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The 1866 transatlantic yacht race was a match that saw three yachts battle their way across the Atlantic in the dead of winter in pursuit of a $90,000 prize. Six men died in the brutal contest, and it changed the perception of yachting from a gentleman's pursuit into something more rugged and adventurous. The race also heralded the beginning of America's "gilded age" (the $90,000 prize is approximately $15 million in today's currency).
James Gordon Bennett, Jr. was the son of the multimillionaire proprietor of the New York Herald and a notorious playboy. His infamous stunts included driving his carriage through the streets of New York naked, tipping a railway porter $30,000, and turning up at his own engagement party blind drunk and mistaking the fireplace for a urinal. However, Bennett was also a serious yachtsman and had served with distinction during the Civil War aboard the yacht Henrietta. He was the only owner aboard his own boat during the race.
Along with Bennett's story are those of his captain Samuel Samuels, a legendary clipper skipper, ex-convict, and occasional vaudeville actor; financier Leonard Jerome, grandfather to Winston Churchill; and Stephen Fisk, a journalist so desperate to cover the race that he evaded a summons to appear as a witness in court and, instead, smuggled himself aboard Henrietta in a crate of champagne.
This is a story of scandal, adventure, and a monumental moment in yachting history.