Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Significant Engraving of the Launch of Astor's Schooner, The Ambassadress, in Pelham in 1877

In 1877, David Carll built a schooner named the Ambassadress for William Backhouse Astor, Jr., a yachtsman, businessman, and racehorse breeder, at Carll's Shipyard on City Island in the Town of Pelham.  At the time, Astor was the patriarch of the male line of American Astors.  I have mentioned before the launch of the AmbassadressSee Mon., Nov. 16, 2015:  David Carll's Shipyard in the Town of Pelham on City Island

The Ambassadress, according to one prominent account published in a major New York City newspaper, was a yacht considered to be "THE FINEST IN THE WORLD" and "A Floating Palace that will cost a Quarter of a Million."  See THE FINEST IN THE WORLD -- FULL DESCRIPTION OF MR. WILLIAM ASTOR'S NEW YACHT -- A Floating Palace that will Cost a Quarter of a Million -- The Largest and Strongest of the Yachts -- A Boat for Winter and Racing, The Sun [NY, NY], Jul. 20, 1877, p. 3, col. 3.  The amount of $250,000.00 in 1877 would be approximately the equivalent of $8,240,000.00 in today's dollars   Indeed, should there be any doubt that commissions such as Astor's raised David Carll's profile as a master builder, one need only read an account of the launch of the Ambassadress from David Carll's shipyard on September 22, 1877.  According to that account, "about a thousand spectators" from New York City and "all parts of Westchester County" viewed the launch.  Additionally, according to the same account, "In the offing the Atalanta, and many other vessels, were lying, gaily dressed off with bunting, in honor of the occasion."  See SPORTS ON THE WATER -- THE AMBASSADRESS -- MR. WILLIAM ASTOR'S NEW SCHOONER YACHT SUCCESSFULLY FLOATED -- A DESCRIPTION OF THE VESSEL, ETC., The Spirit of the Times, Sep. 29, 1877, p. 232, col. 1 (full article quoted below with a fascinating account of how the massiver "Schooner Yacht" was launched).  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog publishes an image of a wood-cut engraving published in 1877 depicting the launch of the Ambassadress at David Carll's Shipyard on City Island in the Town of Pelham.  The engraving is a fascinating record of the event and the shipyard described in the article that is quoted in full at the end of today's posting.

NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

The engraving shows the large crowd of spectators who were on hand that day.  Spectators can be seen in the foreground, lining the shore in front of the yacht, lining the shore behind the yacht, and thronging the deck of the ship.  The engraving seems to show the yacht "securely fixed in her cradle."  Some of the shipyard's gin poles and other features are visible in the image.  

In the distance on the shore beyond the stern of the yacht is a large structure that may well be the William Belden mansion on Belden Point, though commentary below is welcome regarding what the structure may be.   

