The Power Boat In 1905

It is seldom that any sport, old or new, begins a season with the promise which attended the opening of the present year in power boating. The newest and most extreme sporting type —- the "canot automobile" or "autoboat" —- held almost supreme sway in France, its birthplace, and on this side of the water it stood in healthy rivalry with cruisers, small and large, and other more useful types. In France, the auto-boat flourished as the most formidable rival of that other costly scientific toy, the high-powered automobile; for the time outshining even the latter in popular favor as a tool of modern up-to-date sport. All through the winter, under the beneficent patronage of the great M. Charley, the trans-atlantic auto-boat race bubble was swelling to magnificent dimensions as an almost immediate probability, and only second to it were the trans-mediterranean race from Algiers to Toulon and the great exhibition and races at Monaco. For the summer a variety of events, national and international, were scheduled; the second annual of the great Paris-to-the-Sea race, the trans-Channel races, the International (Harmsworth) cup, brining together the fastest of French, British, and American launches, and many races for trophies specially donated, in addition to regular open events almost every week.

The American program was almost as extensive and inviting, beginning with the great international races at Lake Worth in February, followed by the ocean race from Florida to Havana and the races at the latter port. With the advent of the regular yachting season in the North, there were planned the opening speed races about New York, the ocean race to Marblehead and another across Lake Michigan, the cruise to the Thousand Islands, the great carnival of the Manufacturers' Association, and club races for all classes of launches in every part of the country. Only a little astern of France and America in its devotion to the new sport was Great Britain, with its races and reliability trials.

The fleet designed for these great competitions was one of the most wonderful ever launched —- on paper; including the great Mercedes family under all sorts of freak variations of the once honored name, the over-powered Dubonnet and Trident, the Napiers in a bewildering maze of names and numbers, meaningless to the uninitiated. On this side were Challenger, Vingt-et-Un II, Onontio, XPDNC, Standard and many smaller racers, with the new Dixie, Winton, Flying Dutchman II, Panhard II and Veritas, the list tapering off into the smallest classes, the latter with alleged speeds of about one knot for each foot in length.

After this brilliant outlook the retrospect is at first disappointing in the extreme, showing nothing but wrecks and failures; labor and money wasted by builders, owners and clubs, and all to little permanent gain. All that came of the trans-atlantic exploitation was the long, laborious and utterly fruitless passage of a "morfydite" torpedo-boat whose size and type placed her far outside the category of the auto-boat. The Algiers-Toulon race was a humiliating and utterly unnecessary demonstration of facts already known to yachtsmen; proving that the true auto-boat, even in very large sizes and of exceptional model, has no place out of sight of land. The great Paris-to-the-Sea race presented the sorry spectacle of all the machinery of a great contest put in motion for the sake of one little 21-ft. launch; three days' work of a committee, three time-keepers, three reporters and four automobiles. The International race for what was originally the Harmsworth cup, resulted in a sorry fizzle, with three British starters and one Anglo-French; only two yachts finishing and the winner averaging but 22 knots.

The "record" performances on this side deserve nothing more than the briefest possible summary of individual performances; the actual record times are in themselves unimportant. In the speed class few of the new boats were ready and few of the old ones came to the line for the races about New York, and these have been failures first and last. As to the great event of the year, the Manufacturers' Carnival, it is enough to say that at its meeting last month the National Association of Engine and Boat Manufacturers passed a resolution that the Carnival was a grand success; the details of the event. showing how many entered and how few finished, are now a matter of public record. The premier of the year, the A.P.B.A. gold challenge cup match, was a complete failure so far as the larger and faster boats were concerned.

Looking at individual performances, Vingt-et-Un II, the best boat of 1904, was in poor hands, being offered for sale on her old record with no attempt to make a new one; her only exploit during the season being the smashing of her engine. Challenger at last "found herself" to the limited extent of making a record speed of about 29 plain land miles on a short run; though nominally entered for the International cup, she was not sent abroad, her eight-cylinder engine was taken out and transferred to a larger launch, the hull being advertised for sale at junk price; the engine (incidentally) being afterwards wrecked in a new hull. Standard, though in the hands of a good sporting owner, had her engine removed in the fall of 1904, and shipped to the builders for a thorough overhaul with a view to racing this year, in particular for the A.P.B.A. cup. Through delays for which the owner was in no way responsible, the engine was not ready in time for the cup races in August, 1905, and the yacht's record is consequently a blank. Onontio, from which so much was expected this year after her preliminary runs when first out in 1904, has been laid up all the season, her engine being sold and installed in a cruising boat. Her performance thus far, though generally exploited as a record, rests on an unofficial timing of one short run. The accidental death of Mr. Croker prevented the running of XPDNC in the Florida races and it was not until late in the summer that she found a new owner. Her performances in the final races of the season were generally creditable, though she did not equal the excellent record of 1904.

