Yachts and yachting in ninteenth-century America were the preserve of the wealthy, and in Lane's early career were just beginning to organize as yacht clubs with scheduled regattas. The New York Yacht Club, founded in 1844, was the first such organization and had few rival clubs for racing or cruising until after the Civil War. (1) In Boston, by contrast, yachts of any size were few. Instead of regattas, competition was in the form of match races, between two vessels, with cash prizes as a substitute for trophies. Often, the only serious competition for a Boston-owned yacht was one of the crack pilot schooners, and it was not uncommon for a yacht to be sold for pilot service or vice-versa. (2)
If Lane had opportunity to portray any yachts in Boston, only his depiction of schooner "Northern Light" (see The Yacht "Northern Light" in Boston Harbor, 1845 (inv. 268)) has been found to date, and that was based on a drawing by Robert Salmon. (3) It seems likely that he would have depicted more Boston yachts, some of which images might still exist in private collections not currently accessible. For more depictions of yachts by Lane, we must look to New York.
Lane is known to have made two paintings of the schooner yacht "America." The more familiar one The Yacht "America" Winning the International Race, 1851 (inv. 255) was based on a lithograph derived from a painting by Oswald Brierly who witnessed and sketched "America" as she raced for the trophy that now bears her name. (4)
The other painting Yacht "America" from Three Views, c.1851 (not published) was very possibly based on sketches of the designer's half-model, or even the actual vessel under construction. In either case, Lane's drawings and any notes would have been made before the hull and deck details were finalized. (5)
It would not be until August 8, 1856 that Lane would see and sketch a major yacht regatta—held by the New York Yacht Club at New Bedford, Massachusetts. From this event, he painted four known views, each depicting a different moment in the race. The earliest New York Yacht Club Regatta, Mid 1850 (not published) shows the yachts under way to the starting line, with the smallest yachts (third class) starting at 10:50 a.m. The second class would start at 10:55 a.m. and the first (largest yachts) at 11:00 a.m. The second view New York Yacht Club Regatta, 1856 (inv. 270) shows the start of the first class; the third New York Yacht Club Regatta, 1857 (not published), the race after the start with the large sloops and schooners taking the lead. The fourth New York Yacht Club Regatta, 1856 (inv. 66), depicting the finish, shows the winning sloop "Julia" over the line, lowering her racing sails, while the rest of the fleet follows her to the finish line. (6 and 7)
As interest in yachting increased, so did leisure pursuits in smaller craft, using rowing and sailing boats for rowing, fishing, and day-sailing. These activities had a commercial side which is covered in the Party Boats descriptive essay, but this essay will deal with boats used for non-commercial recreation.
Hull types and rigs for small pleasure craft were varied, some being traditional work boat designs with a few added amenities for comfort. Others were designed and built for leisure boating, often in the styles of yachts, but smaller and simpler. Among rowing boats, the dory was a logical choice, the version in View of Gloucester, (From Rocky Neck), 1846 (inv. 57) (right foreground) being smaller, with a wider bottom for greater stability. New England boats (see Norman's Woe, Gloucester Harbor, 1862 (inv. 1), View of Gloucester, 1859 (inv. 91), and Castine Harbor and Town, 1851 (inv. 272)) are also to be found in settings more akin to leisure than to work. (8)
Sailing craft custom-built for pleasure were also depicted by Lane. Examples with sloop rigs are found in The Old Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester, 1850s (inv. 30) (left foreground), Fresh Water Cove from Dolliver's Neck, Gloucester, Early 1850s (inv. 45) (center left), and Coming Ashore near Brace's Rock, Gloucester, Massachusetts, c.1860 (inv. 60) (right foreground). The yawl rig is seen in View of Coffin's Beach, 1862 (inv. 41) (right middle ground), and schooners in Fresh Water Cove from Dolliver's Neck, Gloucester, Early 1850s (inv. 45) (right middle ground) and View of Gloucester, Mass., 1859 (not published) (foreground). These rigs differ only moderately from today's versions; their hull designs remain popular among admirers and owners of "traditional boats."
– Erik Ronnberg