There aren’t many myths in sailing that are better known than the fictional tale of the ban of Nat Herreshoff’s famous catamaran Amaryllis in 1876. The most common version of the fairytale says that Amaryllis swept the fleet in a New York Yacht Club race, causing the stuffy big-boat establishment to ban catamarans from racing and setting the cause of multis back for decades. The reality is very different.
Herreshoff’s brilliant invention broke onto a regional sailing scene that was bursting with more innovation than sailing has ever seen before or since. The sailors of north-eastern USA had introduced international racing in the early 1850s with the schooner America and the little centreboarders Truant and Una. They pioneered ocean racing when the New York schooners Vesta, Henrietta and Fleetwing raced across the Atlantic in 1866. They had popularised the centreboarder and developed beamy, lightweight “skimming dishes” that carried vast rigs. By 1876 the indigenous New York centreboarder had reached its extreme with the vast schooner Mohawk, which spread her sails 235 feet from bowsprit to mizzen end but had a hull only 6’6” deep and capsized in New York harbour, killing five people including her owner and his wife. In the same year, a sailor from America’s north-east (Alfred Johnson) became the first person to singlehand across the Atlantic in the tiny 20’ dory Centennial. A little over a decade later, sailors of the region were to pioneer the lightweight racing sailing canoe, complete with fully-battened roachy rig, hiking plank and hollow masts. They had even experimented with catamarans decades before – John C Stevens, the lion of the New York sailing establishment, creator of the New York Yacht Club and head of the syndicate that owned the schooner America, had spent thousands of dollars on the unsuccessful sailing cat “Double Trouble” in the first half of the century.
When Amaryllis was launched, New York’s small-boat racing scene was dominated by the sandbaggers. Ranging from about 20 to 30 feet in length, the sandbaggers were developed from the beamy centreboard oyster-fishing boats that were worked and moored on the shallows of New York Harbour. Over the previous two decades the sandbaggers had evolved to carry vast rigs that stretched fore-and-aft over twice the length of the hull, and were balanced by paid crews who dragged movable ballast sandbags full of gravel to windward each tack.
Although they were the crack racers of their day, in many ways the sandbaggers remained true to their workboat roots. As government studies of the time and modern museum curators both noted, many of the racing sandbaggers had been built as workboats, and some were to return to oyster dredging when their racing days were over. The sandbaggers were, in effect, like supercharged monster trucks.
The close racing and big prizes attracted both working watermen and rich amateurs. This was a scene where bluebloods of high society like Adrian Iselin raced hard against professional gamblers and immigrant working men, where vast sums were gambled on match races and knives and guns were used to settle protests. Nothing could be further from the myth of a conservative sailing scene ruled by reactionaries than New York small-boat racing of the 1870s.
The famous race that Amaryllis won in 1876 was not held by the New York Yacht Club, or any other club. It was held under the auspices of the United States Centennial Commission, and run by a special committee of members from clubs other than the NYYC. The cash prizes that were normal at the time were absent (as were many of the big boats) but the event stirred so much enthusiasm that several new sandbaggers were launched specifically for the regatta.
Amaryllis raced on the second day of the regatta. The events that day was restricted to boats rating 15 tons and under according to the NYYC rating rule – a rule that was could not measure a catamaran fairly. Sailboat racing was still young, but sailors had already realised that they only way to get good and fair competition was to break the entries into separate classes based on size and type. Even among the smaller classes, where many boats could be rigged as either a catboat (mainsail only) or as “jib and main” sloops, the two rigs were normally raced in separate classes. “All-in” events, where widely separate designs raced all together, seem to have been basically unknown in those days.
Amaryllis’ fleet was broken into a class for small cabin yachts; a class for boats under small “working sails”; and two classes full of sandbaggers. The bigger sandbaggers included legendary racers like the 28 foot Suzie S. The 25 foot long Amaryllis was in the smaller class where she faced the champion Pluck and Luck, sailed by Jake Schmidt. Although the four classes raced over the same course, there were two separate starts and no overall prize.