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The new schooner yacht, which has been built for Mr. William Astor by Mr. David Carll, of City Island, has been named the Ambassadress and was successfully launched last Saturday morning, in the presence of about a thousand spectators, who had ridden in from all parts of Westchester County, and also from this city, to see the show.  The yacht was sent off the way 'all atsunto,' topmasts fidded, jibboom sent out, and boom and gaffs in place.  From each truck, long lines of streamers depended, a large burgee with the full name 'Ambassadress' in it floating from the main, while the pennant of the New York Yacht Club overtopped all others at the fore.  Her decks were crowded with visitors all the morning, a large majority of them being women.  Just before the launch, however, most of these were sent ashore, the tide, being a scant one, rendering it necessary to get rid of all superfluous weight.  In the offing the Atalanta, and many other vessels, were lying, gaily dressed off with bunting, in honor of the occasion.  At 11:15 the work of wedging up began, and the yacht was soon securely fixed in her cradle.  Then the blocks on which her keel had rested since it was laid were split out and removed, and she hung altogether by her bilges.  The sliding ways were bolted securely to the standing or ground ways, and these bolts were now -- the bilge shores having been knocked away -- the only impediment to the yachts motion.  A couple of cross-cut saws were now brought into operation, and the sliding ways were cut through, just below these bolts.  The incline of the ways was very great, much more than is usual, and the instant the ways were cut through the yacht started, and with great rapidity slide down the incline.  As her stern took the water it buried itself deeply for an instant, and, then, as for her whole length she left the smoking ways, she became water bound, and her stern rose buoyantly from its submersion, and she floated from off her cradle as beautiful a yacht as has yet been built.  The successful launch was greeted with the cheers of the assembled spectators, and by the music of the City Island band, which had been engaged to do honor to the occasion.  The yacht was at once towed to the wharf, where, after taking on board a second anchor and chain, she was hauled off into the stream ,and anchored near by the Atalanta.  A select party of invited guests then adjourned to the house of Captain S. W. Freestone, who is to command the new yacht, where an elegant collation had been provided, and where success to the Ambassadress, her owner, and captain, was drank with all the honors.  The new yacht is, Mr. Carll says, as near like the Atalanta in model as it was possible to build her, that model having been copied closely in the model from which the Ambassadress was built.  She is, of course, very much larger, being 148 ft. long, 29 ft. beam, and 12 ft. 3 in. deep, her carpenter's measurement being 468 tons.  She is constructed throughout of the very best materials, her frame being composed of white oak, live oak, chestnut, hackmatock, and Long Island locust, the timbers being of extra size, and closer together than is usual in pleasure crafts.  Her deck beams are kneed to the frames with hanging and bosom knees.  She is ceiled throughout with yellow pine, three inches in thickness, her outside planking being oak, of the same thickness.  The keelson is of a novel pattern, patented by Mr. Carll, with especial reference to centre-board boats, whereby much extra strength is attained.  The trunk from this up is of the utmost solidity and strength.  Her centre-board is 26 ft. 3 in. long, 13 ft. 8 in. wide, and 6 in. thick.  Thirty tons of iron ballast has been fitted to her floors, and she is to have sixty tons in addition, and is expected to draw about 11 ft. of water with centre-board up.  She has a deck of white pine, flush fore and aft, with bulwarks 30 in. high.  For her whole length amidships is a course of mahogany skylights of extra size.  The partners are of oak, with mast collars of mahogany.  Her masts are 91 ft. and 93 ft., of which 12 ft. is below the deck, and 11 ft. taken off for mast-head.  The topmasts are 61 ft. and 58 ft., 11 ft. of which is in the doubling of the masts.  Her present main boom is 73 ft., with 40 ft. gaff, but she has another boom for her racing rig, which is 82 ft. long, with 45 ft. gaff.  The foreboom is 37 ft. 6 in., with gaff 34 ft. 3 in.  The squaresail yard is 64 ft., bowsprit 28 ft., outboard jibboom 64 ft. 3 in., the keel coming to the knight-heads and fitted with patent fid for reefing.  The standing rigging is of 8 1/2 in. hemp, four shroud, three of which are ratted down.

Below the decks there is the usual sail room over the transom, with two large rooms at the foot of the companion-way, one of which is for the captain, and the other is to be used for charts, signals, etc.  At the foot of the stairs is a small after cabin, or reading room, which is to be most luxuriously fitted up as a lounging place.  Its size is 11 ft. wide by 7 ft. long.  It will be separated from the main saloon by a bulkhead.  The main saloon is 21 ft. fore and aft, and goes nearly the whole width of the yacht, being 23 ft. wide.  In the centre of its length, on each side is to be a wide mirror extending from deck to deck, and having lounges and lockers forward and abaft of it.  The forward bulkhead will have a secretary on one side and a plate locker on the other; the mainmast coming down in the centre will be appropriately cased and ornamented.  Forward of this main saloon is a suite of rooms for Mr. Astor and his family; they are three in number, and open into each other, with bathroom, etc., forward of them.  All that art can do to adorn these rooms will be done.  They are lighted and ventilated by a skylight, which extends for their whole length.

On the port side of the centre-board trunk is a passage-way about 2 1/2 ft. wide, into which all the port state-rooms open; they are three in number, and there is beside a pantry and wash-room.  Forward of these is a kitchen, which is large, extending the whole width of the yacht, and about 10 ft. fore and aft.  Off from this are bread lockers, ice houses, rooms for the petty officers, etc., and forward of these, the forecastle, fitted in hard woods, and having ample accommodation for fourteen men.  Below the cabin floors are the water tanks and ballast, with lots of room to spare on account of her great depth.  It is hard to say, previous to a trial, whether a yacht is going to be fast or slow, so much depends upon trim and the placing and staying of the masts, but, judging of the Ambassadress simply from her appearance upon the ways and afloat, it would be safe to say that she will be a powerful but not an extremely fast yacht.  Probably, like the old Alarm, she might enter for the June regatta of the club for a dozen years in succession, and never take a prize, unless, like the Atalanta, she won it by a 'fluke.'  The latter yacht has been much over-estimated, so far as speed is concerned, by both her owner and her builder.  She has won the only two races in which she has been entered, but in both instances her success was due altogether to chance.  Like her, the new boat will be fast, but not the fastest of the fleet.  She is too full forward, and too lean aft.  She will, however, be an admirable sea boat, and one of the most comfortable crusing yachts afloat.  She will be at once fitted for sea, her owner intending to visit Florida in her during the coming winter.  Next spring, when the season opens, she will race with all comers."


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