SilLydia — A New Gold Cupster [1948]

By Everett B. Morris

Photographs by M. Rosenfeld

The builder of SilLydia with associates in the enterprisel L. ro r., Ferdinand Arryo, Rod Zamotin and Harry O'Jea
A deck view looking aft, showing the Allison motor in the extreme stern, the shaft and gear box arrangement, and the helmsman's position near the bow.

This is the story of SilLydia, a speedboat conceived in the mind of an airplane mechanic, born in the living room of a Manhattan apartment and brought to maturity in the chilly darkness of a cavernous city cellar.

This brainchild of a dreamer totally innocent of any previous connection with motor boating save that of spectator, this incredible product of New York's upper West Side is scheduled to make her debut in the Gold Cup Class, the aristocracy of the motor racing fleet, this summer at Red Bank on August 21-22, at Detroit on August 28, and perhaps at Washington, September 18-19.

Whether her presentation to speedboat society will be a success, or whether she even gets as far as the door to the party is anyone's guess. She may travel to glory; swift, brilliant, invincible. She many falter on the way and wind up in the morass of mediocrity. She may stumble quickly down the steep path to the graveyard of failure.

When the odds against any new hydroplane achieving the Gold Cup goal are calculated, SilLydia's chances of success and fame are considerably short of fair. Many a highly trained, firmly established naval. architect has turned out boats which were, in racing vernacular, hideous "clucks." And the instances of radical, amateur-designed and amateur-built speedboats galloping off with championships are as rare as Communists on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Everything is against SilLydia: background, tradition and the law of averages. But even if these enemies contrive to sink her without a trace there is still a story in her; a story of faith in an idea, of perseverance in the face of great adversity, of the surmounting of tremendoous obstacles, of heroic determination to convert a dream into reality. It is the incredible story of Rod Zamotin, SilLydia's creator; the story of half a dozen loyal relatives who labored under fantastically weird conditions for more than a year and a half to help him accomplish the transmutation of assorted odds and ends of metal and wood into a water-borne vessel.

Rod Zamotin's name is completely unfamiliar to the motorboat racing fraternity. For several reasons, one of which is that he has never raced a motorboat, or for that matter, a boat of my kind. Neither has he carved himself a niche in the sport as a designer, or builder, or engineer of even minor consequence. His anonymity its the game is total.

He is a skilled aviation mechanic whose technical training was based on two years of engineering study in the night sessions of the College of the City of New York and subsequent specialized work along similar lines. As a youth he used to watch outboard racing on summer resort lakes. Somehow he got the idea that he could build faster, stronger, more stable boats than those which he saw in action.

At thirteen he built a boat and got someone to try it out for him.. "It was a lemon," he said. At fifteen he produced his version of a three-point suspension hull. It ran well, but leaked like a sieve because it was so badly built. That three-point idea was tucked away in some recess of his active mind until he retrieved it for the basis of what became SilLydia.

Now, at twenty-eight, Zamotin has jumped from a couple of boyhood experiments with outboard hulls right into the toughest, most expensive, most discouraging branch of motorboat racing. And he has made it without fuss or fanfare, without mental anguish and misgivings. This slightly built little New Yorker with the dapper dark mustache puffs slowly on a steadily worked pipe and tells you calmly that he has no illusions about his venture.

"Why did I do this?" He asks. "Well, designing is a hobby with me and although I have never raced one, boats are my passion. I just want to see if I can turn out a good one. It is a sort of challenge I had to meet. If the boat is a lemon I'll go back to work. If she is a success then I hope to sell her."

He puffed thoughtfully for a moment, shrugged his shoulders and added: "If I have created a good design, the boat should hold up. That she is well built I am sure; the construction is sound. The structural ideas incorporated in her are from the best airplane in the world, in my opinion, the Chance-Vought Corsair. That's the plane I worked on all through the war after I went to work in the plant at Bridgeport."

How come the name SilLydia? That, it turns out, is a combination of the names of his wife, Silvia, and his mother, Lydia, the two persons whose understanding, sympathy and encouragement were such factors in helping him through the disappointments and setbacks which marked the boat's ever-so-slow progress from drawing board to completion.

It was suggested that his wife must love boats to have put up with the use of her home for a boat shop and to have accepted many other disruptions of family life while her husband devoted most of his waking moments to his struggle to build SilLydia.

"No, but she loves me, which is more important," Zamotin replied. "She has been a boat widow for two years. Maybe when I get this boat out on the water and open her up she'll be a complete widow." He chuckled at that remark and added: "You never know how a powerful hydroplane is going to act until you have her in her element. Oh well, it won't be long now; another five weeks or so; then we'll know whether we've got something or nothing." It won't be long now.

Rather philosophical for a by no means well-to-do chap who has sunk $7,000 of his own and his family's money and Heaven alone knows how many man hours of hard, grinding labor into what may turn out to be a candidate for Davey Jones's locker.

SilLydia, 24 feet overall, a foot shorter on the waterline and 8 feet 9 inches beam, is powered with a Model E Allison 12-cylinder, 1150 horsepower airplane motor. She is the post-war version of a design which Zamotin drew eight years ago for a smaller hull marine conversion of a straight eight Deusenberg automobile The war came along before Zamotin con o much more than lay out his plans and get his motor ready, so he put everything and went to work building planes.

After the war, of course, the Gold Cup rules were changed radically to allow unlimited power and plenty of room for experimentation in hulls. Obviously the smaller boat and low-power Duesenberg wouldn't do. So Zamotin sold his engine to a chap who wanted something for a fast runabout, bought a war surplus Allison and then re-drew his plans to take care of the increased size and power of the motor and space required for accessories.

