Challenger and Dolphin II (1910)

The Fate of Challenger and Dolphin II
By C. G. Davis

The shore of the Hudson River, from about 140th to 150th Street, New York City, is lined with boats and bath-houses—principally boats. There is every conceivable kind of a craft hauled out there, from an old government steam launch, converted into a motorboat, to a squat, beamy, clumsy, auxiliary sloop, representing every grade of the boat-builder’s art from the highest priced professionally built racing boat to the soap-box, amateur-built craft whose planks are falling off with their own weight.

To a boat crank it’s a dream to get in among these boats and look them over and see the queer kinks in boat-building, the ingenuity with which difficulties have been overcome in some cases, and the lack of it in others.

At 149th Street, where you go down seventy-four steps to a bridge over the railroad tracks and then some more, a shanty with the name, F. Geggus, painted on a sign stares at you, and another says, "This way to the warships"—a relic of Hudson-Fulton Celebration days, when the enterprising river men ferried passengers out to get a close view of the men-o’-war, at fifty cents a head.

Alongside this shanty, about thirty boats are balanced on an unsteady platform of loose boards, old freight car doors, etc., laid over a few rickety spiles, and here, side by side, as if scorning the society of their neighbors, yet worn, dirty and thoroughly dilapidated themselves, are two motorboats that created a sensation in their day, Challenger and Dolphin I.

The Challenger, that famous 40-footer that Americans pinned their faith on when she went across to race on the Solent, in 1904, against the fastest boats of England and France, is heading right at you as you stop and look at them. She is not the slick, glossy-sided champion she once was—her paint is old and dirty, old ropes are draped ignominiously over her nose, and a signboard reels up out of her flagpole socket on top of her high-crowned forward deck with the words "For Sale" like any old suburban lot. But still she shows the form of a thoroughbred, clean-cut, straight and narrow, the picture of speed. Where once an eight-cylinder, 150-hp. motor rested on steel channel iron engine beds, is now a dirty, bare interior, grease stained and black.

Six short years ago this craft was built and sent abroad by her builders, Smith & Mabley Co., to compete against the fastest English and French flyers. Then they sold her to W. Gould Brokaw, who took her to Florida, where she created a great sensation, doing a mile in 2 minutes 4 1/5 seconds with the wind, and 2 minutes 5 4/5 seconds against the wind, and won many trophies.

When these races were over, she was shipped back to New York, to Huntington’s yard at New Rochelle. Her engines were taken out, overhauled and installed in a long racing hull called Sybarita II, that Jacob, of City Island, had built for Mr. Brokaw. The bare hull of Challenger was then sold to Harold MacDonald, of New York, who bought her as a speculation. That was the last I saw of her until I most unexpectedly stumbled across her the other day on the shore of the Hudson.

The Dolphin II, disguised as the Pirate, is an inverted wedge-shaped skipjack, now badly frazzled on the corners, but her 3/16-inch mahogany veneer planking is still good. Her high-crowned forward deck is still intact, sheathed with thin sheet copper, that, when she was exhibited at the Motor Boat Show in Madison Square Garden, in 1904, was polished like gold, but is now grimy and dirty. Thin copper strips nailed around the corners of her transom are now badly chewed and torn. She, too, was a fgast onw when Harold H. Brown first had her built, but by no means in the class with her haughty neighbor, though both were far and above the tubby craft surrounding them. May they last many more years is our wish.

(Transcribed from MotorBoat, April 25, 1910, p. 41.)

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

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