Launch Racing On the St. Lawrence [1904]


Launch Racing On The St. Lawrence
Development Of The Power-Boat Among The Thousand Islands
by W. P. Stephens

The winning of the American Power-Boat Association Challenge Cup by a launch representing the Chippewa bay Yacht Club carries the next contest for this important trophy from the Hudson River to the St. Lawrence, and marks the inauguration of auto-boat racing in a new field. It is safe to say that, like the Seawanhaka Cup for sailing yachts, the new trophy will not be brought back to salt water without a hard fight, and it is quite possible that some years may elapse before it revisits its birthplace. The racing auto-boat is as yet a novelty on the St. Lawrence, the representatives of the type being numbered on the fingers of one hand; but the conditions long existing there are all favorable to the development of the new line of sport; even before many seasons it will be a formidable rival of the Seine, the Mediterranean, the Solent and the Hudson as the leading center of racing.

Compared with the foreign season, with the great races on the Mediterranean and on the Solent, the Cross-Channel race and that from Paris to the sea, or even with the furore over the auto-boat about New York and Newport, the season of 1904 on the St. Lawrence has been comparatively uneventful. Even the new boats of the year can hardly claim places in the "auto-boat" class, the races have awakened only local interest, and no world's records have been broken. There is, however, every evidence of a change which, though slow in its first stages, must in a very short time affect the whole life of the river. For more than twenty years the older craft, propelled by paddle, oars and sail, have gradually given way to the slower forms of the power pleasure launch, the change being gradual and the more primitive powers still surviving. The present year has witnessed the first steps of a complete revolution in the installation of power in the ordinary river boats and also in the introduction of a type of racing launch which, though but a steep toward the extreme "auto-boat," has cleared the way for the full development of the latter next season.

The Early Power Boats

The development of the camp and cottage life which is now the great feature of the river has been made possible largely through the introduction of the older types of pleasure craft, first, the primitive steam launches, then the "naphtha launch," and the "Alco-vapor launch," and more recent years the gasoline launch with explosion motor. Each successive step in the improvement of the launch has increased the pleasures of the river life and opened them to a still greater number who leave the large cities of the States in May to return only in September or October.

A decked steam yacht of any size up to about 100 feet, the limit of the canal locks, has long been considered one of the essential appurtenances of the more pretentious island estates, and the ordinary slow launches have been used in increasing numbers as their prices have decreased and their efficiency has increased. As a matter of course, there have always been speed trials among the different yachts and launches, with some formal racing; and there has been a limited demand for specially fast craft, which has been supplied by the purchase of noted yachts on the seaboard, such as the Now Then and the Presto, and by new yachts ordered from the leading designers.

The Leighton Launches

With no building establishments of special note on the river itself, but with direct water communication by the lake and canal with Syracuse, many launches from this section visiting the river each year, the Leighton launches and motors naturally became known among the Thousand Islands before they were more than heard of elsewhere, and for the past five or six years they have been the leading boats of the river in numbers and in speed.

These launches, in length from 22 feet to 55 feet, and in power carrying from 4 to 60 horse, in spite of their exceptional records in point of speed are very different from the up-to-date "auto-boat." The hulls show an excellent model derived from a study of torpedo boat designs; the breadth on the load water line being well aft, the water line itself being more or less convex and rarely or never hollow, the floor rising quickly in the after body, sometimes with a slight downward curve to the keel just over the wheel, and always with a hollow athwartship at the same point, giving more or less the effect of a spoon inverted over the wheel. The proportion of breadth to length has been less than in other launches of the same date and type, about 1 to 7 or 8, but the displacement has been large rather than small for speed boats. The freeboard has been rather high, but with little sheer, and the boats have all proved very staunch and able, being used almost regardless of weather. One striking feature has been the stern; a blunt round, as in certain torpedo boats, a form well-fitted for steel construction in a torpedo boat, but utterly unfitted for wood construction, as the boats show. The short bending of the wood, no matter how much care may be taken, results in the breaking of some plank in the first construction, so that short butts are in evidence, and so strains the wood that sooner or later many cracks are visible. This stern has absolutely nothing to recommend it, as it is of no advantage in point of speed, it is anything but sightly, and it is difficult to build.

