1904 Harmsworth Trophy [from The Rudder]

Harmsworth Cup Races
by C. O. Liljegren, N. A. M. E.

I accepted the Editor's invitation to go to England in order to give THE RUDDER a description of the Harmsworth Cup Races, or, as it is officially called, the British International Cup for Motor Boats, and had some misgivings about the result, but little did I dream of the difficulties of a reporter's task in this case.

Arriving in Southampton after a tedious railway journey across the Continent, the first thing that I found out was that the reliability trials -- two days each 10 hours running -- were underway, that none except Napier Minor of the Harmsworth Cup racers were participating, and that these latter were scattered, nobody knew where. Here was the rub, for how could I possibly describe boats that were like phantoms, in that they could not be found. Well, after looking up the officials of the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, who are conducting the races, I was told that "some of the boats might be at Gosport tomorrow." There was nothing else to do today, so I went to the docks to see the boats coming in from their 20-hour run, the last 10 hours in a driving rain. The boats looked fine, almost all finishing the long run, but their crews were a sight, all grim and black with smoke and oil. But all were jolly, just the same. Such is the sport of motor boating.


Next morning I took an early steamer for Ryde, Isle of Wight, off which the races were to be, to begin the search for the boats, which, considering the thousands of crafts of every description in every harbor, reminded me too much about the proverbial "needle in the haystack." At Ryde the Secretary of R. Victoria Y. C. had no idea where the boats were to be found, but advised me to go over to Gosport. On the way across the Solent on board one of the big side-wheelers, a torpedo destroyer passed us at a clip that fairly took one's breath away, seeing that we were traveling at a good rate of speed ourselves. In the wake of the torpedo boat, I observed a curious swell, that looked as if caused by shallow water; but at closer sight, for the thing was fast overtaking us, it looked like a whale "blowing her nose" repeatedly -- but who ever heard of whales in the Solent? By and by a little grey speck became visible in the midst of the flying spray, and then it dawned upon me that it must be one of the looked-for boats. So it was, namely, the Napier II. Now, image a tiny thing enveloped in a spray that rose undulatory some twenty feet in the air -- a veritable cascade glittering in the sun -- and you might form an idea of the extraordinary sight presented by this boat in the middle of the Solent. I have never seen spray "rocketing" in this manner before, but it was an altogether a most exhilarating sight; the boat seen end on looking for all the world like some big butterfly with two large flapping, glistering, white wings of spray. Well, here was one of the cup-racers at last; by noting his course, i soon found out that he was going to Camper & Nicholson's Yard in Gosport, whence I too proceeded and found Napier Minor, Napier II as well as the American boat Challenger. >From Mr. S. F. Edge, the owner of the Napiers, I heard that the rest of the boats were at Summers & Paine, Southampton, where I later on had a look at some of them.

England had thus five representatives, France three, America one. All except one of the French boats (steam) used gasolene as power agent.

According to the rules for this Cup, the competing boats must be built, in their entirety, in their own country and must not exceed forty feet in length over all. Two of the boats were considerably shorter.

I shall now give a short description of each boat, beginning with Napier Minor: Hull made of four thicknesses of wood, sewn together on the Saunders Patent principle. her form above water is like the ordinary speed launch, with almost vertical sides and semicircular stern, a turtleback deck forward, a very high hood covering an engine and shielding the steersman from the torrents of spray. Aft there is a large cockpit and a short deck. Her underwater-body is most remarkable, with a perfectly flat bottom and very hard bilges that are carried from stem to stern. The forebody is bluff, the afterbody very full, drawing a couple inches of water

at the very transom. Her design seems to violate every known principle in naval architecture, and yet she is very fast for her power. The question can always be put: How much faster could she have been, if her lines had been better? As she draws only a few inches of water to her hull, the conclusion reached is that her designer has by all means tried to get a hull that should skim along the surface of the water instead of plowing through it as an ordinary launch. In this he has succeeded, for when running at high speed both her stem and her stern just barely touch the surface, the fore part throwing off that peculiar curling spray noted above on the Napier II. The motor consists of a four-cycle, four-cylinder Napier , 6 1/2-inch diameter by 6-inch stroke, revolutions, 1100 per minute, water-cooled exhaust in the stern under water. Screw solid 3-bladed 24 inches diameter with reversing gear.

