Motor Boating in Detroit [1907]

Detroit and Its Environs

With over 3,000 motorboats of all descriptions, ranging from the tiny canoe with its 1-h. engine to the hundred-footer with its powerful motor, Detroit enthusiasts recently organized a motorboat club. Although this association is still young, it has about five hundred members, including many prominent and wealthy men of the city. In its fleet are some of the finest motorboats seen on inland waters. Among them may be mentioned Althea, owned by C, Hayward Murphy, rear-commodore of the club; Wilanna, flagship of the fleet, owned by Charles W. Kotcher, commodore, and Rainbow, owned by R. P. Joy. Other notable boats are owned by Forbes Robertson, treasurer, and W. S. Reynolds, fleet captain.

The Althea was designed and built by the Williams-Whittelsey Co., and Rainbow is a product of the Seabury yards; but most of the other boats hereabouts are local products, as Detroit is one of America's greatest motorboat centers. To form an idea of the business done in the boat line, or if the vast number of pleasure craft in Detroit, it is only necessary for one to saunter, on a Summer's day, over the bridge that connects the city with beautiful Belle Isle Park. A glance up and down the river brings to view an almost uncountable array of motorboats. Or, when coming up from Lake Erie and Put-In-Bay, when one enters the beautiful "River of the Straits," the Detroit River, at Limekiln crossing. one sees beautiful islands on both sides, and a little further up toward Detroit, old Amhurstberg is passed. This is a quaint old Canadian town, and the great shipbuilding plant of the Great Lakes Shipbuilding Co., at Wyandotte, is on the left. At this point the river is broad and deep; in fact, there is plenty of deep water anywhere, between the islands or in the river, for craft drawing up to twenty feet. And such water, too, clear and sparkling; one can drop a bucket overboard anywhere and fetch up[ a draft of pure, cool, invigorating water. Further up on the way to Detroit one passes Fort Wayne, where troops of infantry and cavalry are stationed. The little town of Sandwich is on the Canadian side, a picturesque hamlet.

After leaving Fort Wayne the river is straight and broad and deep, passing Detroit on the left and Windsor on the right. And further on, before you have passed the half of Detroit, you approach the quaint old town of Walkerville on the Canadian shore. Passing Walkerville, the head of Belle Isle id reached; it lies directly in the center of the Detroit River, with a half-mile channel on both sides. it belongs to the city of Detroit, and is one of the most beautiful spots of the Middle West. The island is about five miles long and about a mile in width, with numerous artificial lakes and canals, and with a connecting bridge to Detroit. There are also large steam ferries, which will carry about two thousand people each, while over the bridge there is a line of automobiles. The island itself is one huge flower-garden, with fountains, beautiful buildings, an abundance of trees, an aquarium, zoological gardens, ball grounds, tennis grounds, golf links, and, in fact, everything for the pleasure-seeker. There are hundreds upon hundreds of canoes stored in garages, and on any bright day, with the band concerts of the water's edge, the canals are dotted with these little craft, paddled in Indian fashion to and fro. There are two large bath-houses and a fine bathing beach. On the island are also located the Detroit Boat Club and the Detroit Yacht Club, each with handsome houses. On the American side of the island most of the boat garages are located. The channel on this side, between the island and the Detroit shore, was formerly the old channel for the big log freighters passing through Detroit from Buffalo and the East to Duluth, through Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Lake St. Claire, Lake Huron, and on through the Straits of Makinaw into Lake Superior by way of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal. This was true of all traffic of the Great Lakes passing through Buffalo, but since the Belle Isle bridge was erected, the large steamers use the Canadian channel, leaving the other free of big boats and open to the pleasure-seeker. It was here that the regatta of the Motor Boat Club was held on August 17th. The officers of the Detroit Motor Boat Club are: Charles W. Kotcher, commodore; Dr. Wadsworth warren, vice-commodore; C. Hayward Murphy, rear-commodore; William S. Reynolds, fleet captain; Dr. William H. Price, fleet surgeon; Carlton Wilby, measurer; Forbes Robertson, treasurer; W. J. Gordon, secretary.


The regatta proved the greatest event of its kind ever held on the Detroit River; ideal weather and the assemblage of a great crowd of sightseers created a scene of Summer splendor. The committee occupies a little pavilion on the pier. The preparatory gun was fired at 2 p.m., according to prearranged schedule. Ten minutes later the starting gun for the third division, which included classes R and S of the speed boats, was sounded. At 2:20 the first division, including craft of all other classifications, made its start. The course was from Owen Park Dock up to a point opposite Windmill Point Light, thence down around Belle Isle to Joseph Campeau Avenue, and return through the drawbridge. The course had been logged off as 7.94 knots, or 9.2 statute miles. Around this all boats in classes A, B, R and S went twice, while the other classes made but one circuit.

Interest chiefly centered in the speed boat division. This included such boats as Thelma, owned by Mr. Robinson; Letter B, Mr. Sanbours; Ecce, owned and handled by Wm. E. Scripps; D.S.Q., Mr. Denerise; Rainmaker, Mr. Church; Gorning, Mr. Gorning; Junior, Mr. Pungs; Flying Dragon, Mr. Stroh; P.D.Q., another Scripps entry. Thelma crossed the line first, followed by Letter B and Ecce in order. Ecce created a considerable amount of interest, as her showing was excellent, considering that her power was much less than most of the other competitors.

