Motor-Boats [1904]

The New Swift High-Powered Pleasure Craft

by Paul Severing

"All ready?" queried the captain of the auto-boat Zipalong, which had just been lifted into the Harlem River for its trial trip. "Well, then, let her go!"

The man at the engine moved a lever. The machinery, which had been throbbing like that of a motor-car in leash, quieted suddenly as the propeller took up the load; and the boat shot away from the landing stage like a torpedo from the deck of a destroyer.

"We'll do the marked mile opposite the Speedway," said the captain as the Zipalong swung in a circle across the stream. "Now, then, let her out!"

The man at the machine bent into the smother behind the engine, and immediately the little craft responded to his touch, gathering more and more speed as she neared the white mile-post on the river bank. It was a hot still summer day, and the sun beat down mercilessly upon the placid waters of the stream--yet we in the Zipalong were cool enough by reason of the strong breeze produced by our own flight. We bent low before it to lessen the wind-pressure, and waited alertly for the instant when we should pass the white post.

"Now!" called three voices simultaneously as we flashed past. The writer clicked the stop-watch in his hand, and we settled down patiently to await the end of the run.

Ahead of us the water was as smooth as a pond. Behind, the white spray spread away in a long curve like the tail of a comet. But even there the commotion in the water was less than might have been expected. The ideal of the auto-boat-builder is to leave no wake at all, for the more flurry the boat makes, the less likely she will be to break records. Over on the Speedway crowds of promenaders gazed in astonishment at this low, frail-looking craft that shot ahead of all other boats on the river as though they were standing still. And truly she must have looked strange to those who saw her for the first time. She was forty feet long, four feet wide, with a wedge-shaped nose and a torpedo stern--her walls as thin as paper, her bottom as flat as a floor and cut up so much toward her propeller that she might have floated in a pan of water for all the draught she had. Her gasolene engine developed forty-five horse-power. In short, she was as different from the conventional power-launch as a race-horse is different from a Percheron, and she was good for just that for which the race-horse is good--for speed and nothing else.

"Ready with the watch!" called the helmsman, as the mile-post loomed up ahead. We were now on the home-stretch of the run. The engineer gave his machine a wipe or two, the helmsman strained forward a trifle more earnestly, we all looked a bit more intently at the white post, and--the watch clicked and the Zipalong had passed the mark.

"What do you make it?" asked the helmsman as the boat slowed down preparatory to going about.

"Two minutes and forty-five seconds by this watch."

"That is nearly twenty-two miles an hour," he said. "Well, she'll beat that after she is limbered up."

On the way up the river we had another illustration of what the auto-boat can accomplish in the matter of fast going. A tug-boat was coming down the Spuyten Duyvil, headed for the bridges on the lower river, and her captain, seeing us ahead, whistled repeatedly for us to keep out of the way. But with supreme confidence in the speed at his disposal, our tillerman darted hither and thither with little regard for the tugman's warnings. At last we moved up-stream and shot past the tug-boat just as her captain leaned out of her pilot-house and made uncomplimentary remarks about the earthly use of all pleasure craft.

"So, so," remarked our tillerman. "I'll just show that fellow a thing or two." Whereat he turned the nose of the auto-boat across the tug's wake and started back down the river after her.

Now tug-boats are among the fastest of river-boats. They are all muscle. Space which in other craft is utilized for cargo and cabin-room is in the tug utilized for engine, boilers, and other machinery, and the cut of the hull is such as to enable it to race with competitors for accidental jobs. The tug we were after, running with the tide, was making about fifteen miles an hour, yet she seemed slow indeed as we began to overhaul her. Her crew was out in force as we passed on the starboard side, But her captain disdained to look as we shot ahead. Fifty yards to the fore we crossed her bows and when well over, turned up-stream again. In almost a moment we had passed her on the port side, were astern of her, crossed her wake, and after her again on the starboard side. As before, we ran ahead of her, crossed her bow and again dropped astern. Three times thus did we spin rings around her within the mile, and then another boat came up the river, making the feat perilous to attempt again, so we let her go. Whether or no the tugman altered his opinion of pleasure craft we did not find out, for he gave no sign.

After all, it is hard to realize how very fast these frail boats can travel until you have actually taken seat in one of them. The fastest of them has made over twenty-three miles an hour by official reckoning. That may not seem very fast to the person used to travelling in a twenty-seven knot liner, but there is as much difference between riding in the waist of a liner and in the cockpit of an automobile-boat as there is between riding on a fast train and on a toboggan. The earth itself carries us around with it at a rate of over seventeen miles a minute, but as every observable object is moving at the same speed we do not notice the motion. A line is a little world in itself and its relation to external objects is not vivid enough to allow an appreciation of its speed, unless, indeed, you clamber down to the forechains of the ship. There, perhaps, you might be able to appreciate what it means to sit in the bow of a boat whose sides and bottom are as thin as cardboard, to see the spray rise up around you like a curtain nd you feel yourself projected forward seemingly like a shot from a gun.

