1920 Harmsworth Trophy

When Miss America Won The Harmsworth Trophy

After a sojourn of eight years in England, the famous Harmsworth Trophy is on its way back to America.

The trophy- represents in the world of motor-boats about what the America's cup represents in yachting, and the Gordon Bennett Cup in flying. On August 11 and 12, at Cowes, England, "Gar" Wood, one of the Wood brothers who have helped to make Detroit motor-boats famous, demonstrated beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt the superiority of his Miss America to the fastest hydroplanes of England. Even Miss Detroit V, a boat more nearly the size of the most formidable of the defending craft, but with less than half the power, had little difficulty in showing her heels to the British boats.

"It was a brilliant party," according to William Washburn Nutting, editor of Motor Boat (New York), who was among those present. Writing from Cowes, Isle of Wight, he sends to the current issue of his magazine a colorful account of what happened when the Yankee boat added another world's championship to the considerable number now reposing on these shores. To quote from Motor Boat, beginning with the arrival of the two American entries, Miss America and Miss Detroit V.:

With a day to spare, we lost no time in foregathering with the American
delegation for the latest dope. Whip-po'-Will we found had met with
disaster and was lying at the bottom of the Solent, and this was the only
thing that marred what was destined to be a glorious victory. There is no
doubt that Commodore Judson's boat was fast and on every hand we heard
expressions of regret that she hed met her end before the big event.
George Reis, who brought Whip-po'-Will over for Commodore Judson and who had driven the good old boat with her former power-plant, said that. with her twin Bugattis, which were lighter and much more powerful, there seemed to be no limit to her speed. The accident happened on her first run on the Solent and was over so quickly that it is difficult to say just what happened. Reis and Jim Kneeshaw and Henry Pohl were putting her through her paces and were hitting it up in the neighborhood of sixty knots when suddenly there was a cloud of white smoke from one of the motors and the next instant a burst of flame that enveloped the whole boat and drove the crew to the water. In about the time it takes to tell the story she had burned and sunk, and it is doubtful whether the insurance company will consider it worth while to have her raised. There was not a yachtsman in England who did not regret the accident, altho at the time it happened it seemed to add somewhat to the chances of a British victory.
But with the Detroit team everything had gone smoothly and the Wood boys reported Miss America and Miss Detroit V in perfect condition for the ordeal of the following day.
There was much speculation about the British team, which none of the Americans had had an opportunity to see at close range. We knew their motors were good-better, possibly, than our own, but we were totally in the dark about the hulls. It was then too late to make a pilgrimage to the Saunders shop, and so our first glimpse of the defending team was from the committee boat a few minutes before the start.
Weather conditions could hardly have been better for the first race. As the American challengers were taken in tow by a pinnace at the Saunders West Cowes sheds and threaded their way out through the crowded yacht anchorage and into the Solent, we could see at least that there would he no trouble from rough water. Osborne bay, off the historic old Osborne Castle, where Queen Victoria died, was as calm as the Detroit River in midsummer, a light westerly breeze just giving steerageway to the numerous sailing-craft that are always in evidence in these waters. If the Britishers were really rough-water boats, as we naturally expected, then the advantage was all with us.
Already there was a crowd on the gunboat, which was used by the Royal Motor Yacht Club as a committee boat, when we clambered aboard and great interest was shown in the simplicity of line and the clean running of the American boats, which were as new to them as their hosts were to us. Until the day before the race the Maple Leafs had been undergoing certain changes and refinements which had been decided on after the elimination trials, and there were great hopes that their performance would be better than on the day of the trials when the water was really much too rough for hydroplane racing.

However, when the defending team did arrive, says the writer, they were somewhat of a disappointment. He indulges in the following pungent criticism:

