End of Day One – The Great Transatlantic Race, 1866
Trans-ocean racing is still a relatively new sport, but was simply unheard of in the 19th century. A lively dinner discussion at New York’s Union Club in October 1866 resulted in the first Trans-Atlantic challenge. The contenders: Pierre Lorillard’s “Vesta,” George and Franklin Osgood’s “Fleetwing” and New York Herald founder’s son, James Gordon Bennett Jr.’s “Henrietta” — all two-masted schooners. It was a winner-take-all — $30,000 plus bragging rights.
On the morning of December 16, the starting gun was sounded and the vessels weighed anchor in the New York Narrows. Next stop — Cowes, England. Demers’ evocative painting depicts the end of the first day, the vessels having logged nearly 300 miles and still in sight of each other. By day two “Fleetwing” had a twenty-mile lead on “Henrietta” and a forty-mile lead on “Vesta.” The racing was serious. Remarkably, after 3,000 miles of intense sailing all three yachts finished within hours of each other. On December 26 at 3:46pm “Henrietta” was first, followed by “Fleetwing” at 1:00am and the ill fated “Vesta,” whose local English pilot had taken them in the wrong direction, allowing “Fleetwing” to pass her nearly in sight of the finish. Demers’ extraordinary painting transports us hundreds of miles to sea to experience the majesty of these three great vessels underway as if we were sailing alongside them.