Above, the cover from a piece composed by Gustav R. Eckardt, dedicated to the Skaneateles Yacht Club, of Skaneateles, New York. The club’s actual name was the Skaneateles Model Yacht Club, as in “a model of excellence.” It was founded in 1854, one year before this music was published by Balmer and Weber of St. Louis, Missouri.
The club’s first Commodore was Edward E. Potter and the Vice-Commodore was W.H. Jewett; the composer of “Skaneateles Polonaise” was known to his sailing cronies as Captain Eckardt.
Pertaining to Eckardt, William Beauchamp wrote, “The Flying Cloud was brought to Seneca Falls from New York, to beat the Island Queen, but failed. Captain Eckhardt bought her and called her the Emma. She also left the lake after the captain’s removal from Skaneateles.”
The club’s first regatta took place on July 4, 1854, over a 12-mile course, and was attended by large crowds, with people coming from Auburn and Syracuse, filling the streets “to overflowing.” The Cayuga Chief from Cayuga Lake was the winner; locals said the results would have been different had not Edward Potter been in New York City.
On August 30th, after “a hearty repast” at the Glen Haven Hotel, seven boats competed and the winner was the Blue Bell. On September 19th, after dinner at the Mandana Hotel, seven boats competed over a 15-mile course with the Island Queen the winner.
On July 4, 1855, four boats competed in the morning, with Eckardt’s Emma the winner. In the afternoon, they went out again and almost immediately were overtaken by a storm blowing in from the west, led by a cloud “as black as the shadowed night itself–absolutely lurid in blackness,” but the sailors did not cower. “Capt. Eckardt pursued his way in the Emma, like a noble hearted Yacht man, his mainsail shaking and mast quivering, but all the while on his way.” All were heroic that afternoon, but the Blue Bell was the victor.
The club hosted regattas in 1856 and 1857, and in 1857, Gustav Eckardt was elevated to Vice-Commodore. But, according to Sedgwick Smith, creeping professionalism, “picked skippers” and cash prizes were the undoing of the enterprise. The Skaneateles Model Yacht Club had a mercurial existence, closing its history in 1857. But sailboats still grace the waters of Skaneateles Lake, and we will always have the “Skaneateles Polonaise.”
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Image from the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection of Johns Hopkins University; Notes on Other Days in Skaneateles (1876) by William Beauchamp; History of Skaneateles (1902) by E.N. Leslie; Sailing on Skaneateles Lake: 1812-1934, written and published by Sedgwick Smith