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Q and A: Text

As Thorvald Poekel's great-grandson, did you always know the story of Vencedor?

I never knew anything about Vencedor before starting to research the life of my great-grandfather. All I knew about him was that he was a naval architect who'd emigrated from Denmark and had worked for a long time for the Herreshoffs before starting his boatyard in Neponset, Massachusetts. 


Q and A: About

How popular was yacht racing in the 1890s and early 1900s?

Yacht racing was a leading sport around the turn of the twentieth century. It was covered extensively in the newspapers and followed by thousands of people throughout the world. There was even large scale betting on some of the more important races.

Q and A: About

What made Vencedor different from other racing yachts of that era?

Vencedor entered the Great Lakes as one of the largest racing sloops ever built. Its designer had come from the East Coast, it was unique for its time, and its racing record was extraordinary. Poekel had worked on large racing sloops at the Herreshoff yard and it was said that he took the best attributes of Defender and Niagara and incorporated them into Vencedor. Great painstaking work went into the building of Vencedor as it was to represent the United States in Canada's Cup, the greatest sailing race up to that time to ever take place on the Great Lakes. The race solidified his reputation as one the great nautical designers of the era. 

Q and A: About

Because of the success of Vencedor, your great-grandfather became a national celebrity. But with that celebrity came attacks on his abilities as a designer by his former employers, the Herreshoff family. Why were they so determined to ruin his reputation?

I believe that the Herreshoff family wanted to promote Nathanael Greene Herreshoff as one of the greatest yacht designers in the world. The family couldn't accept that the  "Wizard of Bristol" had any assistance from anyone - much less from a young Danish immigrant. Any reporter who tauted the genius of Poekel had to be shot down. The family, I believe, was also upset that Poekel had not only left the company, but persuaded almost a dozen Herreshoff workers to leave with him.

Q and A: About

Who are some of the most extraordinary characters in the story?

Quite a few remarkable characters are part of the story. Two of the most interesting are Edward Aemilius Jarvis and Aimee Crocker Gillig. Everything about the life of Jarvis, skipper of Canada, was extraordinary; he even acted as an unofficial spy for King Gorge V, while on a visit to Tsar Nicholas II. He mastered sailing at a young age, was a thorough yachtsman, and in his time, was the winning-est skipper on the Great Lakes. But more than that, he had an inner strength that was with him his entire life. As the skipper of Canada, he turned a crew of Canadian businessmen into a yacht racing machine in about thirty days. Skipper Jarvis and designer Poekel were very similar men: both were clever, driven and hard-working. Aimee Crocker Gillig, who was married to the second owner of Vencedor, threw lavish (and sometimes scandalous) parties, had several husbands (including two Russian princes), numerous lovers and collected Buddhas, matching tattoos and snakes.

Q and A: About

Are you a sailor?

 I would rank my level slightly below amateur. I've had lessons on a small sailing boat in New York Harbor which has to be one of the toughest testing grounds in the world. Teddy Kennedy Jr. once told me that with a house in Marion I have to be a sailor. I don't think I could have crewed on Vencedor.

Q and A: About

Who created the painting on the book jacket?

The marvelous painting that adorns the cover of the book was done by Patrick O'Brien, a noted martime painter who excels in creating history on canvas. The original hangs in my home in Hammetts Cove in Marion, Ma.

Q and A: About
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