The construction of the Leighton launches is comparatively heavy, one single thickness of planking being used, with the plain caulked seam, while the frames are fairly large and closely spaced. One peculiarity that would not be accepted as correct on salt water is the laying of the frames on the flat, the width being greater than the thickness; this makes it very easy to bend the frames, but t the expense of necessary strength. All the launches have long open cockpits with hard-wood decks of generous thickness at each end, strong high combing, and inside they are fully ceiled for the entire length of the cockpit, usually with an ornamental paneling in cherry or mahogany, and they are fully fitted with fixed lockers, bulkheads, etc., of substantial build. Even the Adios, though commonly classed as a speed launch, and with a record of 24 statute miles per hour, would be classed, by one unfamiliar with her, especially if her canopy top were in place, as merely a good comfortable family launch, for everyday running only.

The Leighton motors are of the conventional two-cycle type, with nothing but specially good design and construction to distinguish them from fifty other makes of American two-cycle launch motors. Thus far no special effort has been made to reduce the weight much below the average for the class. The details are well worked out and some special features are introduced, but the motors, like the hulls, show no radical departures from the conventional lines. Within the past two years many of the launches have been built under the guarantees of high speed, such as 20 miles for the Hagenegah, but the same construction has been followed as in the older boats, except for a slight reduction of scantlings in the hull.

The most notable of the newer Leighton launches is the Chip, owned by Jonathan Wainwright, built by J. Leyare from Mr. Leighton's designs. She is 27 feet overall ll, 3 feet 4 inches in breadth, and fitted with a four-cylinder, two-cycle motor, 4 by 4 inches, nominally of 10 H.P. With a rating of 53.85 by the A.P.B.A. rules, she has made over 18 miles per hour and is probably the fastest launch for her rating on the river. Next to her is the smaller Kitten, owned by Mayor George Hall, of Ogdensburg, a younger sister of Mr. Wainwright's Pink, both built by Milton, of Brewerton. They are 21 feet 10 inches over all, with three-cylinder engines of 7 1/2 nominal H.P.; in a private match last fall Kitten covered a ten-mile course of four rounds at an average speed of 16.07 statute miles, while Pink's average was 14.87; both rate just under 48.00. Still another fast Leighton boat is the 34-foot 6-inch Too Easy, with 25 H.P. motor, owned by W. S. Kilmer, who also owns Vingt-et-Un II.

Auto-Boats On The River

The first true "auto-boat" on the river was the Bubble, designed by C. H. Crane, a duplicate of the Vingt-et-Un I, of 30 feet length, and built by J. L. Layare, of Ogdensburg, for Mr. Williams, of Chippewa Bay. She was completed in 1903, but was not launched until last spring, a Moyea motor being installed. She is of extreme design and very light construction, with planking, decks and fitting of mahogany; the motor is placed forward under a movable wooden hatch, the helmsman sits just abaft it with his auto wheel and control levers at hand, and there is room aft for several passengers. With limited power the Bubble claims but a 15-mile speed. The others of the "auto-boat" class now on the river are the F.I.A.T. II, now names the Skeeter, rebuilt and fitted with a wooden in place of a canvass deck, and with lessened horse power; the Vingt-et-Un II, and the Standard, all recent importations.

