1909 Hudson River Regatta

Fifth Annual Regatta of the Hudson River Yacht Racing Association

by C. G. Davis

Ideal weather for motorboat racing prevailed on September 6th when the races of the Hudson River Yacht Racing Association were run off Tarrytown. Not a breath of air ruffled the calm waters of the Hudson, and the clear skies brought out a crowd of about four thousand spectators. To handle the crowd the three-decked barge Susquehanna was moored at the dock, and at least one hundred motor and sail boats were anchored in the bay near the starting line. There were boats from all cities along the river, from Yonkers to Albany, and each boat had a group of admirers aboard the barge to cheer for her.

One hundred and nine boats were entered, counting motorboats, sailboats and canoes. Thirty-nine motorboats actually did start, and but for some misunderstandings that arose, at least a dozen more would have gone over the course. The official program showed sailboat events raced first, and many motorboat men, therefore, took it for granted that they had plenty of time to get to Tarrytown before their races would be started.

A dead calm prevailed at 10 a.m. when the regatta was to start, so the judges decided to send off the motorboat classes first. This is one thing that upset the motorboat men. Several classes had been sent away, when a fair-sized fleet of late arrivals was seen coming up the river from Yonkers, led by the speedy little Artful. Some of these were in time for their classes, but many of them were too late.

Those that were in time immediately set up a wild yell for instructions. "When do we start?" was shouted at least fifty times by nervous individuals at the regatta committee, who reserved the roof of the barge for their work. Many who thus held had programs in their hands which had printed on them the signal that would be hoisted when their class was to start, but instead of reading them and seeing what signal was set, and so figuring out for themselves when they would start, they’d shout questions through a megaphone. There were men enough on the regatta committee—six or eight of them—to answer all questions, but many times it would be within a few seconds of the start of some class, and everyone had to keep quiet so that the clerk setting down the times could hear the man calling out the numbers as the boats crossed, and before that the man ready to fire the gun had to hear the judge’s word to fire. He, in turn, was listening intently to the man counting off the seconds on the watch. It is no small undertaking to start eight classes of motorboats and six classes of sailboats, each class composed of from two to eight starters. Motorboat owners should realize this and not expect individual attention and coaching from the judges. They cannot give it; they are too busy.

In some cases the owners of boats were without programs, but it was their own fault; they could have procured them on the barge. Many went to the clubhouse, which was practically deserted, and of course could get no information. These facts are mentioned because they show one thing which the average motorboat owner lacks, that it, experience in racing. The rapid growth of motorboating had brought so many men into the game who sail for pleasure only, that when they enter a contest of this kind they don’t know the ropes—don’t know how to go about it. Let the motorboat owners remember this and watch the signals the next time they go into a race.

The judges were not entirely blameless, for the instructions showed a printed chart that was misleading. The buoys were in the river, but not as indicated by the chart, and no compass courses were given so that a man could find them in that way. As a result, several contestants came back and reported no mark boat in the place indicated. In Class F six boats out of seven starters went around the wrong mark boats, and the only one that went over the right course was declared the winner.

The first, second and third divisions of the speed boat class were the first boats to be sent away, all as one class, at 10:20 a.m., but only two boats, Vim and Gracious, seemed to understand the signal for starting. Jan II crossed the line but, seeing none of her competitors in the fist division start, came back.

Boat after boat then came alongside and shouted questions at the judges who were busy getting ready to start Class A of the cabin boats. At 10:30 their signal was given and the Naiad and Minnie I started promptly. Rambler crossed leisurely after them, and Belle, with engine stopped, floated across the line, and the judges called through the megaphone, "Go ahead! Go ahead!" but for some reason she did not go.

In the interval between this and the next class, the tardy fleet of motorboats coming upstream was called to the judge’s attention by Dr. T. V. Roe.

Class B, cabin boats, was started at 10:40, Helen Grace and Isabel II crossing in the order named. Each boat entered in the races was identified by a square of white cloth with a black number painted on it. No. 57 crossed the line with the Class B boats, and by consulting the program we found that she was the Not Yet of Class C, and in an answer to their hail, "Do we start now?" they were told, "Not Yet!"

Several spectators’ boats were idly sailing around the course where the racers were running, an act we see repeated at every regatta, and as the Vim was coming around, completing her first lap, the committee’s big megaphone was kept busy clearing the course. Vim finished her first five miles at 10:46:30, followed by her rival Gracious, at 10:47:43.

At 10:50 Class C composed of Not Yet, Spray, Bucky, Colonia, Widgeon II and Sandolphin started, all in a bunch. To one who has watched close racing, the start made by these boats seemed funny. No one seemed to try to get across promptly with the gun. Any time after the gun seemed good enough, and in many cases the boats were from half to three-quarters of a minute in getting started, and the first man over gained several hundred yards lead, in several cases, over the last boat, right at the start.

