Monaco
By Greg Calkins

One of the first benefits the Industrial Revolution handed mankind was the liberation of time. Time away from work, more time to be with family, time for fun. Much of the fun was spent involved in sports activities, track and field, team sports and speed competitions being the most popular. Contests of speed were manifested on land and water. Horseracing, foot racing, rowing, sailing and bicycling typically brought out the greatest number of spectators. When the gasoline engine was linked to sports a virtual explosion of enthusiasm for this kind of speed, first on land and then on water, captured the attention of the western world.

Horseless carriages were the first vehicles to be powered and to compete against each other. The races were very small, usually attended by the few automobile enthusiasts of the local area. It did not take much time at all, however, for this enthusiasm to spread and become a craze for speed on the roads of Europe and America. What first were races from one side of a town to the other became races from Paris to Madrid, Paris to Vienna and even New York to Paris. In 1908 this race was run the hard way, from New York City, across North America, then Russia and westward to Paris.

The same pattern of development occurred on the water. First there were power boat events added to the existing sailing contests. These contests were usually raced over short distances and scheduled as an added attraction to give the "real" yachtsmen a day’s rest. But, similar to the auto craze, these races grew in the number of participants and in the distance over which the boats had to run.

By 1905 there was such a proliferation of hull and engine manufacturers the great power boat contests grew to three, four and five-day events. The Palm Beach Mid-Winter Carnival and the Hudson River Water Carnival were the two main features of the season in the United States. These events ran for five days and featured competition for from four to six different racing classes.

At this time in Europe great national and corporate esteem was to be gained via these races, both on land and water. As geography caused these nations to be so closely located, the indigenous populations focused their attention on the vehicles which were also the standard bearers of their cultures. The aquatic events were usually scheduled shortly before or after the great automobile races so it was not unusual to see crowds of many thousands in attendance from the very start.

As these events became more and more complex the cost to stage them also grew. It was only through the patronage of wealthy institutions and individuals that these events could be launched and sustained. Alfred Harmsworth, London publisher, Gordon Bennett, New York Publisher, Florida’s hotel industry, to name a few, all provided the spirit, energy and money so these contests could continue.

The greatest of these carnivals was undoubtedly the Monaco Yachting Exhibition and Regatta. There could not have been a more perfect place to hold such an event. The Monte Carlo elan had been a magnet for the movers and shakers of Europe certainly since the Casino had been established in the 1850’s. By the 1890’s the Casino gained corporate franchise so, when the time was ripe for aquatic extravaganzas, the liquid foundation (no pun intended) for such a project was secured. The next question was how to publicize such an event. The answer came in the person of Georges Prade, publisher of L’Auto. Prade would spread the word, Camile Blanc, of the International Sporting Club of Monaco, would spread the money and Monaco’s Prince Albert would be emblematic of the pride and honor of the nations who would come to compete.

From the very start the Monaco Exhibit and Regatta was well planned and well executed. Scheduled for the first ten to fifteen days of April, the first three or four days would be devoted to showing all the new designs and technology of power boating in Europe. The exhibition area was capable of holding up to 100 boats. This may sound like a grandiose number but every year, from 1904 to 1914, there were 80 to 85 boats exhibited, while 1909, 1911 and 1912 exceeded the century mark of exhibitors. To move the boats about there was an enormous steel girder gantry that bridged the entire display area.

The gantry was well used after the exhibition phase of the carnival was over, for the next phase was the testing of the new creations prior to the actual racing. There were usually two or three testing days before competition began. This period was always well attended by the spectators who were anxious to see how well the new designs would perform, for there was not a little wagering prior to the contests.

The racing classes were divided in two, the racers and the cruisers. It must be understood that the cruising class was not at all what Americans consider to be cruising boats. The cruiser in Europe at this time was really a racer with just a bit more decking to protect the machinery and passengers. There was also a little more room for seating, as well. At first, some cruisers had completely enclosed cockpits, but this design proved to be more a liability than anything else as vapors from cracked fuel lines and balky carburetors were trapped within the superstructure and explosive fires resulted.

Each class was sub-divided into hull lengths: less than 6.5 meters, 6.5 to 8 meters, 8 to 12 meters and 12 to 18 meters. Each class competed for prizes of its own, first for the "championship of its class." Later, as more attention was paid to these races, trophies and cash prizes were designated for each class championship. Eventually the class races were for the lofty titles of The Prix de la Mediterranee, The Prix de L’Esperance, The Prix de Monte Carlo, etc. These class contests were usually over a distance of 50 kilometers, or 31 statute miles.

The two great trophies from the very beginning of the regatta were the Prince of Monaco Cup and the Championship of the Sea. These races were open to all comers. The Prince of Monaco Cup was a straightaway contest composed of two parts. The first was a flying kilometer run and the second was a nautical mile run from a standing start. The Championship of the Sea was a free-for-all race on the grandest of scales. Yearly there would be no less than 15 to 20 entries, cruisers and racers alike. The distance was a whopping 200 kilometers, or 124 statute miles. All of this done in one great heat. It was not until after World War I that this event was run in a series of three heats, one heat per day, similar to our Gold Cup event at the time.

