More on APBA Handicap Rating [1905]

Class Racing

by Chas. D. Holmes

At the time when the American Power Boat Association racing rules were formed, there were in existence in this country a varied assortment of all sorts and conditions of boats, with engines of all kinds and descriptions, each owner having a more or less vague idea as to the speed of his boat, based largely upon wave disturbance, and what some "old salt" has said was the distance between certain points, but of the actual speed very little was known, consequently 25 to 30 and 35 miles per hour was often talked about, and sometimes claimed, that's all. So to meet these conditions and give all just as they were a fair chance to see how slow they really could go (for at times there were very few which could do better than 12 to 15 miles), it required a rule just such as was framed out, but now conditions have changed, and we have the real speed boat of 30 miles, while something greater is being worked out, 40 is not a dream, and we find that the old rule, which has served its purpose, and a very good purpose too, cannot possibly accommodated with fairness to all. In a 10 h.p. outfit in the same race with a 150 h.p. outfit, or even less, a 30 to 40 h.p. boat, and even though it could, the element of real contest would be lacking, except at the very finish, where it would be figured out the two boats should come in about even on their actual previous performances, which could be true of two boats, but hardly in the case of a dozen. What we want is a race from start to finish, with flying start, so there will be some skill shown in maneuvering for the line, for this is what makes yacht racing interesting, all to get away as near to each other as possible, no handicaps, but the fellow who can handle his 30 or 40-ft. boat, as the class may be, and his 80 or 100 sq. in. of cylinder area, as the case may be, to the best advantage, wins, and does so because of the superior skill in manipulating a superior engine in a superior hull, and not by having a smaller engine in a shorter boat, for which some rule has figured out an impossible handicap to overcome. First of all let skill in the manipulation of both engine and boat count most, then the science of engine building, boat design and construction be the important factors; we must be very careful not to allow power boat racing to be a simple mechanical proposition, where it is known, and can be figured out to a certainty beforehand just what each boat will, and always the same; there is no sport in this for the owner, who must have a constantly and ever-changing development in connection with his boat, the same as with a horse or sailboat that is being constantly tuned up, improved and brought to a higher speed. Where would be the interest if the limit was found at the very start? There must be certainty in any sport, else it will be uninteresting. Knowing you could surely beat me in a race, you are not liable to have me as a competitor long, but if I am uncertain, and believe by skill and manipulation of my engine and boat that I can beat you, or else exhaust all my resources before giving it up and get a better boat, in which case I will put you to a disadvantage, and so it will go on till one or the other has exhausted his pocketbook and must stop.

This is one phase of the racing proposition that needs regulation. Above everything, let skill in handling both engine and boat, same as with a horse or sailboat, count most in deciding the victory, and in order to bring out the best skill in the one handling the boat, the best in engine construction, designing, and construction of hulls, it seems to the writer, after a very careful study of the present situation, that class racing will come nearer to bringing about the desired end than anything else. The classes, whether 25, 30, 35 and 40 feet over-all length, or some other lengths to be decided upon, should be settled at once, before we go further and before collusion and favoritism, on account of existing sizes of boats and engines, are brought up; there are but few real racers out as yet, so it will be comparatively easy to decide what the classes shall be. It should be done by some large body with authority, so that all over the country the same classes will prevail, then when a certain boat, of the 40-ft. class for example, makes by an official test, 30 miles per hour, we know at once what it means, and just where we stand by comparison; as it is now, we know nothing but can guess a whole lot about revolutions, handicaps, etc.

The length over all of a boat and area of cylinders, denoting power, are the only real factors which it seem to me are necessary to govern and determine each class, this will give the designer a free hand to show his skill; the builder a free hand to show how well he can put up a light-weight craft, and the owner, or whoever handles the boat, a chance to show his ability; for all will be on the same footing, have the same facts to contend with, the same length of boat, with the same limit as to power, etc., so far as bare figures go, so that in the end the one who can turn out the best boat and handle it the best will win, while merit, instead of some unfair handicap or faked revolutions, will have its reward, and victory will be worth something, but at present it is very empty, because all the beaten ones who can actually make more miles per hour are sure to feel if the rule were different they would do better, and very naturally will lay defeat to a defective rating, which rating system has already shown one thing beyond doubt, and that is a real racing machine of large size and power, Dixie, for example, rating about 95 A.P.B.A., would have to make the impossible speed of 60 miles per hour, a mile a minute to beat Chip, winner of the Gold Challenge Cup, and consequently has no show whatever with the small boat of 25 feet, with a low rating, under 50, so the premier championship event of the country will hereafter be contested for by a 25-footer. All right, and a very good thing in its way, for many will now be able to have a "look in" at this trophy, and the St. Lawrence people next year will have to make elaborate preparations to take care of all comers. But the question arises, will such a contest represent that for which the trophy was intended? And now, just as we have about decided there was no show except for the little 25-footer, there comes into the contest a new element in the shape of a very practical, serviceable and seaworthy yacht tender, 32 ft. long and 5 ft. wide, a strong, heavy boat, built to hoist out and carry on davits, absolutely non-sinkable and safe, a boat worth having, not a racing machine, but with speed enough, on her favorable rating of 50.8, with 20 h.p. on only 700 revolutions of engine, a good safe running speed, is able to beat Chip on her best showing; such a new boat, just completed by the Autoboat Co. (built to do 15 miles, but is actually doing about 19 miles per hour by accurate test and measure of distance), so it would now seem that a very practical craft has the best show for the cup, but in no case have the real "racers" any show at all, they must be provided for, and the best way is by class racing. Let us give up, the sooner the better, trying to make one rule fit all; it cannot be done, and there is no more reason why Chip should think of being matched against Veritas, for example (and I am very sure her sportsmanlike owner would say the same), than there is for one of the 30-footers to sail against Reliance.

