For over 100 years Seattle and Vancouver, sister cities by virtue of their ocean settings and love of sailing, have been in fierce but friendly competition in yachting. This was especially evident at the beginning of the last century when sailing races between Canada and the U.S. were given front page coverage in both Vancouver and Seattle newspapers and the general public followed these races with the avidness that rabid hockey fans exhibit today.
This was especially true for the period from 1907 to the beginning of World War Two. Vancouver yachtsmen vied, without success, to best Seattle sailors. The first major battle was sailed in International Rule 29 footers (waterline length); at stake was the Alexandra Cup. The race was held in Seattle in 1907 and the U.S. yacht Spirit won over Canada’s Alexandra. In the second contest in 1908 Canada’s Alexandra bested the Seattle entry Spirit to win the Cup. The 1909 race ended in an acrimonious dispute over Seattle’s new yacht Spirit II and competition for the Alexandra Cup ceased.
Later contests were held in Universal Rule “R” Class boats; the glamour class of the day. At stake was the imposing Lipton Cup, a trophy that Sir Thomas Lipton himself established in the Pacific Northwest in 1912. Despite years of effort, Vancouver was never able to field a challenger capable of beating Ted Geary’s Sir Tom. Even the deep pockets and sporting passion of B.T. Rogers’s purpose built Turenga (frequently skippered by member Paddy Thomson’s grandfather, Ron Maitland) could never quite catch Sir Tom. In the 1920s, the Club tried again with Patricia, this time using a C.E. Nicholson (of Camper & Nicholson) design. Patricia was faster than Turenga but not fast enough to best Sir Tom. Other challengers followed: Riowna in 1925, Lady Pat in 1927; but Sir Tom, despite now being 15 years old, flourished unbeaten.
It remained for a syndicate of Vancouver yachtsmen to commission a new challenger, again designed by Camper & Nicholson. Lady Van, built in 1928 at Vancouver Drydock, measured just shy of 39 feet overall, with a waterline length of 22.9 feet and a beam of 7.4 feet. She was pet project of a yard more accustomed to building tugboats and barges. But in her first year of competition, she shaved Sir Tom‘s lead down to seconds. In Lady Van’s second season, she won the Lipton Cup for Vancouver at last, with Jack Cribb at the helm. After that, the white hulled sloop was purchased by Royal Vancouver Yacht Club member Eric Hamber who campaigned her to frequent victories in local and PIYA races with a variety of crews and skippers. Significantly, Lady Van won the Lipton Cup again in 1934, 1937 (with a woman at the helm, Dorothy Wylie), 1938, 1939 and 1940.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, R-Class racing in Pacific coastal waters began to die away. By 1942, defence regulation required all Vancouver yachts to stay east of Jericho base, and racing ceased completely until the end of the war.
In 1942, Lady Van was sold to Gurnie Richarson of Olympia, WA who needed special permission and guidance to navigate the mine fields while delivering the boat to the Olympia Yacht Club. Gurnie added an engine, stove, bigger deckhouse and a self bailing cockpit and used it to cruise in Puget Sound.
He sold her to Bob Watt of Seattle in 1946. Bob cruised with Lady Van, but also had a very successful racing record, racing mainly in the X-Class around Seattle and winning a number of 1st’s in PIYA regattas in the region from 1946 to 1954. He removed the cockpit and had to deal with leaks which he solved by wedge gluing the planking. He also removed some lead from the keel to improve her handicap rating.
Lady Van was purchased by Phil and Sam Peoples of Corinthian Yacht Club of Seattle in 1957 who continued to both race and cruise her. The Peoples brothers did more work on hull planking and fiber-glassed the deck and mast and added temporary life lines, emergency life raft, running lights, and other changes to qualify to race in the Cruising A Class. Lady Van had a very successful racing record around Puget Sound and in PIYA events in both X and A Class and made a return visit to Vancouver where she placed third at the PIYA championships in 1964 .
Lady Van was sold to Howard Herrigal of Seattle in late 1964, and later to Scott Seefeldt. However, she ended up more hulk than hind on the hard near the Lake Washington locks, and was later moved to the Duwamish Slough near Boeing Field. There, in a dilapidated state and suffering from ill-advised attempts at repair, she was rediscovered by Don Martin – yacht designer, internationally recognized sailing jurist and measurer, Past Commodore of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, and a classic yacht racing enthusiast. On his mind was the re-constituted match racing series for the long dormant Alexandra Cup. The Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle owns the classic R-Class vessel – Pirate which was lovingly restored and looked after by members of the Seattle Yacht Club. What if the Alexandra Cup could be competed for in these beautiful craft of yester-year?
After four years of negotiation to purchase the Lady Van, Don was eventually successful in persuading the owner that she should be returned to her birthplace for a complete restoration befitting her history. On behalf of the Heritage Boatbuilding Society of B.C., the Lady Van was purchased and repatriated to Canada in 2009 was transferred to Jespersen Boatbuilding in Sidney, BC; there to begin a long, complicated process to restore her back to racing trim. Restoration was completed with her Re-Christening in June, 2010. After a summer of “tune-up” racing, Lady Van met and bested Pirate in Alexandra Cup competition in October, 2010.