Start postponed twenty minutes." Sopwith signalled back, "Thank you. They would not have done that on the Solent!" The delay gave Sopwith time to overcome the fault and arrive on the start line in time. But he lost the last three races and America's Cup stayed in the NYYC.
    Then Sopwith asked Camper Nicholson to build two more boats. Another faster J Class to be called 'Endeavour 2' and a motor yacht of magnificent proportions, 'Philante', named after his wife Phylis and his son Thomas Edward.
    An interesting vignette can go in here. Sopwith asked Frank Murdoch, a member of Hawkers and his long time sailing friend, to go to Germany and select two suitable diesel engines from the M.A.N. Company for 'Philante'.
    While in Germany Murdoch was shown round a number of their aircraft factories and aircraft engine plants. He was very impressed with what he saw and reported it to Sopwith on his return to the UK.
    Sopwith reckoned that there would be a war with Germany and so arranged for the Hurricane to be put into quantity production immediately, without waiting for a Government order. Remember, this was about 1935/36 and the prototype Hurricane flew in 1935. And so with plenty of Hurricanes on hand five years later we won the Battle of Britain.
     Sopwith returned to America with 'Endeavour 2' in 1937, but by then the Americans had 'Ranger', the fastest J Class boat ever. Sopwith was tremendously impressed by it and by the way its crew sailed it. "Unbeatable", he said, "Absolutely unbeatable!" The defender won all five races and so again the Cup stayed in the New York Yacht Club.