1906 Hudson River Water Carnival
Fast Motor Boat
Afire At End Of Racing Run
Motor Boat Racing on the Hudson River yesterday afternoon had a spectacular and unexpected finish. H. L. Bowden's high-powered speed craft Mercedes U.S.A. caught fire just as she was finishing her third and final round, and but for the prompt assistance of the sailors on the United States revenue cutter Manhattan, who got out their fire apparatus and trained a well directed stream of water upon the blazing hull, and explosion of gasoline would have speedily blown the boat to pieces.
As it was, H. L. Bowden, the Boston yachtsman who was in the cockpit with his chauffeur, Charles Basil, and James Barr, who is Captain of his steam yacht Sally, jumped into the river from the stern of the racing craft when it was evident that the fire was beyond control. He was quickly followed by the other two men. They had life preservers and swam around until the revenue cutter came close enough for them to scramble on board.
The accident occurred shortly after 6 o'clock, when the races held by the Motor Boat Club of America from its clubhouse at the foot of West 112th Street were practically over. Just before the Mercedes crossed the line at the finish of her 30 3/4 nautical mile run the observers on the float saw the boat suddenly stop. Two men were seen to be working energetically at the machinery under the hood forward of the cockpit.
Suddenly a sheet of flame shot high in the air. The hood was thrown down, but the flames burst out through the cockpit, and the centre of the boat was at once a mass of flame, rising from twenty to thirty feet. J. H. Hoadley's new motor boat Den, that had just come up to the yacht club float, put out to render assistance. She had gone but a few feet when the three men on the blazing boat ran back to the covered stern, and, wrapping life preservers around them, leaped out into the river, Barr first having removed some of his clothing.
A small steam yacht coming down the river swerved off to render aid, and the revenue cutter that had been patroling the course was close at hand.
The spectators expected to witness an explosion at any moment, for the boat had several gallons of gasoline in her tank. The prompt efforts of the officers and sailors on the Manhattan, however, saved the Mercedes from destruction and when the fire was out she was towed over to the club dock. The cockpit was thoroughly scorched, the hood burned through, and the machinery is probably considered damaged.
Mr. Bowden treated the accident as one of the incidents of motor boat racing. The carburetor, he said, had become flooded with gasoline, and this pressure caused the fire. It was remarked as a singular coincidence that two years ago when Mr. Bowden was steering the same boat in one of the long-distance Hudson River events, he picked up William Wallace, the young Boston automobilist, from his blazing boat, which was of the same type, off Ardsley.
Mr. Bowden had come on from Boston the day before on purpose to take part in the races. he is a well known automobilist, his mile record of 32 4-5 seconds, made on Ormond Beach two years ago, in his big Mercedes car, having been unequaled until last February, when Demegeot, a French chauffeur, driving a Darraq car, made two miles in 0:58 5-4. Marriot, in a steam cat, at the same time did a mile in 0:28 1-5.
Mr. Bowden was a member of the Racing board, having charge of the Vanderbilt Cup race last year. He has always been an enthusiastic automobilist, and has four or five high powered machines at his home in Waltham, Mass. Charles Basil, his chauffeur, has taken part in many speed contests, driving Mr. Bowden's cars. James Barr is a son of the late John Barr, the skipper of the English yacht Thistle. In 1887, when the latter was beaten in the America's Cup race by the Volunteer.
Mr. Bowden's Mercedes has been used this season in some of the motor boat races at Marblehead.
(Transcribed from the New York Times, Sep. 14, 1906, p.1 )
[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page. LF]
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