1928 Harmsworth Trophy

Betty Carstairs and the Harmsworth Trophy

In 1928 the British International Trophy, last won by the United States in 1920 by Gar Wood, was challenged for by the wealthy yachtswoman Betty Carstairs, who commissioned S. E. Saunders Ltd. of East Cowes, Isle of Wight, to build two challengers, Estelle I and Estelle II, both single-step hydroplanes, to designs by F. P. Hyde-Beadle.

The rules of this race, which was intended to be to motorboat racing what the America's Cup was to sail racing, limited the overall length (like the International Cowes-Torquay race today) to 40 ft., but Betty Carstairs's challengers were much smaller than this. Estelle I, 26 ft. with a beam of 5 ft. 6 in., was designed for a potential of 100 mph and was powered by a single 900 hp Napier aircraft engine such as powered the Schneider Trophy winner of Flight Lieutenant N. Webster in September 1927. Estelle II was 21 ft., beam 6 ft., but her single step was of vee-section as against the flat step of her sister. The highest speed ever attained on water at that time was 80 mph so the two challengers aroused great interest.

The race itself was to be held at Detroit, and thus in fresh water, so all British trials had to be held in this medium and all design requirements could be fulfilled without consideration of the effect of salt water on the engine cooling systems or the hull fastenings. The idea was that the two Estelles would race against each other on Lake Windermere in the Lake District, the largest sheet of inland water in Britain, and as a result of these trials a third challenger would be built to incorporate all that was best in the first two. This is an indication not only of the wide design and building potential in those days but of the availability of money to pay for it. It makes me more than a little envious.

The result of the Windermere trials was so disappointing that at one stage Betty Carstairs called the whole thing off, but on second thoughts, and no doubt under pressure from those intent upon retrieving lost honours, she decided to enter Estelle II. Betty Carstairs was a short, rather dumpy little thing, but, by golly, she must have had the heart of a lion.

The defence was overpowering. Gar Wood entered his reconditioned Miss America with which he had taken the trophy in 1920, re-engined with two Liberty motors of 500 hp apiece. He also built Miss America VI, powered also by twin Libertys and Miss America VII, a new conception powered by two of the new Packard automotive engines of 800 hp apiece.

Not content with this he also built Miss America VIII with a single Packard 800 hp motor, while in addition, a Mr Talbot entered a boat to the design of John L. Hacker powered by a Miller motor of 620 cu. in. capacity with a potential of 700 hp. It was obvious therefore that America not only feared the challenge but was properly taking all precautions to see that it would not succeed by "packing the sidelines".

The result was inevitable, and Goliath beat David. Estelle II capsized in the first race injuring Betty Carstairs's ribs and damaging her mechanic Joe Harris even more seriously, and Gar Wood went on to win in Miss America VII at a speed of 92.838 mph. The uneven contest sounded the death knell of the Liberty aircraft engine, which, up to that time, had held supreme in the field of big time motorboat racing. From then on it was Packard all the way, right on up to World War II when they powered many of the British Admiralty's motor gunboats.

(Reprinted from Powerboat Racing by Bill Shakespeare [Cassell, 1968], pp.10-11)