Once locked away in a secret safe at the New York Yacht Club, a collection of letters emerged in the mid-1980s and has been woven together as Their Last Letters, a lively dialogue from 1930 until 1938 between naval architect Nathanael Greene Herreshoff and yachting historian and journalist William Picard Stephens. Published by the Herreshoff Marine Museum (Bristol, R.I), Their Last Letters is annotated with inspired notes by another prominent yachting historian, John Williams Streeter, and provides a first-hand account of yachting history in evolution.
Maynard Bray, co-author of the ultimate biographical reference Herreshoff of Bristol, describes the correspondents as two who "shared a passion for yachts of the sport's Golden Age: Herreshoff as a creator, Stephens as a chronicler, and Streeter as their latter-day interpreter whose encyclopedic knowledge of yachting history puts the letters into context and stylish writing breathes life into this fascinating book."
The exchanges, "sometimes tilting lances between the writers," represent unabridged history and cover topics ranging from yacht design to catboats, catamarans, early sailing canoes and one-design boats. Their Last Letters also unveils the drama of an age during which the fortunes of new capitalists carried the competition for the America's Cup to extremes unmatched until recent times.
Herreshoff, whose disdain for journalists was well-known, had little reason to warm up to Stephens, as is obvious in the first letter written by Herreshoff in 1930. Herreshoff wrote to correct many of the statements made in Stephens's landmark text "The Match for the America's Cup," published as a supplement to The Sportsman, a well-known sporting magazine of the time.
Stephens' polite reply, however, led to a total of 36 missives before Herreshoff's death in 1938. His retention of carbon copies of the correspondence was fortunate in that his daughter turned them over to the New York Yacht Club. The letters, however, were never catalogued, and easily could have remained a lost treasure.
Their Last Letters is an historical read at 220 pages and is packed with information and three appendices, including a reprint of the official program for the 1930 America's Cup and captivating, long-forgotten photos. In addition to Streeter, who passed away before completion of the book, Henry Harry Anderson Jr., Irving Sheldon and Marianna Wilcox contributed to the editorial process.