1908 Detroit Long Distance Races

The Detroit Long Distance Races
A Modern Demonstration of the Remarkable Ability of Gasoline Boats to Run Continuously for Hours at High Speed
Scripps Established a New American Record -- 99 Miles in 221 Minutes 57 Seconds

The Detroit Long Distance Race

Long-Distance Races of the Detroit Motor Boat Club

"In Detroit life is worth living." As you roll down the steamer's gang plank in the early morning, it is the first thought impressed upon your sleepy mind. In the uptown street car, over the clerk's desk at the hotel, on the breakfast bill of fare, and across the top of the morning paper, you see the same sign. What does it mean--In Detroit life is worth living?

Take a turn down Woodward avenue any bright summer morning; mingle with the crowd of happy, hurrying people and if you fail to catch the spirit of the legend, you are dumb indeed. Everything and everybody is moving in the same direction and your question is answered in one word--the River.

Detroit is not the largest nor the wealthiest, but it is unquestionably the happiest city in all of Uncle Sam's domain. The people are boat lovers and their recreation time is largely spent upon the water. The opportunities for the use of every kind of water craft from the tiny canoe to the splendid sea going steam yacht, are perfect. One may say without thought of denial that the Detroit river, for pleasure and commercial purposes, is the greatest waterway in the world.

But our subject is long distance racing. To understand the sport at Detroit in any phase, one must, in the first place, know the river. It is very clear and very deep, sweeping down from Lake St. Claire around Belle Isle with a width of 1 miles above the island, converging to half that distance in front of the main portion of the city. The chart shows 40 feet depth in the south or Canadian channel and from 24 to 30 feet on the American side. The island shore is somewhat shoal, especially off its upper and lower ends. The current is variable, a mean average of 2 miles an hour appearing to be the best estimate obtainable. Contrary to the general opinion, the Belle Isle channels run in an easterly and westerly direction, but in the six-mile stretch along the city front below the island the river trends to the south'ard and continues so to Lake Erie, a distance of about 20 miles.

About all the pleasure boating of Detroit centers around Belle Isle Park and the lower reaches of Lake St. Claire. The head of the island marks the easterly limits of the municipality, the suburbs continuing on for several miles to Grosse Pointe and the magnificent home of the Country Club. Every available foot of the lake and river shore is being claimed by the boating enthusiasts. The rich man builds his palace on Jefferson avenue and terraces the descent down to the water's edge. In his boat house or at his private dock he keeps his steam yacht or his ferry launch or his sail yacht; sometimes all three. The poor man rents a space in one of the boat yard slips for his little "putter" or cat. With the growing popularity of the gasoline launch, these boat harbors are being lines with small houses which rent for a nominal price and offer safe and attractive quarters for small boats.

On the island are the yacht and boat clubs which harbor large fleets outside and innumerable small skiffs and canoes under the main floor. These clubs date their existence back to the sailing and rowing days and their members still cling to the older forms of sport. The power boat man has his place and is very welcome, but we know that he is a jealous enthusiast and when he plays, he plays hard and in his own way.

Naturally enough the power boat colony sought a separate organization and it burst into being like a rosebud after a summer shower. Every condition favored its growth and its organizers were, luckily, men of sound sense and splendid judgment. Although but a year and a half old the Detroit Motor Boat Club is today probably the largest and most active power boat club in America. Just recently it opened a new club house at Water Works Park, opposite the upper end of Belle Isle, and it is on this broad veranda that our story actually begins.

Saturday, Aug. 22, was the day scheduled for the first long distance power boat races ever held at Detroit. The gasoliners had during the season tried short course contests and club cruises and a great many had made the trip to Put-in-Bay in July. Their boats had been weighed and their engines calculated to the minutest detail as a basis for testing their actual, in comparison with their designed, ability. About everyone knew how fast the other fellow could go and the dope sheet was full of data. What they did not know was how far these boats could run at the speed they were known to possess. So the committee said:

"We will start you off in the morning and keep you going all day. Boats over 40 feet will race across Lake St. Claire and up to the St. Claire river to Marine City and return, a distance of 96 miles. Those between 32 and 40 feet and under 32 feet over all length will go the same course but only to Grande Pointe, about 60 miles. The speed boats will race 11 times around Belle Isle, passing outside the upper and lower black and red spar buoys and following the regular steamer channel all the way--a distance of 99 miles. The handicaps will be based upon the best previous performance known to the committee. Boats without records will be rated under the club's rule."

There were minor regulations not necessary to repeat, tending to insure safety and facilitate the handling of the contest. The program looked good and we went--Willard and I--across to this much advertised "worth living" place to see the fun.

