The Advent Of The Speed Launch [1903]
by E. W. Graef

This, our new year, opens with a promise of great developments in speed launches, and it seems to be the object of many of out power-boat men to own the fastest launch of its size in existence, and as there is plenty of room for improvement in model, engine and conditions generally, why, we may expect things to happen to make the sport very exciting.

One thing in particular is bound to result from the advent of the speed launch, and that is, it will have the tendency to classify launches; that is, the "racer" and "cruiser" and the "ordinary" launch, and will do away with the highly powered ordinary types, which create such a disturbance in the water and lead the uninitiated observer to believe that she is doing it at a three minute gait, whereupon a real "racer," with the same power, could cut circles around her without disturbing the water enough to know she was on hand.

The speed problem simmers down to three things, and that is, the greatest power on the least displacement, with the easiest lines, and it will tax the engine builder, the designer and the hull builder to the utmost, with no real limit at the end, excepting perhaps the cost, which will cut quite a figure, in the development of the racer.

Evidently the limit will not be reached for a long time, as every improvement made in the engine, hull or design will add still another small amount of speed which will make her a winner, and it will be up to the next fellow to do just a little bit better, and so on to the end of time.

The real pleasure in owning a racer will be when they all get together and have it out, boat for boat, when the good qualities of the engineer and steersman will play as an important part as the boat itself; and even if one boat is somewhat faster than the other, and the slow boat has a better crew than the faster one, the chances are that the slow boat will win, and the vanquished will come in kicking about his engine having gone back on him, or the gasolene did not feed right, etc; in fact, do anything but blame himself, and we can all stand by and laugh at them and swap similar experiences (or lies). It takes a man with lots of nerve to get beaten, and then not make excuses or condemn everything but himself, but the fellow that has the nerve is usually given the credit of not wanting to win, or he had something up his sleeve, or his boat was too slow. The last is the hardest pill to swallow, as you may say, anything you like about the man, but, for goodness' sake, don't let him hear you run his boat down, as very few of them will stand for that, even if she comes in last.

It takes a good man to get the best results out of any engine in a race, and the poorer the engine the better the man need be to get its maximum speed. So take this as a hint, Mr. reader, and think over it thoroughly and get yourself into condition before you enter a race, unless you are confident you can win, even if your motor does kick up a little, but you will have to have a very fast boat to do that, unless you get into a very slow bunch.

All of you that follow up the speed question will probably have noticed that many fast launches have a tendency to show their keel forward when they are going at top speed, and I contend that such hulls are "over powered," or, in other words, the design is wrong for the power in them and the speed they are making, as it surely is a waste of power to lift a boat out forward as much as some of them do, and if that wasted power were used to drive the boat ahead on her designed lines she would gain considerable speed. But I do not mean to give the impression that if the engine were moved further forward in this same hull, to overcome the trouble, that the boat would do much better, for I do not believe it would, but believe that the lines are wrong in any hulls that have shown the tendency to lift forward, and the only remedy is to rebuild the hull or build an entirely new one that will not lift, or if there is any tendency to lift at all, it should be the entire boat, both bow and stern; but of course that would be out of the question, that is, to any degree. Quite evidently, however, we have a lot to learn in regard to speed designs, as there are almost as many theories as there are designers and many who are not designers. The tendency is, however, to follow the torpedo boat idea, as it is safer for the designer, as he has data of the conditions, which usually bring his hull out to be a good one, but even then he makes slight changes once in a while which usually result disastrously.

What we would like to see is some designer come to the front who has the strength of his convictions to leave the beaten path, and come out with an entirely original design and be willing to take the consequences, as it almost invariably results in failure. But of course, there is a chance of success, which is demonstrated by the now famous Arrow. Even then I do not believe that her designer quite dared to go to the real extreme of his theory of an inverted wedge, but presume he will be encouraged by the success of the Arrow, and will go to the extreme with pleasing results. It will make a peculiar boat to us, who are so accustomed to the prevailing type, but, then, we can get used to it and will eventually see beauty in it, for you all know how long it took us to get used to the long overhangs of the now modern sailing machines. A plain looking girl becomes good looking after you know her awhile and find out her accomplishments, so take courage, and let us all admire your resulting speed, even though the boat is homely.

There seems to be an impression among some of you readers that I am a crank on the racing question, and I want to set you all straight on the subject by telling you that I am not, but am only enthusiastic enough to watch the sport in clod blood, and weigh each development enough to form an opinion of its worth, and, of course, do not claim the opinion to be correct, so you will all have to do the same; but whatever you do think about it would perhaps make good reading, so let's hear from you for the good of the sport.

(Transcribed from The Rudder, January, 1903, p. 28-29. )

[What a prophetic article: "...the vanquished will come in kicking ... no real limit at the end, except the cost..." How true. We can all remember the famous belly-achers of the sport as well as the big spenders. Certainly the unconventional becoming convention has also been a common thread throughout all boat racing. There will be more of Graef's articles to come. — GWC]

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this article. — LF]


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Leslie Field, 1999