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Gordon Bennett and the First Yacht Race Across the Atlantic by Sam Jefferson

Gordon Bennett and the First Yacht Race Across the Atlantic by Sam Jefferson

Author:Sam Jefferson
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781472916747
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing


7

STRANGER THAN FICTION

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.

SAMUEL JOHNSON, QUOTED IN ANECDOTES OF THE REVD PERCIVAL STOCKDALE

With the passing of the storm, the Atlantic decided to display a very different side of its personality. The following morning, memories of that fearful night were ushered aside by a pristine, crystal-clear day, as Stephen Fiske aboard the Henrietta recalls:

As in the middle of a desert there is an oasis, so in the middle of the Atlantic we presently came upon a calm. In one night we passed from Winter cold to Summer warmth. There had been no sunshine; and now the sun shone brightly. The yacht, that had been lashed by whips of hail and sleet, rolled lazily, like a tame seal in the placid water. No one could realize that such a July day was December 21.

… instead of reading more prayers, [Captain Samuels] followed the sailor superstition and ordered all hands to change their clothing and whistle for a wind. Had not the stake been so weighty in honour as well as money, the sight of the yachtsmen, attired in clean togs and unsuspected finery, every man puckering his mouth to whistle would have been more comical than a minstrel show.

Presently a gentle breeze filled in and seemed to playfully caress the great widow-maker, affectionately ruffling her surface with the gentlest of wavelets. Henrietta began to steal along her way again. In the meantime, the sunshine was there to be enjoyed and presently the deckchairs were shipped and a bottle of claret was rustled up out of the bilge. Say what you want about Bennett, he kept a sensational cellar. Bathed in radiant light, the gents sipped on the rich, sweet wine, nibbled on plover’s eggs, luxuriated in the sweet, golden rays of a sun that seemed to shine only for them and swapped tales of largesse and high-class debauchery.

Yes, life was sweet for our privileged friends. The past was a golden haze of excess, and the future seemed to beckon them on, as warm and inviting as that beautiful sun-infused morning. Perhaps this is an apt time to look a little more closely at James Gordon Bennett and what lay in store for him, for the conclusion of this transatlantic jaunt was to prove pivotal. Upon his return to New York, his father finally bowed to the inevitable and handed over some of his editorial power to his wayward son. Even as he crossed the Atlantic, Bennett must have had an inkling of his father’s plans and been pondering the mayhem he could cause if he controlled the most popular newspaper in the world.

To get a real idea of his potential for havoc and a full insight into the psychology of the individual, we have to fast forward nigh on nine years to the morning of 9 November 1874 when the Herald got the exclusive on one of the greatest tragedies ever to hit the city of New York.



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