Born In The USA: Exploring the largest American-built yachts

Written by Malcolm John Wood

SuperYacht Times’ in-house yacht historian Malcolm Wood remembers the largest yachts built in the United States over the last two centuries;

Following the FLIBS event last month, I thought it would be a good time to take a brief look at the largest yachts constructed in the USA from the 19th century to the modern era of the superyacht. It is important not to forget that the advent of satellite communications in the 1970s signalled the emergence of the modern superyacht market as we know it today.Fort Lauderdale Boat Show 2018Photo: Informa US Boat Shows (US Boat Shows)
Although production of large yachts (150 feet, or 45.72 metres, and over) in the USA commenced with the launch of the 84.1-metre North Star steam yacht built by Simonson, (Greenport, NY) in 1852 and followed by the 76.2-metre Voyageur de la Mer by Holden & Gallagher (East Boston, MA) in 1858, it was not until the 1880s that we saw an increase in the numbers delivered.  Let’s take a look at some basic statistics before we go further.

The number of yachts of 150 ft (45.72 metres) and over delivered in the period 1850 to 1899 was 62 units and from 1900 to 1939 it was 112 units. It was during the period of World War I and following the Wall Street Crash in 1929 until the start of World War II in 1939 that the numbers of large yachts delivered decreased significantly. 

In the post-war period from 1945 to 1980, only a handful of vessels were completed including a number of World War II conversions of former naval craft. However, from 1980 until the end of the 20th century, there was the start of an upturn in numbers with the establishment of several new yards.
North Star yacht, 1852 Photo: Malcolm Wood Yachting ArchiveTurning now to the all-time largest American yachts:

10.    Viking         1929        82.9m         Newport News SB

Built for George F. Baker Jr as the first turbo-electric powered yacht. She later came under the ownership of Norman B. Woolworth as Noparo but became a war loss in 1944.

9.    North Star     1852        84.1m            Simonson

Built for Cornelius Vanderbilt, North Star was the first very large yacht built in the USA. Converted to a passenger vessel in 1854. She was renamed Three Brothers in 1866 and later became a coal hulk at New London, Connecticut.

8.    Caroline II     1931        85.0m            Bath Iron Works

Built for Eldridge H. Johnson as the second vessel of this name, the first was a 52.1-metre constructed by Lawley in 1926. She was later known as Moana and Hilo in 1941, before being broken up in 1958.
Aquila running shots Photo: Rupert Pearce
7.    Aquila        2010    85.6m                Derecktor Shipyards

Aquila is by a wide margin the largest purpose-built yacht from a United States shipyard in recent history, not only by length but also by volume, as she measures 2,998 gross tons (GT). She was completed as Cakewalk and sold to her current owners and renamed Aquila in 2014. Her exterior was designed by the renowned British designer, Tim Heywood.Aquila interior Photo: Rupert Pearce

Aquila interiorPhoto: Rupert Pearce
6.    Niagara II    1898    86.0m                Harlan & Hollingsworth

Built for Howard Gould, she became a US naval hydrographic vessel in 1918 and was sold for scrap in 1933.

Corsair IV as a cruise ship Photo: Malcolm Wood Yachting Archive
5.    Alva             1886        86.9m              Harlan & Hollingsworth

Built for William K. Vanderbilt, she sank after a collision in 1892.

4.    Savarona III              1928    89.6m                 Pusey & Jones

Built for Richard M. Cadwalader Jr. as the third vessel of this name. She was later named Alder and converted to a banana carrier in 1953. She became a total loss in 1961 after springing a leak.

3.    Aphrodite         1898    92.2m       Bath Iron Works

Built for Colonel Oliver H. Payne. She went to the US Navy 1917 and then to Harry Payne Whitney in 1919. Converted to a passenger vessel in 1920, she was bombed and sunk off Patras in 1941.

2.    Corsair III        1899    92.7m        Marvel

Built for J. Pierpont Morgan Sr. She was the third of four Corsairs completed for the Morgan family. Became the US survey ship Oceanographer in 1930 and was broken up in 1944.

1.    Corsair IV        1930    104.7m              Bath Iron Works

Built for J. Pierpont Morgan Jr. The largest US-built yacht (measured by length overall). Converted to a passenger cruise ship in 1946 after war service. She was wrecked off Acapulco in 1949.

Corsair IV, 1930Photo: Malcolm Wood Yachting Archive
NB – apart from Aquila, all the above yachts were steam-powered vessels. The largest sailing yachts included the 73.2-metre Bretagne built in 1881 by Malster & Reaney, the 55.1-metre Shenandoah built in 1902 by Townsend & Downey and the 1930-built Black Douglas. 

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