The Building Of a Hydroplane [1963]

Tahoe Miss (2)

Tahoe Miss (2) construction, 1963 With the boat upside down, a bottom of birch is attached to the intricate frame.
Tahoe Miss (2) construction, 1963 After sponsons are built, they are aluminized on bottom to prevent buckling.
Tahoe Miss (2) construction, 1963 When the bottom is finished, the boat is lifted by a huge crane and turned over.
Tahoe Miss (2) construction, 1963 With the boat in the shed, right side up, workmen prepare to put on its sloping deck.
Tahoe Miss (2) construction, 1963 The deck, made of African mahogany, is sanded smooth before getting a Fiberglass cover.
Tahoe Miss (2) testing,1963 Tahoe Miss (2), testing, 1963
Tahoe Miss (2) testing,1963

When a sleek, brightly colored unlimited hydroplane roars past you at a speed of 150 miles per hour or faster, you may get the urge to own one. More than that, you may even decide to build your own.

Before you undertake such a project, you should be advised that this is no chore to tackle with a do-it-yourself kit. In addition to a variety of wood, metal and other materials, not to mention a big assortment of tools, you should know that other ingredients of the task include precise planning, endless patience, an infinite capacity for attention to details, and a lot of hard, skillful work.

Probably no two boats are built exactly alike, but a recounting of the construction of Harrah's new Tahoe Miss may give you some insight into what is involved.

The first work was done on the drawing board of Ted Jones, Seattle's famed hydro designer. When his plans were converted into a form suitable for the start of actual construction, they were full-scale, actual-size profile drawings of a boat 30 feet 6 inches long, with a beam of 12 feet 9 inches. Work began on January 9, 1963, in the shop adjoining Harrah's Automobile Collection.

Starting with two main, length-wise stringers of laminated Sitka spruce and -inch birch, or spars, and carefully attaching frames made of 5-ply birch, a six-man crew gradually put the boat together, working on the bottom first, with the boat in an upside-down position. Additional stringers, which in this case were made of aluminum but could have been made of oak or some other kind of wood, were fastened to the bulkhead-like frames.

Next, the sides, constructed of -inch aluminized birch, were attached. Then the bottom, of 5-ply birch, aluminum clad, was attached. Skeleton frames of the sponsons were put in place, stringers and bottoms of the sponsons were attached, and the boat, its underside completely clad in aluminum, was ready to be turned over. The sponsons were originally not entirely aluminized, but this was done later, both to prevent buckling and swelling and also to reduce weight.

Hoisted out of the shed and gently turned over by a powerful moving crane, then returned to the shed, the boat was ready for its handsome deck to be attached. The top skin of the deck is made of an African mahogany known as uteley, which is covered, for protection, with a single layer of Fiberglass cloth and resin.

It was then time, at last, to install the cockpit and tailfin, fit one of the big Allison engines into place, install electrical plumbing and gas tanks, and paint the finished hydroplane. Then the boat was carefully cradled on a trailer and taken from Reno to Lake Tahoe.

The building job that had started in January had been finished in May. Now came the nerve-wracking test. With all the effort and expense that had been put into it, how would the boat perform when finally in the water? To the delight of its anxious owners and crew, the Tahoe Miss pulled swiftly away from the pier and roared into immediate contention as one of the finest hydroplanes in American unlimited racing competition.

(Reprinted from 1963 Harrah’s Tahoe Championship Regatta program, pp.19-20)

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Leslie Field, 2001