Friday Flashback #220

John Kantor is my source for all sailing-related news.

The other day, the Longshore Sailing School founder — a native Westporter who grew up by and on the water — sent a link to the Sailing News’ “Scuttlebutt” website.

The site featured the back story to this month’s photo in the Ultimate Sailing calendar. It showed sailors bundled against the cold off the coast of Italy, on a 12 Metre called Nyala.

The November 2020 Ultimate Sailing calendar photo, by Carlo Borlenghi.

A South African reader wondered why “an active yacht in Italy was named after an antelope found in the game reserves of his region.”

Scuttlebutt explained:

Nyala was built for Frederick T. Bedford of Westport, Connecticut. His father, Edward T. Bedford, was a director of the original Standard Oil who established a large family farm in then-rural Westport in 1910.

Frederick, who was also an industrialist, named the farm “Nyala” for the antelope he had seen while on safari in Africa. Later, the name would be used for the Olin Stephens-designed 1938 12 Metre. Like the wooden twelve, the 52-acre farm remains a going concern where the last family member resided until 2014.

Nyala Farm (Robert Vickrey painting, courtesy of Paul Ehrismann)

I’m not sure that’s true. Nyala ceased to be a working dairy farm long ago. The property just off I-95 Exit 18 became Westport’s first office park in the 1970s, when Stauffer Chemical Company moved in (and, thanks to progressive land-use policies, kept much of it as rolling hills and meadows).

Nyala Farm (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

The main tenant today is Bridgewater Associates. None of the Bedford descendants lived there. They had their own large estates on nearby Beachside Avenue.

The Nyala Farms office complex. Much of it is hidden from view, on nearby I-95, Greens Farms Road and the Sherwood Island Connector.

Scuttlebutt continues:

Built of the finest hardwoods at the famous Henry Nevins yard (City Island, NY), Nyala carried the unique identifier 12-US-12 (ie. the 12th 12 meter in the USA).

Several sources note that she was a wedding present by F.T. Bedford to his daughter, Lynn (Lucie) Bedford (aka LuLu) and new son-in-law, Briggs Cunningham (yes, that Cunningham – winning 1958 America’s Cup skipper on Columbia).

It’s also reported that FT and Briggs had previously owned an 8 Metre together (late 1920s), and Briggs is said to have credited his wife-to-be with teaching him to sail (Stars) at Pequot Yacht Club, so maybe a 12 Metre for them to campaign together is not as surprising a wedding gift as we might, at first, be tempted to surmise!

As an aside, there are at least a couple of 6 Metres still sailing that are named for Mrs. Cunningham (Lucie and LuLu) which Briggs had raced to good effect.

John Kantor did not know the back story to the Nyala name. But he knows the farm. And, he says, “I knew Briggs Cunningham. I knew the boat. But I had no idea how all the names interconnected.”

Briggs Cunningham II was also a race car driver. That’s how he appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

(Click here for the full Sailing News Scuttlebutt story.)


6 responses to “Friday Flashback #220

  1. Arline Gertzoff

    As a child I fed the over the hill veggies to the NyalaFarm cows every Sunday at the fence.We thought we were going to the country When the cow came to fence I would stick a carrot in the chain link Watch the cow devour and Yelp ou a
    Moo Moo
    Was sad when Dad announce the cows were no more

  2. Charlie Taylor

    I got my first job with FT Bedford riding my bike down the lane at Nyala Farm searching for the dairy manager. I ran into Lewis Gordon who managed FTs estate on Beachside Ave and told him that I was looking for a summer job. He hired me on the spot but confused me when he said report to the estate on Frost Point. I worked every summer from 1959 until 1965. God Bless him. He taught me many lessons about hard work it’s values and doing a lot more than you dreamed you could. A second dad to me really!

  3. The 12-metre sloop NYALA, built in 1938, is still sailing, mostly in Europe. Briggs Cunningham also owned the 62 foot schooner BRILLIANT which he donated to Mystic Seaport and which also still sails on cruises. Briggs Cunningham later lived in Westport on North Sylvan Road.

  4. Briggs Cunningham opened the first Volkswagon dealership in the US in the 50’s and started the Sportscar Club of America. He was a very visible gent around town! The dealership was at the corner of West Parrish Rd and Post Rd E where the Boccanfuso’s were located for many years.

    • Mary Schmerker

      My first car out of college was a “Beetle” and that’s where it came from. My dad and Mr. Zarbock were early members of the Sportscar Club of America. They used to hold really interesting rallies that sent you all over town with clues to follow to get to a destination where they had a weekend gathering at someone’s house.

  5. I remember going there on a class trip and feeding the cows. Really cool place.