The Speed Launches Of The Year

The launches of 1904 are in themselves of special interest, in that they represent a transition from the old to the new; though designed and built with the one object of racing, they still fall far short of the real "auto-boat" class of light racing shell with car motor. The two good examples of the class are found in the Papoose and Radium, of Alexandria Bay; rivals in most of the races of the season. The Papoose was designed and built by a local builder, Fitz Hunt, of Alexandria Bay; the model following closely the ordinary "war canoe" used for paddling races. The length over all is 41 feet, with 4 feet 4 inches breadth; the bow is convex in contour, and the stern is sharp, but with less curve in the vertical contour. All the water lines are convex, the greatest breadth on the load water line being forward of the mid-length, making a rather short, round entrance with a long easy run. When at speed the boat runs out forward until the bow is clear of the water for three or four feet, the stern settling somewhat. Though the form in this position would seem unsuitable for speed, the launch has been timed at over 19 miles speed over a measured mile. The hull is planked with narrow strips, edge-nailed, below water, and with wider plank, laid "shiplap," on the topsides. She has one long pen cockpit with the motor set amidships and a bulkhead strongly built in both forward and aft of the motor; the forward one being in the form of of a compartment about 12 inches in fore and aft length in which is placed the gasoline tank. The inside of the frames is ceiled throughout the full length of the cockpit with light stuff, adding to both strength and weight.

The motor is a four-cylinder, two-cycle, made by Barber Bros., of Syracuse, cylinders 6 1/2 by 6 1/2 inches, rated by the makers at 32 H.P. It is fitted with jump-spark ignition and a three-bladed reversing wheel. During the season the motor has been handled by Mr. Barber himself.

Another similar launch is the Radium, owned by Dr. E. E. Campbell, who designed her, the building being done by A. H. Blount, of Alexandria Bay. She is 40 feet long, 4 feet in breadth, with a straight raking stem and torpedo stern. The hull is well built, showing a very smooth and fair surface, it is planked in narrow strips, 3/8-inch thick, each being beveled to its place and edge-nailed to the next strip below; the seam being laid in white lead. The motor is a duplicate of that in the Papoose, and similarly installed between two bulkheads in the middle of the boat; the hull also being ceiled inside. One remarkable feature of the boat is the rudder, which is placed under the keel and at the fore end of the cockpit; being about thirty inches long and six inches deep, with a vertical shaft coming up through the deck. While the boat steers very quickly, there is a tendency to trip her in a sea. A similar rudder was tried on the Papoose, but discarded for the ordinary form abaft the wheel, with good results from the change.

Present Racing Conditions

During the season races have been held at Gananoque, Round Island, Alexandria Bay, Chippewa Bay and Ogdensburg, and in addition there have been many exciting but informal contests. The races generally are under the rules and allowance tables of the American Power-Boat Association, the launches being officially measured. Taking into consideration the experimental nature of the racing and its attendant conditions, the rule has worked very well. It has been applied of necessity to launches of widely different types, and it favors the launch of ample section and moderate power, but this is a t least an error on the right side. Two practical difficulties have been encountered in the application of the rule, that of ascertaining the cylinder dimensions, and that of fixing the actual number of revolutions at racing speed. The latter is of course the more serious, as it is constant in every race; while the trouble over cylinder dimensions only occurs where an unmeasured launch enters for some particular race at the last moment. The courses are laid around certain islands or between well-known marks on the shore, the distances being taken from the charts of the river, to a scale of 1-3,000, published by the Lake Survey of the War Department. These charts are sold at the cost of paper and printing, about fifteen to twenty cents each, and are to be had by mail from U.S. Lake Survey Office, Campau Building, Detroit, Michigan. At different points measured mile courses are laid off, usually being chained in the ice in winter, and these are in frequent use for testing wheel and other trials.

There is at the present time every indication that next season will see the "auto-boat" in its most extreme form firmly established on the St. Lawrence; the fast boats now there are the nucleus of a fleet that will materially increase during the winter by boats built on the river to the latest designs and of extreme light construction, and by similar craft built in New York and elsewhere. In addition to these, there will probably be a large number of racing launches of less extreme type which will help out some of the classes. Already there are rumors afloat of new hulls and motors, designed for speed only, that will make records for the river such as will place it in the front among launching waters on both sides of the Atlantic.

(Exerpts transcribed from The Rudder, February, 1905, pp. 59-63. )

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


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