Sunday, November 2, 2014

Esperanto Wins!

None of the crew were named Zamenhof
Except we’re talking about a boat.

One of the big news items at the end of 1920 was the International Fisherman’s Championship. Although there had been yachting competitions for years, this was the first time that fishing schooners had been used in an international race. The race ran from Halifax, Novia Scotia, Canada to Gloucester, Massachusetts, United States. The winner was the Esperanto. The defeated vessel was the Delawana.

While there were many articles about the Esperanto and its crew, only one of them seemed to take any special notice of the ship’s name. She was, indeed, named for the international language.[1] When the ship was launched, in 1906, the name probably held greater promise than it did at the Esperanto’s moment of triumph, in 1920.

And at that moment of triumph, the Washington Herald wrote in their November 2, 1920 edition:
Esperanto Victorious.
Esperanto as a world language is not studied by skippers of the fishing schooners of New England. So are as their language departs from classical English it has a sectional and not international cast. More natural an less artificial folk America does not breed, and how and why the finest racer they could send to Nova Scotia to compete with the best boat of the province’s fishing fleet got the name “Esperanto” it would be interesting to know.

However, the “name is not the thing,” but the speed of the racer is; and her victory in the first of three trials cheers the national heart. The art of building fast craft still bails in the land that once owned the finest fleets of clippers that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Men who won the admiration of Kiping when he studied them in Gloucester still practice a winning nautical technique.

As the contests between the two groups of fishermen promise to be annual events, the country in time will come to have intense interest in their races. It is only occasionally that a Sir Thomas Lipton challenges our national primacy in yacht racing. But these deep-sea mariners are to disport themselves each year for the benefit of the American-Canadian publics. What they lack in social prestige they make up in virile resourcefulness. The craft they are to use are not “show” boats, but everyday income makers for their owners, skippers and crews. All this brings them nearer the man in the street; and there are more of this kind in the country than there are those who can stand the costs of arranging the international yacht races.

That last bit is a bit of a dig against the America’s Cup, which had Sir Thomas Lipton (yeah, the tea guy) funding the British entry. Sure, you can build a fast boat if all it needs to do is move fast. This race wasn’t for millionaires, but real seamen, and the boats had to be actual working fishing boats.

What had actually happened at this point was that the Esperanto has won the first of three races, though the ship would indeed go on to win the championship.

Although the Esperanto won the first International Fisherman’s Championship, it never competed again, as it sank in May, 1921, though the crew was rescued. In 1921, the Canadian entry, the Bluenose won the race and continued to do so for the next seventeen years,[2] all the way to the last of them in 1938.[3] After that, fishing vessels went to motors.

And yet, the connection between schooner racing and Esperanto did not end with the sinking of the Esperanto. As the winner of the first International Fisherman’s Championship, the skipper of the Esperanto was awarded a silver cup by the Halifax Herald which had sponsored the race. That cup, dubbed the “Esperanto Cup” is still in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The Gloucester Schooner Festival was started in 1985. According to their web site, the winner of the Mayor’s Race gets a trophy named the Esperanto Cup, in honor of that first schooner race.[4]

So a hearty “bonŝancon!” to future sailors who wish for the glory of Esperanto! At least one Esperanto has seen its finan venkon.[5]

  1. As noted on this page about the Schooner Esperanto.  ↩
  2. Wikipedia  ↩
  3. Noted on Nova Scotia Archives pages.  ↩
  4. Information on the Gloucester Schooner Festival can be found here.  ↩
  5. La fina venko, the final victory, is the success of Esperanto as an international auxiliary language, that so many Esperantists hope for. One who hopes for this is a finvenkisto, and, yes, there are Esperanto speakers who are not finvenkistoj. (That would be me, as I take the view that Esperanto is worth learning even if there will never be a fina venko.)  ↩

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