Motor Boating — A New Sport [1904]

The Sudden Popularity of the Light, High-Powered Craft Which May Be Called the Automobiles of the Water

There may be an unfailing demand for some new thing in the world of sport. When a novelty that seems worth while appears in the field, it always awakens keen interest. its powers and its possibilities are sure to be tested and developed with untiring enthusiasm. However costly it may be, if it promises to give anything like a fair return, unlimited money stands ready to support it.

The new thing of 1904 is the motor boat. Not that it is actually an invention of the current year; but this season marks its debut as a prominent candidate for sporting popularity. It is so new that even its precise identity does not seem to be thoroughly established. There is some little laxity in the use of the term "motor boat." It has been applied, especially in Europe,. to many of the swift small craft driven by steam power. Scientifically, such a usage is not incorrect; but one would scarcely call the Celtic a "motor ship," though the huge engines that propel her vast weight through the water are undoubtedly a motor. And in America, at any rate, a stricter definition is accepted. With us, a motor boat is properly a light vessel built for speed and driven by some form of gas engine. Its fuel is usually gasoline, though naphtha, kerosene, and other liquids are also used.

To the uninitiated, indeed, it may well seem as if these wonderful little craft must be propelled by some mysterious power that needs no mechanism of energy. They shoot over their native element like dragonflies, and appear too arrow-like and slender to hide in their interior so cumbrous a piece of furniture as a boiler.

A decade ago glowing predictions were afloat as to impending developments in electricity. Men with a smattering of science were asserting that there was no reason why electrical power should not be used for all maritime purposes, even for the propulsion of ocean steamers. As a matter of fact, invention in that line got no further than the building of launches driven by storage batteries. The silence and cleanliness of these craft made them extremely comfortable, but they have not proved capable of any very high speed.

In this latter respect, greater things have been done by small steam-driven boats of high power. In New York waters during the past twenty years, some remarkable records have been made by the Stiletto, the Norwood, the Vamoose, the Now Then, the Yankee---all famous craft in their day---and most lately by the Ellide and the Arrow, for which last a speed of no less than forty miles an hour is claimed. Each of these vessels is or was the result of much thought, labor, and expense, and all were more or less experimental.

Last summer the New York newspapers repeatedly described the performances of a curious craft which appeared in and around the harbor. Most of the passengers on the ferries and on the Sandy Hook boats had never seen such speed as the needle-like newcomer displayed. It was learned that she was called the Standard, and was owned by E. A. Riotte, an automobile manufacturer of Jersey City. She measured fifty feet on the water line, and had seven feet beam, with only two feet draft, and a speed of twenty-seven miles an hour was claimed for her. She was designed by Lewis Nixon, and was said to have cost ten thousand dollars.

The Standard probably deserves the honor of ranking as the pioneer motor boat of really high speed in New York waters. Unquestionably, the attention that she attracted did so much to introduce the new class of craft to yachtsmen and the public in general.

The Automobile of the Water

The typical motor-boat of today is a natural sequel to the automobile. Both the makers and the users of the latter saw that the light and powerful engine of the road car could be installed in a hull and set to turn a screw just as readily as it can be set in a chassis and harnessed to a revolving axle. The first auto-boats in Europe and America proved such promising performers that there was a rush to construct more of them. Boat-building yards are now working overtime to fill orders. The leading yacht clubs have taken the idea up in such a serious way that it may be pronounced as having already passed beyond the fad stage. Valuable prizes have been offered, and some interesting races have been held. Almost every yachtsman who has the money to spare wants one of the new craft; and their possession need not be limited to the millionaire class, for while the larger and higher-powered racers cost several thousand dollars, a serviceable but less ambition boat can be obtains for a few hundred.

It would not be reasonable to expect perfection in so new a type of craft. It seems clear that builders have in many cases sacrificed too much to the desire of speed. The great and natural temptation toward extreme lightness of construction has proved dangerous to strength and seaworthiness. The races held at Monte Carlo, early in the present summer, are said to have enforced this moral with some emphasis. Most of the competing boats---practically all of which were French---proved to be over-engined. According to a reported whose love of the picturesque seems to have led him into a pardonable exaggeration, their vibration shook out the loose teeth of the people aboard them. Rivets were started from the planking, and little streams from the sea poured into the hulls, so that the crews had to pump or sink. Only one competitor became a total loss, but several others were so badly racked as to need virtual rebuilding.

There is no doubt that the lesson of the French races, and others that they will learn from their own experience, will teach American builders to turn out a wholesome type that will combine speed with safety and efficiency.

A Motor Catamaran

The motor catamaran, shown in the drawing at left, is put forward as a suggestion to auto-boat designers. Its advantages are cheapness and seaworthiness. Its twin hulls may be built in the same way as a fisherman's dory, with about two strakes in each side of a hull forty feet long. The deck beam is to be twenty-two inches; depth of the hull, twenty-six inches amidships, shallowing toward bow and stern. In profile the bows will be similar to those of the cup defenders Columbia and Reliance, the stern coming down square and straight. Each hull has a keel three inches wide, eight inches deep amidships, and tapering to nothing at the bow and stern. Each hull also has a twelve-horse-power motor, just forward of amidships. Over the motor is an open hatch with a high gunwale, to give easy access to the machinery. The hatch should be covered with a canvas when there is a sea. The fuel tanks are well forward, and the extreme bow and stern have air tanks or collision bulkheads.

The two hulls of the catamaran are fastened eight feet apart and decked over for a length of twelve feet. The helmsman or operator will sit forward, behind a wind-break, where he will control the motors and steerage gear. The whole craft will be light, and its draft will be extremely small---a condition, of course, which is strongly favorable to high speed. Its stability will make it perfectly safe in a sea that would swamp a single-hulled boat. Its roomy deck, whereon one can move about without drawing from the captain a warning cry of "Trim ship!" will add greatly to the comfort of the passengers.

Perhaps the most prominent trophy in the field of motor boating is the British International Cup, commonly known as the Harmsworth cup, from the name of its donor. Last year this was raced for in Queenstown Harbor, and was won by S. F. Edge's Napier. The next contest is scheduled for July 30, on the Solent, and at the time of writing there is every prospect of an interesting contest. France will be represented by a trio of her experts, and an American boat is being sent over of which great things are expected.

The most important races that have yet taken place in New York waters were held by the newly formed American Power Boat Association in Manhasset Bay on May 30 and on the Hudson River on June 11 and 23.

(Transcribed from Munsey's Magazine, Vol. XXXI, August, 1904, pp. 641-647 )

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