A Punishing Jibe

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It might be called the most famous jibe in America’s Cup history—and it proved a disaster for the British entry in the 1871 contest. Marine artist Russ Kramer pictures the dramatic moment of the lead changing in the second race of that year’s event. The British schooner Livonia, headed by J.L. Ashbury, led coming up to the stake boat with the New York Yacht Club’s defender, Columbia, trailing to weather. To leave the mark to starboard, Livonia’s captain, J.R. Woods, jibed in what one viewer described as “a gale of wind.”

The maneuver “made her stagger to leeward of the mark,” the eyewitness added. Livonia’s crew fought for control of the reeling vessel sized near 100 feet. Columbia came up from behind, passed Livonia and rounded the stake boat to port. She then “stowed her topsails, reefed her foresail and flew home on a reach,” winning the 30-mile race by 10 minutes.

“This is the moment when Captain Woods and his crew are desperately trying to sheet in her sails after crashing around,” says Kramer, who tries to interpret the human aspect of being at sea, painting the stories of people as well as boats. “I imagined Ashbury [in a dark jacket, on the aft deck] watching Columbia about to tack around the mark and being furious with Woods about losing the lead.”

Ashbury protested after the race, claiming that Columbia rounded the stake boat on the wrong side. The race committee said “the sailing regulations leave the matter of turning the stake optional.” And, a sailor on board Columbia recalled his captain checking with the race committee about turning the stake boat and being told, “Turn as you please.” Protest denied. The New York Yacht Club went on to win the America’s Cup. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.

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