The Growth and Trend of Power Boat Racing [1909]

The rapid growth of interest in the motor boat, whether used for racing, for pleasure purposes or commercially, is worthy of notice at this time, especially as we are on the eve of one of the greatest marine celebrations that this country has ever seen—an event held to commemorate the first successful operation of a boat propelled by machinery, in which steam was the motive power, which strangely comes at a time when the internal combustion engine is in a great measure supplanting steam.

When water transportation was solely by means of sailing craft, that had to depend on wind and tide, there were those that had great doubts of the successful operation of a vessel using steam for power. It took some years for the reliability of this new-found power for marine work to set at rest all doubts as to the future, and when it was assured that boats would be using this power there was great rejoicing. History often repeats itself, and it has done so in the case of the internal combustion engine for marine purposes. As with steam power, when the first internal combustion engine was brought forward, there was the same feeling of doubt. While the internal combustion engine had given good satisfaction for stationary purposes , the motors were of a very heavy type, and attempts to use this type of engine for marine purposes met ridicule that was even greater than that which greeted the introduction of steam. Despite frequent disappointments and failures, the reliable internal combustion engine was produced, necessarily of lighter construction and weight. Little by little the public has become better acquainted with this type of engine, and it has taken hold to such an extent that it is fast supplanting steam in many branches of marine work. This interest in the internal combustion engine has been brought about from the fact that its reliability has been fully demonstrated; that it is easy to control, and boats equipped with this type of engine can safely navigate any waters where steam vessels can go.

The simplicity and inexpensiveness in the matter of operation of the internal combustion engine are what have appealed strongly to all lovers of the water, together with the small amount of space it occupies and the avoidance os ashes, coal and the necessary dirt of a steam plant.

The American people are, to a large extent, a sport-loving nation and take a leading interest in yachting and all that pertains thereto. It is no wonder, then, that motor-boat racing has become popular in this country all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts. There is hardly a country in the world better adapted to the use of motor boats, or one that offers as many suitable waters for racing purposes. With its innumerable lakes, bays, rivers and harbors, good course can be laid out where the boats may be witnessed for the entire distance from various points of vantage. What the growth of racing in this country has been, can best be ascertained from the number of events that have taken place within the past few years. Where formerly there were a handful of good racing boats there are to-day thousands; where but a few events were held, principally in the Esst, there are thousands in all parts of the country. While racing at the beginning, was confined altogether to the high-speed boat, pleasure boats have gradually made their appearance in these events, until it is nothing unusual to see anywhere from twelve to thirty of this type in a race.

Racing motor boats to-day are not all pure, racing machines. While built for racing purposes, probably none-tenths of them are serviceable as express runabouts, carrying anywhere from two to six people, according to size. Although very lightly constructed, they are strongly built, as it is essential that they should be able to withstand the wear and tear to which they are subjected; and for sheltered water they can be used in many useful ways. As in many other sports, the cost of motor-boat racing depends largely upon one’s means. Naturally, in the larger classes of boats the cost may seem high, but the cost in the smaller classes, that is, boats of 12 meters and under, is not as heavy as one might suppose. The initial outlay may appear large; but if the boat proves successful in winning prizes, the owner is almost certain to be able to sell his craft at the end of a season at a figure where the loss, if any, will be trifling.

There many who believe that a racing boat can be turned out at a moment’s notice, never stopping to consider the fact that, being of very light construction, the greatest care and attention must necessarily be given to the building of hull and engine. A good three months should be allowed before starting a boat in a race for tuning up and overcoming all troubles that may develop by hard running. While boats of this type are delivered by the builder in good running order, and may have had one or two successful trials, there are still possibilities that it may not be running smoothly and that some alteration or readjustment will be necessary.

Being prepared for a race does not mean solely the preparation of the boat, but also familiarity with the conditions. On receiving the instructions, note them carefully, and see that you comply with all the rules and regulations. There are a number of owners of fast motor boats who have handles sailing craft for many years and who are familiar with racing rules, but, on the other hand, there are a great many who have had less experience in matters of this kind, and it is very often a source of great annoyance to the regatta committee to be constantly required to answer a number of questions that are unnecessary if one were to read over carefully the printed instructions that have been given out. It is not generally realized, but it is nevertheless a fact, that much valuable time is given gratuitously by members of regatta committees, and that they go to much trouble to give out explicit information regarding a racing event.

In this country, motor boating as a sport has made wonderful strides during the past three or four years. A few years ago racing throughout the West was unheard of, while to-day throughout that section it has grown to very large proportions. Not alone is this true of the West, but through the South as well. Hundreds of yacht clubs are being organized every year, the majority of members being those never before identified with a club of this character, thus showing that in so far as racing is concerned it is not by any means confined solely to the East. While, perhaps, the East may be possessed of a greater number of fast boats, yet the time is coming, and is not far distant, when there will be inter-sectional contests between the fastest boats of the East, West, North and South.

To those who have been present at some of the racing events held in former years, there has not appeared the interest shown by the spectators that might be expected. In some racing events, the courses have been laid out on inconvenient and out-of-the-way waters, great distances from shore, where only those possessing a motor boat or steam yacht could watch the contestants as they went over the course. Looked at from the standpoint of a spectator, it is a mistake to send motor boats over a long course where it is impossible to follow the movements or relative positions of the competitors throughout the race. Something more should be provided than the chance to watch the start of a race, and, if one has the patience to wait a long time, to witness the finish, or await the mere announcement of the results given out by the regatta committee. While racing is primarily to provide sport for the competitors, it is only from the interest of the spectator that we can ever hope to draw from his present position into that of an owner and future competitor. This can only be done by enabling him to follow the race in its entirety, and the manner in which some courses are laid out it is not likely to promote this end.

(Excerpts transcribed from Yachting, August 1909, pp. 124, 125)

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page — LF]