There were no class rules in Amaryllis’ day. It wasn’t just that they hadn’t been invented yet; there wasn’t really much need. Decades of development had stereotyped the sandbaggers into the 19th century equivalent of a tight restricted or box rule class. As authorities like sailing historian Howard Chappele noted, they all followed the same style of vertical bow and stern, massive beam, slack bilges, deep vee sections and a huge low-aspect rig. There was also no one to create class rules; there was no inter-club association, no national body, and no class associations. In the informal racing scene of the time, regattas were normally held according to the individual rules of each organising club or committee.
As one of the few out-of-town entries, Herreshoff’s cat was an outsider in more ways than one. Some of the racers were already aware of her speed, but according to the contemporary yachting writer and authority Captain Coffin, many in the fleet laughed at the odd-looking “double boat”. The cynics must have felt justified in the early part of the race. Back in 1876 boats were not timed from the sound of the starting gun, but from the time they actually crossed the start line. Amaryllis was one of the last to start, and in the light winds and flukes of the first few legs she showed little pace. By the first mark she had lost three minutes on the class leader, Pluck and Luck. She lost even more time on the beat back when she had to tack and “being slow in stays” (to quote both Coffin and Herreshoff himself) lost five minutes more. One little puff then sent her flying past about a dozen boats, but even two marks later she was still slower than Pluck and Luck and the big boats.
It was only in the second half of the race when the wind picked up that Amaryllis showed her true paces. While the sandbaggers struggled to stay upright, “the Amaryllis began to develop the wonderful speed that she possesses, and she fairly flew along the Long Island shore, passing yacht after yacht as if they were anchored..” In the words of the enormously experienced Captain Coffin, Amaryllis could “justly claim to be the fastest thing of her inches under canvas that floats, and it is doubtful if there are any steamers of her size that could out-speed her in a straight reach with the wind abeam.”
Despite her slow start Amaryllis came home in 3h 19m 32s, seven minutes ahead of the next boat, the famous 27’ sandbagger Sophie S, and a massive 20m in front of Pluck and Luck which has lost almost 10 minutes with broken gear. As Amaryllis crossed the line, she was “saluted by guns from the yachts that were lying at anchor, and the excursion steamers screeched their loudest in honour of her victory”.
It wasn’t only the sirens that screeched. The captain of the Clara S screeched in protest too, protesting that Amaryllis was “neither a yacht nor a boat.” The World reported that “it was the general opinion that the protest came too late, and should have been made before the start. Had it been, there is little doubt that the judged would have barred her out.” The committee ruled Amaryllis out of the event, arranging that instead of the first place diploma Amaryllis would receive “a diploma and a certificate that she had attained the highest speed ever made by a vessel of her length”.
Was the committee wrong to disqualify Amaryllis? It wasn’t the way we’d handle things today, but we have the advantage of 150 years of experience in organising sailing races and still even in the 2000s, classes as innovative as Moths still retrospectively ban boats built to the existing rules. The Centennial Regatta organisers had no ISAF rulebook, no precedent and no Notice of Race or class rules to guide them. Even at the time Captain Coffin called it a “curious” decision, but just a few years later another committee reacted the same way when an unusual local mono, a sharpie with her cat-ketch rig and long “leaning planks”, was disqualified on similar grounds after winning a similar event – proof that post-races disqualifications were not restricted to cats.
Were the committee the bigoted reactionary snobs they are often painted as? There’s no evidence for that notion, and some against it. When the committee disqualified Amaryllis they took the prize from Herreshoff, the educated descendant of an Imperial courtier, and handed to the immigrant hatmaker, saloon keeper and boatbuilder Jake Schmidt of Pluck and Luck. At least one of the race committee was later invited to act as judge in catamaran class races.
These days there’s a tendency to romanticise the lawless side of the sandbagger era; to fantasise that drawing a gun on a race judge or punching the race committee was a healthy alternative to the modern system of formal protests. It seems a tad hypocritical, then, to spend 140 years complaining because one protest in that environment didn’t match up to modern notions of procedural fairness.
One man never seemed to have complained. “It made little difference to Mr. Herreshoff” wrote Captain Coffin. Captain Nat had made his point, and as the Herreshoff noted later, “some yachtsmen saw the joke was one themselves and cried shame on the protesters.”  
