The Power Boat In 1904

It was evident at this time a year ago that a change so radical as to be little less than revolutionary was impending in American power-boating, and that the speed bacillus which has done so much within the past dozen years to kill the sport of yacht sailing and to becloud the whole science of naval architecture had firmly fastened its grip on the pleasure launch. Some preposterous claims of wonderful records in private trials were already afloat, and speeds of from 25 to 30 per hour (whether knots or miles, not stated) were spoken of as glibly as though they were already permanently recorded as official records. It is, perhaps, well to touch lightly on this side of the subject and to make some liberal allowances for the excess of enthusiasm aroused by the sudden advent of the "auto-boat," and also for the optimism of the automobile element, accustomed to almost unheard-of speeds on land, and very much of its bearings when first afloat in a veneer shell with its pet motor and steering wheel; it was evident at the start that the proposed line of development was not particularly sane and rational, but under the circumstances it was inevitable. Now that the first season of the "auto-boat" is over, and the "automoboatist" has been taught a few rude lessons as to the difference between dust and spray, and between the resistance due to air and a rolling wheel as compared to water and a material bulk of displacement, it is well to take a more deliberate survey of the whole field of the power-boat.

In the older lines of craft, the working launch, the important class of pleasure launches called by the French, "bateau de promenade," with no equivalent term in English, the cruising launch and the auxiliary, there is little to chronicle in the way of progress; the numbers have increased in a constantly growing ratio to the additions to the sailing fleet, but no material advance has been made in model and construction of hull, in lightness and efficiency of motor, or in the employment of fuel other than gasoline. The whole tendency of designers and builders has been toward one mighty leap from everyday design and heavy construction to extreme design and the lightest possible construction of both hull and motor.

It is evident that the greatest possible good which can come to the power-boat through the influence of the automobile must be in the directions of a reasonable reduction of weight of motor within economic limits, rather than the production of costly but extremely light and delicate machines; from improvements in carburetors, ignition devices and other vital appurtenances of the gas engine, that will increase both reliability and economic efficiency; and from the introduction of fuels other than gasoline, such as kerosene and alcohol. Thus far nothing has been accomplished on these lines; the sole effort being to build the lightest possible motors and hulls and to crowd the most powerful motors into the smallest hulls.

The ideal picture of the coming "auto-boat" as drawn by its enthusiastic votaries a year ago was such as to excite amusement if not contempt in the mind of every practical yachtsman; in this up-to-date craft, only a shade less marvelous than the airship, a man can run off his twenty or thirty miles to the city in the morning and back at noon in quicker time than in an express train; in the afternoon he might race with a chance to break all world's records for speed afloat; and in the evening he might take out his family to gather pond lilies, to bob for eels, or, to make a social call on the other side of the Sound or the Hudson. The only thing that was omitted from the inviting and comprehensive program of pleasure afloat (and apparently by accident) was the opportunity to take one's family to Europe, perhaps enjoying a friendly race on the way, without dependence on the great ocean liners. If nothing else has been accomplished by the practical lesson of the past season, it is at least gratifying to know that the high-speed launch has been put in its proper place as a pure racing machine; wet, uncomfortable, not over safe, requiring the most careful housing and handling, and capable of accommodating only the necessary crew. A certain amount of progress has been made in the development of what may be called pleasure launches of very high speed, according to previously existing standards; but the main point cannot be disputed, that if a man is going in for records under the A.P.B.A. rules he must build solely and exclusively for racing, and the boat will be of little use for anything else. Of course, as the actual size of the launch increases, she realizes a very high speed with a greater average of all-around qualities; but in launches of 40 to 45 feet, such as have raced this year, this fact stands without qualification.

Before taking up the actual performances of such launches as have raced, it may be well to mention briefly some that met the sad fate of the famous McFluffey's Canoe, in getting no nearer that water than the shop in which they were built. Prominent among these is the handsomely finished launch designed for Mr. Frank Croker by Charles F. Herreshoff 2nd and very conspicuously placarded at one of the shows; the subsequent whereabouts of the boat are unknown, but she has never been seen afloat, nor has a second smaller launch reported as a sister to her. At the end of the season Mr. Croker made a rather brilliant debut in launch racing in another launch, by the great and only Bristol Herreshoffs. At Jacob's Yard is another racing launch, designed for Mr. W. G. Brokaw, to carry two specially constructed motors of the French automobile type, which have not yet reached the "moting" stage.

