January / February 2022

The Sonder Class

Germany vs. America, 1906–13
The Sonder Class

MIT MUSEUM/HART NAUTICAL COLLECTIONS

At the start of the third race of the 1906 German–American Sonder regatta at Marblehead, Massachusetts, TILLY VI (No. 22) leads WANNSEE (No. 23). The latter, skippered by the artist and writer Otto Protzen, went on to score the only German victory of that year’s series.

This is a story that began well over a century ago and has yet to end. It’s a tale that involves a forward-thinking yachtsman from Massachusetts, European royalty, three American presidents, the top names in early 20th-century yacht design, and amateur sailors whose accomplishments are remembered still in the clubs they once represented.

As for the boats involved, each was alike yet different—varied interpretations of a simple class rule. These were the yachts of the German Sonderklasse (Special Class). From 1906 to 1913, Sonders from Germany and the United States competed in regattas organized to foster international friendship and, in Germany, to train a growing number of sailors who might someday advance Kaiser Wilhelm II’s naval ambitions. Ultimately, the German–American races fell victim to the political failures that resulted in the Great War, but for those involved, the contests represented an experience they remembered all their lives.

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