Actual work on the hull itself began in September 1946 when Zamotin and his staff cut the first frame from a template laid down on the floor of the Zamotin living room in upper Manhattan. In the tiny, unheated one-car garage at the foot of West 158th Street, hard by the Hudson, Zamotin stored his engine and set up the after section of the boat.

When it rained, the garage floor was under water. When the weather was cold the garage was like an ice box. But somehow, with the help of a few simple tools and a not-too-strong incandescent bulb Zamotin and his volunteer craftsmen — mostly his wife's cousins and such — progressed.

A friend, familiar with Zamotin's space problems, tipped him off to the fact that up the hill a little way was a large cellar under an apartment house whose superintendent was interested in the young men and their boat An interview with the amiable superintendent resulted in the transfer of operations to the cellar where, amid piles of cinders, a couple of abandoned automobiles, heaps of old masonry, a mound of coal and other handicaps, work went on.

The transfer was facilitated by two farsighted purchases made by the Zamotin syndicate — an old trailer fashioned from a truck chassis (this was discovered in a shipyard) and a 1942 model jeep. The trailer, fitted with a bed fashioned from those strong, wire-compartmented boxes which are used to carry milk bottles, was towed up the hill to the basement by the jeep, which subsequently had a run-in with a taxi and required repairs the syndicate could ill afford from its never-too-stable treasury.

It was in the cellar that the engine and its bed were joined — not by the usual method. Since there was no apparatus available for lifting the engine from its conveyance and dropping it gently into the hull, the boat was brought to the motor. The engine was hoisted by a chain fall from a convenient steel girder in the cellar. The after half of the hull — the driving cockpit is forward in SilLydia — was sweated up onto the trailer, the trailer was maneuvered by manpower into position under the engine and then, nice as you please, the big Allison went home into as exact and snug a fit as you could ask. "And only a ruler job, too," Zamotin smiled proudly. "We had not used a micrometer in any of the engine bed measurements."

The Big Blizzard Helps Finances

Now and then work stopped until this or that necessary part or accessory or material could be found — and bought. The longest delay occurred after the blizzard of December 26, 1949. The Zamotin Syndicate turned its efforts then to building up the treasury by digging out and towing away automobiles which had been buried in the snow.

The need for economy did not, as is so often the case, rest in the use of cheap, inferior materials. There is good cedar, hard pine and mahogany in the hull; copper, brass and stainless steel in the engine department. The engine, by the way, cost $100. The gear box, which once flew around in a P-39. was bought from an airplane junkie for $175. The heat exchanger and sort of flat V-shaped gasoline tank were made from Zamotin's own designs. Shafting struts and propellers were purchased after poring through marine supply catalogues.

Having seen and heard of speedboats capsizing, being holed and otherwise finding their way to the bottom, Zamotin has taken an ingenious method of assuring that no matter what happens to SilLydia she will float.

Strapped under her decks are no less than forty-five empty tin gasoline containers of five gallons capacity. These were rounded up by searching parties, sealed water-tight and then secured in the hull to give it the necessary emergency flotation. All of the tins were covered with a rust-proofing compound to prevent corrosion.

SilLydia may be punctured by flotsam, she may do a flip-flop in heavy wash, but the chances of her ever falling apart are very remote. Her construction is notable for its solidity and rigidity. Frames in the after section — the boat was built in halves and then tied together just abaft the step — are 2 by -inch cedar; in the forward section hard pine 3 x inch. They are on 5-inch centers and are married to the floors, deck timbers and longitudinal members by bolts laboriously set in and set up by hand. The only screw fastenings in the vessel are in the plywood decking.

The bottom is double-planked, the after edge of the step is sheathed in aluminum for extra strength, the riding surfaces of the sponsons are brass plated, the transom is made up of two solid pieces of mahogany and ash totaling 3 3/16 inches in thickness and the longitudinal braces for the step section are 3 by 1 inches.

Zamotin’s creation is a three-point suspension hull, but the riding points are just the reverse of those in the familiar Apel racers. Instead of the main planing surface being aft and the stabilizing sponsons forward, Zamotin has built his riding surface forward and achieved a tunnel effect in the stern section by building sponsons on each quarter. The result is reminiscent of the old Richardson outboard hulls whose long snouts used to be so prominent on the mid-Western circuit

Zamotin and his mechanic, another racing neophyte named Harry O'Jea, cousin of the builder's wife, will ride right up in the bow of the boat The engine is aft, the main shaft going forward through the Vee in the midships gasoline tank to the 2:23-1 booster gear located just abaft the cockpit There is no clutch or reverse gear, a fact which saved weight and money at the same stroke.

The bow resembles a turned up nose in which there are six nostrils instead of the normal two. These apertures, three on each side of the stem, are air scoops or tunnels leading aft to ventilate the step.

All through the construction and installation there are unusual, interesting wrinkles which reveal the thought and thoroughness which have gone into this boat, not the least of which is a brass plate around the hub of the steering wheel bearing the names of the eighteen Zamotin relatives and friends whose volunteer labor and occasional contributions of spare cash brought SilLydia into being.

If she never realizes her designer's hope of success at either Red Bank or Detroit, if she never shows her wake to a single adversary SilLydia will still be a monument to the patience, the faith and the loyalty of eighteen idealists in this materialistic world.

(Reprinted from Motor Boating, July 1948, pp.38-9, 90)

[SilLydia's racing number was G-20. The only race entry I’ve been able to find for this craft was the 1948 National Sweepstakes at Red Bank, NJ where she was classified as DNA — Did Not Appear. —LF]

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