Napier Minor took part in the reliability trials, preceeding the Harmsworth Cup Races; she was by far the fastest boat, although running under reduced power, and made her 20-hour continuous run without a single stop, going nearly 300 miles. In Kiel, Germany, she took the Kaiser's Cup this year. What chances she would stand against the other cup boats, nobody ever knew, but with the smallest motor and five feet shorter length her outlook did not look bright -- on paper.

Napier II. Hull, nickel steel, including deck, which is drawn up into a very high turtle back forward, but is almost flat aft. The shape of the hull is very bluff forward; long, straight, almost parallel sides and a full round stern, having a semi-circular vertical transom, drawing some four inches right aft. The bottom is flat, the main idea being to get the boat with the least possible draught of water, so as to skim the surface at high speeds. In this her designer has succeeded, as at such speeds the bow rides on top of the water, the stern, to, being dry, but leaving a turbulent wake. But, unquestionably, she has gained nothing by this extreme scow form, since Napier Minor was just as fast on a smaller horse-power. There are two Napier motors, placed side by side, of about 45 horse-power each, driving twin screws. The exhaust is aft through funnels on top of deck. Mr. Edge considering this better than under-water exhaust, although it does not seem to make much difference in the speed and horse power. As on Napier Minor, there is a high canvass hood over the machinery, standing as high as up to a man's chin, to ward off the geyser of spray. It is very practical, but not very pretty. Looks do not count much nowadays on a cup racer.

Hutton Launch has a fairly high brow, but a low flat stern, in fact, deck and bottom coming to a point aft. Hull built of mahogany, 1/2-inch in the bottom, 1/4-inch in the topsides and deck; ribband carvel. Two strong girders of Oregon pine carry motor, reverse and thrust bearing tied together by intercostals and tie rods. Hull weighs only 6 cwt. The midship section is almost circular, with no gunwale, deck and sides making a fair sweep. She has a 6-cylinder Hutton engine, 7-inch bore, and making 800 revolutions, with a frictional differential reverse. When backing only about 20 horse-power is taken up by propeller, which is single, about 24 inches in diameter. According to the Automotor Journal there are two tanks of 36 gallons each, one forward, one aft, sufficient for a run of five hours at full speed. The steersman is placed at the forward end of the cockpit, a spray hood with celluloid windows covering him as well as the machinery. In my opinion, the Napier plan of hood is better, as it gives a large, covered yet well-ventilated motor-room.

Thornycroft Launch. This boat was not in commission having had her motors taken out before the races.

Fer de Lance. Hull built of nickel steel, having a center girder extending over cockpit for strength. Under this girder the mufflers are placed, two over each motor, with the exhaust at the after end of the girder. In front there is a look-out window for the steersman. Her motors consist of two six-cylinder Hutton engines of 150 horse-power, fitted with Hele-Shaw patent friction reverse gear.

Bayard. Hull built of wood on regular launch lines, with a curved vertical transom. A short deck forward and aft, with a tremendous breakwater at the forward end of the cockpit. If her hull presents nothing remarkable, her engines have many points worthy of notice, if not of praise. They consist of two 4-cylinder Clement gasoline motors, four cycle (in fact all the racers had four-cycle motors), of 100 horse-power each, thus making Bayard the most over-powered boat in the bunch. The motors are placed one forward of the other, but each driving its wheel. The exhaust box is placed on top of the cylinders, the gases being expelled through large funnels above the box. In this manner the exhaust is air-cooled in a very efficient way, but the funnels not being high enough, the hot gases are driven into the boat, where the effect on the unlucky man that gets in their way must not be very pleasant. A better plan would be, still using the air-cooling, to lead the exhaust to both sides of the boat, expelling the gases through the leeward pipe only.

