I am a little late in recognizing that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the last race for the Van Nostrand cup. While this has been a forgettable winter in the Hudson Valley for ice boating - let alone racing - 20 years ago - the winter of 2003 - was exceptional for the historic ice yachts of the club, culminating in a race for what is arguably the most valuable sippy cup on earth - the Gardner Van Nostrand Ice Yacht Challenge Cup of America. What is this cup & what is some kid doing sipping from it??? A mighty fancy sterling silver sippy cup???
The Van Nostrand Cup is one of the most beautiful and elusive of all ice sailing trophies. The bas-relief silver cup was commissioned by Gardner Van Nostrand and presented to the Orange Lake Ice Yacht Club January 1889. The sterling silver Cup, made by Tiffanys of NYC, was to be known as “The Challenge Ice Yacht Cup of America.” The deed of gift was completed December 18, 1889. It was valued (then) at $250.
The cup came about due to the competitive nature of two Ice Yacht clubs - the Orange Lake Ice Yacht Club (OLIYC) club and the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club (HRIYC). Home base for the OLIYC, which was established in 1889, was Orange Lake ( about 6 miles west of Newburgh on the Hudson) - where members boasted of the best ice and longest season for racing. The HRIYC, based around Poughkeepsie and established in 1885, was long time holder of the Ice Yacht Challenge Pennant of America (IYCPA). This 30 foot long silk pennant was gifted in 1875 by Irving Grinnell of the New Hamburgh Ice Yacht Club (NHIYC). It was considered the equivalent of the America’s Cup, the owner holding bragging rights as the fastest ice yacht in the world. It was raced for 9 times between 1881 & 1889 and the yachts of the HRIYC were the victors many times, with both John A. Roosevelt's Icicle and Archie Rogers Jack Frost being 4-time winners. Frustration with the rules of the race and the variabilities of good ice for racing on the Hudson River, led to complaints from Orange Lake racers, who had challenged for the Pennant, and lost, several times. They felt they had consistent opportunities to race on the Lake and felt the race committees of the HRIYC stymied their challenges to race. Commodore H. C. Higginson set out his thoughts at the time, which was well reported in the local newspapers:
“In my opinion the so-called champion ice yacht pennant of the world is no longer an emblem of supremacy in ice yachting, as the Hudson River Club has surrounded it with such conditions that it is next to an impossibility for an entry from an outside club to win it.”
Higginson went on to challenge the Hudson River boats to a race on a neutral site - proposing Greenwood Lake - for “..a cup of the value of $500…” Archie Rogers, upon reading the Challenge, and after consulting with members of the HRIYC, accepted the challenge, with the provision that the race be held “on a mutual course on the Hudson River…”
Word, and controversy, about "The Challenge Ice Yacht Cup of America" spread quickly in ice yachting circles. Hudson River racers claimed foul arguing that there is only one Challenge Pennant for ice yachts - the pennant that had been raced for nine times since 1881, and currently held by John A. Roosevelt. Local papers carried arguments back & forth from members of the clubs. The Hudson River yachtsman refused to recognize the Cup, but the sailors from North Shrewsbury Ice Boat & Yacht Club (NSIBYC) were eager to race for it as they had tried multiple times, unsuccessfully, to claim the Challenge Pennant, sending up their swiftest boats to the Hudson River.
The Orange Lake club accepted the challenge of the Red Bank club to race for the Cup, and the date was set for January 15, 1891. The competing boats were: Dragon (built by Jacob Buckout), of the Carthage Ice Yacht Club (later the Chelsea Ice Yacht Club) & sailed by Captain Bill Merritt; Windward, captained by H.C. Higginson of the Orange Lake Club; and Lady of the Lake, another Orange Lake boat owned by Higginson, and sailed by Capt. Pinckney of the Carthage club. Lady was specifically built to assure the Cup stayed at Orange Lake. She and Windward were Cat-rigged ice yachts, having a single, huge mainsail & no jib. The NSIBYC, based on the Shrewsbury River in Red Bank, NJ, sent up their ice yacht Scud. Scud had raced, unsuccessfully, several times for the IYCPA against yachts of the HRIYC on the Hudson. That Scud was a huge lateen rigged yacht; The Scud that raced for the Cup, though, was sloop rigged, and sailed by Capt. James C. Doughty.
Ice Yacht Dragon, sailed out of the Carthage Landing Ice Yacht Club.
Commodore Higginson's Cat-rigged yacht Windward. It was also sailed as a sloop rig in later years.
Scud, with sloop rig.
A collage of sketches from the race on OrangeLake. Only image of Lady of the Lake I've ever seen. I have seen no reference to it after this race... This image is from John A. Roosevelt's scrapbook at the FDR library & Museum.
Conditions were favorable to race - good ice and good winds. Dragon took a quick and commanding lead for the first 6 miles of the 20 mile race around the diamond-shaped course on Orange Lake. At the 6 mile mark Dragon had a mishap and came to a stop. Scud took the lead and never relinquished it. She finished with a time of 1 hour, 5 minutes and 43 seconds. Windward crossed the finish line about 5 minutes later, followed by Lady of the Lake. Reports noted that the shore was lined with many spectators that traveled out to see the race, and there was much cheering for the Red Bank victory. The Van Nostrand Cup went to Red Bank.
