The Future of Power-Boat Racing [1908]

"What is to be the future of power-boat racing?" is the question now being asked by this who are genuinely interested in the welfare of the sport, and the answer, if at all, is usually one of doubt and complain regarding the present unsatisfactory handicap method of rating. The last season's attempts have shown no improvement at all over those of previous years and only go to show the absurdity of attempting to figure handicaps. To make a close and exciting race something should be done and without further delay, before it is too late and everyone becomes thoroughly disgusted, for, to quote from those who have already been in the racing, "We are thoroughly tired of going it alone." "No contest at all." "It is all figured out beforehand and the handicap is always wrong." "Impossible to figure a handicap that will be fair to all;" — and many other like complaints. So I say, why continue to kill the sport by rules that can never be adjusted so as to make the racing popular? There must be in the racing some element that will at least appeal to the sporting instinct, which in the racing of to-day is utterly absent. The trouble is, we have started on the wrong track, and wouldn't it be far better, now that we have had an opportunity of seeing the error, to stop at once and start over again; and right here allow me to say, and say it most emphatically too, that it is not in the gift of the human mind to figure a handicap that will be equal to both the small, intermediate and large boats and with all types and kinds of power. It is altogether too difficult proposition for any one to think of fathoming, and I cannot understand why any one should think it possible; but allowing it could be done, what would it demonstrate? Simply nothing more than a successful matching up of so many different boats, the matching of which the different owners would never be able to agree in their own minds was correct, and there would always remain a doubt in each contestant's mind that had the figures been different, his boat would have won.

So, you see it is at best largely a matter of figuring, and figuring victories on paper is not what is wanted. So, I say, let's throw away entirely the old handicap rules and try something new, and here is where I am coming to the point of what I have to say; namely, that class racing will come nearer to solving this problem and producing satisfactory results than any other plan yet devised.

The American Power Boat Association, in connection with the Gold Challenge Cup, has made a good move in doing away with all restrictions, save the overall length of boat; but I believe it has gone too far in allowing unlimited freedom with power and placing the length of boat at 40 feet, all of which means at least a $10,000 to $15,000 proposition, which is most too expensive for most of us. It would have seemed to me far better to have limited the power, also the length to 35 feet, and thereby encouraging a greater number. However, this is probably all right for those who have the means. This unlimited power class need not interfere or detract from other championships of limited power; namely, 35 feet, 30 and 25 feet over-all length of hull.

My plan would be to have in each class just as few restrictions as possible, and only about three, I believe, are necessary; namely, the over-all length of the boat, which must not be exceeded; the width of the boat, which you cannot go under; and a total piston area of engine, which cannot be exceeded. By this plan, the measurer's work would be very much simplified and this point of contention practically eliminated. The restrictions of width would keep the boat safe under proper handling and bar any possible "plank-on-edge" type. No restrictions should be placed on construction or design, save possibly to bar hydroplanes and the like, which could have a class of their own; for I believe it is better to guard a little carefully the old traditional shape of a boat, else some of the "old salts" will soon be inquiring. "What is that thing? You surely can't call that a boat?" So I say, keep the class for boats that go bow first, and encourage all we possibly can new ideas as to both design and construction of hull.

The question of power is. perhaps, not quite so easy, but I believe here that the total piston area is sufficient and it is a factor that can be easily determined by the measurer. Now, if a long-stroke engine is any better than a short-stroke engine, this is a point we all want to know; but if a short stroke is best, also what proportion should the stroke be to the diameter in order to produce best results for marine work, not automobile work; -- this is a point that we are also anxious to know. So it seems to me by placing no limitation here and allowing each engine designer to arrange his engine as he sees fit, will soon settle this doubtful question. At any rate it is up to each one to decide, and vested interests should have no consideration, for by this method of racing it will be a case of the rule first and then building to it, instead of the boats first and rules to fit. By this method we should in the end be able to determine something. As it is now, we are just as much at sea as when racing first started. if piston displacement is to be the factor, then it would seem to me simply a case of each engine builder cutting down the stroke to the limit and speeding up at terrific high speed to overcome the shortening of the stroke or, in other words, taking advantage of the rule. So I say leave out any restriction here and allow each one to do just as he thinks best to produce the best result. i have gone into this point very carefully and believe the total area is all that is required. Then let each one get to work and produce the best, for this should be the ultimate object of true sportsmanlike contests.

So much for the rules. But "What will be the advantages to be derived from this type of racing?" you say. Well, here are a few advantages that would appear on the surface. To begin with

(1) There would be no handicaps to squabble over, and this would surely
    be a great advantage.
(2) No difference of measurement to question.
(3) A start altogether, where maneuvering fore the line counts and the first boat in wins; the public know it and the winners knows it.
(4) No kicks from the defeated because the handicap was not figured correctly.
(5) A victory that is acknowledged by the defeated and championship in the class means something.
(6) The science of engine building in reference to marine work, boat designing and hull construction are encouraged and advanced.
(7) Every one has the same factors to deal with and the boats nearly all built to the limit of the class, will all be very nearly the same, and a close race, not a procession, assured.
(8) A comparison of speed between boats in different localities can be made.
(9) No jockeying with results or the rating of boats.
(10) All will be on the square.
(11) A race from start to finish, as the boats should all be closely matched, and the winner will be pushed all the time to get the very best out of his engine and handle his boat to the very best advantage, thereby bringing out the very best there is in the whole outfit.

The measurements for the 35-foot class, or Class B, as we might call it, leaving Class A to be known as the 40-foot Gold Challenge Cup Class, would be 35 feet over-all length which cannot be exceeded, while the breadth must not be less than 4 feet over all. The total piston area not to exceed 114 square inches, or the equivalent of at least four 6-in. cylinders, which should produce results from 25 to 27 miles per hour. For the 30-foot or Class C, I would place the restrictions at 30 feet over all, 3 feet 10 inches breadth, with a total piston area of 79 square inches or the equivalent of four 5-in. cylinders. This class should produce a boat of from 23 to 24 miles per hour. In the 25-foot, or Class D, I would place the restriction on breadth at not less than 3 feet 8 inches, with a total piston area of 64 square inches or four cylinders 4½in. diameter. This class should produce a boat from 20 to 22 miles per hour.

These measurements should be determined by some large central organization like the American Power Boat Association, and the sooner we get at it and lay down the rules along some such lines as I have endeavored to outline the sooner we will have real racing.

To get the ball rolling, if any one about New York City will enter a boat for Class B the writer will see to it there is a contestant and a race assured.

(Transcribed from The Rudder, March 1908, pp. 300-301. )

{Many other regions in the United States had already adopted class racing by length and displacement, the Pacific Coast and the soon-to-be-formed Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association, but it would take the APBA several years more to see the advantage of this approach toward marine competition — GWC}

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