Legru Launch. Nothing is known about her except that she was the only steam launch entered for the races. Steam seems almost ante-diluvian in connection with these racers, but it has of course its nimbus of reliability. Still, the steamboat did not show up at all, and the gasoline engine in its best form has certainly showed itself as reliable as steam.

Trefle a Quatre. Famous for the Mediterranean races. Hull built of wood, very light, in fact, to light, as she had to be strengthened. Exceedingly fine lines; thin and deep forward, flat and shallow aft, according to the most advanced ideas in naval architecture. her razor-like stem would cut the water with the least possible resistance, but at the same time make her a very wet boat in a seaway. her turtle-back deck and sides all in one, and her 3-foot cockpit on top, give her the looks of a submarine boat; but to my mind, her design was far better suited for high speed than any of the other boats. The French do not seem to have lost the art of designing, that, in the old sailing boat's times, made "a French-built ship with an English crew" the sailor's ideal. Notice that this boat is only 30 feet long, but can keep up with most 40-footers. She had a splendid Brasier motor of 82 horse-power, four cylinders, driving a Thornycroft three-bladed screw. Still, the thought came to my mind, a French-built hull with a Napier motor would beat the world.

Challenger. The American representative. Showed a hull much the same as the famous Standard, with a full, round side, fine bow and two vertical flat transoms meeting at an apex aft, where the rudder is hung. Hull built of 3/8-inch mahogany below water, and 3/8-inch white cedar above, with a ribband inside each seam. The weight of the motor is distributed over the bottom by two built-up girders or channel beams. The hull is very light, weighing only about 900 pounds. it has a considerable list to starboard to counteract the heeling movement of the propeller. At top speed the hull is said to run on even keel, but I always noticed the list, whether the boat was going fast or slow. It certainly did not tend to increase her speed.

Challenger has two 75 horse-power Smith & Mabley motors, connected to one propeller shaft of 1 3/4-inch steel. There is a rotary pump for water circulation, oil and air pumps; the latter for starting purposes. The exhaust is above water opposite the motors, thus gaining a reduction in length of exhaust pipes and back-pressure. But the smell, when the wind is driving the gases inboard! In a racer, however, one seems to have to stand it all.


The Harmsworth Cup was presented for international competition for motor boats, using any form of power by Sir Alfred Harmsworth, Bart., in 1903, which year it was raced for in Queenstown and won by Messrs. S. F. Edge, Ltd., in Napier I, over two other English competitors. The race did certainly awaken the interest in motor-boat racing for this year, not less than nine entries were made, as we have see,.


To select the three best boats out of five. For British competitors only.

These races proved a fizzle, as only two, the Napiers, out of the five British boats turned up at the start. The Hutton was seen in the roads, but neither the Thornycroft nor the Walden boat put in appearance; the former could not make her engines go, and the latter was not ready.

The course was ideal for such races -- along Isle of Wight, from Ryde to Osborne and back, a distance of 7.70 miles (nautical ot knots).

There was a great crowd of spectators on shore and afloat, a multitude of yachts making a very pretty picture to gladden the sailor's heart.

Promptly on time the starting gun was fired. In the first heat Napier II started alone, very slowly to begin with, but soon the sprat was seen flying all over the boat which was making fast time and was soon lost to sight, only the spray could be seen in the distance. Coming back past the pier, the boat was a sight worth seeing, cheered by the onlookers as she rushed over the line at top speed. Time, 27 minutes and 20 seconds.

In the second heat the Napier Minor also had a walkover, starting like a flash, getting full speed in a few lengths. This boat does not seem to be quite as wet as Napier II, but with either the spray was standing in a high "mound" on each side of the bow, every change os speed being distinctly visible from the height of these mounds. Time of second heat, 27 minutes and 14 seconds.