The course itself was situated in Monte Carlo Bay, also known as the Bay of Hercules. The shape and distance of the course underwent several adjustments as the regatta committees gained experience. In 1904 the course was a 12.5-kilometer hexagon. This was changed in 1905 to a 12.5-kilometer pentagon composed of five unequal sides. In 1906 this was changed to a 10-kilometer pentagon which was changed again in 1907 to a 6.25-kilometer rectangle. This distance and shape of the course remained the standard for Monaco until the event ran its last series of events in 1922.

The Monaco regattas were the showcases for virtually every innovation in power boat engineering and design. As such, the events were valuable plums for all the automobile manufacturers of Europe, for, at the start of the age, it was common for a manufacturer to simply remove the engine from one of their Gran Prix racers and drop it into a racing launch. This tactic proved to be unsuccessful due to the excessive vibrations that were experienced with high speeds on the water. The engine manufacturers created engines solely for maritime use that could withstand these rigors. Accordingly, the names F.I.A.T., Peugeot, Mercedes, Napier, de Dietrich, Delahaye and Wolseley-Siddeley all became famous for their victories both on land and water.

Virtually every conceivable approach to power and hull design was pioneered at Monaco. In 1904 La Parisienne was powered by three 90-hp Mors engines. In 1905 Le Dubonnet was driven by a single 300-hp Delahaye. The next year saw Antoinette IV go with a single 16-cylinder Levavasseur engine and Antoinette V try three 200-hp Levavsseurs. By 1907 the Antoinettes upped their multi-engine approach to three 360-hp engines in one hull. Clearly, people were serious about winning at these events,

1907 also saw the innovation of the "glissuer" hull, also known as the hydroplane. These were single-step hulls, first developed by Leon Levavasseur. One of the first of these hulls, Obus-Nautilus, won in 1907 in the hydroplane class race. This contest was added to the schedule and was run over a distance of only 10 kilometers. The stepped hull was so successful that by 1909 all classes, racers and cruisers alike, had entrants that featured this approach to speed on the water.

There were some curious connections to aviation that started at Monaco. In 1908 one of the early hydroplanes in the smaller racer class, Ricochet XVI, was powered by a small motorcycle engine manufactured by Anzani. It was a 2-cylinder V-type that was not a winner but did prove durable enough to last the 50-kilometer distance. The next year Anzani manufactured a similar engine, this time a V-4. The engine was placed in an early monoplane built by Louis Bleriot and this plane was the first to fly across the English Channel.

The other connection began with an innovative multi-step hydroplane design built as a catamaran by De Lambert. At first this creation was propelled by the conventional type of aquatic propeller, but by the time De Lambert’s entry was at Monaco it had been reconfigured with a large, two-blade aviation-type propeller. The prop was driven by a rear-mounted engine and the whole affair was supported on a scaffold-like superstructure.

De Lambert’s hydroplane opened the door to a new direction in which water transportation could move. By 1911 there began demonstrations of hydro-aeroplanes – seaplanes - and as the enthusiasm for aviation together with power boating grew, more and more of these demonstrations appeared at the exhibition and testing phases of the carnival. In 1913 Jacques Schneider, who was a tireless supporter of aviation, provided the funding and a trophy for seaplane competitions at Monaco. The Schneider Cup was awarded to the winner of a 500-kilometer race that was for seaplanes only. The rectangular course was over a distance of 50 kilometers. The competitors had to fly the 6 laps for the distance, but the first 5 kilometers had to be run on the water only. The first Schneider Cup winner was a Desperdussin monoplane. It was by winning the Schneider Cup in the late 1920’s that the British manufacturer, Supermarine, established its reputation of excellence and later manufactured the World War II Spitfire.

The space available for this history is much too small to cover all the aspects and winners of the Monaco races. Suffice it to say the cataclysm of World War I, combined with the post-war economic chaos in Europe, did more to destroy any advantages the European racing communities benefited from the advances made in technology because of the war. From 1914 to 1924 the progress of European boat racing virtually ceased while America’s fortunes advanced nearly uninterrupted. Prior to the war there was no other power boat event equal to Monaco and after the racing events left Monaco, to be renewed in Nice in 1923, there never was another exhibition to equal Monaco again. Think how far the continental racers would have advanced by the twenties had it not been for World War I. Gar Wood would not have had the benefit of the Liberty engines of the war surplus and Napier, Mercedes, and F.I.A.T. would have continued their progress. Strange as it would seem, the very same national competitive pride that built and enhanced the Monaco Exhibition and Regatta also served to destroy it.

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


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This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
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Leslie Field, 2001