The Griffith Cup: All You Ever Needed To Know [1995]

With all the rife talk about the possibility of Ron Burton's Aussie Endeavour making the jaunt from Down Under to join the West Coast portion of the URC 1995 tour in Seattle, the time is ripe to acquaint stateside fans with the storied history of the E.C. Griffith Cup.

The Griffith Cup is the trophy for the Australasian Unlimited Motor Boat Championship, open to inboard engined, propeller-driven boats of unrestricted hull design and unlimited engine capacity/modifications. It is conducted under the jurisdiction of the Australian Power Boat Association and with the authority of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and the Derrinal Recreational Area Management Committee.

Or, as they say in the land down below: "Spread your blanket on the grass, bring out the food and drinks, and enjoy the boat races."

Not so terribly long after Gottlieb Daimler attached a petrol motor to the back of a rowboat on the River Seine in 1887, a number of prestigious trophies for unlimited power- boat racing emerged throughout the world. The three major ones were the British International (Harmsworth) Trophy, technically a race between nations; the Gold Cup in the United States, and the E.C. Griffith Cup in Australia.

Ernest C. Griffith was an early secretary of the Sydney- based Royal Motor Yacht Club, situated on Rose Bay. It was in the RMYC premises that the first meeting was held which led to the formation of the Australian Power Boat Association.

Griffith was a renowned silversmith of the time and so he designed and produced a majestic trophy, known in its early years as the Griffith Australasian Championship Cup, in 1909. A year later, on Rose Bay, Mr. A. Davies drove Fairbanks to victory in the first Griffith Shield competition. It could be kept by any boat which could register two successive wins, which was first achieved by Anthony Horden's Kangaroo in 1911 and 1912.

Kangaroo was a single-step hydroplane, driven by a Brasier four-cylinder engine rated between 80 and 90 horse- power, and achieved a speed only slightly in excess of 30 miles an hour. The dominant creation of its time, Kangaroo became the first winner of the E.C. Griffith Cup proper, in 1913. The race consisted of two heats, each of two laps around a 9.54- mile course.

Another single-step hydro, Tortoise II, owned by the Rymill brothers and designed by the American, John Hacker, featured a 450hp Liberty V-12 engine. This boat became the most successful Griffith Cup winner in the pre-World War II era, notching wins in 1925-26-29-30-33, the latter at an average speed of 62 miles an hour.

The first Australasian boat to exceed 100 miles an hour was Kiwi Ken Southward's Redhead, which had taken the Cup to New Zealand in 1945. Redhead averaged 101.3 miles an hour in 1955. Australia's first 100 mph-plus boat was Fleetwing, which clocked 106.525 on Kogarah Bay in 1955.

Australia's so-called grandfather of powerboat racing, Ernie Nunn, brought the Cup home to Sydney in 1963 with his Wasp. Trevor Matthews' Assassin took the Cup to Victoria in 1969, where it was to stay for 18 years, amid what the Aussies call their "thunderboat era." A series of boats powered by the giant aircraft engines familiar to U.S. hydroplane buffs -- Stampede, Bayswater Bulk, Miss Bud, Aggressor, Aussie Bud, Solo and Aussie Connection -- kept the Cup at Melbourne until Con Cunningham's Shamrock, with Bobby Halliday at the wheel, claimed victory for Sydney interests. Shamrock looked a sure winner in its defense a year later, but a blower belt shredded and left the Ron Jones-designed craft dead in the water. Ron Burton's Aussie Connection took the cup back to Victoria once more.

However, in 1987, New Zealand's Peter Knight launched the Lauterbach-design hull, CRC Latimer Lodge, all of 23 feet, 2 inches long, 10 feet 6 inches wide and weighing but 2,200 pounds. Two years later, that boat took the Griffith Cup back across the Tasman to NZ with its 1200hp, supercharged, fuel- injected Chevy engine burning methanol fuel . . . not so very much different than a Grand Prix boat, for the reference of North American fans.

And it is at this point in the narrative that Ron Burton re-enters the picture with Australia's first turbine-powered craft, the Ron Jones-designed Aussie Endeavour. With Dennis Parker at the wheel, it took the Griffith Cup back to its home country and successfully defended it once again this past January. In the same period, the boat established an Aussie straightaway mile record speed in excess of 190 miles an hour. It is this craft and crew which hopes to test its mettle against the best we can offer later on this summer in Seattle.

(author unknown)

(Reprinted from the Electronic URC Hydroletter, Vol. 1, No. 5, 1995)