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"The Foul" by Russ Kramer

Valkyrie III bears down on Defender at the start of the second race of the infamous America’s Cup of 1895, her boom swinging over the heads of Captain Hank Haff, designer Nat Herreshoff and syndicate head C. Oliver Iselin. In a moment it will snag Defender’s topmast shroud, setting off a storm of controversy.

The hamlet of Islip, located just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean and sitting on the edge of the Great South Bay, has been the hometown of several of the most talented sailors in the world. One of the greatest sailboat-racing skippers of them all, Captain Henry Coleman Haff, developed his sailing skills on the waters of the Great South Bay.

Let's talk first about sailboat racing. For the rich, yacht racing (sailboats) was very much like horse racing. Some wealthy individuals invested money to build racing yachts. Others followed the sailing races, and bet money on the outcomes.

The best-known sailing race in the world is called the America's Cup, named for the America, a schooner (type of sailboat) from the United States that won Great Britain's greatest of all sailing races, the Royal Yacht Squadron's 100 Guinea Cup way back in 1851.

After their win, the U.S. sailing team gave the cup to the New York Yacht Club. It was with the understanding that other nations could challenge the United States in a sailboat race and win the cup and the honor for themselves. And so, the race for the America's Cup was born. This particular race is felt to be the oldest, continuous, international competition in the world.

Capt. "Hank" Haff began to draw attention to his sailing skills by winning races in the waters off Long Island. Soon, he was being asked to become the captain of the yachts that millionaires in New York City and elsewhere were putting in races. He won many of those kinds of races, but his first America's Cup victory came in 1881 when he served in the afterguard (crew members of highest rank and function) of the Mischief Again in 1886 in the afterguard, he sailed to victory on the Mayflower. Then, as captain in his own right, he successfully defended (won the race, thereby keeping the cup in the United States) in the Volunteer in 1887 and the Defender in 1895.

In his hometown village of Islip, Hank Haff was well-liked and well-respected. He served in town government, on the Board of Education, held positions in many organizations and was active in the Presbyterian Church of Islip, where a stained-glass window on the east wall of the sanctuary is dedicated to his memory.

Because of his amazing seaman's talent, which he developed piloting catboats in the Great South Bay off the coast of Islip, and his twenty-year history in America's Cup races (winning the cup four times in 14 years), Capt. Haff was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 2004. He is a true sport's legend; his record has been matched by only a few captains in the history of sailboat racing.

In Capt. Hank Haff, Islip Hamlet has another genuine hero.

(Original Research: Robert HP Finnegan -- Synopsis: Nancy Porta Libert 2008)

Captain Hank Haff piloting "Defender" c1885

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