60 mph on water? [1906]

Mile-A-Minute Motor Boats

Recent Speed Trials Indicate That We May Have Them Before Long

by H. H. Everett

Yesterday it was for mere sport; to-day it is for recreation; to-morrow it will be for commercial use---the motor boat. The evolution of the automobile, which suggests the motor boat, is now complete as far as the various uses to which it can be put, and its greatest development is following the lines of ultimate commercial use. How long before the mermaid of motordom will become the argosy of motordom is difficult to forecast, but we know where the present stage of the motor boat's growth is.

With each succeeding motor-boat carnival the number of eggshell hulls diminishes, and the more substantial cruising type of craft increases. Speed alone, at a sacrifice of usefulness, is no longer sought; the American demands a boat that shall serve him better. While it must have speed to satisfy his sporting proclivities, it must also have some of the qualities of the yacht. Of the former quality there are motor boats possessing speeds ranging from twenty to thirty or more miles an hour, and at the present rate of development of the craft, the mile-a-minute boat is not an impossibility. With speed, however, must continue the same ratio of substantiality characterizing the favorite type of motor boat of the American, and this trend of the evolution of the craft tends to increase the popularity.

Motor-boat experts regard the mile-a-minute as being beyond the realm of possibility. Nevertheless, they do not claim that in the present stage of development of the craft "finis" has been written. It may be quite true that, following along the lines of present construction, a mile a minute is impossible, but experiment is evolving a new type which seems to have met with considerable success in France---the hydroplane. Count de Lambert, following along the lines of experiment by Froude at the request of the British admiralty in 1872, who discovered the application of the children's pastime of "skipping" stones on ponds to navigation, has produced a boat with two hulls, long and narrow, on the principle of a catamaran, which appears to be upsetting expert ideas. It has five planes placed horizontally beneath the hulls, which, when the power is applied and the boat moves forward, lift the boat clear of the water and "skip" the surface. Great power would naturally be required should the hulls of the boat , with the planes beneath, remain submerged, but the resistance of the water, on the same principle as the resistance of the air to the aeroplane, brings the planes to the surface and, of course, lifts the craft clear of the water. De Lambert's motor boat has a length of twenty feet, a beam of ten, and, with only a 12 H.P. motor, attains a speed of twenty-five miles an hour. A high-powered motor boat of the ordinary type can reach but twenty-five miles an hour at best, but this French boat, with equal weight, needs but twelve horse power to accomplish the same result. Prof. Daniel Bellet of Paris writes in the "Scientific American" of the De Lambert boat: "It has stood the test of practice, and in defiance of theoretical objections it steers perfectly. It can be stopped with the greatest facility, because when the motor stops, the hulls fall back into the water and act as a brake. Other boats of this type are certain to come into use quickly, and I cannot see why further study should not lead to the construction of larger vessels of the same principle." This type of boat may indicate that the mile-a-minute boat of practical serviceability is more than a possibility.

There was never so much interest taken generally in motor boats as at the present moment. Every boat designer in the country is hard at work turning out motor boats to the capacity of his plant and it is estimated that before the season has ended there will be more than twenty-five thousand motor boats of all classes in commission. But the tendency away from the racing machine pure and simple, is toward the comfortable wide-beam cruising boat that is capable of carrying an entire family through a summer outing. Two years ago, and even at the beginning of last season, the tendency was toward the racing machine. This was due, perhaps, to the records made by the first boats in line, whose performances, when placed in contrast with those of the older fashioned naphtha launch, seemed very remarkable.

There were the Adios, which held the 1903 record, and the Standard, which was the star of 1904. Most people interested in things nautical will remember the amazement in the New York harbor when the Standard, starting from Sandy Hook one day in company with the Monmouth, the fastest steamboat plying the waters of New York Bay, managed in spite of a heavy chop and the quartering seas kicked up by outgoing liners, to reach the Battery, a run of twenty miles, over fifteen minutes ahead of the Monmouth. In June, 1904, this remarkable boat won all three races in a series held by the American Power Boat Association, in one of which she covered thirty-two statute miles at an average speed of 23.4 miles an hour.

Following these performance there was an excitable rush to produce motor boats which would leave all previous records far behind. There were announcements of boats being built which, as far as their lines went, were little more than racing shells, but with engines of a horse power approximating that of a tugboat. The horse power of the Standard's engine was 110, of the Adios, 120. But presently there began to appear boats of 200 H.P., and still others of 225 H.P. The names of prominent men were mentioned in connection with these, but the wholesale breaking of records did not follow. True, some of the boats which took part in the carnival of September last on the Hudson River were of large engine power. The Veritas, for instance, was equipped with a 200 H.P., eight-cylinder, engine. She covered a ten-mile stretch at an average of 27.72 statute miles an hour, which is going some for an American boat. She is fifty-six feet over all, her beam is seven feet, and her draft three feet, her weight twelve thousand pounds, and the noise of her exhaust, easily heard anywhere within a mile of her, sounds like the multitudinous explosions of a Gatling gun. As one writer in "Motor Boat" described her, "when Veritas is under full swing, taking into account the sharp report of her exhaust, the enormous wave she throws, her great size, and her wonderful power, she certainly imprints an unforgettable picture on the eye.

