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Before the Committee: Pirate R-11 to race for the Alexandra Cup

April 12, 2010

Image of Pirate courtesy of, copyright Morris Rosenfeld (Rosenfeld Collection, Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn).

In 1907, the Right Hon. James Dunsmuir, Lt. Governor of the Province of British Columbia, presented the Dunsmuir Cup (later renamed the Alexandra Cup) to foster competition in match racing of sailing yachts between the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the Seattle Yacht Club. In 1909, a dispute over the rules caused the Canadians to withdraw during the third race of the series and sail back to Vancouver with the Cup, leaving the Challenge unfinished. The Seattle boat, Seattle Spirit II was of questionable measurements for the 29 rater rule in use at the time. This mid-race withdrawal caused a great deal of bad-feeling on both sides, and it was not until famed English yachtsman Sir Thomas Lipton of the Royal Ulster YC came to the Northwest in on a diplomatic mission to repair the rift, proffering his own Cup for competition, that the two YC’s resumed racing in 1914, this time with yachts in the R-class. The Alexandra Cup, however, was never competed for again, and remained at Royal Van for nearly a full century until 2008. In that year the Seattle YC and Royal Van raced historic International 6-Meter sloops for the Cup, with Royal Van coming out the victor in a close 3-race series.

Now, the Seattle Yacht Club has issued another challenge which has been accepted by Royal Van, and a race is set for October of 2010. The challenge stipulates that the race be run in historic R-Class yachts under the 1927 Universal Rule. The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle owns one of the most competitive yachts of that type ever to exist, and it has recently been meticulously restored. This is Pirate R-11, designed in 1925 by Ted Geary and built by the Lake Union Dry Dock Company in Seattle. The Seattle Yacht Club has requested the use of Pirate to challenge for the Alexandra Cup. It now falls to CWB’s Collections Committee, of which I am a recent member, to approve the use of Pirate and to ensure that the historic vessel is well taken care of over the course of the 4-day event in Vancouver.

This is not an exhibition race. Nor is it fun-and-games in historic vessels with white-gloved preservationists at the helm. These boats will be crewed by Olympic sailors and raced hard for the privilege of taking home a Cup which has been a source of rivalry and contention for over a century. Members of the Royal Vancouver YC are restoring for the race Lady Van R-7, designed by Charles Nicholson in 1927 for a syndicate from the RVYC headed by Tom Ramsay. These yachts were designed by the leading naval architects of their day and constructed by the most exacting builders for the singular purpose of speed under sail. Both had exceptional careers, each winning the R-Class Championship at different times: Pirate in 1929 and Lady Van in 1936.

Image of Lady Van courtesy of

This race is a very exciting opportunity to see the racing yachts of a past age race -really race- as they have not in over 80 years. If the event is successful, it is hoped that it might inspire the resurrection of other R-Boats, of which there were many, and perhaps even lead to the resurrection of the class. This is a story to watch.

For more on Pirate R-11, see: The boat is also on permanent display at The Center For Wooden Boats’ South Lake Union campus. For more on Lady Van R-7, see: To read more about the history of the Alexandra Cup, the recent Challenge issued by the Seattle YC, Charter, Rules, Measurements, etc. see:

– Emmett Smith

Learn more about Emmett and his work at

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