Motor Boats On San Francisco Bay [1907]

A Handsome Fleet of Pleasure Craft That Offers Recreation to an Ever-Going Fraternity of Golden Gate Yachtsmen

by Arthur Inkersley

One of the earliest large launches on San Francisco Bay was the Port Costa, 50 feet long and 50 horsepower. She was owned by George McNear, who lives at McNear's Landing on the upper bay of San Francisco, about 7 miles from San Rafael, the nearest railroad depot. She used to run between the city of San Francisco and the grain warehouses at Port Costa.

But the first high-speed launch or motor boat, as it would now be called, on San Francisco Bay was built for W. R. Hearst, whose recent candidacy for the governorship of New York state brought him into great notoriety at home and abroad. The Aquila, as she was named, was from the designs of an Eastern firm and had a length of about 52 feet. She was used to convey her owner and his friends from San Francisco to the pretty little town of Sausalito, on the shores of Marin county, where Hearst was then spending much of his leisure. Shortly after leaving Harvard, he received as a gift from his father, the late United States Senator George Hearst, the San Francisco Examiner and, in the first flush of journalistic enthusiasm, spent part of each day at the office of that newspaper. Aquila beat the San Rafael, generally considered the fastest ferry-boat on the Bay, two and a half minutes on the regular run of 30-35 minutes from San Francisco to Sausalito. Aquila has long since disappeared from the Bay but a 42-foot boat, named Imp, built on the same model, is owned by F. A. Robbins, formerly treasurer of the San Francisco Yacht Club. The Imp was equipped with a 100 horsepower steam engine but that has been taken out and replaced by a Buffalo gas engine of 40 horsepower. She is now fitted with a trunk cabin and is so arranged that she can be handled by one man from the forward part of the cockpit. This enables the owner to control the engine and steer, while still remaining in sight and hearing of his friends.

The next notable power boat was the Lucero, owned by the late Charles L. Fair, younger son of United States Senator James G. Fair, one of the early mining millionaires of California. Lucero was the largest gasoline craft on the Bay and at the time was deemed a doubtful experiment. She was built on Puget Sound and came down by sea under her own power, being obliged to put back once on account of stress of weather or a mishap to her machinery. She was handsomely fitted with many ingenious electrical appliances but was not used much by her owner. For a long time she was laid up near Sessions' Basin, East Oakland, with only a boat-keeper on board. Charlie Fair, with the fondness of wealthy young men for speedy things and new fads, became an automobilist and owned one of the first gasoline motor cars brought to California, in which he made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the Yosemite Valley. Later he became possessed of a high-powered French automobile which caused the death of himself and his wife near Paris. In the settlement of the state Lucero was bought by Capt. Minor Goodall and converted into a steamer. She is now at San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles.

Some years ago a gasoline launch named Electrix was owned by Eugene Lee, of san Francisco, but, while lying at moorings, she was borne adrift by a southeasterly storm and was never found. About that time the Wieland Brothers owned an electric launch which was supplied with "juice" from a charging station on the grounds of the old Pacific Yacht Club at South Sausalito. The launch has gone and the club has passed out of existence, though the club-house, garden and boat-house remain.

The power boat Olive (first named Vladimir) is 47 feet over all and has a 45-horsepower gas engine. She was built by John Twigg & Sons, of San Francisco, for F. A. Hyde, but has been sold by him to Carlton Wall of Oakland, who was an enthusiastic automobilist until two serious accidents, which injured several friends who were in his car, discouraged him. He sold his Mercedes and bought the Olive, renaming her Hawkeye.

The Aquila, already mentioned, was generally considered capable of making eighteen knots an hour, but that rate of speed has been surpassed by at least two boats on San Francisco bay, the Rogengeo and the Twig W. The former was built for the Rogers Engineering Co. by G. W. Kneass and is 54 feet long with a beam of 5 feet. Her hull consists of two thin skins of cedar, with canvas between them. She was first equipped with a Buffalo marine engine but this was taken out and a 54-horsepower Union motor installed by the Union Gas Engine Co., which renamed her Union and sent her to the Portland Exposition. She covered 40,000-50,--- [?] miles on the Willamette and Columbia rivers, Puget Sound and the waters near Victoria, B.C., and is credited with a speed of 21 miles an hour. The Union beat the ferry steamer San Francisco one minute eight seconds from the city to the Key Route pier (a trip of about 15 minutes). The engine, while at the works for overhauling, was burned in the San Francisco fire and the hull is at the builder's shop. An exactly similar boat but a little shorter (40 feet x 5 feet), equipped with a 16-horsepower Buffalo engine, was built for L. Ricks, of Eureka, Humboldt county, Cal., and is the fastest craft on Humboldt Bay.

Twig W was built by John Twigg and Sons, of san Francisco, the builders of the power boats Idlewild and Olive, the racing yacht Challenger, the steam yacht Lurline and other well known craft. She is 33 feet long and has a beam of 5 feet 2 inches. Her hull is double, the immersed underbody being of a knife blade sharpness which offers little resistance to the water, while the upper hull is broad and shallow, giving stability and buoyancy. Equipped with a 34-horsepower Trebert engine, she made 22 miles per hour, and her builders believe her capable of higher speed, as during her trials her engine did not run regularly. Some boats of the same model as Twig W, but of heavier construction, have been built for use as mail boats on the Yukon river. Thirty-eight-foot boats, of 6 feet beam, equipped with 30-horsepower engines, make 17 miles an hour. A 24-footer of the Twig model, with 8 horsepower, made 15 miles an hour in the service of the Northern Commercial Co. on the Tanana river, Alaska.

(Excerpts transcribed from Boating, May 1907, pp. 9-13. )

[Charles Fair's sister, Virginia Fair, was married to William Kissam Vanderbilt Jr. He frequently raced his 12-meter class sailing yacht, named the Viginia, in the 1890's and 1900's. Also, Viginia Fair occasionally helped William handle his autoboat Hard Boiled Egg in races in New York State and northeast power boat regattas. — GWC]

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