1908 Detroit Independence Day Regatta
Detroit River, Detroit, Michigan, July 4, 1908

Detroit Motor Boat Club's Splendid Regatta

W. N. Bayless Jr.

The sailing enthusiast can say what he may derogatory to power boating, let him sneer at the "stink boats," and make sarcastic remarks anent machine racing, the fact none the less and unqualifiedly remains that there is positively more interest centering in power boat racing today throughout this country than in the older sail boat racing.

If he needed one more confirmation the skeptic could not do better than turn toward Detroit on July 4 and learn from the intense enthusiasm of the boating enthusiasts over the annual regatta and races of the Detroit Motor Boat Club. From the lower end of Delray up to Grosse Pointe on the lake, every man with a power boat, be it a canoe equipped with a toy 1-horsepower, or an ocean going power yacht, found a note of intense interest in the big power boat races held on Independence day; and a vast majority attended either in boats or ashore. This annual Detroit event bids fair to become one of the power boat classics of equal importance with the I.L.Y.A. annual events, for several reasons:

First, Detroit in all probability has more motor boats than any other city on fresh water. Second, it has what is probably the largest and livest strictly power boat organization in the country. Third, it is doubtful if the course for racing can be excelled anywhere in the world--the distances are perfect, the water neither too smooth nor too rough, and half of the course is against and half with a very good current.

With these facts in mind there is little reason for surprise at the splendid proportions assumed by this regatta and the intense interest it evoked among power boat enthusiasts in Detroit and vicinity. The public also found absorbing interest in the event, as was evidenced by the difficulty the patrols had in clearing the course of the thousands of craft lines up on either side at the finish, and the crowded conditions of docks in the immediate vicinity, the shores all around Belle Isle, and the bridge under which the contestants had to pass.


The races are an annual event with the club, but this year attracted such wide-spread interest that the numerous entries had to be divided up into eight classes as follows:


Class A--Any cabin boat, the rating of which should enable it to run at a speed of 11 miles or more per hour and less than 15 miles per hour.

Class B--For boats of the same speed as Class A, but not strictly cabin boats.

Class C--For boats capable of making 10 miles per hour and less than 11 miles per hour.

Class D--For boats capable of making 9 miles per hour and less than 10 miles per hour..

Class E--For boats unable to make 9 miles per hour.


Class R--Any boat the rating of which should enable it to run at a speed above 22 statute miles per hour.

Class S--For boats capable of making 18 miles per hour and less than 22 miles per hour.

Class T--For boats capable of making 15 miles per hour and less than 18 miles per hour.

The course was around Belle Isle, the beautiful island park of the city, a distance of 9.2 miles. The pleasure boats went around the course once and the speed boats twice, making a distance for the latter of 18.4 miles.


The regatta committee had some strenuous and difficult work cut out for them many weeks in advance of this work, but so well did they perform their labors that there was not a word of discontent or dissatisfaction with the arrangements, rules, ratings and prizes. The list of prizes was an exceptionally fine one, aggregating in value almost $1,000.00, and were as follows:

Class A--First prize, commodore's punch bowl; second, 3-horsepower marine engine complete; third, wicker chair; fourth, 10 gallons of oil and 10 pounds of dope.

Class B--First prize, loving cup; second 12-mile cruising telescope; third, mahogany dash coil; fourth, 1 1/4-in. Holley carburetor.

Class C--First prize, loving cup; second, 60 ampere storage battery; third, complete air whistle outfit; fourth, 30-lb. Babbit anchor; fifth, ring buoy and two rope fenders.

Class D--First prize, loving cup; second, two thermos bottles; third, kerosene stove; fourth, basket of champagne; fifth, one dozen photographs.

Class E--First prize, loving cup; second, propeller wheel; third, one pair yachting shoes; fourth, flags; fifth, motor boat cap.

Class R--First prize, loving cup; second, kit of tools; third, 100 gallons of gasoline; fourth, steering wheel, propeller and bell.

Class S--First prize, loving cup; second, case of spark plugs; third, complete whistle outfit; fourth, 10 gallons King oil.

Class T--First prize, loving cup; second, No. 3 aluminum reverse gear; third, Schebler carburetor; fourth, 25 feet of secondary cable; fifth, battery connections.

Time prize--Electrolier


The greatest interest of spectators and motor boaters alike was centered in the speed boats. This constituted 16 entrants divided into three classes. Everybody was on tip toe of expectation for the starting gun that would speed the flyers in Class R on their double lap around the island. The consensus of opinion was that the struggle for victory would settle upon Walker's General or Scripps' Unome. As a matter of fact, neither one got first money. Mr. Walker's General is too well known throughout the country to need any definite description here. her noteworthy performances at the Palm Beach races in Florida this spring and her speed feats on the Saginaw river, when she was the property of the General

