|Frank’s Shelter Island Pursuits
Frank, it appears, was a reticent man. He blended into the environment and allowed Mollie to be the star. Frank was the fifth child born to Charlotte and Henry Smith on February 2, 1846. He left the family farm when he was 21 years old. He went west to mine silver or gold. He wandered from site to site for several years. He ended up chopping wood. From a small cabin he built for himself he saw the “gleaming white” of Teel’s Marsh in Nevada. He staked out the land and registered his ownership as any miner at the time might do. The assayer in Columbus, Nevada told him that his samples were the “finest specimen of borate of soda” found up to that time in the United States. The year was 1872.
What is borax and what is it used for? Borax is a naturally occurring compound that is found in the most inaccessible and unfriendly environments throughout the world. In the United States it is found in the mountains of Nevada, Utah and near Death Valley, California. In ancient times, it was used to weld together gold in the making of jewelry. In Frank’s time it was used primarily to strengthen glass and to give it luster and also as a cleaning agent. For generations, Twenty Mule Team Borax, Frank’s brand, was used throughout the country to wash diapers, until diapers went out of style in the 1960s. Mining borax was just one aspect of the business; it had to be transported over long inhospitable distances to rail heads; and it needed to be marketed. Nothing was too daunting for Frank.
In 1892, Frank was an extraordinarily wealthy man. He may have earned his money on borax, but he spent much of it building the infrastructure of transportation and utilities for the east coast of San Francisco Bay. He envisioned a modern, industrialized city in Oakland, and he was right.
Frank, while on Shelter Island, participated in all the manly pursuits. He was a major supporter of the Gun Club. The November 30, 1907 Suffolk Times reported: “The Shelter Island Gun Club received 25 dozen quail from Charles Payne of Kansas, last week. The quail were taken to F. M. Smith’s game yards to be kept until liberated. Ten dozen more are to come later.” Two weeks later, another report: “The remaining ten dozen quail from Kansas have been received and placed with the others in the game yards of F. M. Smith. Several of the birds died in transit, and seven were killed Sunday night by a destructive animal known as a mink. Mr. James Downs was telephoned to and with his hunting dogs captured the murderer.”
He kept a fine stable of horses. He rode out in the mornings, and, according to Gertrude Tuthill Robinson, maintained a “tally-ho, drawn by four fine horses, with coachmen and footmen in livery [that] was a delight to see, and children who raced to the roadside for a glimpse were never disappointed as a bugle call saluted every child waving a hand.
“Speaking of fine horses, a perfectly matched team, purchased in New York and taken to Oakland by Christopher MacNamara of Shelter Island, was used on the Victoria in which had ridden three Presidents, namely: McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft, when they were guests of the Smiths.”
The same year that Frank and Mollie discovered Shelter Island, the Shelter Island Yacht Club, which had been founded in 1886, completed building its club house, and the New York Yacht Club Station No. 5 at the Manhanset House was inaugurated. Yachting became Frank’s passion, and he had the fortune to participate on the grandest scale.
According to Hildebrand, “He began with a 17-foot cat boat, the Surprise, which he followed by chartering a small steam yacht, the Ariadne. About 1900, he bought a larger steam yacht, the Trophy, the overall length of which was 99 feet. He started serious sailing by acquiring a medium sloop, 37 feet in overall length, which he named the Marion. This was followed by Effort I, also a sloop, a Nat Herreshoff boat built in 1901 at Bristol, RI. She was of wood construction, 58 feet in overall length and 36 feet, 5 inches at waterline.