We hope we shall never live long enough to see a finer morning than that fourth Saturday in August, 1908, nor a more inspiring, beautiful sight than the Detroit river as far up and down as the eye could see. The carnival spirit, as Mr. Thompson says, was present everywhere. Nature supplied the music and everything moved in unison. At the club dock we found a busy crowd on hand early. Class A--the large cruisers--was due to start at 9 o'clock and the others followed at 10-minute intervals until 9:30, when the speed boats began their dizzy circuit of the island.

The pride of place in the first division easily belonged to our old friend Hayward Murphy and his Whittelsey 60-footer Althea. She loomed up in handsome style alongside her smaller rivals. Then there was Clymene, last year's winner of the Toledo long distance race. Unfortunately, she did not have opportunity to qualify under the A.P.B.A. midship section rule and her chances of winning this event on a big handicap were not so satisfactory as on Lake Erie. In other words, her rating under the actual performance rule was not as low, comparatively speaking, as under the New York formula. International, a Claus two-cycle cabin cruiser, Medawin and Grace, both light, high-powered hulls, made up the list of starters in Class A. They left the line in good shape at 9 o'clock with Medawin showing the way toward Windmill Point. D&S, a Class B entry, butted in and was only recalled after a long chase by the patrol boat, Flying Dragon. Upon returning after his own class had gone, he was confidentially advised by Commodore Kotcher that if he did not know the rules his place was in the "stable." The Commodore has horse sense (bum joke).

Class B had five starters. The most important was Grace A V, winner of the I.-L. Y.C. free-for-all at Put-in-Bay and a "masquerading speed-boat," as Joe Grasser would say. She made a dock of the others, beating them from 12 to 20 miles in the 60-mile run. Rowen V, an open launch with four-cylinder Buffalo; Queen Bess, Ferro, double cabin craft; Helen W, equipped with two-cylinder Strelinger, and the little Truscott cruiser, Laneta, owned by Secretary Gordon, were the other starters at 9:10.

Class C, starting at 9:20, was made up of the little fellows--an even dozen lining up for the gun at 9:20. It was a long trip for them but they went to it with a will. Melanie, a 30-footer with 3 feet 6 inches beam, made the going from the start. Her 15-horse Berthet motor sent her to Grande Pointe and back at a 13-mile clip. In contrast with Melanie was Fay and Bowen, 26x6, with six-horsepower engine which averaged only seven miles an hour. Between these two were all kinds and types--canopy launches, runabouts, half cabin boats and raised deck cruisers. Before Berthet reached the ship canal they were scattered all over Lake St. Claire.

All eyes were on the speed boats even while the other classes were starting. The long list of entries and the character of the contestants, coupled with the fact that they were going to be in sight about all the time, made the up river event sink into insignificance. It was a a truly magnificent fleet that lined up for the 9:30 gun. Fourteen boats and every one a winner before the races. Half of them we became acquainted with at Put-in-Bay, the other seven had records more or less obscure. The race being a long one, however, completely upset all calculations because it was conceded that staying qualities and not speed would count.

Three minutes before the gun, "Andy" Downey, Scripps' engineer, met with a painful accident that put him out of commission. In his anxiety to get away he advanced his spark too far and the big six kicked him almost out of the boat. His left hand was crippled. Another engineer, Newsted, stopped into the pit and the boat was off almost before anyone knew of the occurrence. "Billy" Scripps was game all right, and, despite the delay, jumped his boat across the line in front of the bunch. Twice during the long grind he swung way over to the club dock, practically stopping on the second round, to inquire how his injured mate was getting along. And all the time the long, lean flyer was establishing an American record--making a run with a substitute engineer at the throttle that has never been equaled in distance racing in this country. But more about that later.

Details of the Contestants

Class R

Boat

L. W. L.

B. W. L.

Displ.

Engine

Stroke

Cyl.