Amaryllis was the sensation of the regatta, and the press were loud in their praise for the “fastest craft in the world”. Despite all the publicity, other cats were slow to hit the water. The delay had me puzzled for years. Perhaps the claims of bias were true, I thought; perhaps there was stubborn resistance to the brilliance of Herreshoff’s design. The truth is very different, and it is revealed by Nat Herreshoff’s own pen. “During the summer of 1876 I had many applications for a description and plan of the Amaryllis, to all of which I turned a deafened ear” he later wrote in the Herald. “I chose to wait until such a time when I could faithfully lay before the public a full account of the Amaryllis and my ideas on double boats generally, ideas which had some practical basis and proved by actual experiment.”
Once Herreshoff had laid his account before the public, he took a few months leave from his day job and settled down to feed the demand for his amazing new invention. “I got leave of absence from Corliss Steam Engine Co. for 3 months in summer of 1877, and started a trial business of building four, at contract price of $750 apiece” he recalled to his son Francis decades later. “I gave my time and there was no shop rent or overhead, and so came out just even. They should have been $1100 or $1200.” 
The rich and influential sailing men were at the front of the queue for Herreshoff’s cut-price speedsters. Keenest of them all was Fred Hughes, Commodore of the New Jersey Yacht Club, who bought a series of cats; first Amaryllis, then Nat’s second cat Tarantella, Jessie and Cyclone.
Duplex, built by Herreshoff for the treasurer of England’s Corinthian Yacht Club – one of many influential men who bought a cat. Thanks to poster Blackburn from BoatDesignForum.
It didn’t take long for Herreshoff to stake the cats’ place on the racing scene. “We double-boat fellows must have a club and an annual regatta” he wrote. As his son Francis wrote years later, all that he wanted for cats was their own events; even the creator of the racing cat didn’t believe that they should race against the monos. Nat himself stated clearly that he did not believe that cats would take over the sailing world, writing that he “did not mean, however, to infer that the catamaran will displace our ordinary style of yachts; it is an addition only to our resources.”
As it turned out, the cat owners didn’t need their own club – far from being against cats, the clubs and regatta committees tried hard to attract them to their races. In July 1877 it was announced that the catamaran racing era would start when Newburgh Bay YC offered the fledgling cat fleet a class in their annual regatta on August 1. The cats would, of course, race in a separate class to the sandbaggers; just as today the cats, windsurfers and kitefoils very rarely race together. As the cat fan Captain Coffin wrote, “it is clearly unfair to race boats of radically different models, and built for entirely different purposes, against each other.” 
In typical fashion, the NBYC divided the monos into Open and Cabin yacht classes and restricted sails or boom length, but started all the classes together.  Herreshoff’s new cat Tarantella was soon so far ahead that she could not be timed around the mark. In front of a crowd of 15,000 on docks and steamboats she finished in a shade under two and a half hours, half an hour ahead of the fastest sandbagger. Hughes’ Amaryllis came in behind three monos; the third cat did not finish. 
The Newburgh Bay event was just one of a long string of events run for cats over the next few years. The Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New Jersey, Long Island, Atlantic, and Empire yacht clubs all ran catamaran classes in their races. Far from being shunned, the catamarans received special encouragement; the Brooklyn YC allowed cats free entry into its 1878 regatta. In 1880 the first regatta for the fledgling and short-lived National Yachting Association of the US put on special efforts to attract the cats, although only three turned up.
Three catamarans in New York harbour, 1878.
The cats also spread further south, to New Orleans, where a small class raced for several years. Out at the Great Salt Lake, a separate breed of cats had been springing up independently at the same time as Amaryllis.
A roll call of the names of catamaran owners shows that they were not an underclass or rejects. They included affluent businessmen and the leaders of at least three powerful clubs. These were not men who would have meekly agreed to any ban.