“But Smith was looking for speed. To get it, he made a typically unorthodox move. In 1903 he gave Henry J. Gielow, a naval architect, his first commission, which was to build Effort II carte blanche. Gielow decided in favor of a relatively small boat—a single sticker with sloop rig, 62 feet in length at the waterline and 93 feet, 3 inches overall. Her hull was bronze, reinforced within by steel ribs. Effort II was a superb craft, both in appearance and in performance, proving herself by taking the Astor Cup races in 1903. Her greatest day was yet to come, however. King Edward VII had donated an impressive silver cup to the New York Yacht Club for an annual race to be sponsored by the club, with the winners’ names to be inscribed each year. August 8,1906, was chosen for the first race, and Smith entered Effort II. This put her up against some very formidable competition, such as J. Rogers Maxwell’s speedy Queen, his son Harry Maxwell’s Yankee, Richard Mansfield’s Amorita, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Rainbow, and several others.’ The chosen course began at Brenton Reef Light, headed straight east off Newport for 16 miles, turning south at Hen and Chicken Light for 4.5 miles, then turning again at Vineyard Sound Light for the 17-mile return run to Brenton Reef—a total of 37.5 miles.
“The New York Sun described it as a race that ‘will long be remembered,’ while The New York Herald termed it ‘sensational.’ Yankee and Queen got off to their usual fast starts, clearly overshadowing the comparatively small Effort II, which held her own in a middle position by ‘tacking close under the beach all the way to the first mark,’ but actually gaining time by this shrewd tactic of her captain, S. B. Howell. Queen was first to cross the finish line and thus seemed assured of victory. But not quite, for as The Herald account remarked about the last lap,
Four boats from her [Queen] far, far astern, was the sloop Effort, new and of bronze. She had made one of the grandest fights on record over an ocean course of tumbling waters and fresh easterly breezes, and long before the finish the conclusion was reached that the sloop had shown marvelous weatherly qualities and much speed, showing it unmistakably in beating to windward, in reaching and in running. But the most imaginative veteran yachtsman on the course could not have concluded that she had the ghost of a chance to be placed at the head of the column at the finish and be awarded the victory and the royal prize.
“Probably the key to Effort’s outstanding success was her wonderful ability to gain speed rapidly when sailing into the wind. But there was another factor, too: Evelyn Ellis and Marion Smith Oliver were aboard, and throughout the remainder of their lifetimes it was their firm contention that they actually had won the race ‘with our feet.’ They had been sent aft and told to dangle their feet in the water to help balance the craft before the wind. By doing so they were sure they had aided her progress.
“In fact, on the basis of elapsed time, Effort II had actually come in fourth. But because yachts differ in total sail areas and other factors, formulas are employed to equalize these differences, by converting elapsed time to “adjusted” or corrected time. It was through this adjustment that Effort II emerged the winner by nine seconds. In any case, her victory in this great race and in some lesser ones caused her to be designated ‘Boat of the Year’ for 1906. Henry J. Gielow, Effort’s architect, noted at the end of 1906 that during that season her owner had entered her in 27 races, in which she took 23 prizes. The King Edward Cup is still on display at the New York Yacht Club, and a facsimile was presented to F. M. Smith. No more competitions were ever held for this unusual trophy.
“As a sportsman, F M. Smith did not limit himself to sailing. Beginning with Ariadne and Trophy, he got into steam yachting by 1900. Then came Hauoli I, a vessel of Gielow design that entered service in the spring of 1903, but which lacked the speed that he was seeking. She was a participant but not a winner in the International Yacht races in August 1903. So Smith again turned to Gielow, commissioning him to build Hauoli II, which entered the water in the spring of 1904. She was a short-range vessel, moderate in size, built of steel, of handsomely rakish lines, and driven by a single screw. Her overall length was 211.2 feet, as against 166 feet at the waterline, while her rated speed was 18.5 knots. When pressed, she could easily exceed this by an extra three knots or more.
“On June 18, 1904, Smith challenged H. H. Rogers’ famous Kanawha for the Lysistrata Cup. Kanawha was the winner by 3 minutes and 29 seconds. This was not surprising, for she was a large vessel, noted for her exceptional speed. Hauoli II averaged 19.5 knots, so she was ‘beaten but not disgraced,’ Smith declared. She won more than her share of competitions, gaining the reputation for being one of the fastest vessels along the Atlantic Coast.”
In 1901, Frank was Rear Commodore of the Shelter Island Yacht Club, and in 1902 Vice Commodore.
A Death and a New Beginning