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.
A South African reader wondered why “an active yacht in Italy was named after an antelope found in the game reserves of his region.”
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.
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).
The main tenant today is Bridgewater Associates. None of the Bedford descendants lived there. They had their own large estates on nearby Beachside Avenue.
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.”
(Click here for the full Sailing News Scuttlebutt story.)