And how did the New York Yacht Club, the oldest and most powerful club in America, react to the cats? Did they lead a ban as the myth claims? The answer is clearly and simply, no. When one member, Anson Stokes, announced that he was building a cruising catamaran and intended to race it in NYYC events some members objected, partly on the eminently logical grounds that the NYYC rating rule of the day didn’t allow for cats and gave them such a low rating that they would be invincible. When the matter came to a vote under club rules, some members noted that the NYYC’s revered founder of the club had been a cat pioneer himself. Old members advised that “double hull boats were no new thing in its history”. Stokes and other members, like innovative designer Robert Center, said that they would be happy if Stokes’ cat Nereid was put in its own class. After a tied vote, the committee decided that catamarans were legal in the NYYC. Nereid raced for a time without success under a modified rating system until her structural problems led her to be abandoned on a beach. Her career is further proof that the claim that cats were banned is a complete myth.
The evidence is clear. Cats were not banned; in fact they were encouraged to race as a separate class, just as Captain Nat himself wanted. The cats appear to have been received more warmly than the other radical boats of the day such as the British deep-keel cutters that caused a furious controversy, or the sailing canoes which appeared on New York harbour to the jeers of other sailors and ended up creating their own clubs and regattas.
For the next few years cats formed a regular part of new York racing. Herreshoff and the New York cat sailors, including other boatbuilders like Thomas Fearon and “Buckshot” Roahr, settled down to prove that the cat was faster, drier and safer than any small mono of the day. They may also have exaggerated a bit; “tip her over you cannot” wrote Herreshoff in 1876, but tip them over they did.  In 1877 Hughes drove Amaryllis over in a pitchpole, and as early as September 1878 a cat of unknown build had sprung a leak and capsized, her crew of five luckily being saved when they were losing hope. But the cat sailors spent most of their time racing and challenging anything they could. When Hughes bought Tarantella he offered to match any steam yacht’s time over a ten miles course. In July 1883, Hughes and his latest cat Jessie challenged a cyclist and a horseman to a race from New York to Stony Creek. The cyclist didn’t turn up; the cat won by miles; the rider lost by miles and was charged with cruelty to his horse.
But their numbers were always small. The biggest race, in 1884, seems to have had only half a dozen entries.  Coffin, the dean of yachting journalists and a convinced cat fan, could not understand why they had not become more popular. “Ten years have passed since the Amaryllis came and conquered, and yet there are comparatively few catamarans, not above a score, I think, in the whole of the United States.”
So why did the New York cats fade out? Partly it was down to Herreshoff’s business moving into other areas. “I joined my brother John at beginning of 1878 and was too busy building steamers – large and small, to bother with the catamarans” he explained to his son Francis many years later.  “Feuron (sic) continued building for a few years”.  Another report assumed that it was because the cost of a cat was 50% higher than an ordinary boat.  As Francis recounted years later, Nat thought that it was impossible to build a small and cheap cat with 1800s technology; “his opinion was that a catamaran less than 30’ long was not very practical because the hulls have to be so long and narrow of a high speed length ratio is to be achieved.” Nat’s other son, Sidney DeW. Herreshoff, designed some cats himself but believed that they were “far too expensive for the average person to build.” Lewis Herreshoff, Nat’s brother, later wrote that “this aquatic marvel was not destined to become popular; the boats required special skill in their management, and were best calculated for an afternoon’s sail in smooth, sheltered water.” Another multi fan who watched the New Jersey fleet noted that they were very slow when tacking.
In at least two other places, cats raced for a while and then faded away. A history of the Southern Yacht Club says that the cats of New Orleans were “undoubtably very fast, but were very unwieldy and soon dropped out of favour” partly because of their lack of cruising accommodation. Down in Australia, where a cat created by Henry Murray had shown some potential on a tiny lake in the goldrush city of Ballarat as early as 1870, some small and crude cats started racing on tiny Albert Park Lake in the city of Melbourne in 1887. It quickly became obvious that they could not race properly against monos, and soon half a dozen cats formed their own class. Once again, the class faded away within a year or two, apparently because their slow and uncertain tacking meant they could not sail properly on the tiny lake, and their construction was probably not up to the rough waters of the nearby Port Phillip Bay. Over in San Francisco, cats imported from the east and locally built versions raced for a while, and once again they soon vanished. The French magazine Le Yacht had published plans of a Herreshoff catamaran in 1879; “this kind of craft should ‘take’ on the waters of the Seine” noted Forest and Stream magazine’s with approval. Like the British cats of the time, they failed to take off. The Christchurch Yacht Club in New Zealand, raced mainly “proas” for a while before switching to scow-type monos.
