|Charles W Felker's "elegant piece of plate"
Lake Geneva and Lake Winnebago, both in Wisconsin, held organized racing for sailboats in the 1870s. This excerpt tells of the early organization of the Oshkosh Yacht Club, and its Commodore Charles W. Felker, who led the club from 1885 to 1897, and donated one of the most active and coveted trophies among the inland lakes.
Dr. Thomas A. Hodgson
is the author and has
Copyright 1997 Thomas A. Hodgson
All Rights reserved.
Excerpts have been reproduced with
permission of the author.
In the years that followed, there grew a relationship between the clubs of Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Neenah. Every summer, the Oshkosh Yacht Club would organize a cruise and campout on Garlic Island. The Fond du Lac and Oshkosh fleets would rendezvous off Morley's Point, racing to the island or occasionally sailing to Neenah, where they would meet up with the Neenah fleet and all cruise down to the island. There, under the elms, a tent village would appear, and the days would be filled with sailor talk, games, fishing, and the inevitable races and speed trials. Prize purses of $200 for first place, $100 for second, and $50 for third were customary. Spectators on shore and on steamers often numbered into the thousands.
It was a time of good fellowship and high Victorian values. Charles W. Felker, commodore of the Oshkosh Yacht Club from 1885 to 1897, wrote of that life:
Right royal men were those old yachtsmen as ever sailed a yacht or cracked a joke. . . . The discipline in the Winnebago Lake fleet in the early days was rigorous, in fact of the real man-o'-war cut. For instance, for unnecessarily drawing the "long bow" Capt. Stevens was sentenced to commit to memory all the stanzas of that poem containing the line "Truth crushed to earth shall rise again," and to repeat the same before a board of inquiry once a day for three succeeding days; for oversalting the lobscouse with intent to create thirst among the officers and men, Steward McPeck, of the schooner yacht Mollie, was compelled to eat the whole batch at a meal (which he easily did) and to go without drink, except water, for three hours thereafter; for a light infraction of the regulations as to late hours, Lieut. Crary was sentenced to refrain from speaking to, or associating with, any of the female sex for three days. He begged for a mitigation of the sentence, but this was denied him, and his conduct ever after was exemplary. This severe discipline had a marked effect upon the manners as well as the morals of the officers and men.
Upon assuming the rank of commodore of the Oshkosh Yacht Club, Felker donated "an elegant piece of plate" for racing yachts on Lake Winnebago. Felker's trophy was ordered through an Oshkosh jeweler, Birely, which contacted the Gorham Silver Company of New York. Gorham, in turn, purchased Meriden Britannica company's stock trophy Number 2000, its "Chased, Gold Inlaid and Gold Lined Yacht Cup," wholesaled at a cost of $137.50. By the time Gorham and Birely added their markups, Felker's bill came to $350. According to the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern, that was the greatest sum of money spent for an Oshkosh Yacht Club trophy to date.
The deed of gift for the Felker Cup also specifies the race course, beginning with the Oshkosh Yacht Club home buoy at the foot of Washington Street. From there, the course follows a triangle with legs of two miles each, sailed twice around. The deed of gift was revised in 1897, opening the competition to any yacht owned by a member of an organized yacht club in the United States. Boats sailing for the cup must fall under the classification of First Class—boats measuring 20 feet or more on the waterline—of the Oshkosh Yacht Club.
The Felker Cup is antedated only by the Sheridan Prize on Lake Geneva in this part of the country, and is one of the oldest sailing trophies, perhaps the most active one, in America.