Developments in the Eastern Field [1920]
by C.A. Nedwidek

During the past season the one preeminent feature in the Eastern field was the development of runabouts with speeds of better than 35 miles per hour. Some were built with speeds of up to 50 miles but these, like hydroplanes, were few and far between. When Carl Fisher suggested several years ago that a runabout with a certain amount of comfort could be built and raced in events where the speed obtained was supposed to be the maximum for water craft, he was laughed at in many quarters. At first the deed of gift for the Fisher Trophy was so worded that only boats capable of speeds of better than forty-five miles were the slowest allowed to compete. Such a storm of criticism was raised at this figure by men who were high up in motor boat racing circles that the deed was amended to allow boats with a speed of 35 miles to compete. A further restriction prohibited the racing of runabouts powered with anything except stock marine 'engines. This caused a great deal of dissatisfaction among those who felt that the rebuilt airplane engines of the Curtiss or Liberty types were very suitable motors for boat service. Mr. Fisher however refused to change the deed of gift in this particular. The most stringent of all restrictions was the one that specified that all competitors for the trophy must race in three heats of fifty miles each, without alterations or adjustments to the machinery other than that which could be made while under way

The general experience with high speed engines had been that a certain amount of adjusting and even the fitting of certain minor parts must be accomplished during a series of races. Our practice in the East had been to keep a crew of mechanicians on hand at all extreme speed regattas whose duty was to practically overhaul the power plants when they had finished one heat. According to the Fisher Trophy rules the boats after finishing one heat of the race had to report at once to the judges, where an inspector would be put on board. The boats were then allowed to obtain fuel and were then taken to a boat house where they were watched by a police officer until 10 minutes before the preliminary gun for the next day's run. The amount of adjusting that could be accomplished in 10 minutes was so small as to be negligible. The fact that five boats competed in the initial Fisher race held in conjunction with the Gold Cup Race at Detroit was proof of the fact that fast boats having all the requirements specified can be built and raced. It is true that two of the boats had engine troubles and one was forced to retire before the last of the three heats; but the other three ran practically without engine trouble of any kind. The two that did have motor trouble were new boats that had not had the rigorous tuning up that must be done before any boat of the speed type is ready for a long grind of 150 miles in' three days. One boat, the Comanche, had had her engines overhauled by men who were not familiar with high speed practice. The other boat was launched only six days before the big race. A peculiarity of the two boats whose power plants did not function properly was that both were fitted with two engines and twin screws. At first thought it might seem that two engines would be the logical outfit for such a race. Repairs on one machine could be made while the other engine was still driving the boat at a fair rate of speed. The reverse seemed true. The three boats that were single screw propelled ran without trouble while the others gave more or less difficulty.

Rainbow, the winner, was a 32-foot runabout built by Ditchburn in Canada and fitted with a six cylinder model G.R. Sterling. Snap Shot, the second boat, was powered with a duplicate machine and was built by Hacker. The third boat was also a Hacker hull fitted with one Hall-Scott. Although a beautifully running craft, Doughboy was beaten by boats having greater power. Rainbow and Snap Shot both made laps at better than 37 miles an hour. Falcon, one of the twin screw Hall-Scott boats, made the best lap of all boats, better than 38 miles an hour.

There are also several runabouts fitted with 450 H.P. Liberty motors as rebuilt by Chris Smith, the wizard of Algonac. Miss Nassau, the fastest of these, has done 50 miles an hour. Sure Cure, a Hacker boat, has raced time and again against the Smith production and while not faster, has shown that she can run within a few seconds of Miss Nassau in a 30 mile race. While it may be straining a point to say that at top speed these boats are comfortable runabouts, they are useful for more than racing machines and passengers can be taken in them at very high speeds with as much comfort as one could ask. Controlled as a rule from a cockpit forward of the engines, the boats run dry in spite of the high speed. At Buffalo there were classes for runabouts making from 35 to 45 miles an hour and also for boats making from 45 to 50 miles. Five starters were in each of these races. In the highest class Miss Nassau hung up a new record for displacement boats by making 48.9 miles an hour over a rough 30 mile course. Sure Cure was only a few seconds behind. In the lower speed class, Brush By, a 26-foot Cinderella model built by the Reliance Motor Boat Co., of New York and fitted with a 6 cylinder Hall-Scott, took first prize. At a previous race meet this wonderful little boat, which leas had many seasons hard use as a family runabout, ran at better than 38 miles. Fully as much pleasure for even the high speed enthusiasts is found in the racing of these boats as is obtained with the hydroplanes.

In the hydroplane class there are two boats that stand so far above the others that they may be said to be the most remarkable planes ever built. The first is, of course, Miss America, which was sent to England by Gar Wood and who returned with the coveted Harmsworth Trophy. Before being shipped the word was passed that she could make 80 miles an hour, but few believed the report. In the races in England she did not have to open up above the 70 mile mark to lose the balance of the field. It was not until the mile trials at Detroit that she really opened up and proved that better than 79 miles was possible. Fitted with two Liberty motors this boat is one of the finest planing hydros that has ever been seen. The other notable boat is Miss Toronto II, owned by a Toronto syndicate. The hull was partly built by Smith and finished in the shops of the Ericson Marine and Aircraft Ltd. in Toronto. One Liberty is the plant that drives this sweetly running craft at close to a 70 mile rate. She has carried back to Canada the Webb Trophy which she won early in the season on the Mississippi, the Thousand Island Championship and the Niagara Frontier Championship as well as having the honor of running second to Miss America in the last heat of the Gold Cup Race. She did not reach Detroit in time for the first heat and her starting motor burned out at the line when preparing to enter the second race. In the final heat she put up a beautiful race, actually beating Miss Detroit V, the second boat of the Wood string that was sent to England. Until the Canadian boat showed her heels to the big twin screw craft many thought that Gar Wood owned the two fastest boats in the country.

Cruiser development has not kept pace with the runabout class during the past season unless we consider the rather peculiar boats brought out by Smith and owned by Gar Wood. According to Mr. Wood's ideas these boats were really cruisers, and so they were in one sense of the word, for cleverly designed berths and other parts were worked into what substantially was a fast displacement runabout hull. At Miami, Gar Jr. went out to sea with Hoosier V, Altonia and Shadow in the races along the Florida coast. In every race the frail Wood boat failed to stand the pounding of the salt water seas, while the larger and more conservative cruisers came through successfully. Hoosier V, a Lawley -built 42-footer equipped with every cruising requisite, equipped with two six cylinder G.R. Sterlings managed to make better than 34 miles an hour in cruising contests. Gar Jr. was several miles faster than this in smooth water, but her rating as a cruiser was held in serious doubt. Mr. Wood upon his return from the South placed an order with Smith for a fifty-foot hull to be equipped with two cabins and two Liberty engines. At the present time this boat has not been completed as far as the cabins but she has been raced as an open boat in the Detroit races where she hung up a record of 47.55 miles an hour. The addition of the cabins, which will lie low stream line erections, will probably not cut the speed more than two miles so we are practically sure of seeing a cruiser having a 45-mile speed at the next Miami races. The trials of the new Gar Jr. have been held in the lakes under the most severe conditions and it is probable that the hull will be able to run in the open sea at better than 42 miles. The proposed layout is such that real cruising accommodations will be possible. Mr. H.R. Duckwall, owner of Hoosier V, is having a new boat built by Lawley on approximately the same lines as the old Hoosier which will also be Sterling equipped. Just what the speed of the new boat will be is of course problematical, but all hands figure that she will be able to take care of herself in a creditable manner.

(Reprinted from Pacific Motor Boat, December 1920)


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Leslie Field, 2000