An automobile-boat, which few persons seem able to differentiate from an ordinary power-boat, is one in which everything is sacrificed to speed. She lies low to escape wind-pressure. Her entrance-lines forward are as fine as possible. her deepest draught is generally at her forefoot, her flat bottom thereafter sloping steadily upward toward the stern. Her engine is usually the highest powered compatible with her capacity for withstanding strain, and since it is the gasolene-engine that has attained the highest development in the automobile, that type of engine is used. As the auto-boat is a mere racing machine, every possible effort is made to cut down the weight. hence, she is usually a mere shell with sides as thin as three-sixteenths of an inch, and when about to race, she is, like a warship clearing for action, stripped of every bit of material that does not contribute directly to her going power.

But though this is the type of automobile-boat in general, every designer will necessarily vary from it in accordance with his own originality. Thus, there are boats being built on the Harlem which are quite different technically from others which are in construction at Bayonne, Providence, or Syracuse, but it would be as difficult to describe in popular language what these differences are as it would be to describe the difference between the recent America's cup-defender and the sloop sent over by Sir Thomas Lipton. The Adios, the boat which held the fastest official record for 1903, has the familiar shelving stern of the torpedo boat, whereas the Standard, the boat which holds the 1904 racing record, has a stern chopped off perpendicularly, yet manages therewith to leave the water behind it quite as calm as does the Adios.

It is very important, this matter of how the water behaves under the boat. Some of the foreign auto-boats have been photographed in a perfect smother of foam. This is spectacular for photographic purposes and doubtless it gives the owner of the boat the idea that he is getting a more exciting run for his money, but it is a positive detriment to high speed, the ideal boat being that which shoots away over the surface of the water with hardly a ripple behind. It is a deep draught-boat that leaves a turbulent wake, but auto-boats are all above the water, being made as it were to skim over the smooth surface or from wave to wave like a shell. And for this reason they are capable of high speed even in rougher water than that of the Harlem. Not long since, the Standard left Sandy Hook in company with the Monmouth, admittedly the fastest steamer in New York Harbor, and in spite of the chop in the bay and the quartering seas from the propellers of outgoing steamers, the automobile-boat reached the Battery, a distance of approximately twenty miles, fifteen minutes ahead of the Monmouth. On another occasion this boat ran up the Hudson from Manhattan to Nyack and back, a distance of forty miles, in half a gale of wind and consequently through rough water, at an average of nineteen miles an hour, and although the load upon the engine varied constantly as the waves passed under the counter, yet the machine was not touched from start to finish of the run. In June last the Standard, which won all three races of s series instituted by the American Power Boat Association, competing principally with the Water Lily, a fast boat owned by Mr. Frank Seamons, covered in the second race a distance of thirty-two miles with an average speed of 23.40 statute miles an hour. This is fast going indeed.

The American Power Boat Association has formulated definite rules as to what shall constitute an auto-boat. It is, states the rule:

"One whose rating exceeds ten times the square root of its load water-line length. Each boat of this class shall contain and be fitted with such mechanical power as will drive it astern at a rate of speed of not less than  four knots an hour in still water."

Of course, all well-known auto-boats are capable of going astern faster than four knots an hour, and some of them can go faster backward than many of the old-fashioned power-boats can go forward. There is no special benefit in this except that it gives the helmsman the power, by reversing his propeller, which in case of accident might be a distinct advantage. it is the development of the gasolene-engine that has made such manipulation possible. few persons not familiar with power-boats realize what has been done for gasolene development within recent years. If it were still the era of steam, automobiles as at present designed would be impossible. At a recent meeting of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers attention was called to the relative advantage of the gasolene over the steam launch. It was pointed out that in a seventy-five-foot steam launch containing a water-tube boiler and a four-cylinder, triple-expansion engine of 175 horse-power, eighteen feet of the boat's length would have to be sacrificed to the engine, auxiliaries and bunker space, whereas in a gasolene launch of the same length and power, only twelve feet need be utilized for engine space. The steam engine would also take up the total width of the boat, whereas the gasolene engine-room would be but five feet wide, and the saving in weight of the boiler, piping, feed-water, etc., would be 15,000 pounds in favor of the gasolene launch. or to put it another way, two gasolene engines of 175 horse-power each could be installed in the space occupied by the steam engine, and the saving in weight would still be at least 10,000 pounds.

These engines are operated by spraying gasolene into a cylinder and exploding it by means of an electric spark. The gasolene expands just as steam does when forced into the cylinders of a steam engine, and drives the piston downward, causing the propeller shaft to revolve. There may be as many cylinders attached to the shaft as desirable, but most builders limit a single engine to four. If greater power is needed than can be obtained from four cylinders, two engines may be attached tandem to the shaft.