The first of the new boats was Panhard II, shown at New York and Boston in March and ready in good season. In spite of ample time for running and trial, she started in her first race with her short exhaust stack throwing the gases directly into the faces of her crew and nearly blinding them. This patent defect was remedied and in August she was shipped to the St. Lawrence for the cup races, but scored a miserable failure, running but a few miles in the first race. In spite of various stories, the true cause of the trouble is not known, but it lay in mismanagement of some sort. Later on she made a very poor showing in the Carnival. Veritas, the sister boat to Onontio, with hull and engine respectively by the same designers, was expected to break all existing records, being built on the soaped-window, dark-secret plan which has attended so many failures in the past. On the first day of the Carnival she made a speed of almost 25 miles; on the second day she was disabled through careless handling, and on the third day she made a very poor run. Her actual performances thus far do not show her to be superior to Onontio, but she is evidently capable of better work than she has yet done.

Dixie, the sister ship to Challenger, of the same model and dimensions and with duplicate engine, was also entered for the International cup, but was not sent to France. She has raced a number of times during the season, her first important performance being at Marblehead in July, when she ran a total of 75 miles in three days' racing in a total time of 3-32-08. In the Carnival she ran the three races, winning the International cup of the Manufacturers' Association, her best time being 26.57 miles average over a 30-mile course on the second day. Her most notable, or perhaps notorious, performance of the season was the taking of the Vanderbilt cup in the race of the Seawanhaka-Corinthian Y.C. after withdrawing, changing crews and returning to the course.

While none of these boats have shown any great advance over 1904, there are some which have done even less; prominent among these is the new Winton, with 12-cylinder engine of 150 horse power, which after various and sundry mishaps beginning with her launch, made a most unsatisfactory showing in the Carnival races, failing to finish in any race. In close company with her was the Olds Six-Shooter, of 60 horse power. The vaunted Den, of C. S. Herreshoff 2nd, showed herself in the same class on this occasion. One of the most novel and ambitious attempts of the year, Flying Dutchman, with a hull of radical design and two Mercedes engines of 120 horse power total, was never run in a race, breaking down when sent to St. Lawrence for the cup races, while her engines could not be started during the Carnival. Another smaller launch, Counterfeiter, ended a brief and not over glorious career by burning up.

While there is much that is regrettable in this long list of failures, partial and total; the result is only what was plainly visible to practical yachtsmen at the first outbreak of the auto-boat craze several years ago. The guidance and direction of this newest form of power boating has been largely in the hands of a class best described as automoboatists, men who assume that because they know something about automobiles they also know everything about launches. The development of the automobile engine within the past few years is something too magnificent and important to be ignored or depreciated, and the work of certain men such as the younger Tellier in producing a perfect combination of hull and engine is worthy of the highest recognition; but all this does not alter the fact that many of the leaders are out first and foremost, like M. Charley with his trans-atlantic race, for free advertising, and as a class they are utterly ignorant of practical boating and yachting as well as of the elemental principles of naval architecture. Ignorant alike of the laws of resistance of floating bodies and of the fact that a perfect power boat is possible only through a perfect hull and perfect engine planned to harmonize with each other, they look upon the hull as a mere means of floating a powerful engine; calling for no special skill in design or construction. While of late some slight recognition has been awarded to the naval architect as compared with the engine designer and the mechanician; it is nevertheless the fact that the most conspicuous failures of the past two years, following the most ambitious attempts at extreme high speed, have been due to ignorance of what a boat should be, and bad management and lack of skill in handling.

Looking now at the brighter side of the picture, it is gratifying to note that where the designed speed has been moderate from an auto-boat standpoint, a fair amount of success has been obtained. In evidence of this is Hupa, already known to readers of THE RUDDER, and excellent combination of speed, seaworthiness, utility and reliability; Argo a similar boat, and such racing craft as Skeeter. Shooting Star II, with a comparatively moderate speed, has shown a high degree of reliability and regularity of performance. In the smaller classes, too numerous for individual mention, many examples of relatively high speed for length and power, with reliability, may be found.

While little is to be said for the more sensational events of the season, there have been races in far greater number then ever before, many of them with good fields of evenly matched launches; the sport has taken root locally and promises to grow rapidly in general favor. It is all very well for old cranks like the writer and the Editor to growl about the palmy days of sailing and single-hand cruising and racing; but there is no denying the fact that the small power boat, noisy, dirty and ill-smelling as she may be, has attractions of her own for a very large number, and that her use is possible in many places where one can neither race nor cruise under sail. The all potent influence of the motor car comes in here; its novelty at least, if not more lasting charm, wins a man from sailing, but at the same time sends him back to the water after a season or two, keen on applying his mechanical knowledge to a power boat.

In marked contrast to the prominent high speed races of the season, the ocean race from College point to Marblehead stands out as a success. In spite of the difficulties of the long outside course, trebled by exceptionally bad weather, the race was run as per program; the boats in spite of their small size making a wonderful showing. As an object lesson of the sea-going ability of properly designed launches, and as a thorough test, the race accomplished all that was expected of it; and the experiences of those who failed as well as of those who completed the long wet course are of material value. The other open-water race across Lake Michigan was also successful in spite of heavy weather.

Except in point of numbers, the long cruise of the American Power Boat Association from New York to the St. Lawrence River and back was an unqualified success. Though the official cruise only began short of Albany and ended at Alexandria Bay, nearly all the yachts covered the full distance of the round trip, about a thousand miles, and with no more serious mishap than the loss of a small dinghy. So much has been said by all the participants of the pleasures of the trip that there is little doubt that in one form or another it will be repeated next year.

(Transcribed from The Rudder, December 1905, pp. 641-646. )