The First Ocean Race?

One avid reader claims on December 11, 1866, the three yachts FLEETWING, HENRIETTA, and VESTA took off from Sandy Hook to the Needles in what amounted to the first ocean race.  (Emphasis on “ocean.”)  HENRIETTA was the first to finish, on Christmas day.

I can’t find much information about HENRIETTA, unless this is her pictured here:



Apparently, the race was started to prove or disprove the superiority of a centerboarder offshore, which VESTA was.  (Centerboarder, that is.)  The race was called “The Great Race of 1866.”

According to this website (, the owners of the boats each bet $30,000 that theirs would win.  I’m afraid I can’t find much information about any of the boats.  Can our readers help?

And here’s an account of the race, as appeared in Charles Dickens’ journal, All the Year Round:

On the other hand, there was also the Great Tea Race of 1866, which started in May of that year and featured ARIEL, FIERY CROSS,  TAEPING, and SERICA, from Foochow (Fuzhou), China to London.

The Great Tea Race of 1866(

Apparently, the tea races — sailed among clipper ships — originated in 1861.

So, there — Which was the first “ocean race?”  Or is there another one I have overlooked?  And surely there were previous races among the Polynesians, etc.

Thanks so much, Carl

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One Response to The First Ocean Race?

  1. Queenie says:

    Henrietta belonged to the Bennett family of New York. James Gordon Bennett was the publisher of the infamous New York Herald. He offered his family yacht to President Lincoln for service in the Union, and she saw action at sea. After the Civil War was over, his son, also called James Gordon Bennett, and a pretty crazy guy, boasted that his wartime schooner was still faster than the newer racing schooners, Fleetwing and Vesta.. So the wager was made, as you describe. Young Bennett was the only owner who agreed to go along on the wintertime crossing. When Henrietta crossed the Finish Line victorious on Christmas Day, she represented the close of the War in America, and the return to sporting activities. A big moment in yachting history.
    The Log of the Crossing was published, and lots of commemorating artwork, Buttersworths and Cozzins, is hanging on walls in yacht clubs everywhere.


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