The first race of the season in New York waters was on May 30, at Manhasset Bay, a dozen launches starting in the different classes. The speed boats were Japansky. designed and built by the Gas Engine and Power Company and carrying a Speedway motor; F.I.A.T. II, designed and built by the Electric Launch Company and carrying a F.I.A.T. motor; and Panhard, by the same company, with a Panhard motor; Shooting Star, designed and built by the Lozier Motor Company, with a Lozier motor; and Hard Boiled Egg, designed and built by Robert Jacob, with a Mors motor. In good weather and smooth water Japansky covered the course of 19 1/2 nautical miles at a speed of 20.20 statute miles; F.I.A.T. II averaged 18.34 miles and Panhard I averaged 16.22 miles. On her rating the latter made the best showing, with Japansky second. Shooting Star withdrew and Hard Boiled Egg did not start.

The annual regatta of the Columbia Yacht Club on June 11 brought out Standard, Japansky, Alert I, a Gas Engine and Power Company boat; F.I.A.T. I, Shooting Star, Hard Boiled Egg and Water Lily; there were mistakes as to mark boats and the results were unsatisfactory, the times, so far as they go, showing n average of 22 miles for Standard and 18 miles for F.I.A.T. I; easy winners in their respective classes. At New Rochelle a week later the starters were Japansky, Hard Boiled Egg, Water lily, Shooting Star; the former showing only 18.75 statute miles.

The match for the Challenge Cup of the A.P.B.A. on June 23, 24 and 25 brought out but three starters, Standard, Water Lily and F.I.A.T. I; the former winning easily. Her best average was 23.63 statute miles.

The two launches Vingt-et-Un II and Challenger, built by Smith and Mabley from designs by Tams, Lemoine and Crane to carry new motors of their own make of 75 and 150 horse power respectively, must be classed among the notable boats of the year; the first by her actual achievements and the second by her strenuous but unsuccessful trials at home and in the Harmsworth cup races abroad. The former made her debut on June 27 in the first of two farcical races with F.I.A.T. III for a $2,000 cup put up by the owners of these two boats. The first and second F.I.A.T. proving unsatisfactory, a third was built by the Electric Launch Company for this match; in the first race she started with gasoline tank almost empty, soon giving up; and in the second she was beaten by twenty minutes, Vingt-et-Un II being times at an average speed of 22.45 statute miles over a course of 30 nautical miles across the Sound and back in rough water. In the Indian Harbor Yacht Club race on July 4 Shooting Star failed to finish and Challenger made a very poor exhibition in her first trial in rough water; Vingt-et-Un II covering the course in slow speed.

The first auto-boat race in Eastern waters took place on July 11, under the auspices of the Eastern Yacht Club, with other races on the two following days; the notable feature being the debut of Mercedes U.S.A., a speed launch 32 feet long, 4 feet 2 inches in breadth, designed and built by Burgess and Packard, and with a Mercedes motor of about 45 horse power. On the first day she and her opponent, F.I.A.T. I broke down, but prior to her accident she was timed at a speed of 26.48 statute miles over a part of the course. F.I.A.T. I in the tree days averaged about 18 miles.

On July 30 an interesting race took place off the Atlantic Yacht Club station, Standard being matched against a steam launch Swift Sure, a new boat designed and built for himself by N. G. Herreshoff; lapstrake, with steam engine and water tube boiler of special design. The race was run without allowance, Standard winning with an average speed of 24.29 miles as compared with 23.16 for Swift Sure; running alone, Vingt-et-Un II made a speed of 23.83.

On August 18 Swift Sure, Vingt-et-Un II and Mercedes U.S.A. met at Newport in the races of the New York Yacht Club over a course of 16 nautical miles; Swift Sure and Vingt-et-Un II each averaging 25.64 miles and Mercedes U.S.A. 22.32 miles.