Take Maple Leaf V. Someone once said that, given sufficient power,
he could make a grand piano fly, but whatever the truth of this assertion as
applied to aerodynamics, one need only have seen this the most. formidable of
the British team in action to be convinced that such is not the case with
boats. Maple Leaf V, with her four Sunbeam motors aggregating one
thousand eight hundred horse-power, had power enough to make her fly, but
there was something lacking, without which as fine a power plant as was ever
installed in a hydroplane was unable to produce the desired results. Whether
it was the angle of the planes, the position of tie steps, or the placing of
the engines; or a combination of all three, it is impossible to say, but the
fact remains that she did not take advantage of her power.
Maple Leaf V was much less successful than her teammate, altho outwardly almost identical in appearance. She was powered with a pair of Rolls-Royce motors of four hundred and fifty horse-power each, giving somewhat greater power than either of the American boats, but here again a bully power-plant was unable to make up for an unsuitable underbody. In action Maple Leaf VI developed a sort of kangaroo lope, a pitching and plunging motion that ate up the power and gave little in return except most picturesque geysers of spray. Altho there was but a slight ripple on the water, she gave the appearance of being driven in a seaway, and what she would have done in the sort of weather that we had expected it is hard to say, but it is not likely that her performance would have been improved.
Sunbeam Despujols, the little 26-footer entered by Mr. Louis Coatalen, was the sweetest-running craft of the British team She was built at the Sunbeam Works Wolverhampton, after a design by Despujols, the Frenchman, and is similar to the boat that performed so well at Monaco this spring. She was powered with a single Sunbeam of four hundred and fifty horsepower turning at two thousand revolutions per minute and geared up to three thousand two hundred at the propeller, and, while outclassed, she ran beautifully and proved a thoroughly efficient combination of hull and engine. She seemed tiny, even when compared with Miss America, due to her cut-away spoon bow and low freeboard, and had there been anything but smooth water the chances are she would have had a difficult time of it.
At "Gar" Wood's request the Racing Committee of the Royal Motor Yacht Club had adopted the five-ball system of starting, which has proved so successful with us. A five-minute preparatory gun was fired and the black balls were lowered from the mast of the committee-boat at one minute intervals thereafter, with a second gun at the start. The system worked splendidly, and as the five boats maneuvered for the start above the line we had our first real opportunity of judging of their relative speeds. The Maple Leafs, especially the Six, seemed to be making a lot of fuss, but this we thought might be due to reduced speed.
The British boats had the better of the start, and as the final gun roared Maple Leaf VI., with Colonel A. W. Tate at the helm, bore down on the line several seconds ahead of Miss Detroit, followed by Maple Leaf V, Miss America, and Sunbeam Despujols in the order named. Even as the boats flew past the committee boat in their first real burst of speed there seemed to the practised eye a vast difference in their capabilities, and long before the first turn was reached Miss America, running clean and without those wings of spray which, tho picturesque, are no longer associated with extreme speed, had taken the lead. She ran like some fleet, wild thing pursued by a pack of lumbering bounds, and as she flew up the back stretch she was already several hundred yards ahead of her nearest pursuer.
The second boat proved to be Maple Leaf V, steered by Harry Hawker, of transatlantic fame, closely followed by Miss Detroit. George Wood held Hawker for a while, and then as he neared the second turn it was evident that he was having trouble. The regular crackle of Miss Detroit's exhaust became confused and jazzy, and we learned later that her plugs had become fouled. As she slowed down momentarily she was passed by Maple Leaf VI, loping along picturesquely and expending a large part of her one thousand one hundred horse-power in creating beautiful pulsating wings of spray. Bringing up the rear and running cleanly came the little Sunbeam Despujols, outclassed but a thoroughly successful boat.
As they finished the first lap, Miss America was seen to have gained steadily, and this she did throughout the four remaining laps until it seemed that she actually might gain an entire round. Miss Detroit, still in difficulty, fell back until at the end of the third round she was in last place, but she managed to come back a bit and drew ahead of little Sunbeam in the fourth.
In the meantime, sometime during the third lap, Maple Leaf V, in which lay England's only chance of victory, developed trouble with one of her oil pumps and was passed in turn by Maple Leaf VI, Sunbeam Despujols, and Miss Detroit. It was regrettable, for she seemed sure of a good second place.
With only a breakdown between him and victory, "Gar" Wood held the America down a bit, but even so he finished several miles ahead of Colonel Tate in the Six, with Sir Algernon Guinness in the Despujols in third place. Miss Detroit, tho crippled, got over the line in fairly good time, but Maple Leaf V, not yet having completed her fourth lap, was still limping around when we shoved off for Cowes with Hubert Saunders. Miss America's average speed for the 33.08 nautical mile course was 51.45 knots or 59.17 statute miles an hour, and her best lap was made at the rate of 56.63 knots or 65.12 statute miles.
The weather conditions on August 11 were even more favorable for speed than they had been on the previous day. The light westerly breeze of the day before had died to practically a flat calm and the big sailing craft racing off Ryde lay "as idle painted ships with only an occasional breath to fill their spinnakers." As the last black ball dropt—
Colonel Tate, skilful helmsman that he is, drove the Maple Leaf VI recklessly for the line and it looked for a moment as if he must cross before the gun. Close astern came Miss America, throttled down, and then Miss Detroit, Maple Leaf V, and Sunbeam Despujols closely grouped. It was a thrilling start.
At the crack of the gun Jay Smith and Phil Wood opened the throttles of the twin Smith Twelves and Miss America jumped into life and passed the powerful VI still plunging mightily in spite of the flat calm. I thought of Chris Smith back in Algonac, who by constant effort year after year had brought his craft to the state of perfection exemplified in this wonderful little 26-footer. He had left the designers of the Old World as far astern as Miss America in her comet-like flight was leaving the best of their creations.
Gradually Miss Detroit and Maple Leaf V, whose relative speeds had not been determined the day before, due to the trouble that both had experienced, overhauled the VI., and by the time the boats passed on the back stretch they had opened up and were about equally spaced in the following order: Miss America, Miss Detroit, Maple Leaf V, Maple Leaf VI, and Sunbeam Despujols.
Round after round this procession was maintained, no accident breaking the monotony of the order. Miss Detroit proved conclusively that she was faster than either of the Maple Leafs, and it looked along toward the end of the race as if "Gar" Wood was actually going to let his brother win, for the space between the two Detroit boats had materially lessened. It proved, however, that the America was suffering from a slight attack of the same spark-plug trouble that had marred the running of the Detroit in the first race.
And so they finished, and there was no one who saw the race but who was convinced that it was won on merit. And every one admitted it and congratulated the Americans in the traditional sporting British way.

Mr. Nutting concludes his article with some observations about the British designs. Omitting the technical part of his criticism, he observes in general:

It is not surprizing that the British boats should have been outclassed.
Since the last international race England has given all of her thought and
energy to winning the war and the intervening year has not been sufficient for
her to catch up. In the laboratory of war her motors have been developed, but
practically no advance has been made with this type of hull. It could hardly
be expected that Saunders could design at a single whack a sufficiently fast
boat, for the modern hydroplane as we know it is a development the survival of
a score of predecessors-the result of countless experiments rather than of
calculation and design.
The Maple Leafs seemed years behind and in a class with those earlier American boats, way back beyond the time of Ankle Deep, when still untamed they wasted their energy in useless bucking like the frantic efforts of a pitching cayuse.
Through the kindness of Hubert Saunders, Baldwin and I were given the opportunity to inspect both the Maple Leafs out of water. While their construction is without doubt as fine as anything ever done in this line, the design was reminiscent of some of the work of the Clinton Crane period—sort of a theoretical attempt to solve the problem of speed at a single try.

(Reprinted from The Literary Digest, September 18, 1920, pp. 71-73, 75)