More than radical, Gloriana was revolutionary. Forty-five feet on the waterline, she had an astounding 25-foot overhang. Yet 60% of her total weight was below the surface. Her bronze-plated keel terminated in a lead bulb rather like a fat Corona cigar. Not only did this lend her stability, it enabled her to pivot in virtually her own length. So much sail could be loaded on this boat and her successors that they were bitterly called racing cheaters.
Every iota of Gloriana stemmed from the patience, knowledge, imagination and skills of the Herreshoffs. Rig and fittings were tailored to a millimeter for lightness without sacrifice of strength. Stock hardware was unworthy of her. All metal fittings were hammered out in the yard's own machine shops and at the yard's forges.
Under Morgan's ownership, with Nathanael—as daring and skillful a skipper as he was a designer—at the helm, the lovely Gloriana was a dark horse when she entered the 46-foot class of racing sloops developed by the Herreshoffs' friendly rival, Edward Burgess. Burgess, whose son Starling was later to design three cup defenders of his own, was author of two winning America's Cup defenders and had had a brilliant career. Perhaps it was merciful that he was not present to witness Gloriana's victories, for she flew across the finish line eight times in succession ahead of the field. Shortly before, on July 12, 1887, Burgess had died of typhoid fever at the age of 42, and The New England Magazine mourned:
Oh, who shall lift the wand of magic power
And the lost clew regain?
The unfinished window in Aladdin's tower
Unfinished must remain.
Within three years the window was finished, the question answered: Nat Herreshoff.
The Herreshoffs were not men to rest on their laurels. Gloriana was a triumph, therefore their next boat must outdo Gloriana. The upshot of the effort was a sloop named Wasp, an offspring of Gloriana so refined and lightly built that the doors below stuck fast when she heeled over. Any unfortunate caught in the head had to wait until the boat came about. At the precise instant of luff the door could be opened.
Wasp sailed for the most part under the command of a cocky little Scotsman named Charlie Barr, who was signed on by the Herreshoffs when he was only 25 years old. Barr, who started life in the Scottish village of Gourock close to the River Clyde, was a man after the Herreshoff heart. Other skippers tended to distrust and dislike the little Scotsman because he often took risks they considered outrageous. All the same, with the instincts of a born gambler, he invariably knew the odds and exactly how to win on them. Such a man naturally got the pick of the good jobs and top pay, and this fact did not make Charlie Barr any more popular with his rivals. The Herreshoffs cared little. He could sail.
At the time their beautiful Wasp was built the Herreshoff brothers paid little heed to the races that took place from time to time for the America's Cup. For one thing, they were generally held off New Jersey's Sandy Hook, which was too far from Bristol, R.I. to seem very pertinent. For another, they seemed to be the exclusive property of Edward Burgess.
Between 1870 and 1881 the cup had been successfully defended four times, twice against Britain, twice against Canada. Beginning in 1885, Burgess chalked up six victories in as many races. With his death, however, the wind veered to the Bristol quarter. Gloriana's and Wasp's remarkable records pointed to Nat Herreshoff as the man to take over, an idea the press underscored.
It was not quite straight sailing. A syndicate of New York Yacht Club members, headed by William K. Vanderbilt and J. P. Morgan, backed the Herreshoffs against two Boston firms. Vanderbilt was authoritative. He knew exactly what he wanted and spelled it out to Nathanael: Colonia, the new sloop, was to follow, almost to a T, the lines of Wasp. Nat's temper, never too latent, bridled. Nobody told the Herreshoffs how to build boats. Subconsciously he set out to teach Vanderbilt a lesson.