In submitting its amicus curiae, in support of GGYC’s appeal, The New York Yacht Club said that its interest stemmed from long involvement with the America's Cup and "a desire to have the competition remain faithful to the Deed of Gift, as drafted by George Schulyer."
It is time to look back a bit and reflect on the 1887 Deed of Gift and to what extent it was the work of George Schuyler.

The first Deed was drawn up by the owners of the yacht America and the Cup it had won; John Cox Stevens, Edwin Stevens, Hamilton Wilkes, J. Beekman Finlay and George Schuyler. It was a very simple document, which said nothing about annual regattas, nor ocean water courses and did not require extensive information on dimensions.

In 1882, following the infamous Canadian Challenge by Captain Alexander Cuthbert, of the Bay of Quinte Yacht Club, the New York Yacht Club returned the Cup to George Schuyler, who was the sole surviving member of the syndicate, and asked him to rewrite the Deed. The America’s cup was sent back to the NYYC, in February 1883, together with the second Deed of Gift, which differed little from the first in any important aspect, except for a requirement that the challenger should sail to the venue and a stipulation that a defeated yacht could not immediately challenge again. At that time, several leading lawyers expressed the view that, as the new Deed was only signed by George Schuyler and not by any heirs of the deceased syndicate members, the NYYC did not have any legal title to the America’s Cup.

The third Deed was a very different document from the first two and the first to be couched in legal language. As the New York Yacht Club makes clear in its recent amicus curiae, it was not written by George Schuyler, he only contributed. The authors of the 1887 Deed were members of a New York Yacht Club Committee, led by Commodore Gerry, and one has to ask just how much George Schuyler contributed, since he was by then suffering from the heart disease that killed him less that 3 years later.

As soon as the contents of the new Deed were made public, on October 29 1887, there was uproar among yachtsmen. The NYYC, in its document "The Story of the New York Yacht Club" would have us believe that the cries of "unfair" only came from British publications and yachtsmen, but this is not true. One NYYC member, Roosevelt Schuyler, said it looked “more like a spirit of protecting the Cup than throwing it open to competition in a sportsmanlike manner.” Many other Americans said it was unjust and would put an end to Cup racing. Commodore Gerry responded with “The idea of the committee was that the Cup should only be competed for by yachts of standard excellence.” Note those words “The idea of the committee”, not “the idea of George Schuyler”.

The first repercussion was not long in coming, on November 17 the Royal Clyde Yacht Club withdrew the challenge it had made, saying that “The conditions, as changed by the New York Yacht Club, are unjust and unsportsmanlike.” Over the coming years, Lord Dunraven challenged, but only on the understanding that the races would be held under the requirements of the second Deed of Gift and not the 1887 document; the result was a series of exchanges that went on for years and New York Times' reports clearly show that the newspaper and many yachtsmen, of the day, were contemptuous of both the 1887 Deed of Gift and the actions of the New York Yacht Club.

Dixon Kemp, editor of The Field, was one of the most outspoken critics of the New York Yacht Club, referring to the new Deed as “an attempted confidence trick” and saying that he hoped no British yacht club would challenge under it, nor even so long as it existed. Kemp went on to say that the American people should understand that the NYYC had – by changing the conditions - betrayed the trust confided in it by the five men who had won the Cup in 1851.

What of Schuyler?

There is no suggestion that yachtsmen and the New York Times considered George Schuyler to be anything other than an honourable sportsman, so why did he give his name to the work of that New York Yacht Club committee?

That question has never been fully answered and never will be, because – when questioned - Schuyler always maintained that, although many had told him the new Deed was unfair, he could not see why. He did, however, add that if he became convinced that it was unfair, or unsportsmanlike he would take steps to change it. Maybe he did become convinced, because one item on the agenda for his 1890 cruise on board the Electra, was to have been a discussion of the new Deed. It never happened because George Schuyler died during his first night on board.

What of annual regattas?

In its recent amicus curiae, the New York Yacht Club states “The Phrase ‘Having for Its Annual Regatta’ Is Not Ambiguous” and goes on to say “The plain and natural meaning of the phrase is that the challenging yacht club ‘has held one or more annual regattas in the past and will continue to do so in the future’.”  

There is nothing plain or natural in the phrase “Any yacht club having for its annual regatta an ocean water course on the sea, or on an arm of the sea, or one which combines both, shall …..” unless you take it to mean that the yacht club must have an ocean water course on the sea, on which to hold an annual regatta. There is nothing in the phrase to indicate that the club needs to hold, or have held, or even be intending to hold an annual regatta, only that it must have an ocean water course on which to do so.

George Schuyler made this absolutely clear when – in 1889 - he was asked why that phrase was in the 1887 Deed. He replied “The courses of some foreign yacht clubs are such that we would not be able to sail on them; we would not be obliged to under the new Deed.”

So, there you have it from Schuyler himself, it was the ocean course that the committee of the New York Yacht Club considered important when it wrote that phrase into the Deed of Gift it had drawn up. On that basis, CNEV, which - for its annual regatta - had the very ocean course that AC32 was sailed on, was eminently qualified to be CoR when it made its challenge.

Marian Martin - April 2009
This article has been researched mainly from NYYC documents and from the New York Times archive 1851 to 1980. Anyone seeking further information on why the 1887 Deed of Gift was so widely condemned, will find numerous newspaper stories in that archive.
In addition to stories in this 33rd America's Cup section, you can read stories from the 32nd America's Cup . You will also find some older stories and interviews, from the last event, HERE.
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