The spectators were packed solid on the two decks of the barge, enjoying the unusual spectacle presented by such a gathering of boats. A full band would burst forth into music at intervals, a speedy motorboat would start up her engine amid a cracking ans snapping of sharp explosions that changed to a rattle and then a deep roar, as her crew opened her up and dashed away in a cloud of white spray. Captains in oilskins, jerseys and even in swimming suits, threaded their way through the crowded decks and climbed up onto the roof to complain to the judges that they did not arrive in time, or did not understand the signals. So Chairman C. Gordon Reel of the regatta committee appointed J. Herbert Carpenter one of the ten members of the committee, to arrange another start for entries in the first and second division of the speed class, and Mr. Carpenter went around in a motorboat notifying all boats of that class to be ready to start at 12:05.

In the meanwhile, Class D started at 11 a.m. with four boats, Tuscarora, Ariel, Lida M and Angler, and Class E at 11:10, Foxy Quiller, Marion, Presto and Isabel.

Vim and Gracious kept tearing around the five-mile triangle. Vim finished her second round at 11:02:47 with Gracious far behind at 11:17:38, and made the judges hustle catching her time on the third lap, as she dashed around the mark boat right in the midst of the Class f open boats that were starting at 11:20. Gracious was then so far behind that she quit on this round.

Two of the committee, one armed with marine glasses, had been identifying and taking down a list of the numbers of the starters in Class F, and by these they were identified as the Effie, Kestrel, Skipflip, Topsy, Maybe. Bess and Ethel. With the speedy Vim ahead, they made one think of a pack of dogs let loose after a cat as they scurried off.

At 11:30 Class G, open boats, started with three boats, Edna, Blink and Ruth.

About this time Capt. Al Traver, of Poughkeepsie, an experienced river man, came up to the judges and announced that there was no mark boat to be found in range with the Rockland Light, and both his boat, the Minnie I and the Rambler, came back. The Naiad rounded some marks and came in a winner. This set the judges to thinking and squinting through the glasses, with the result that the five-mile course mark boat was seen to have drifted about a mile down the river. It was not in range with Rockland Light by a long ways; so far out, in fact, that all the seven little open boats in Class F went clear to Rockland Light looking for it, and then, in searching for the down-stream mark, sighted the one they should have rounded first, so far out of line they rounded it and came in for the finish line. Only one boat of the seven, the Skipflip, saw the right mark for the down stream corner of the triangle. She saw boats in other classes rounding it, and went down stream to it. By doing so she came in ten minutes after her classmates who made a very close and exciting finish, and so she won the race as she was the only boat to go over the right course.

Two sailing canoes were started, which gave the A and B division speedboats time to get ready to start at 12:05. This made the most exciting start. Five high-speed craft, with roaring exhausts and enveloped in clouds of spray, shot off with the crack of the gun. Elmer L of Albany, Artful of New York, followed by Scamp of Yonkers, Comet of Tarrytown and Jan II of Highland, were the contestants.

Elmer L of the first division led this fleet, finishing her first round at 12:16:40, with the little Artful of the second division second at 12:19:28, Jan at 12:20:31, Scamp 12:21:21, Comet having dropped out. The second round they were timed as follows: Elmer L, 12:28:05; Artful, 12:32:13; Jan II, 12:35:50; Scamp, 12:37:45. Third round: Elmer L, 12:39:22; Artful, 12:44:52; Jan II, 12:51:06; Scamp, 12:53:50. They finished their fourth round, making 20 miles, as follows: Elmer L, 12:50:39; Artful, 12:57:57; Jan II, 1:06:27; Scamp, 1:09:53.

Then a dinner was served to the crowds aboard the Susquehanna, and after dinner a fine sailing breeze having sprung up, the six classes of sailboats were started without a hitch.

The final event of the day was the race for the Ellicott Cup, a trophy that must be won three times by one club before it becomes the club’s property. Elmer L, owned by Lansing De Long of Albany, won the first leg on it last year at Kingston, defeating Black Cat, owned by Al. Traver of Poughkeepsie, by two minutes and eight seconds over a ten-knot course, and beating the Flip of Tarrytown and Lackawanna III of Newburgh six and twelve minutes respectively. This year there were only two starters, the same Elmer L and Eel, Al. Traver’s new speedy mahogany flyer.

The start was made at 2:42 p.m., both boats going over a few seconds after the gun, with exhausts roaring and a blue cloud of smoke trailing behind each, and rings of blue shooting up in the air as full power was opened up. Elmer L led by a length or more as they dashed up the river around Tarrytown Light and out of sight. The course was up and down the river, ten miles in all. Elmer L led as they passed down opposite Tarrytown, well out in the river, and came speeding upstream again close inshore and crossed the finish line at 3:17:48, having made the ten miles in 35 minutes and 48 seconds, elapsed time. Eel did not finish. So ended the second race for this handsome trophy, and it was a fitting windup to the regatta.

When the regatta was over and the crowd had dispersed, the judges retired with the time sheets to figure out the winners in the various classes, for time allowances had to be taken into consideration. Elmer L was announced in the first division of speed boats, Artful in the second and Vim in the third division. Naiad won in Class A cabin boats; Grace got first prize and Isabel II the second prize in Class B; Bucky in Class c cabin boats. Lida M won in Class D hunting cabin boats. Foxy Quiller in Class E, Skipflip in Class F open boats, and Blink in Class G. Elmer L the second race for the Ellicott Cup.

(Transcribed from MotorBoat, Sep. 25, 1909, pp. 13-16)

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