Life, like a busy main street, is full of intersections. Outside of my family, shooting and aviation are my main preoccupations, with Red Sox baseball and America’s Cup yacht racing following. Recently three of these advocational interests crossed in a pleasant way.
The Roberts and the Pershing Trophy matches are the major shoulder to shoulder conventional prone matches shot between the United States and Great Britain. The matches, a metallic sight Dewar course shot on the host nation’s targets, are fired at eight-year intervals. When in England the prize is the Lord Roberts Trophy and when in the United States the contest is for the John J. Pershing Trophy.
It has been my pleasure, privilege, and honor to be appointed by the National Rifle Association as the Adjutant to the 2009 and 2017 US Roberts Team and the 2013 and 2021 US Pershing Team. The hospitality and good sportsmanship of our hosts overwhelmed us when we arrived in England in 2009. However, the great Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Leroy Satchel Paige warned,” Go very lightly on vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.”
It was impossible advice to follow as we were inundated with a long list of meet and greets, banquets, and dinner invitations that would have been boorish to refuse. Whether the shooting social ramble had an impact on the eventual outcome in 2009 is impossible to say, but the United States was beaten like a rented mule by the British at Bisley in 2009. It was only the fourth loss suffered by the US in the nearly ninety-year history of the series. The loss stung me, but I smiled and bore it publicly as gracefully as I could.
As I licked my wounds I was reminded of two great British sportsmen, who shared similar interests with me and who also had endured losing a major international sporting event. In their cases it was not shooting but The America’s Cup.
The first to come to mind was fellow aviator Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith. Tommy Sopwith first came to fame and fortune as an aircraft designer and manufacturer whose most famous creation was Snoopy’s aerial steed, the Sopwith Camel, first test flown at Brooklands, just a few miles east of Bisley.
Sopwith challenged for the America’s Cup with a pair of majestic J-Class yachts. Endeavour won the first two races in 1934 but eventually lost to railway magnate Harold Vanderbilt’s Rainbow. Lack of an experienced crew and poor tactics cost Sopwith the Cup. Three years later he again lost in Endeavour II to Vanderbilt’s Ranger.
Sopwith’s yachting adventure recalls another aviation/America’s Cup intersection. Goodyear blimps were a common sight over Newport Rhode Island’s America’s Cup race course during the 12 Meter Era from 1958 until the Australia broke the US grip on the Cup in 1983. Goodyears’s CEO Paul W. Litchfield viewed the company’s airships as yachts in the sky and so the first 13 Goodyear blimps were named after US America’s Cup defenders: Puritan, Reliance, Defender, Volunteer, Resolute, Vigilant, Mayflower, Ranger, Rainbow,Enterprise, Columbia, America, and Stars and Stripes.
Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton rose from the slums of Glasgow to the heights of society by developing a chain of grocery markets and the eponymously named tea company. A friend of both King Edward VII and KingGeorge V, with whom he a shared an interest in yachting, Lipton challenged for the America’s Cup five times between 1899 and 1930.
His yachts were named Shamrock through Shamrock V. They seem oddly Irish names for a proud Scot-one would have thought they should be named Thistle. But then again, Lipton parents, with whom he was very close, were born in Ireland. Having been blackballed by the Royal Yacht Squadron, for being only a grocer and tea merchant, he challenged for the Cup representing Ireland’s Royal Ulster Yacht Club.
Lipton failed to wrest the Cup from the New York Yacht Club, but his gentlemanly grace and sportsmanship made him popular in the United States. A public subscription raised $16,000 for a Tiffney 18 caret gold loving cup engraved “In the name of hundreds and thousands of Americans and well-wishers of Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, Bart, K.C.V.O”. Through his Cup exposure his tea became well known in the United States which allowed him to recoup some of the enormous amount money used in financing his challenges.
We greeted the British in 2012 with a no holds barred socializing campaign to repay them for their kindness four years earlier. Whether the shooting social ramble had an impact on the eventual outcome in 2013 is impossible to say, but it was the British turn to be beaten like a rented mule and the United States’ undefeated record on home soil remained intact. I was pleased to be on the winning side of the ledger and now stood 1-1.
Four years later, after partaking in the social ramble with some discretion, I found myself lying between Shawn Wells and Kerry Spurgin trying to read the wind through driving rain and hail as thunder rumbled above and lighting lit up the gray sky at Bisley. We survived both the terrible shooting conditions and the wonderful British hospitality to win. I was now pleased to be 2-1 against the British.
As we dried off, warmed up, and celebrated our victory I couldn’t help thinking of Sopwith and Lipton. But most of all I recalled that Lipton once said that the greatest lesson in life he learned was, “… to win with pleasure and lose with a smile.” It is a thought I heartily second.