The smaller boat proved thus the faster, but Napier II was not run at top speed except when close to the pier, as an exhibition of what she could do when pressed. This ended the preliminary races.


There was a still larger crowd of onlookers the second day, the muster of big steam yachts being particularly fine even for English waters. As it was known that the King and Queen would attend the final races, almost every vessel was "dressed ship" making a brilliant picture in the fine sunlight. But, alas for the English climate; the rain was soon pouring, the races were being run in a perfect deluge.

In the first race the competitors lined up were Challenger, Bayard and Napier II -- America, France and England. Bayard was late in coming, and tried several times for her mark boat, but was very poorly managed and steered. With the preliminary gun fired and the minutes rushing by, there was not much time left for maneuvering, but still Bayard kept on and had her nose projecting over the line at gunfire.

The excitement of the public was now at boiling point, and, old racing man that I am, my own heart was beating like a drum when the gun was fired and the American boat rushed on, making a very good start. Napier II was slower, steering right in among the anchored yachts which looked very dangerous, but owing to her splendid steering qualities she came out again all right, the reason for it all being that only one propeller was working at the start. Pretty soon she was on her way, chasing the Challenger, who had obtained a commanding lead. In the meantime Bayard who managed to catch the mooring line in her screw, first slightly, but when clear she caught a line again that held her for good -- hard luck or bad maneuvering, whichever you please. It was a most exasperating sight.

The other two boats were soon lost in the mist, but when seen again Napier II was leading and widening the gap between herself and the American. With a tremendous final spurt, Napier II shot over the line cheered and "tooted" by all whistles. Time 24 minutes and 19 seconds.

Even the Challenger was cheered as she came over the line, hopelessly beaten. As was made known later, her forward engine became useless shortly after the start, and had to be dragged along. if this is true, she mad a most remarkable beat, covering the course in 26 minutes and 3 seconds, with one motor only.

Next race, between England and France, the English boat Napier Minor had a walkover, which she did in very fast time, 23 minutes and 21 seconds.

In the third race, again between England and France, the French boat Trefle a Quatre was left alone. She started very poorly, being over the line at gunfire and was recalled. But she turned a complete circle round the mark boat in less time than it takes to describe it, her rudder all the time throwing up a giant wave, and was on her course once more, with the automobile coat of her steersman flapping wildly in the wind. That coat lost the boat many a second. Remember, these boats were going at a 20-knot rate, making a gale on board even on a calm day. Although the Trefle thus lost a good deal of time, she covered the course in 25 minutes and 20 seconds -- enough to make the final race interesting.

Two English boats, the Napiers, and one French boat, the Trefle, had qualified for the final race. But according to the rules, only one boat from each country can compete in the final, hence the two Napiers were given a race to decide which was the faster. This race proved to be the most exciting of both days' racing. At the start Napier Minor shot off in her usual way with the other boat slowly following. The little one kept her lead all the way to the turning point, both going in great style, a picture as fine as could be seen. Napier II slowly but surely forged ahead and came in a winner by a few lengths, in 24 minutes and 7 seconds; Napier Minor, 24 minutes and 23 seconds.

Afterwards it turned out that Napier II had struck a floating log or something and was leaking badly in her bow, where her plates had split open. To make things worse, the engine girder had begun to crack over the split plates, so that the boat was now in no condition fit for racing. That would have left the Trefle alone in the final to take the Cup to France, and to my mind, there was nothing else to be done. But against all ordinary rules for this Cup -- Napier Minor was entered into the final race, where she certainly did not belong any more than the Challenger or Bayard, as all had been beaten in the preliminary races. I might be wrong, but this seems to be a breach in yachting etiquette. It certainly was hard luck to Mr. Edge not to be able to race Napier II, but so it must have been to the owners of the Challenger and Bayard, both of which boats had to withdraw owing to mishaps during the races.