Bore

Stroke

Silver Fizz

33' 3"

3' 3"

2,415

American&British

4

4

5"

4 5/8"

Trespass

33' 8"

4' 10"

3,255

American&British

4

4

5"

4 5/8"

Red Raven

33' 8"

4' 10"

3,255

American&British

4

4

5"

4 5/8"

Lemon

26' 9"

3' 4"

1,800

Detroit Boat Works

2

2

4"

4"

Red Jacket

27' 10"

3' 5 5/8"

1,580

Smalley

2

3

4"

4"

Zip

25' 10"

3' 7"

1,775

DuBrie

2

3

4"

4"

Stuart

26' 9"

3' 7"

1,680

Stuart

4

4

4"

4"

Geisha

30' 10"

4' 4"

2,880

Packard

4

4

4"

5"

Thelma

28' 4"

4' 1"

2,480

Rex

4

4

5"

5"

Flying Dragon

35'

5' 5"

4,320

Seitz

4

4

6"

6"

Rainmaker

25' 3"

3' 2"

1,775

Gray

2

4

4"

4"

Key West

34' 11"

3' 7 "

3,130

Smalley

2

3

4"

4"

Gorning

39' 5"

4'8"

3,800

Gorning

4

4

7"

7"

Scripps

38' 9"

3' 7"

2,915

Scripps

4

6

5"

6"

With a crack and a roar they were off, leaving a dusty trail that made the river look like as though a squall had hit it. Scripps sped like an arrow straight up river for the intake crib with Silver Fizz and Thelma hanging on to her quarter wave. Rainmaker came through from behind and plunged right into the wake of the slower boats. It seemed as though she would surely turn turtle but her very great speed saved her. Careful steering enabled the boats to shake clear and in two minutes they were out of sight behind the island.

The course lay a mile due east of the crib across the foot of Lake St. Claire to the channel buoy, giving the boats a 45-degree turn into the mile stretch down to the Belle Isle light. Two miles along the back stretch brought them to the foot of the island on the Canadian side and another mile clear the spar buoy in the Detroit river opposite Jos. Campeau Avenue. From the lower turn, it is just a mile and a quarter to the Belle Isle drawbridge. A straight plug up stream along the American shore from the bridge brought the racers back to the starting line. The course measures about 300 feet longer up stream than down, due to the hump in the North Channel, as anyone may see by glancing at the chart.

Scripps finished the first lap at 10:49:59, showing a shade better than 27 miles an hour. Silver Fizz was three minutes behind the leader with Thelma third and Gorning fourth. Rainmaker was close behind Gorning at 10:54:21, and then followed Geisha, Red Jacket and Key West in close order. Two and a half minutes behind Key West came Red Raven, Flying Dragon, Stuart and Trespass with only seconds between them. Lemon was next and Zip a poor last, being only about a mile ahead of Scripps on his second lap.

The latter was running checked down and took 23:14 for the second round. Silver Fizz fell away back into sixth place, being passed by Thelma, Gorning, Rainmaker and Geisha in order. All the others but Stuart held their positions; the Solvay craft had trouble and quit at the end of 18 miles. The first three boats, Scripps, Thelma and Gorning, held their places and gained consistently during the balance of the race. Scripps came back in the fourth lap, making the trip in 19:09, and average of 28.2 miles, while Thelma's time was 21.34, an average of 22.7 miles an hour. At this time the latter was just three minutes ahead of Gorning and it is easy to see how Scripps was running rings around the stragglers.

From the fourth to the eighth laps Rainmaker and Silver Fizz had a seesaw race for fourth place; the former stopped twice for gasoline as her little tank held only 10 gallons. She had to yield to the Wadsworth boat toward the end and was finally beaten in the home stretch by Geisha on a margin of three seconds. Red Jacket held second place as the racers passed the judges' stand except at the end of the seventh lap when Key West showed in front. She got back and dropped Still on an average of over a minute a lap from that time to the finish. Red Raven plugged along in ninth place throughout the contest with Trespass behind her.

Flying Dragon withdrew at 1:04:56 after covering 45 miles. Lemon held on another lap but the pangs of hunger overcame her crew at 1:52:48. The pickle boat Zip completed her 63 miles after Rainmaker finished the race. At the rate she was traveling she would have finished about 6:30. The rules required a speed of 15 miles and she was only making 12; so she went to the stable.

Scripps finished at 2:11:57, having taken 3 hours, 41 minutes and 57 seconds to make the course. Her gasoline consumption was 30 gallons. Her best time was made on the ninth lap, 19:01 for nine miles, which figures out 28.4 statute miles an hour. Counting out her second lap when her owner slowed down at the dock to inquire for his engineer, gives her an average continuous speed of 27.4 miles. She made the last three laps in 19:01, 19:11 and 19:16, or at the rate of 28.2 miles.

Last fall at the National Carnival on the Hudson River Den II won time prize in the race from New York to Poughkeepsie and return, 116.3 nautical miles. Her elapsed time was 5:06:28, an average of 26.23 miles an hour. Scripps eclipsed this record at Detroit, averaging 26.76 miles an hour.