There the story of the Cup ends for over 80 years. There are some articles about later Challenges to race for it. Any challenger would need to race for it on the home ice of the NSIBYC - but no races were run. Racing with the big gaff rigged ice boats waned after 1910 or so, and one of the last races for the Ice Yacht Challenge Pennant was run in 1902. It was resurrected for one last race in 1922, with smaller sized stern steerers.
Ray Ruge, an avid ice boat racer in the 30s, 40s and 50s, was instrumental in the revival of the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club in the early 1960s. (More on Ray Ruge HERE). He also resurrected racing for the Ice Yacht Challenge Pennant, in 1951, after locating the original Pennant in New Hamburgh. He also knew the story of the Van Nostrand Challenge Cup and set about trying to track it down. After correspondence with members of the NSIBYC the cup, somewhat forgotten, was found to be stored in a jeweler’s vault in Red Bank. Years of correspondence and negotiations to once again race, led to the second race for the Cup in 1978. The race took place over 2 days - Feb. 5 & 6, 1978. The Hudson River Ice Yacht Club (HRIYC), challenged for the race, though ultimately boats from 4 clubs, HRIYC, NSIB&YC, Lake Ronkonkama, NY , and Long Branch, NJ sailed that weekend, making for a crowded course at times. The HRIYC raced Jack Frost (Bob Lawrence/John Vargo), Scout (Rick Lawrence), and Vixen (Reid Beilenberg). North Shrewsbury Ice Boat & Yacht Club raced with Little Georgie (Chan Irwin/Art Teutsch) & Drub (Robert Ayers/Robert Ayers Jr.); Lake Ronkomkoma, Zero & Cold Wave (Rueben Snodgrass/Donald White); Long Branch, Snowflake (?); There were other yachts in the race and a news report also showed Now Then sailing for the “old Red Bank Club.”
In overall finishes, Cold Wave came in first (over 5 races); Little Georgie was second; Drub fourth. Still, it was team points that determined the final standing, and Little Georgie/Drub had low score (26 points) in that tally, and thus Red Bank held onto the Cup. HRIYC was second with 36 points. Some footage of the race is seen here:
Van Nostrand Race, Red Bank 1978 Little Georgie, far right; behind her, Cold Wave.
Again, years go by and attempts to race for the cup floundered. Negotiations over number of clubs and number of yachts that could race per Challenge were argued and voted on. It was agreed to limit the number of yachts to 3 per club and only one club could Challenge per race. Security and possession of the now quite valuable trophy was debated. In 2003 ice conditions were great, and a realization that there was a need to get this competition off the ice. It had been too long await.
Winter of 2003 found good ice on the Shrewsbury River and the challenge of the HRIYC was accepted. The Club race committee decided on 3 boats, with their skippers: Scout (Rick Lawrence/Kevin Lawrence), Vixen (Reid Bielenberg) & Phantom (John Hix/Danny Lawrence). Red Bank lined up the top 3 finishers of an early morning elimination race: Ymir, Blizzard, and Now Then. The club cannon fired to start the first heat at 10:30. Now Then & Blizzard quickly took an early lead in the lighter breezes of the morning, and they held those positions throughout the race. Scout, the heaviest of the sloops that race, came in third. In the 2nd and 3rd races Red Bank again took the top 2 spots, with Blizzard crossing ahead of Now Then and Scout again finishing third.
Start of Van Nostrand Cup race, Shrewsbury River, Red Bank, NJ, January 25, 2003. (photo courtesy Bob Wills)
Phantom, Vixen & Ymir (l-r) rounding the race mark
Ymir (l) and Scout (r) round the race mark. (photo courtesy Bob Wills) Interestingly, Scout, Ymir & Vixen all raced in the last Challenge Pennant race in 1922
While the results were disappointing for the HRIYC it was a most successful coming together of the 2 long time rivals in ice yacht racing. The awards ceremony in the Historic Clubhouse right on the bank of the river that evening was a celebration for the 2 clubs. Champagne was served in the historic Cup & enjoyed by many. New York Times piece on the Race.
Commodores Bob Wills (HRIYC) and Mark Peterson (NSIBYC) with the Van Nostrand Cup. (photo courtesy Bob Wills)
NowThen skipper Dan Clapp & Commodore Wills congratulate each other on a successful race.
Bob Lawrence takes a drink from the Van Nostrand Cup. Bob met Captain Bill Merritt, who raced in the original 1891 Van Nostrand race on Orange Lake, on Orange Lake in the 1940s. Bob also acquired Scout from Capt. Drake, who sailed Scout in the 1922 IYCPA race.
Two of the HRIYC skippers - both also sailed in the 1978 race - share a drink from a mighty expensive cup. Rick Lawrence, sailed
Scout, while Reid, sailed
Vixen. (photo courtesy Bob Wills)
The Cup is truly a remarkable trophy and the detail in the etchings is incredible. They include scenes from Orange Lake, including the clubhouse; a set of ice runners; an ice yacht underway. A link to photos is HERE. Those photos of the Cup are courtesy of the North Shrewsbury Club.
Although 20 years has slipped by quickly without another race, the HRIYC continues to Challenge to race for the Cup. Warming trends have made it harder to establish safe ice to race on at the Shrewsbury site. We hope to agree upon a neutral site in an upcoming winter. Let’s hope the chance to bring out the sippy Cup will occur in the very near future.
Youngest Ice Boater that weekend, enjoying refreshment at NSIBYC club house from the 114 year old sterling silver "sippy cup."!