With the same classes established all over the country, and it can be done now very easily, before we go any further, it will then be a comparatively easy matter for us to get together on exactly the same plane, in whatever class we may choose to select, and race it out from start to finish with the best boat the winner of a victory worth having; the smaller classes can be made just as interesting, and there is no good reason why there will not be just as much there for the big fellow, so long as he beats some one, or more probably a great many by a close margin, and from a business point of view this arrangement will surely not hurt trade, for once an enthusiast starts in, even with the smallest class, he will surely keep going higher and higher if the money holds out, but he will soon lose interest "to run it alone." even though he come in first while the judges are off duty. I am in favor of limiting each class by the length over all of the hull. This is enough regarding the boat, with certain limitations of power of engine, as expressed by the diam. and stroke, or volume of cylinder space, some very simple way, no revolutions or any other doubtful elements to be considered, he fewer restrictions the better, so there will not be any points open for dispute, for now there is more "kicking" than racing. It cannot be otherwise, for there are altogether too many loopholes for those who would take advantage of them to cheat, and after about every race (no, they cannot be called races, simply going it alone) we hear all sorts of "kicks" as to revolutions, rating, etc., and about everyone who has made close observation has decided that handicaps and revolutions in particular are good to let alone, provided we want racing and will interest spectators and contestants alike.

By the present A.P.B.A. rules one of the factors for rating is the area of the greatest immersed section of hull, denoting weight of hull, and for which there is an advantage to be gained, s there should be, but it is a fact that the development of the very fastest type of racing craft, with only slight displacement, that goes over the water on a very flat bottom, suffers badly at the expense of the fuller, deeper-bodied and unquestionably slower boat, hence the rule does not encourage the very fastest type, and it is also a fact that the smallest boat in the Gold Challenge Cup race gained a big advantage of having a very large section, larger than Shooting Star or Flying Dutchman, which is all right and a tribute to the genius of her clever designer, who will, I think, tell you candidly that he really loses speed, but gains more in rating. Hence, in order to win races, we slow down to a point where we can take the best advantage of the rules, and the question will instantly arise in your minds, is this the best way to develop speed for the greatest power boat event of the season? This, as well as many other objections to the present method of racing, would seem reason enough why something should be done, and very soon, in a way that will produce the very fastest boat of a given length and power and no kicks, so that we can all take off our caps to the winner.

With so few restrictions some will say the boat will be good for nothing, simply racing shells, liable to go under any minutes, etc., which in a sense will be true. But we must not lose sight of the fact that for speed we should not expect to put up as a contestant "any old craft," for what speed would represent in that case, so in order to bring out the very best skill, talent and methods for building the strongest and lightest boat, also the most powerful engine (but be careful not to blow up), I believe it best to give all as free hand as possible.

A hull can be built light, and still be a safe boat, but it requires a little science in the boat builder's art to do it. So this is what we want to encourage, better things all along the line, better and lighter engines, with better control, and even those who do not care to race will have the benefit of this in a more serviceable craft.

For those who would race in a more stable craft, the one-design idea, where all hulls built exactly alike, with same power, should have strong attraction. But the chances are that this will prove only a stepping stone for there is an indestructible something in the Yankee blood that cries out for the other fellow's scalp, not in the same sense we hope as the aborigines, but nevertheless a true similarity, for win we must, when once the fatal plunge is taken, even though it be with a "tan bark" at the risk of our very lives. So never be rash enough to say you will never race, for it is dollars to cents you will be at it before the season is over, and why shouldn't we strive for supremacy. It is right that we should, but let us do so by fair means, in a fair field, with as few restrictions as possible, so that victory will have its crown of triumph.

(Transcribed from Power Boat News, Dec. 2, 1905, 681-682. )

{At this time the Pacific coast racers were already classified by over all lengths, and very soon the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association would do the same - GWC}

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