Perhaps the real problem the cats faced was the same one that killed their old rivals, the sandbaggers. By the late 1800s, the day of the expert professional racer and complicated racing machines was almost over. The new ethos was encouraging cheaper, simpler, slower boats that amateurs could handle. Boats like the over-rigged “skimming dishes”, extreme sailing canoes, sandbaggers, Raters and other racing machines was fading away. Sailors were moving into one-designs, cruiser/racers and ‘knockabouts’ with snug rigs, and the lovers of high speed, trends and leading edge technology were turning to steam launches, naptha launches, automobiles and bicycles. Decades later, Nat Herreshoff himself was to write that the era of the fast sailboat was over; those who wanted speed would find it in automobiles, bicycles and outboard powerboats. Even Nat turned away from cats; although in 1877 he had written that he was “sure that half a day’s sail in the Amaryllis would spoil any one for the old fashioned sailing”, within a couple of years he had returned to monos, and continued sailing them even after he had retired.
Sadly, when the New York cats died, the truth about their success died with them. Instead there grew a myth that denigrated everyone. Today many who claim that cats were banned use a single sentence by L Francis Herreshoff as their evidence. Francis wasn’t a witness to the end of the cats; he wasn’t even born until 1890. He gives no reference for his claim. The documentary evidence is clear that he is wrong; the cats got their own class in the major events, just like every other type of boat did.
There are some who have clung so long to the myth of a ban that they refuse to look a at the documentary evidence, and refuse to believe that Francis was capable of making an error. But Francis also wrote that a cat’s “average speed is not as great as some single hulled boats with less wetted surface for their sail area and more useful room” and that that an “all-round improved catamaran that is dry and safe seems to be very expensive indeed.” People can’t have it both ways – either Francis was capable of making errors, or cats are slow. The evidence all points one way – Francis made a simple minor error when he wrote that the cats were banned from all the major events, and in the days before newspapers were digitised and put on the web, his readers could not easily find out the truth.
The myth that has grown up around Amaryllis denigrated the sailors and clubs of New York, by falsely labelling them as luddites instead of the innovators they were. It denigrated the cat sailors, by assuming that if there had been an attempt to ban them they would have buckled, instead of having the initiative to create their own races like the ocean racers, the canoe sailors, the sharpie sailors and others did. And it denigrated the rest of the world, by implying that a ban in one city would have stopped cats from developing in Cowes, Sydney, Auckland, Hamburg and other sailing centres.
The truth is clear and much happier. The brilliant early catamarans were not banned. They were not discriminated against. They were a great design that attracted support from many of the established sailors of the day. But the technology of the day meant that they were too wet, twitchy and expensive to attract many people and to achieve critical mass. And in the end, not many sailors are attracted by pure speed; just like most sailors today sail Lasers, yachts, F18s, Darts and Hobies instead of foiling kites, the sailors of the late 1800s preferred cruiser/racers and knockabouts. There was no conspiracy, no powerplay; it was just that fun on the water is not measured by knots alone
 The committee was John M. Sawyer of the Brooklyn YC, which ran cat races the next season; O.E. Cromwell and M Roosevelt Schuyler of the Seawanhaka YC; and Sidney W. Knowles of the Atlantic Yacht Club, which also offered cat racing the next season.
 The New York Herald., June 24, 1876, Page 6.
 “A Yachting Wonder. Sudden Development of the Fastest Craft in the World. The Reveille, Susie B., Amaryllis and Victoria Win the Second Centennial Regatta.” The World, June 24, 1876, p. 2.
 “A Yachting Wonder. Sudden Development of the Fastest Craft in the World. The Reveille, Susie B., Amaryllis and Victoria Win the Second Centennial Regatta.” The World, June 24, 1876,Sudden
 New York Herald, June 25 1876 p 7
 The Moths banned the Burvill tri-foiler, the first practical foiling Moth, judging it to be a multihull. It contined a long tradition; in the 1970s they banned windsurfers after at least one board had been built and raced as a Moth, and before that they had banned catamarans and sliding planks. The fact that such an innovative class bans boats after they have been built to existing rules illustrates that Amaryllis’ disqualification from one race is not significantly different from modern practise.
