"Mohawk's" Tragic End


     In 1875, she was the queen of New York's racing fleet and the largest competitive yacht on American wa­ters. Mohawk's owner was a 35-year-old textile mag­nate named William Garner.

     Wide-bellied and flat-bottomed, Mohawk carried over 20,000 square feet of canvas and measured 140 feet overall. She had an extraordinary 30-foot beam and a draft of only six feet with her centerboard up. These unusual features made Mohawk difficult at the helm, but extremely fast downwind. She performed well during her first season of competition: Which became her last.

     On the afternoon of Thursday, July 20, 1876, the schooner was anchored at Stapleton, Staten Island, NY, under a cloudy sky with occasional showers. In spite of the dreary weather, Mohawk's owner boarded along with his wife and five guests for a short sail. As the crew hoisted the schooner's sails a sudden shower sent the visitors below.

     About 4 p.m. the captain ordered the anchor raised. But as the crew began to hoist a sudden gust of wind raced across the harbor and tipped Mohawk violently to port. Abruptly, however, she began to right herself to the relief of all aboard.

     Suddenly a stronger gust hit and knocked Mohawk flat. The wind held her down and she literally sailed under the waves. Garner, realizing the schooner's fate, rushed below in search of his wife.

The cabin, fast filling with water, was in chaos. A number of 150-pound lead ingots, carried as ballast, had smashed through the deck and slid down the port side on top of her. Garner attempted to pull her out, but it was useless. In addition, the dislocated ballast made it impossible for the yacht to right herself.

     Two guests managed to escape up the companion­way and another was able to swim out through a smashed skylight. The rest of those on board sank with the Mohawk in less than 10 minutes. Garner, his wife, two friends and a cabin boy perished in the sinking.

     A coroner's inquest found the captain innocent of any wrongdoing and blamed the schooner's design for the tragedy. Her broad beam, shallow draft and depen­dence on unsecured internal ballast for stability was deemed the cause of the yacht's capsizing.

     Soon after this tragedy, a new breed of lean, deep draft racing yachts appeared in competition in America.