Timothy Franklin Ross Thompson (British, born 1951)
Arrow and Alarm battling it out during the original 'America's Cup' race of 1851 signed T.F.Thompson (lower right) oil on canvas 50.8 x 101.6cm (20 x 40in).
PROVENANCE : Private collection, U.K.
LITERATURE : Ranulf Rayner and Tim Thompson, The Story of Yachting, (Newton Abbot and London, 1988), p.20, illustrated.
Before the Prince of Wales's legendary Britannia burst upon the yachting scene in 1893, the nineteenth century's most celebrated cutter had been the Arrow. Built in Inman's yard at Lymington in 1821 for Mr. Joseph Weld of Lulworth Castle, Dorset, she was measured at 85 tons and was 61½ feet in length with an 18½ foot beam. More interestingly perhaps was the fact that she was largely the product of her owner's ideas of design at a time when he was one of the most vociferous champions of the cutter rig. In the opinion of 'British Yachts and Yachtsmen' (publ. 1907), "there is no more conspicuous figure in these early days [of yachting] than Mr. Weld" and there is no doubt that he was one of the earliest salt-water yachtsmen in the modern sense. He was sailing competitively as early as 1800 and was amongst the founding fathers of the Royal Yacht Squadron, originally called 'The Yacht Club', when it was established in 1815. After numerous successes with several boats, latterly his 60-ton cutter Charlotte, Weld replaced her with Arrow in 1821 and, from the outset, his new cutter proved more than a match for all-comers, even those of significantly higher tonnage. In an exciting race from Cowes to Swanage Bay and back in July 1825 for a wager of £500, Arrow was only narrowly beaten by Lord Anglesey's Pearl yet the winner was nearly 20 tons more in burden. When matched against yachts of comparable size and tonnage, Arrow was unbeatable and her first real triumph came in 1826 when she won the £100 gold cup at the [Royal] Yacht Club's annual regatta; that year marked the inauguration of cup-racing at Cowes and thus the honour of winning the very first cup ever offered by the Royal Yacht Squadron fell to Mr. Joseph Weld and Arrow. It was an historic victory and the first of many in what was to prove an astonishingly long career.
Anxious to improve on Arrow's success with an even larger cutter, Weld sold her after the 1828 season a decision he came to regret bitterly and she was purchased by George Ackers, a fellow club member. Subsequently owned by Mr. Thomas Chamberlayne, who restored and lengthened her in 1846, she continued her triumphant career right up until her final retirement in 1879.
Alarm, the second of Joseph Weld's design successes, was also built for him by Inman at Lymington in 1830 and launched that May. Measured at 193 tons, she was the largest racing cutter afloat and after winning the King's Cup in 1830, her maiden season, she then did so again in the two following years. Like Arrow before her, she was destined for a glittering career and eventually came to be seen as "the last and finest example of the [big] racing cutter" before the advent of the schooner rig for competitive sport. In the event, Weld kept his first Alarm for twenty-one years, replacing her in 1852 with an even larger schooner of the same name.
Although these two notable thoroughbreds probably competed against each other on numerous occasions, Tim Thompson has shown them here taking part in the famous 'Round-the-Island' race on 22nd August 1851, the race won by America and described at length in the notes to lots 196 and 198 in this catalogue. During this memorable contest, when the principal competitors reached the Nab light vessel, marking the eastern end of the course, Arrow was in the lead. At this point America, it was said, following a second set of rules, cut inside, and although chased by the rest of the fleet, put herself into such a commanding position that the Arrow, attempting to pass her again off Ventnor, ran aground. Alarm turned to assist her, but in doing so was also left so far behind that she decided to retire and return home.
This picture shows, from left to right - America, Aurora, Freak, Alarm, Arrow and Volante.