The final match for the Challenge Cup in September brought out a good fleet of starters, the completion and survival of the season. Standard was absent on the St. Lawrence River, but there were entered Shooting Star, Challenger, Vingt-et-Un II, Mercedes U.S.A., Speedway, Mercedes VI and Macaroni. Speedway, designed and built by C. L. Seabury and Company and the Gas Engine and Power Company, is similar in model and arrangement to Japansky, Alert I, Alert II and other sister boats, with a long open cockpit, her power being a six-cylinder Speedway motor. Mercedes VI is a successor to the unsuccessful Hard Boiled Egg, also designed and built by Jacob, with a Mercedes motor; and Macaroni, designed and built by Burgess and Packard for Messrs. Hollander and Tangeman, owners of the various F.I.A.T. boats, is a sister to Mercedes U.S.A. in dimensions and model but carries a F.I.A.T. motor.

On the first day in smooth water Mercedes VI won easily, but the exact length of the course was in doubt, her speed being about 23 miles. On the second day a fresh breeze and weather-going tide rolled up a sea on the old Hudson that brought to grief Shooting Star, Mercedes VI and Macaroni, while Speedway was seriously delayed by having to stop and bail out. The honors of the day went to Vingt-et-Un II, she making a splendid showing for the heavy weather, and covering the course of over 30 nautical miles at a speed of about 25 miles. In another rough-and-tumble race on the following day, in which Shooting Star, Challenger and Mercedes VI withdrew and Macaroni caught fire and was badly burned, Vingt-et-Un II again won easily, thus taking the cup.

These three races were by all odds the most important events of the year, as the prevailing conditions of the second and third days forced home a moral that was so plainly obvious from the start of the "auto-boat" game that one fails to understand why and how it has been so generally ignored by practical launch builders as well as by the new "automoboatists." Of the ten starters, two may be omitted as belonging to the cruising and not the speed classes. The first, represented by Challenger and Vingt-et-Un II, showed a generous freeboard and ample surplus buoyancy, with small deck openings and long well-crowned turtleback extending over the motor. Though with less freeboard, being smaller and less powerful boats, Mercedes VI, Mercedes U.S.A. and Macaroni had deck openings sufficient only for the crew, with permanent wooden hatches over the motor. Macaroni had a very poor arrangement in the form of a small well forward of the motor for the helmsman, in which he might be almost drowned by a good sea over the bows; but as a class these boats were avowed designed solely for the accommodation of a racing crew. Flip, a launch which made a very good all-around showing, especially on the rough days, though hardly to be classed with the others in speed, had a large open cockpit, with room for a number of persons, but a strong canvas cover was fitted so as to be available at any time in rough-water racing. Both Speedway and Shooting Star had long open cockpits which could hardly fail to ship water in any sea, and no protection was provided by canvas covers or wooden hatches.

The last race of the season brought out still another new boat which promises to hold her own for some time in the racing of next year, the Herreshoff XPDNC, owned by Mr. Frank Croker. She is obviously designed for the one purpose of racing, with a good freeboard and flare forward, a long and well-crowned turtleback, and a generally staunch and seaworthy look. There is no pretense of a pleasure launch, no place for armchairs, but everything is shipshape and business-like. Her initial exploit was a non-stop run of 137 statute miles at an average speed of 26.29 miles; carrying a full supply of gasoline.

In speed launches of upward of 60 feet, such as Standard and the new Onontio recently described in THE RUDDER (and which, by the way, though not yet in a race, has shown well over 27-mile speed on the measured mile), the necessity for a complete bottling up is not so pressing; but in the most popular class, of 43 feet water line downward, any launch which is to be entered in the speed class in the regular races of the season, starting regardless of weather and hoping to cover the course in good time, must be designed solely for racing, for the accommodation of but two or three persons at most; and with ample deck protection in the form of a long turtleback forward. Opinions may differ as to the advisability of sacrificing freeboard and sheer forward as well as flare near the deck; but there can be no question as to the necessity of keeping the motor dry and the hull from filling.

It is probable that the next season will bring a general improvement in hull design and construction, a similar improvement in motors, and that the proportion of engine power to hull dimensions as well as the combination of hull, motor and fittings, will be worked out on more scientific lines. It is also probable that the popular recognition of the racing launch as a type distinct in itself will lead to more rational attempts to improve the ordinary pleasure launch by a reasonable increase of speed without detriment to other more valuable qualities.

(Excerpts transcribed from The Rudder, December, 1904, pp. 637-640. )

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