In April of 1892, just a few years after the New York Athletic Club took possession of Travers Island, the following brief, but consequential announcement appeared in the New York Athletic Club Journal:
"The Club's yachtsmen will be delighted to learn that the Board of Governors has decided to encourage yachting at Travers Island this season in a substantial manner. An adequate appropriation has been made for the erection of a house, 25 x 50 ft., a bridge, float, and wharf for the exclusive and proper accommodation of sailboats and launches. Members of the club who have heretofore kept their boats elsewhere will be able this season to transfer them to the Island, and to make this beautiful spot their summer home. To add to these inducements, the Yachting Committee, Messrs. Hausling, Rathbourne, and Miller, intends to make arrangements for a series of races. The situation of the Island, within easy reach of the best yachting waters in the vicinity, should make it a most desirable rendezvous. Our amateur sailors are urged to show their appreciation of the work of the Committee by making the most of the privileges afforded them."
Indeed they have! Starting in the summer of 1892, and continuing to this day, NYAC yachtsmen have taken excellent advantage of one of the finest protected harbors on Long Island Sound, and the sport of yachting has, for over a century, made its contribution to the spirit of excellence of the New York Athletic Club.
The earliest yachtsmen of the NYAC were unique in that these were men with a broad interest in amateur athletics, of which yachting was only one of the many sports they participated in. Two of our founders and our first two Commodores, Messrs. Hausling and Rathbourne were noted athletes of their day and each served the NYAC as Club Captain and Governor.
Fred M. Hausling was captain of the baseball team at Steven’s Institute as well as chairman of their athletic committee. He was also a track and football star at Columbia. He served as NYAC Captain seven years after founding the NYAC Yachting Committee. He sailed the schooner REBECCA for many years until she was wrecked on the Delaware Breakwater in the fall of 1898.
Another of our founding fathers, and our second Commodore, Robert W. (Shorty) Rathbourne was one of the most decorated rowers of his day. He won the prestigious Diamond Sculls, an unprecedented five times, as well as the Double Sculls National Championship in 1879. "Shorty" Rathbourne was one of the earliest members of the New York Athletic Club, joining in 1870. He served as Secretary of the Club in 1873, and Club Captain in 1875 and 1876. He served as Commodore of the NYAC Yachting Committee for three terms, 1893, 1904, and again in 1906. Significantly, during his second watch as Commodore, he, along with his young protégé, Henry A. Jackson, organized the first NYAC Block Island Race. This race, now known as the NYAC Distance Race to Stratford Shoal, is the oldest distance race on Long Island Sound. He cruised and raced his sloop IO. and later his 42' racing cutter SALADIN from Travers Island for over 25 years. At his death in 1917, the cover of The Winged Foot was devoted to this NYAC pioneer.
During the winter of 1894, the Yachting Committee, now under the direction of Commodore F. W. Lawton designed the New York Athletic Club burgee. The design called for "a triangular flag, white ground with scarlet border, and the regulation 'Winged Foot' in the centre." By spring of that year, the first hauling ways had been built and a flag pole had been erected to fly the Club's new burgee. Also that spring, the Club's first steam launch was purchased and named appropriately MINSTREL to commemorate the Club talent show held at Carnegie Hall, that was instrumental in securing the funds necessary for her purchase.
A meeting of the New York Yacht Racing Association was held on June 22nd, 1894, at which the New York Athletic Club delegate, Mayhew W. Bronson, made his initial appearance. The NYAC was one of the charter members of this association, now known as the Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound. In recognition of the Club's emerging stature in yachting, the first reciprocal agreements were announced with American Yacht Club, Larchmont Yacht Club, Seawanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club, Horseshoe Harbor Yacht Club, and the New Rochelle Yacht Club.
The first NYAC Yacht Book was printed in 1895 under the direction of Commodore Mayhew W. Bronson. The list contained the names of about 90 yachts, including the victorious 1893 America's Cup defender VIGILANT, owned by members George and Howard Gould. Commodore Bronson also supervised the construction of a second and more elaborate clubhouse that replaced the original $1000 structure. In addition, the landing dock was extended and the ways were upgraded in order to service larger yachts.
By the end of the century, the New York Athletic Club attracted many of America's wealthy financial and industrial barons. Many of these men were avid yachtsmen. Names such as Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, Belmont, and Gould were common in the NYAC Yacht Book. Of the 178 yachts listed in the 1899 Yacht Book, 23 were over 100 ft. LOA. The largest was the 306' steamer VARUNA owned by Eugene Higgins. While he was President of the NYAC, August Belmont was a leading member of the 1893 syndicate that defended the America's Cup with VIGILANT. Of the ten members of the 1903 America's Cup defense syndicate, half were members of the New York Athletic Club.
The NYAC was also becoming more visible in yacht racing. Some of the noteworthy achievements of those early years include those by Fred and William Oakes, who, along with H. M. Knapp, took three firsts out of four divisions in the 1893 Shrewsbury Yacht Club's Fourth of July Regatta. Another Club member, P. L. Howard, finished first in the annual New Rochelle Yacht Club Regatta that summer. In 1897, Eugene N. Robinson's cabin yawl JESTER won both the Huguenot Yacht Club Regatta in May as well as the Seawanhaka Corinthian Regatta in June. In 1902, NYAC yachtsman Addison G. Hanan, one of the most respected sailors in the United States, won a spectacular "come from behind" victory to enable the Rochester Yacht Club to defend the Canadian Cup against a fierce Canadian challenge. The following year, H. Mason Raborg and his Herreshoff designed 18 foot OPOSSUM was the first boat of her class to win a season championship on Long Island Sound under the New York Athletic Club colors.
Probably the most well known of our early yachting members, Wilson Marshall, set a transatlantic sailing record in May of 1905 aboard his 187' three masted schooner ATLANTIC, one of the largest yachts in the NYAC fleet. His record has stood for most of this century. His impressive passage, accomplished during his successful challenge for the "Kaiser's Cup", from Sandy Hook to the Lizard covered a course of 3014 miles in 12 days and 4 hours for an average speed of 10.4 knots. This achievement was worthy of front page news in the New York Times on May 30th, 1905. One account stated that his captain, Charlie Barr, the famous America's Cup skipper, came below one night when a severe gale was blowing and asked, "Commodore, if we are going to lay to, we must do it now or not at all. Reportedly, Marshall looked at him and said, "Captain Barr, I am racing," and Barr replied, "That is all I wanted to know, sir," and the Atlantic did not lay to.