Emma Hamilton and Great Britain

The concept of Greatness is one which I fear is not high on the list of so many in Britain … or America, as epitomized by Barry Soetoro and other presidents back to Eisenhower/Reagan/Churchill.

Not referring here to personal foibles/party of the PM. Referring to perceptions of the country from within and from outside. The Russians refer to this country as Velikobritannia, another nation calls it Grand Bretagne, we enter the Olympics as GB and look at recent successes.

England as a concept is also important but I’d suggest the nation is happiest across the seven seas when under the GB designation and yes, some things need to be remembered first.

Britain is the main island:


… not Great Britain. The British Isles is another geographical distinction. Great Britain though is political/sporting:


If you look at the heading there, that’s how it opens but when it gets down to it, who does it say tackled Argentina over the Falklands?

The UK is a designation under which no great things have been done, in fact quite the opposite – I see Blair and rubbish in the streets, styrene burger containers, Starbucks, drab boxes, the Arndale centre, riots in Brixton, zero national pride, being overrun, loss after loss in Eurovision – that sort of thing.

When it comes to our achievements as a people, it’s usually Great Britain, Britain or England. It was not UKexit or UKSSRexit, it was Brexit … Brexit!

This post was not written thinking about that, it began with a visit to a lady blogger and she had recently visited Emma Hamilton.

Whenever anyone mentions Lady or Emma Hamilton near me, I immediately think of one of Britain’s greatest eras and I’d wager there’d be few who’d remember – the British dominance of C Class catamarans and the Little America’s Cup.

It also illustrates that many of our greatest moments were under a Queen and people such as Drake, Raleigh etc. This is , therefore, a seafaring nation and it has dominated out of all proportion to its size.

When it is sung at the Proms, it’s no sad affectation, it is remembering Greatness of a very real kind:

And the idea of a lady leading the singing over it is most appropriate in this nation’s history, most appropriate. France has its Marianne, we have our Lady Helmsmen:


Note the sail designation, more on that later.*

Chap writes:

I have just purchased Emma Hamilton the ex Little Americas Cup C-Class cat … I refuse to tip toe gently through life only to arrive safely at death.

Sadly, he uses the term UK at the end but no matter.

The history:

These early catamarans were truly open designs, and so were hard to compare. As a way to bring some structure to the development, Beecher Moore drafted a quick classification system. This was adopted by the Royal Yachting Association and later the IYRU.

Before going any further, there are a few concepts in there – ‘trail blazing’, ‘bawdy’, ‘gallant’, ‘imperious’, ‘loyal’, ‘irreverent’, a bit tawdry in places, almost a national joke, e.g. the real Emma Hamilton and who she actually was. Eddy the Eagle fits this image perfectly.

The reputations of Chaucer and the Bard rested in no small measure on the bawdy, the seat-of-your-pants manner. So it has been in sport and in other fields, e.g. in TV comedy.

With multihulls now growing in popularity a disagreement quickly developed between the Great Britain and the United States as to who was producing the fastest catamarans. By means of settling the argument, Long Island’s Sea Cliff Yacht put up a trophy, the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy, which quickly became known as the “Little America’s Cup,” and organized a challenge.

Great stuff, the stuff of legends.

1961 –Long Island Sound, USA – HellCat II (UK) def WildCat (USA) 4-1

The first challenge held at Sea Cliff Yacht Club started a reign of British dominance that would last for almost a decade. Rod MacAlpine-Downie’s HellCat II, operated by Downie and John Fisk topped, America’s Wildcat by a score of to one and sent the trophy to Chapman Sands Sailing Club, where it would stay for the next eight years.

1962 – Thorpe Bay, UK – Hellcat I (UK) def Beverly (USA) 4-1

Van Alan Clark’s heavy weather ace Beverly stood no chance against the Downie’s Hellcat I in the light airs of Thorpe Bay. The British team of Ian Norris and Nocky Pope handily defeated Clark and Bill Saltonstall four to one.

1963 – Thorpe Bay, UK – Hellcat III (UK) def Quest (AUS) 4-0

The first challenge from outside of Great Britain or the United States, Australia’s Quest, sailed by John Munns and Graeme Anderson, made serious waves down under. They were however defeated by Reg White and Rod MacAlpine-Downie four-nil aboard their new Hellcat III.

1964- Thorpe Bay, UK – Emma Hamilton (UK) def Sealion (USA) 4-1

Ready for another shot the Americans challenged with their una-rigged Sealion, designed and built by David and Jerry Hubbard and helmed by Bob Smith. The British countered with Reg White and Bertie Holloway aboard Emma Hamilton. The Americans excelled in the light conditions, but the brisk conditions of Thorpe Bay favored Emma Hamilton, who took a took a tight four to one series victory.

1965 – Thorpe Bay, UK – Emma Hamilton (UK) def Quest II (AUS) 4-3

The Cup seemed to finally be on it’s way out of British hands when, after recovering from a 3-1 series deficit, Australia’s Lindsay Cunningham and John Buzaglo had a commanding lead on the final leg of race seven aboard Quest II. However the Aussies capsized in a sudden squall as they neared the finish line, suffering a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat to the British and Emma Hamilton.

1966 – Thorpe Bay, UK – Lady Helmsman (UK) def Gamecock (USA) 4-2

This time armed with their wing sailed Gamecock, designed by George Patterson and sailed by Bob Shiels and Jim Bonney, the Americans took another shot at the cup. However, amid structural difficulties on both sides, it was Britain’s Reg White and John Osborne who emerged with a 4-2 victory aboard Lady Helmsman.

1967 – Thorpe Bay, UK – Lady Helmsman (UK) def Quest III (AUS) 4-1

After the heartbreak of ’65 Lindsay Cunningham returned to England in 1967, this time with Quest III, sailed by Peter Bolton and Lindsay Reese and featuring a sock sleeved una-rig. Despite showing serious potential she proved no match for Lady Helmsman, this time sailed by Peter Schneidau and Bob Fisher. The British staked their claim to another victory, this time by a score of 4-2, and had at this point successfully defended six challenges in six years.

Greer Ellis brought Yankee Flyer into Thorpe Bay hoping to finally top Lady Helmsman with his light air specialist. However Reg White and Lady Helmsman were once again too much as Yankee Flyer struggled in the rough conditions of Thorpe Bay, and went away on the short end of a close 4-3 series.

1969 – Thorpe Bay, UK – Opus III (DEN) def Ocelot (UK) 4-3

With the Brits somewhat rundown after such an intense eight years, the Danes sensed weakness and challenged with Opus III. Featuring a well sorted wing sail Gert Friedricksen and Lief Wagner-Schmitt proved too much for Reg White aboard a make shift combination of Lady Helmsman’s rig and Ocelot’s hulls. The Danes finally got the Cup away from Great Britain after an eight year run.

The Danes, being one of the most respected seafaring nations on earth, it was no shame to finally lose to them, although the historical memory is stirred – Alfred the Great etc.

* That sail designation. Unfortunately, politics does intervene and ruins things as the EU, UN and other bodies have adopted GB or GBR as the name for the nation, whereas British boats used to sport the K designation and the colonies followed suit, e.g. KA678. My boat will have the K designation on the sail, not illegal but seen as a historical relic.

As I am proud to be and I dare say many of you too.