So far there have been no serious accidents from auto-boat explosions and the belief of the designers and engine-builders that there will be none, has led to the construction of some very high-powered boats. Thus, though the Zipalong is equipped with only a 45-horse-power engine, the Mercedes, a boat which distinguished its maker in the recent Monte Carlo regatta, has a 60-horse-power engine, and the Lutece, which competed in the same regatta, has an 80-horse-power engine. The Mercedes has an official record of 20½ miles an hour, the Lutece 19½ miles an hour. The Standard, mentioned above, has an engine of 110 horse-power, and the Adios one of 120-horse-power. At present writing a 65-foot boat with engines of 200 horse-power is being built for W. G. Brokaw. Still another launch, 90 feet in length, is now being equipped with two gas engines of 225 horse-power each.

Whether these excessive powers will make new records is doubtful. The craze for motor-boats has caused many automobile manufacturers to embark in boat-building on the theory that engine efficiency is after all the only consideration involved in the production of speed. On the other hand, the professional boat-builder holds to it that the question of speed depends more largely on the lines of the boat, and for this reason the lines of those power-boats now on the ways are shrouded from public knowledge as zealously as the lines of a new cup-defender. And the boat-builder's side of the question has the logic of some recent achievements behind it. Thus the Dolphin, a 25-foot speed-launch designed by Graefe, with a two-cycle, single-cylinder engine of only 7 horse-power, is capable of making 12 miles an hour. Furthermore, this boat fulfills an ideal of the designer, in shooting through the water practically without ruffling it, creating no bow wave, and leaving a hardly perceptible wake behind. The Express is another boat of this character, 27 feet long, 9 horse-power, and capable of 12 knots an hour. This boat is a modification of the extreme type of the Dolphin and was built with the idea of being "comfortable in Long Island Sound in any weather."

The confessed drawback of the automobile-boat, one that will restrict it to the favored few who can afford the expensive luxury of a mere racing machine, is its uselessness of any practical purpose. It may be of passing interest to know that a few very rich men intend to extract a doubtful utility from the automobile-boat by sing it to bring them swiftly from their homes on the Hudson or on Long Island Sound to their offices in New York, always provided they are careful to trim ship, but the man of more moderate desires will probably prefer a motor-boat which insures absolute safety in addition to the pleasure to be obtained. After all, there is hardly a modern sensation, considered from that standpoint alone, which does not pall upon the average taste after a few trials; if there be not substantial pleasure to recommend it, the machinery will be quickly discarded and a new sensation demanded. And this applies to motor-boating as much as it does to "looping the loop." Besides, when sensations alone are wanted, people generally prefer to hire them out of hand; there are not many persons who would care to spend thousands of dollars for a few thrills spread thinly over a summer.

On the other hand, the introduction of the automobile-boat has given a new impetus to motor-boating generally. There are said to be already over fifteen thousand motor-boats in the United States. As a mere measure of the growing tendency toward out-door recreation this showing is remarkable. With the fad in full swing this year, the number of motor-boats will be greatly increased. These boats are of all classes and kinds from the small-powered dinghy, costing less than $200, to the twin-screw yacht, the cost and luxury of which are limited only by the size of the pocket-book. These boats represent the healthy tendency of the movement and are therefore to be encouraged. Nevertheless, the great majority are small and the question may here be asked: If the development of the gasolene engine has been such as to permit the average man to utilize tremendous mechanical power at small cost, why not take advantage of it to propel larger hulls? The hundred or more horse-power used to drive the fastest auto-boat would be more than enough to drive a comparatively large hull upon which a whole family might spend a summer. It would not drive it at the rate of twenty miles an hour, but fast enough at least to fulfill the purpose in view, and the amount of solid enjoyment to be obtained from such an arrangement could not be overestimated.

It is one thing, however, to contemplate the lazy joys of life on a big boat of small power and quite another to sit in that same boat and preserve your equanimity while your neighbor goes hurtling past you at a twenty-mile clip. William Gillette, the actor, who enjoys a house-boat on the dolce far niente plan, relates that it is wellnigh impossible for him to get his friends to remain with him throughout an entire trip. After a few miles of slow movement up the Hudson or down the bay they invariably beg to be set ashore so that they may get back to the rush and bustle of modern life. So maybe this automobile-boat movement is more nearly the true expression of a great desire than one would think.

(Transcribed from Everybody's Magazine, Vol. II, Aug. 1904, pp. 314-323. )

[This prescient and insightful article also has good photos of Panhard, Standard, Hard Boiled Egg, Adios, Fiat, Zaza, and Zipalong, - GWC ]

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