In order to make Scripps' record definite, we wrote F. R. Still, chairman of the race committee, asking him to verify the distance covered by the racers. His reply is characteristic of the man and indicates a thorough attempt to obtain accurate results. Mr. Still says:

"Before our Fourth of July regatta the writer took up this question with the local office of the board of U.S. Engineers and was advised that there is nothing exact about the location of the buoys at the upper and lower ends of Belle Isle. The Hydrographic Office stated early in the season that the water this year would be higher than it has been in a number of years, and i know it is higher at my cottage than it has been in 10 years I have had it. The U.S. Engineers say that they take soundings and place the buoys at the division of the channel in 20 feet of water. it is impossible to tell the relative location of the upper buoy but i know for a certainty that the one at the lower end of Belle Isle is now very much closer to the island than it was last year, as it is now above Jos. Campeau Avenue whereas last year it was below.

"Last year we had four logs of different makes and sent them around the course both ways. Going in the direction the boats ran, the measurements were as follows: 8.98, 9.02, 9.01, 9.04; total 36.05 - average 9.01.

"Going in the opposite direction from the way the boats ran, the logs read as follows: 9.00, 9.05, 8.99, 9.08; total 36.12 - average 9.03.

"We called the course nine miles long. You will see from the two that we had a difference of .02 or a little over 105 feet, which would make a difference of two or three seconds in the time of the speed boats over this course."

When the handicaps were applied it was found that Gorning was an easy winner. Her best previous performance made last year was about 18 miles an hour; in the race she averaged 22.85 miles an hour. Scripps beat her actually about 38 minutes while the dope sheet said she had to beat her an hour and a half. Despite the preposterous handicap, Gorning made a fine showing. She is a big comfortable runabout. The motor ran perfectly and proved its power and reliability.

Geisha, a Packard outfit, reminiscent of Sparrow and Swallow, gave the rule makers almost as hard a jolt as Gorning. She did not have a definite record, her best speed being estimated at about 18 miles an hour. Under the Detroit rule her rating was very low, giving a theoretical speed of about 17 miles. In the race she averaged 20.45 miles an hour and took second place on a handicap of 1:48:52 over Scripps. Geisha is a reliable running rule beater, a Godshalk hull. Scripps, the scratch boat, took third place and had to beat her record considerably to do so.

Trespass, Key West and Thelma finished in order on the corrected list. Trespass averaged 17.5, Key West 19.3, and Thelma 23.5 miles an hour. The latter deserved a better fat than sixth place. Like Scripps, she plugged through the 99 miles at top speed and her performance was only second to that of the champion.

Rainmaker was terribly handicapped and although she averaged 20.45 miles an hour, her position was last on the corrected list. On actual running she finished sixth, a boat length behind Geisha. Twice she stopped for gasoline, losing but three minutes at the dock each time. Had her fuel supply been adequate it is very likely she would have been up with the bunch, as her Gray engine ran perfectly the entire distance.

All hands gathered together around the banquet table in the evening and celebrated the first dinner served in the new house. it was a splendid turnout and the affair was a credit to the club. Commodore Kotcher began the distribution of prizes as soon as the meal was concluded, prefacing the formal presentation with a talk to the men about sportsmanship in racing and the necessity of club spirit in all things affecting the organization. He talked plainly, using the big stick vigorously in one or two instances. He defended the regatta committee and challenged criticism of their decisions. If there were any kickers on hand they took their beating quietly and sensibly because the majority were with the Commodore and always have been; this has enabled him to make the club the great success it is today.

The prizes were a handsome lot and well worthy of the trials of the long day. In Class A, Mr. Hanna's Grace won the O. J. Mulford Cup, an oxidized silver trophy of great beauty; Althea very appropriately procured a wicker arm chair donated by Keenan and John; Medawin took down the championship flag for the fastest time.

The Class B trophy, a silver cup presented by Noask and Gorenflo which was given instead of the Frank Cup, was won by Roween V, owned by John Funke of Detroit. Second prize was a whistle outfit from F. R. Still which went to Queen Bess. The time prize flag was awarded Grace A. V.

Old Sport, owned by "Bob" Kellar, justly earned the handsome cup put up by Dodge Bros. for Class C. He has been racing for ten years and this is his first flag. a Bryant & Berry propeller, as well as the championship flag, went to Berthet's Melanie.

The Scripps Motor Co. donated the cup in Class R and Gorning, owned by A. Groesbeck, won it. A magneto outfit presented by Fairbanks, Morse & Co. was Mr. Joy's reward for Geisha. Scripps' great showing gave her the championship flag.

(Excerpts transcribed from Power Boating, October 1908, pp. 487-493.)

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


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