At first glance—a glance from the waist up—it might seem that yachting as a sport has not changed greatly over the years. Shown here at the upper left corner of the page in the impeccable uniform that marked the true yachtsman of his era is the late Sir Thomas Lipton, perennial cup challenger and famed exemplar of an age during which the late J. P. Morgan told a friend that anyone who had to ask the upkeep of a yacht quite obviously could not afford one.
Ranged alongside Lipton, in a picture snapped only a week or so ago as they strolled along a Newport, R.I. pier on a warm September day, are two contemporary yachtsmen: John S. Dickerson and another Morgan, Charles F., both members of the all-important New York Yacht Club committee which picked Columbia to defend the America's Cup against another British challenger this week. Providing he plays fair and keeps his eye on the top of the page, we defy even the keenest observer to detect any but the most trivial difference between their uniforms and that of Sir Thomas.
Yet there is a difference, and a vast one, not only in the uniforms worn by these yachtsmen of a different era but in the sport they represent. To sample this difference, we invite the reader to contemplate the picture at the bottom of the page which is nothing more or less than the lower half of the picture of the committeemen on top.
It is safe to say that if portly Sir Thomas had appeared in such a getup at Newport in the 1920s, whole coveys of Belmont, Vanderbilt and Morgan ladies would have fled the scene in the awed conviction that he had lost his pants, but in the yachting world of 1958 knobbly knees and sneakers are far more fashionable than well-pressed flannels.
Well-tailored gentlemen with time on their hands and money in the bank play with fabulously expensive toys in the waters off Newport today just as they did a generation ago. It may be that yachting to some extent will always be a rich man's sport. But the great floating palaces of yore are gone—the privately owned ocean liners on which fashionable ladies in the latest Paris mode could take tea with impunity from wind and wave. The boats Morgan knew as "yachts" have vanished like the winds of yesteryear from the course off Brenton Reef, giving way to a vast new fleet of smaller, breezier craft crewed by lean young men and shapely girls informally clad in sneakers, shirts and shorts.
Today in one way or another, on diesel cruisers and slippery sailfish, some 20% of the U.S. population goes down to the sea in pleasure boats, spending more in toto on the sport than even Mr. Morgan could well afford. The once-exclusive New York Yacht Club station at Newport itself is now a public landing open to all. Many of the great houses that sheltered the fashionable colony's yachtsmen ashore now stare blindly out to sea with shuttered and boarded windows. But the sea itself is still peppered with enthusiastic sailors as eager to follow the intricate maneuvers of today's relatively modest 12s as their predecessors were to watch the lordly J boats of the fabulous and expensive past.
Yachting, like most everything else, may change its fashions, but the appeal of a freshening breeze, an endless horizon and a challenging sea is timeless and tugs endlessly at the hearts of sailors in J boats and dinghies alike. As sportsmen we revere yachting's aristocratic past and hail its democratic future. As unofficial self-appointed arbiters of fashion we offer congratulations of a high order to the Newport yachtsmen pictured here who managed to combine a sense of both in one elegantly tailored uniform.