There are two types of people in the world. The have-yachts and the have-nots.
I have spent a great deal of my life pulling sheets and halyards on the decks of racing yachts owned by someone else, dreaming that one day I took will take possession of something that can be more expensive than a gambling habit.
There are certainly a lot of have-yachts in Newport, Rhode Island which is known as America’s yachting playground and the original home of the America’s Cup; a boat race fuelled by outrageous fortunes and ruthless ambition.
I love the America’s Cup and pressured poor Carmen to take a detour on our way to New York so we could spend two nights in Newport.
Even though the America’s Cup is long gone from the area it’s certainly left its mark.
Herreshoff Marine Museum
Our first stop on my yachting pilgrimage was the Herreshoff Marine Museum in the small town of Bristol, Rhode Island which is very close to Newport.
Check out the video we made from the visit:
My grandfather taught me to sail and ran an engineering firm that was involved in several America’s Cup challenges so the cup is a part of my DNA. And when I walked through the doors of the museum I felt a chill of recognition and nostalgia.
The facility sits on the site of a huge boat building complex once run by Nathanial Hereshoff, a legendary Rhode Island character who designed and constructed some of the largest, fastest and most ambitious racing yachts of his day.
Reliance – the biggest America’s Cup yacht
Nathaniel Herreshoff’s most famous design is a massive racing yacht named Reliance.
She was built for one purpose only; to defend the America’s Cup.
From bowsprit to boom she measured more than sixty metres and needed a crew of 61 to race. Her sails were enormous and in the photos of the day seem more like a bank of clouds than a spread of canvas.
Reliance won the 1903 America’s Cup easily, defeating a boat skippered by the tea baron Sir Thomas Lipton.
Our museum guide told us we could walk down the street and go see her because they were building a replica.
The model of the Reliance
The original Reliance was broken up for scrap; she was too much boat so a team of volunteers is now working to build a model of this legendary yacht at one sixth scale.
When we walked into the shed housing the model we were blown away by how big it is. Even scaled down the model is 30 feet long, the same length as the racing yacht I used to crew on in Perth.
The volunteers are even unsure if the shed is tall enough to accommodate the scaled down version of the mast they are constructing.
They really don’t build them like they used to!
We ended our visit to the museum with a picnic lunch looking out over the same sunlit waters that Nathanial Herreshoff used to test and race the boats he built.
It’s a beautiful part of the world and well worth a detour.
If only we had more time, I’d have loved to have taken a boat out onto the water. Oh well, I’ll keep dreaming!
What’s the best maritime museum you’ve been to?
What you need to know
Cost – The Herreshoff Marine Museum is $12 for adults with discounts for seniors, military, students and children.
How to get there – Bristol is a 25 minute drive from Providence, Rhode Island. There isn’t any public transport so you must go by car.
When to go – Any time really though of course summer is when the yachting communities of Rhode Island shine best.
Dave PTC – I’m in a little town called Bristol which is just near Newport, Rhode Island, the home of the America’s and you could say I’m in heaven, I love racing. Now this boat behind me is America cubed which won the America’s Cup in the 1990s. But back in 1903 they built a boat called Reliance which was around three times as big as this one. Now they are actually doing a project right here in Bristol to make a model of the Reliance although it’s a bit smaller than what it used to be.
Dave VO – A huge team of volunteers from the local community is working in this shed to make the miniature Reliance using the original plans drawn up by Nathaniel Hereshoff.
But just because it’s a model doesn’t mean its small. From the tip of her bowsprit to the back of the stern this so-called miniature version of the Reliance measures thirty three feet, the length of an average yacht – in fact the model is so big the builders aren’t even sure if they can stand the mast up inside the cavernous shed it’s being built in.
Every piece of the model is being made as true to the original as possible and many of the volunteers are retired engineers, boat builders and craftsman.
They’re aiming to complete the project by next year and display the model in a specially designed room so visitors can see the glory of the past and try to imagine what it would have been like to see this huge yacht knife through the waters of Rhode Island sound. I think it would have been pretty amazing.
The Nathaniel Hereshoff Museum provided us with two complimentary passes, but as always, our views are our own.