In class S of the speed boats, Key West, equipped with a 15-h. Smalley motor, owned and operated by F. R. Still, of detroit, proved the winner, with Gray No. 6 second. Key West is a wonderful little boat, 35 feet overall, 34 feet 11 inches on water line, and with 4 feet 2 inches extreme beam. She has 32 inches freeboard at the bow and 20 inches at the stern, and her best official time is given as 22.1 miles per hour.

Only two boats finished in class A of the cabin cruisers. These were O. J. Mulford's Grayling and Commodore Kotcher's Wilanna. The former crossed the line about ten minutes ahead of her rival.

The last events of the day were classes B, I, J, K, L and M, and, although the crowd had begun to disperse before the finish of these classes, the real sportsmen stayed to see the stern of the last boat cross the line. They were rewarded by an exhibition run given by the Hornet, which is an 85-foot cabin boat owned by the Dodge Brothers, equipped with a 1,000-h. steam engine. This boat on the exhibition run attained a speed of 35 miles per hour with the current. Hornet's engine was built by the Dodge Brothers themselves, and the hull is a product of the Studer Boat Works, of Detroit. The judges were Otto Barthel, Oliver E. Barthel and Z. Dowling. C. H. Winfield acted as timer.

Oliver E. Barthel designed the first four boats that finished in the large speed boat class, also the winner in class J. Three of the motors were Rex, one a Scripps and one a Pocahontas. The best time over the course was that made by Thelma: 48 m. 30 s. She can do better than this, but encountered a heavy seas at the upper end of the island on the Canadian side. This same cause also greatly affected the smaller speed boats, and many of them finished with six inches of water in their hulls. The Detroit Motor Boat cup was won by Letter B, which beat Thelma by 28 seconds on the time allowance. Key West won Commodore Kotcher's loving cup in the smaller boat class. In each class there was a fine cup for the first over the line, while there were plenty of prizes for second, third and fourth positions.

A dinner held in the evening at the Fellowscraft Club was largely attended, and it was here that the prizes were awarded, and the announcement was made that the regatta would be repeated next season. The club is also contemplating the building of a fine house.


Probably one of the oldest organizations in this country devoted to marine sports is the Detroit Boat Club, organized on February 18, 1839. on that date a number of gentlemen met in Detroit at the office of E. A. Brush and organized the club. In those days the home of the members was a little two-story frame building, not much larger than an ordinary boathouse; but year after year witnessed a great growth in the club's prosperity, so that to-day the organization is located in a large, fine, fireproof, concrete clubhouse, probably one of the most imposing in the United States. Its membership totals 1,200 and includes men of note in the world of wealth, finance and politics, both here and abroad. The clubhouse is located on the Detroit side of Belle Isle, close to Belle Isle Bridge.

While the Detroit Boat Club is not exclusively a motorboat organization, many fine craft of that type are numbered in its fleet. Among some of those which might be named are the following: D.C.B. III, named after the club and used principally to ferry the members from Detroit over to the clubhouse. She is a 60-footer, finished in mahogany and has every modern equipment. The Lotus, a 50-foot motorboat, owned by Fred Wadsworth, of Detroit; the Althea, owned by C. H. Murphy, of detroit, is also enrolled in the club fleet.

The Wilanna was built in 1903 by the Michigan Yacht and Power Company, of Detroit. She is 66 feet over all, 60 feet water line, with 12 feet 8 inches beam. Her engines are two four-cylinder Pungs-Finch, of 40-h. each, which drive the boat about 15 miles an hour.


This organization dates back to April, 1895, when A. C. Kramer, C. J. Lichtenberg, Dr. B. Jacobs, L. W. Schimmel and J. K. Moore met and discussed the need for a yacht club, plans, etc. The Michigan Yacht Club was about expiring, and they purchased its clubhouse and some of its boats, and started up with about forty members. This number has now increased to six hundred, and they have a fine location on the Detroit side of belle Isle, with every facility for the mooring of yachts, etc. The initiation fee is $100, which entitles the member to one share of stock, and the annual dues are $70, which the club finds sufficient to pay running expenses and provide a surplus. The old club-house burned down in 1904 and their present beautiful home was almost immediately erected, at a cost of $25,000.

A ferry to Detroit is run from the club-house for the exclusive use of the members, the boat employed being a 48-foot launch equipped with a 30-h. Dingfelder engine. It is called D.Y.C. III; an older boat which is still used for the same purpose is D.Y.C. II.

(Excerpts transcribed from Motor Boat, Sep. 25, 1907, pp. 1-4.)

[O. J. Mulford was the president of the Gray Engine Co. and a trophy was dedicated for him and first raced for in 1946, as a consolation trophy to the Gold Cup. It was the O. J. Mulford Silver Cup, which was raced for until the mid-sixties. The Dodge Brothers at this time were manufacturers for Henry Ford and it would be another 7 years before that would produce their first automobile - GWC]

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