However, the final race was called at 4 o'clock, after the King and Queen had arrived on the Royal yacht. As the two boats, Napier Minor and Trefle, were getting position, bigger contrasts could not be seen. The former, painted white, with a high freeboard and generous sheer; the latter, grey as a torpedo boat, with turtleback deck and hump-backed, but looking the racer in every inch. Napier had previously had the best time over the course, but Trefle was badly maneuvered, hence nobody could tell which was the faster.

At the gun Napier shot off in her usual manner, gaining some fifty yards in the very start and keeping her lead all the way to the outer mark, in torrents of rain and spray. heading back for Ryde, against wind and tide, Napier kept increasing her lead, going like a wonder, finishing past the Royal yacht in 23 minutes and 3 seconds -- record time. This works out as 20.55 knots, or 23.50 miles, but as the boats had to budge a tremendous tide current on the homeward stretch, which did not help them on the outward run, owing to the nearness of the shore, it is safe to say that her speed through the water was close to 23 knots. The Trefle finished in 24 minutes and 27 seconds, a long way behind.

After the race, both boats circled for a while round the Royal yacht where they were much admired, and then they came for the pier, where they got their share of cheers.

Thus ended the 1904 Harmsworth Cup races, the Cup staying in England. Everything had been managed without a hitch, thanks to the incessant work and foresight of Mr. Basil H. Joy, the Secretary of the Race Committee of A. C. G. B. & T. The races were started most punctually on time. A prettier sight than the boats rushing through the water could not be seen -- plenty of excitement and lots of good sport!

A great lesson the races have certainly have given. The overpowered boats of 150-200 horse-power on a 40-foot water line, have at present nothing to do on the race course, and still less outside of it!

A minimum of draught, coupled with a minimum of wetted surface and a fair sized motor, seems to be the key of success. The next smallest boat with the smallest motor won the race, due, no doubt, to a large extent to that splendid tuning up the Napier Minor has got in the competent hands of Mr. Edge.

Transcribed from The Rudder, October, 1904, pp. 525-530.

{Mr. Liljegren's instincts of "yachting etiquette" proved to be the heart of the matter, for the winner of the race was eventually judged to be Trefle a Quatre on the fact the winner of the run-off heat was not the boat which competed in the championship heat, thereby disqualifying the British representative - GWC}

*  *  *

Trefle a Quatre

I have read with great interest Mr. C. O. Liljegren's account of the Harmsworth Cup races in your number of October last, but there is one circumstance in connection with Trefle a Quatre's defeat of which he was probably unaware at the time, as were most people who witnessed the race. Trefle was put in the water before the fresh composition which was put on her bottom was dry, and the natural result was a large number of blisters, which effectually spoiled her chance of beating Napier Minor. That she would have done so, I have not the smallest doubt, had she been in proper trim, and in support of this I would quote: 1. Her performance at Trouville. 2. At Lucerne, where she finished only 53 seconds behind the big Hotchkiss boat over a course of 119 kilometers, after getting away very badly. 3. At Juvisy, above Paris, six weeks ago, when I had the pleasure of racing her with Mr. E. B. Thubron. The course was nominally 100 kilometers with ten turns, but on its being officially remeasured, it was found to be 109. We did the course at the rate of 42.4 kilometers or 26 1/2 miles an hour, and I consider Mr. Thubron is justified in calling this a world's record. Mr. Tellier's fast launch La Rapee III started 15 minutes ahead of us, but we caught and lapped her before the finish. I endeavor to engage a sporting match between the two Napiers and Trefle a Quatre, but it fell through.

Lorne C. Currie       
Marine Motor Association, France       

(Transcribed from The Rudder, January, 1905, p.33)

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

See also:

Harmsworth Preparations - USA [1904] (Pt. 1)

Harmsworth Preparations - USA [1904] (Pt. 2)

1904 Harmsworth Trophy

1904 Harmsworth Trophy - Yachting World

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