Outing, Oct Vol 9, p 17.
 Letter of Nat Herreshoff to Francis Herreshoff, May 7 1929 http://library.mysticseaport.org/manuscripts/CPageImage.cfm?PageNum=109&BibID=35258&Box=17&Folder=5
 Autobiographical note “from the life of Nathanial Greene Herreshoff”, Mystic Seaport Museum Library. http://library.mysticseaport.org/manuscripts/CPageImage.cfm?PageNum=25&BibID=35258&Box=16&Folder=12
 Spirit of The Times; Oct 20 p 356 1883. The article shows how highly Captain Coffin, the Spirit’s influential sailing writer, praised the cats.
 Herald article by Nat
 1877 article
 The World, June 24 1876, p 4 . Captain Coffin, a true cat fan, was the yachting reporter for The World and one assumes he either wrote the editorial or had some influence on it.
See also Jan 14 1892 for another explanation about why a later set of sailors realised that racing dissimilar boats was useless.
 New York Herald, July 30 1877 p 7
 The next season she finished the important New York Bay regatta half an hour ahead of the top sandbagger, which took four hours.
 NYH Aug 2 1877 p 8. . FN The three cats were not eligible for the overall corrected time prize, which the 46 monos entries fought for under a time-for-length rule. We still can’t create an equitable rating rule to score multis against monos and at the time there was so little experience in cats that there would have been even less chance. It can also be noted that the world’s biggest cat race, the Round Texel, has recently allowed windsurfers to race – but even when the windsurfers beat all the cats home as in , the boards were not counted in the main event for line honours or handicap rankings. The cat sailors of 2016 are therefore behaving in the same manner as the mono sailors of 1877. Sadly, although the NBYC had started the world’s first cat race, no boats turned up for the cat class that was offered at the club’s next annual regatta.
 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 12 Mar 1878 p 3
 The NY Times of August 10 noted that the organisers specifically tried to encourage cats and gave them lower entry fees and more prize money (in in comparison to their fleet size).
 See for example Outing, Vol 29
 New York Heraldn, April 16, 1877 p 5. Another paper (The Sun, Sep 26 1882 ) reported that they could not capsize.
 NY Herald Sep 15 1878 p 11
 NY Herald Sep 5 1878 p 8
 SoTT 1884 p 283 reporting on Sep 18 race
 Outing 1886 Nov Vol IX p
 Letter of May 9 1926.
 (The 1884 1884 p 283
 Letter of March 7 1947 http://library.mysticseaport.org/manuscripts/CPageImage.cfm?PageNum=75&BibID=35258&Box=3&Folder=1 Note that there is a reference to French planing hull catamarans.
Although Francis designed one catamaran, he was not generally a fan; “The cats of the 1800s may have been fatally handicapped by the materials of the day. “They certainly are capable of high speed at times” wrote Francis years later. “However, it is my impression that“They certainly are capable of high speed at times” wrote Francis years later. “However, it is my impression that their average speed is not as great as some single hulled boats with less wetted surface for their sail area and more useful room.” To make an “all-round improved catamaran that is dry and safe seems to be very expensive indeed on account of the many special fittings that are required, and their great width rather interferes with their usefulness around harbours where many yachts are anchored.” (ibid)” To make an “all-round improved catamaran that is dry and safe seems to be very expensive indeed on account of the many special fittings that are required, and their great width rather interferes with their usefulness around harbours where many yachts are anchored.” (ibid)
 Letter to of Francis Herreshoff to Paul R Fenner , Jan 8 1947, ibrary.mysticseaport.org/manuscripts/CPageImage.cfm?PageNum=10&BibID=35258&Box=3&Folder=1
30b – “Yachting in America”, Lewis Herreshoff, in “Yachting, Vol II”, Badminton Library, London, 1894
30c – Forest and Stream Feb 3 1887
 Outing vol 31 p 557
Forest and Stream, 1879, p 274
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1903