Machinery Co., bay City, have heralded her name and records throughout the racing annals of the country. As a matter of fact, she did win the time prize, making the fastest elapsed time around the course, but on corrected time she came in third, the winner of the cup being the Silver Fizz, owned by Mr. Wadsworth. The Morgan was second, and 999 fourth. Mr. Scripps' boat Unome did not finish, and this was a matter of deep regret to everybody, as many had pinned their faith on her to conquer the General. On her trial trips the Unome had developed some wonderful speed, and the supremacy between the two boats was a mooted question. By the time the race started, the water at the head of the island was running quite a bit higher than earlier in the morning, and when the Unome shipped a particularly large sea, the commutator and distributor were disabled, and the boat had to withdraw from the race. It was a source of intense regret to Mr. Scripps, because at the time of the accident the Unome was going well. Mr. Scripps, the Vice-Commodore of the club, is very prominent in motor boat circles in and around Detroit, being also the owner of the Little Lady and the president of the Scripps Motor Co. The Unome is equipped with a 6-cylinder Scripps motor.

In Class S, the fast Comet came in first, on corrected time, the Thelma won, the Comet second, with Mr. Fred Still's Key West third. Great hopes had been entertained for the Rainmaker, owned by Mr. O. J. Mulford, based upon her actual performances. Equipped with a 24-horsepower gray motor, it was predicted that this boat would show great class; but she had the misfortune to break her exhaust pipe--in fact, it broke in two places--and the Rainmaker was unable to finish the race.

Class T, the slowest of the speed boats, was won by Mr. Wadsworth's Red Raven in good time. But the best time of all was made by the General, which covered the 18.4 miles in 39 minutes and 41 seconds. This gives a speed of 27.52 miles an hour, about the fastest ever run in these waters. The average speed per mile was 2 minutes and 18 seconds. before the General reached the head of the island, it was almost half full of water, and despite the efforts of Brandenburg, the mechanic, remained in this condition throughout the race.


The usual 4th of July rain did not arrive until the afternoon, when the races were over, hence the part of the bad weather did not interfere with the sport. The water became increasingly rough, however, all morning, until by the time the gun sounded for the speed boats, the waves were running high enough at the head and foot of the Island to cause considerable inconvenience, not to say danger. Every one of the speed boats came in with their crews thoroughly drenched and in most instances several inches of water in the bottom of the boat. The sun was out most of the morning, and had it not been for the wind and rough water, the weather would have been ideal.

Special mention is due Chairman F. R. Still and other members of the Regatta Committee for the success of the event, which was almost entirely due to their foresight and efforts. No one except those who have gone through it can appreciate the inestimable amount of work, time and worry that covers a big regatta such as this, and Chairman Still and his associates deserve all the credit.

July Fourth Regatta -- Detroit Motor Boat Club

Speed Boats--Course 18.4 Miles


Name and Owner

Elapsed time

Corrected time

Silver Fizz—Wadsworth






General--E. R. Walker
















Key West—Still




Did not finish



Did not finish



Red Raven—Wadsworth















Jessie Agnes—Walker



(Excerpts transcribed from PowerBoating, August, 1908, pp. 405-409)

* * *

Second Annual Regatta of the Detroit Motor Boat Club

The largest affair of its kind ever held in the vicinity of Detroit was witnessed here on the morning of July 4th by hundreds of people. The list of the entries was somewhat smaller than was expected, but the interest was none the less keen. The competing boats represented all classes, from large twin-screw cruisers down to outfits no larger than small rowboats, but which signified their presence by noise enough to attract the attention of the disinterested.

The weather conditions were ideal, but with a little too heavy wind for the smaller craft. The new clubhouse, while still unfinished, was thrown open for the affair, and marked the start and finish of the course. The house is unique in every way and shows the foresight and taste of its architect, George W. Graves, who is an enthusiastic member of the club. The new home was attractively decorated for the occasion, and the wide balcony made an ideal judge's stand. Thousands of spectators viewed the races from shores adjacent to the clubhouse and at various accessible points around Belle Isle and from the Belle Isle Bridge. The course extended around the island, measuring nine miles, the pleasure boats rounding the course once, while the speed boats made two laps.

The General, a 38.9-foot boat built low and owned and operated by E. R. Walker, was perhaps the most interesting craft to compete. This is the boat which gave so satisfactory a showing at Florida last Winter. She is painted red and white and resembles a torpedo when under way. She is equipped with a Smalley three-cylinder engine.

In Class R, which was the feature race of the day, Silver Fizz on corrected time was declared the winner, with Morgan second and 999 third, the General receiving the time prize running at a rate of 27.2 miles per hour in the time entry of 28 miles. In Class S, Thelma was first on corrected time, while Comet won on actual time. Key West took the third prize. Red Raven won Class T, the final race, with Trespass taking second. Lemon was third. The judges were O. E. Barthel, O. F. Barthel and Mark Allen. Timers; E. H. Vitalus, John Shapoton, G. W. Graves, C. M. Jacobsen, F. W. Yarrington and F. B. Johnson.

All races were started promptly and without confusion and much credit is due to the committee in charge.

(Excerpts transcribed from MotorBoat, July 10, 1908, p. 29)

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

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