The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
The Yachts: Reliance



"They tell me I have a beautiful boat. I don't want a beautiful boat. What I want is a boat to lift the Cup - a Reliance. Give me a homely boat, the homeliest boat that was ever designed, if she is as fast as Reliance," Sir Thomas Lipton explained after the failure of his Shamrock III, designed by William Fife III, Jr. "I want a Reliance." 

These were the kind of compliments towards what has become one of the most celebrated boats in the history of the America's Cup, and its designer, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. 

But the massive scale of the 1903 Defender frightened the America's Cup establishment which would adopt, ten years later, a more conservative approach to the design and building of America's Cup yachts. 

In 1903, the rule imposed only one major constraint on Herreshoff: the load waterline length of the boat couldn't exceed 27.43 meters. The designer modeled a flat and modestly deep hull, similar to that of a scow. The biggest surprise came from the long overhangs: 6.70 meters forward and 7.92 meters aft. Sailing close hauled, in seven or eight knots of breeze, the effective waterline length would stretch out from 27.43 meters to nearly 40-metres...a tremendous source of speed. 

The keel, shaped like a fin, came down very deep. The boat would settle into a comfortable, fast, heel very easily, possible because Herreshoff managed to exploit the most improbably enormous sail area ever seen to that point on a single mast: a massive 1 501 square meters of canvas, approximately 186 square meters more than Shamrock III

Due to the scale of the boat, and the loads on it, Nathanael fitted Reliance with uncountable innovations: Bronze Tobin hull, steel welded mast with a telescopic topmast sliding into the mainmast, two-speed winches, sheets and runners laid under an aluminum bridge covered with cork, a hollow rudder which could be filled or emptied of water depending on the point of sail. It would take all the effort and nautical wisdom of the incredible Charlie Barr to safely skipper Reliance through the Cup, along with a crew of 64. 

The simple fact that Reliance was built and sailed is, on its own, an exceptional event in the history of the America's Cup. Behind the fantastic 1903 Defender, there was a gallery of great men; among them, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, perhaps the best yacht designer of all time, Charlie Barr, among the most talented skippers in yachting history, and then there were the money men behind the project, such as J.P. Morgan and John Rockefeller who spent countless dollars to repel Sir Thomas Lipton's assault on the Cup. Reliance remains a singular symbol. Better than any other boat, Reliance expresses the logic of the all-or-nothing contest, sailed with intensity without equal, between two great rivals, Great Britain and America. 

During the third and final race of the America's Cup Match, sailed on September 3rd, 1903, on a 20-mile windward - leeward course from the Sandy Hook lightship, a thick fog enveloped the race course. Reliance had just turned, well ahead, when both boats disappeared from sight. Foghorns began a sinister concert, dominated by the siren on the lightship, which rang to indicate to the racers where the finish line might be found. The wait was long, and each spectator scrutinized the fog, until the flapping of a sail in the wind could be heard and Reliance appeared out of the mist like a ghost from the beyond. She crossed the finishing line to the acclaim of the crowd at 17:30 in the afternoon as the crew hauled in the enormous spinnaker in a superb display of seamanship. Shamrock III lost its bearings in the fog that afternoon and eventually sailed directly to its mooring. 

In the evening of its victory, just 146 days after its christening, Reliance was laid up in dry-dock. In an ironic twist, "Lem Miller" the skipper of Columbia who was beaten by Barr and Reliance during the NYYC Defender Trials, led the 1903 winner to Robins Yard, in South Brooklyn, in 1913, where it was scrapped. 7/2/2007


Cup(s) Sailed: 1903 (won)

Crew: 64 

Owners: J. Pierpont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller

Year Built: 1903

Launched: April 12, 1903 

Type: Fin Keel Sloop

Designer: Nathanael Greene Herreshoff

Builder: Herreshoff Manufacturing Company


Frames: Steel

Planking Top: Steel — Supplied by Lukens

Planking Bottom: N/A

Deck: N/A

Mast: Steel

Boom: N/A

Spinnaker Pole: N/A

Keel Ballast: N/A


Length Overall: 143.7 ft. / 43.79 m

Length Waterline: 89.6 ft. / 27.32 m 

Beam: 25.9 ft. / 7.88 m

Draft: N/A

Draft with Keel Lowered: N/A 

Displacement: 175 tons

Tonnage: N/A

Mast: 104.9 ft. / 31.98 m

Boom: N/A

Bowsprit: N/A

Top Mast: N/A 5/2/2007