Argo, a boat of the type which one might call substantial, yet exceeding the speeding, is another example of high-power craft. It was built for Mr. G. W. Childs Drexel of Philadelphia, and was used in the summer of 1905 for cruising in Maine waters. Larger and of higher power than the Veritas, it has accomplished tremendous speed. During the trials on the Hudson River, shortly after the boat was put in commission, it made thirty-one and one-half miles an hour over a measured course, which, considering the tonnage of the boat, is indeed remarkable. The Argo is sixty-two feet over all, with six feet of beam, and is equipped with two gasoline motors of six cylinders each, capable of developing an aggregate horse power of two hundred and fifty.

But the Veritas and Argo are more than mere racing machines. Motor boats there have been which rested on so delicate a keel that forgetfulness in the matter of trimming ship was apt to result in a turnover; but you might go to sea in boats of the type of the Veritas and the Argo, and in this their makers have followed the saner trend of motor-boat progress.

Europe cares mostly for speed. In America there are other considerations. The best examples in Europe of this type of sea-going motor boat that bids fair to supplant in America the cockleshell racing craft are the Quand Meme of France, the Napier Major and the Joan of England.

The French boat as the only one that weathered the storm which proved so destructive to the motor boats in the trans Mediterranean race of the spring of 1905 in which the little Fiat, an Italian racing boat, covered herself with glory. The Quand Meme was abandoned at sea when its fuel was exhausted, and was afterwards picked up, having weathered the storm without any one at the helm, uninjured. Of the two English boats, the Napier Major has cruised 5,000 miles in the choppy seas surrounding the British Isles, and the Joan has been in commission for several seasons of hard service.

America turns mostly toward the cruising type, because of the possibilities of out intricate system of water ways for providing a new and pleasurable form of recreation. The recent motor boat carnival in Florida and the last contest for the Gold Challenge Cup of the American Power Boat Association held on the St. Lawrence River, among the Thousand Islands, proved this. The gold cup was won last by the motor boat Chip, which is owned by a Philadelphian, Mr. J. Wainwright, who, however, belongs to the Chippewa Yacht Club, whose clubhouse is on the St. Lawrence River.

But the significant feature of the race was that is was won on a course about which were grouped one hundred and seventy motor boats. They were of all classes from the 1½ horse power kicker to the palatial steam yacht, and they came from all parts of the country. Some were from New York City, several were from Philadelphia, while one came from the farther end of the Great Lakes. And in nearly every case the owner of the boat, and often his family, made the journey from home to the scene of the race on board the boat. After the races they departed in all directions en route for home or for some predetermined stopping place on a long cruise. One man, whose home is Ossining on the Hudson River, had improved on the motor-boat idea with a sixty-foot house boat in which was installed a powerful motor. His family had traveled all the way from home on his boat, living comfortable the while they enjoyed the scenery en route, and after the races they departed upon a long cruise through inland water ways.

Another owner of a cabin cruiser, who had camped upon one of the sixteen hundred and ninety-six islands, was seen after the races, proceeding up the river, his family and his camp equipage on board, bound for some new camping-site. And at the recent carnival in Florida there were literally dozens of boats present whose owners had driven them all the way from home at a minimum of expense, and who expected once the carnival had ended to proceed on a tour of the Florida water ways. There was present at least one man who had come all the way from the St. Lawrence. His was but a small boat. As one cynic described it, It was nothing more than a "toothpick with a kicker in it"; but that toothpick had come through he canals to the Hudson River, down the Hudson to the Raritan Canal, down the Delaware to the Wilmington Canal, down Chesapeake Bay to the Dismal Swamp canal, down Pamlico Sound to the sea.

Now this is the trend that motor boating is taking in the United States. If in Europe they are mostly for the speed boat, the American is demanding not only that his craft shall be fast, but that it shall also provide him with a means of enjoying a summer outing and be capable of carrying him and his family comfortably on long cruises. So if we are to be looking for the breaking of records this year the fact will probably be announced by cable, since a boat that is built primarily for speed cannot have also the comfortable lines of the cruiser. It is as the difference between Barney Oldfield's "Green Dragon" and the touring car with the wide tonneau.

The sudden extended popularity of the motor boat is due of course to the development of the gasoline engine in the automobile. It was but natural to transfer the motive power from the land to the water vehicle. But the gain to the boat was tremendous. Where a steam engine and boiler, with their attendant coal and water bunkers, mean a great waste of room in a boat, the space occupied by the gasoline engine, without the boiler, coal and water space, is almost as one to five. In a seventy-five-foot steam launch with water-tube boilers and triple-expansion engines, eighteen feet of the boat's length must be sacrificed to the machinery and auxiliary apparatus, whereas in a motor boat of the same power and size but twelve feet must be given, and the saving in weight is fifteen thousand pounds. You could put two gasoline engines in the same space occupied by the steam equipment and still save ten thousand pounds. Of course the gain in comfort and the decrease in trouble is almost too great to be estimated.

(Transcribed from Cosmopolitan Magazine, June, 1906, pp. 132-141. )

{Even though this informative article is very much slanted away from boat racing, there are wonderful photographs of the De Lambert hydroplane, the White Fox, Chip, XPDNC, Veritas, Adios, and other boat racing contemporaries of the time. — GWC}

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this article. Note: the photographs mentioned in Greg's footnote will be added later. — LF]