1904 Boating Season Analysis

Auto Boat Popularity

Amateur Interest in Racing Events Sadly Lacking

Gasoline Leakage Danger

Narrow Escape of the Challenger Calls Attention to a Vital Point

Cause of Speed Records

Questions have arisen in automobile circles regarding the future popularity of high speed boats. it must be confessed that although the present season is well under way and a large number of races has been held for the especial purpose of bringing out all of the fastest motor boats, the result has not been as satisfactory as many were supposed to believe would be the case early in the season. The more recent yacht club races for power and automobile boats have had an unusually small number of entries and the new boats that were supposed to be building for the purpose of breaking existing records have failed to appear.

With the exception of the Smith & Mabley boats, the Challenger and the Vingt-et-Un, and of the Fiat III, of Hollander & Tangeman, which proved a disappointment, nothing noteworthy has been brought to the front. Even the Challenge Cup races, prepared so carefully by the American Power Boat Association, failed to bring out a respectable number of entries, and efforts are being made to hold another Challenge Cup contest in September. The fast auto boat Standard, which holds the American records for speed, was built last year, but somewhat improved this season. Rumors from time to time have cropped out of high-powered boats being built that would be seen in a short time, but thus far nothing definite has come to light.

Judging from the results thus far it is clear that amateur interest in high-powered boats is not so general as has been the case with automobiles. J. Insley Blair, who has shown some interest in fast automobiles, but who employs a professional chauffeur for track racing purposes, is having a fast auto boat built, but it is a cabin craft, capable of accommodating over a dozen persons, and is not designed with the sole intent of smashing records. The same is true in several other cases. The expense of the fast auto boats is so great and the satisfaction obtained from them so small in comparison with the labor and expense necessary to possess one of these water fliers that the use of moderate-powered boats for pleasure purposes is already beginning to assert itself.

Here as well as abroad the record-holding auto boats are chiefly owned and entered in the various races by manufacturers. Manufacturing rivalry, more than amateur interest, has kept the sport alive. The Standard is not owned by a private individual racing the craft for the mere pleasure of the sport. The two Smith & Mabley boats are the product of manufacturing rivalry, and so are the three Fiat boats, which have done some fairly creditable speed work. Even some of the other racing boats entered under private names are practically competing boats of different manufacturers. Although many of these boats have show ability to make fast time, there has been no great demand for them on the part of amateurs, and from present indications it does not look as though the season would close more auspiciously.

The recent effort of the New York Yacht Club to hold motor boat races is a case in point. Those events were closed to the members, and if a grand entry of fast boats owned by amateurs was to be seen this year, it might be expected that the New York Yacht Club events would produce such results. Yet no races were held, in one case practically no entries being received, while in the other case only two cabin launches were ready to race, and these in the slower classes.

Perhaps one reason for this apparent lack of interest in fast auto boats is the monotony of the races themselves. There is absolutely nothing in an auto boat race to stir spectators to a high pitch of excitement. The boats are sent off, looking, for a few hundred yards distant, like mere chips on the water, and in a few seconds are lost to sight. Then there is a wait of an hour or more, according to the length of the course, for them to return, and the only element of interest comes in the tabulating figures enabling the experts to compare auto boat speed records. It has been proposed to hold mile heats at some of the races, which would give some racing interest to the uninitiated. For the time being, at any rate, the real interest in the races seems to lie purely along the technical lines of auto boat possibilities.

Since the explosion of gasoline on the Challenger, which went to England last Saturday for the Harmsworth Cup race, the question as to the absolute safety of gasoline auto boats has arisen. The fact that in a boat apparently so carefully built for safety as well as speed, as the Challenger, it was possible for gasoline to leak and accumulate in the bottom of the boat, has led to the question if it is possible to eliminate the liability of leakage entirely from auto boats. While the danger of leakage can be minimized, it is a possibility that may occur and requires the most careful attention. In a gasoline automobile, the danger is almost non-existent, for in case of leakage, the gasoline simply drips on the road and does not accumulate on the machine.

In an auto boat the gasoline leakage has to stay in the boat, gradually forming a vapor which only requires the slightest flame or spark to cause an explosion. it is easy to imagine how serious such a catastrophe might be. Only by the merest good luck was the Challenger saved from being blown entirely to pieces last week. At the time the boat had nearly fifty gallons of gasoline in the tank and had the explosion occurred one or two miles off shore it would only have been a matter of a few minutes, if not seconds, when the flames would have reached the tank, and a feared explosion would have been the result. As assistance was near and the boat was only a couple hundred yards from the North Beach pier when the leakage of gasoline caught fire, the flames were quickly extinguished, although the three men in the boat, recognizing the danger, lost no time in leaping into the water. The boat, therefore, was saved for a trip to England as a Harmsworth Cup competitor.

(Transcribed from the New York Times, July 11, 1904, p. 9 )

[The critic brings forth several good points which even were problems in the early Gold Cup races on Lake Washington. Before the days of Heats 1A, B, and C, there was a large volume of time between the heats that needed to be filled, and many complained about this dead time. Certainly, with more and more unlimited-class racers being constructed the advent of the sectioned heat was a necessity; as was evidenced by the multi-boat collisions on the Detroit River in the mid-fifty's. So, in come the Blue Angels and the parachutists and the Thunderbirds, all to keep the spectators occupied. Unfortunately these added attractions have tended to push the competition to the side of the stage, and the shores of Lake Washington were much less crowded when the Angels did not show.

The critic of the `04 season did not admit that also the weather gods had a hand in the game of auto boat racing. Several of the prime events were cursed with unraceable conditions which naturally brought down the anticipated number of contestants. 1905 would bring to the arena the multi-day, multi-trophy events, the Palm Beach Mid-Winter regatta and the Hudson River Water Carnival, to name two, which would allow free-for-alls, mile straightaways, long distance river races and other competitions open to numerous racing classes. — GWC ]

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