1908 Harmsworth Trophy
Huntington Bay, New York, July 27-28, 1908
British International Trophy Race
Walter M. Bieling
The British-International trophy, or Harmsworth Cup, as it is more commonly called, is a slab of copper a couple of feet long, about a foot wide and several inches thick. In design it represents a section of ocean upon which two impossible speed boats are endeavoring to dash madly around a buoy. This work of art, which is emblematic of the speed championship of the world for boats driven by internal-combustion engines, was donated by a very popular Englishman for International competition and to date had been raced for six times. Twice England has been successful, twice France has proved the winner, and last year the trophy was won by a craft representing this country and successfully defended in the race recently held.
To bring home the trophy England this year sent over two magnificent boats, representing the best that skill and money could produce. With these boats came eight quiet, determined Britishers whom I am sure never for a moment had any doubt as to the result. But alas for their hopes and efforts, they failed to succeed, but by so small a margin that the contest will go down in history as the finest power-boat race held thus far and one of the best contests of this kind that ever will be held.
As the conditions under which this trophy is raced for call but one race, at a distance of not less than 30 miles, contestants must not only be fast, but capable of keeping up a high rate of speed for considerable time. To build a freak capable of phenomenal speed for a very short distance at spasmodic intervals is of no avail. A boat, to win this trophy, must be "good" in every sense of the word, and it is a pleasure to note that all the five boats which started are of this type. The conditions are very simple,--a length of forty feet and under, with unlimited horse-power and with a limit of not more than three boats to represent each country, together with the requirement that the boats and the engines in their entirety be built wholly within the country which they represent, being practically the only restrictions.
When the challenge was received by the Motor Boat Club of America, which club held the trophy through the win of Dixie, owned by Mr. E. J. Schroeder, in England last year, we were really without a defending boat of any sort, for although Dixie was fast, her speed was nothing as compared to the report of the performances of the English boats; so it was patent to all that it was up to us to build something fast if we wished to retain our reputation and the trophy. Many boats were talked of and several actually started, some quietly, some accompanied by a blare of trumpets. Some of the latter, which were to be marvelous productions and to have extraordinary speed, failed to materialize; and the Club was in a quandary until Mr. Schroeder modestly announced that he would defend the trophy with Dixie II, a craft designed by Clinton H. Crane and built by B. F. Wood, of City Island, two gentlemen who in their respective lines of business may have equals but not peers. It was learned that the engine for this craft was to be built by a new firm named Crane & Whitman, of Bayonne, N.J., who were practically unknown as engine-builders, but who to-day by one fell swoop have placed themselves in a well-merited position in the front rank.
Nine entries having been received by the Club of boats desirous of defending the trophy, it was necessary to hold elimination trials to select the three best boats. As the boats were all behind time, it was necessary to postpone the trials; and as a matter of fact the two boats on which we had placed our main reliance were launched late in the afternoon of the day preceding the trials. Dixie II, after a short time spent in necessary adjustments, went out for a trial spin. The writer, a member of the Regatta Committee of the Club, and naturally vitally interested in the boat, nearly collapsed with excitement when he timed her on her trial trip at a better speed than any boat of her type had ever before made in America. Not being on board, the timing was necessarily crude and subject to error, but the very look of the boat and the manner in which she ran and a hundred and one other things, classed her as a finished production, and the fact that we had at least one good boat was assured.
Of the elimination trials themselves the least said the better; the results were painful in the extreme. To make a sad story brief, Dixie was accepted after one trial; Elco-Craig, a cracking good boat, was reported unfinished; and Auto-win, an excellent hull with a pair of contrary engines, was unable to get going satisfactorily. The committee, in desperation, chased the writer off to the St. Lawrence to try out Chip III, a Leighton boat of which we expected great things, but unfortunately she also was not ready; and John Sheppard, of Essington, Pa., was called upon to enter his U.S.A., formerly Irene, a good wholesome type of boat with an excellent turn of speed, but not sufficiently powered to be considered an extreme speed boat. However, Mr. Sheppard kindly entered his boat, and she, together with Den, a fat 30-footer, were chosen to complete the trio to meet the Englishmen.
The course was laid out on Huntington Bay, Long Island, a beautiful sheet of water, and in shape was a triangle with the start and finish well up in the harbor off the club station of the Motor Boat Club on the grounds of the Chateaux des Beaux Arts. The turns of the course were laid out according to the conditions of the deed of gift of the trophy, which require the angles or turns to be at least 120 degrees and the distance between the marks at least 100 yards. The course, as laid out, had a distance of over one-quarter of a mile between the two buoys on the outside turns and one-eighth of a mile between the buoys on the inside turns, which allowed of the boats maintaining the same speed all the way around so far as the course was concerned. Two revenue cutters, together with a number of private yachts commanded for the occasion by revenue officers, kept the course perfectly clear at all times.
The race was originally scheduled for August 1st, and several days before that date the two English boats, Wolseley-Siddeley and Daimler II, appeared on the scene with their crews and were soon running about the course tuning up. Both were painted a dull lead color, with khaki hoods over the engines and presented a most formidable and business-like appearance. Wolseley-Siddeley, with her two 200-h.p. machines and her mile record of better than 30 knots, looked fit ti tackle anything of her inches; while Daimler II, with her triple screws and three engines totaling some 525 h.p., gave considerable food for reflection to those most interested, especially as Dixie II, with her single 200 h.p.. rig, looked puny by comparison. In exterior appearance the English boats, in our eyes, looked very, very powerful, but fearfully heavy. In short, the mastiff and the hound were matched for a race, and from the results of the final trial of Dixie II we knew we had by far the fastest craft, but whether the Britisher could wear us down was the question.
The morning of the race, Saturday, August 1st, dawned dark and showery, with the wind out of the worst possible quarter--the East--blowing fresh, and growing in strength every hour. By noon a large fleet of yachts was on the scene and the Chateaux des Beaux Arts was packed with automobilists and yachtsmen from a distance eager to see the race started. The conditions were such, however, that the committee felt warranted in postponing the contest for the time being, and took all the helmsmen out on Commodore Hoadley's steam yacht Nushka to see how the weather looked outside the harbor. One look was sufficient, for Nushka dove and rolled in fine shape and gave all hands a taste of what would happen should a 40-footer be driven into such a sea. While the boats could undoubtedly have negotiated the course in some sort of fashion no time could have been made, so after the question had been put up to our English friends with a view to starting if they so desired, , a vote was taken and all the helmsmen voted to call it off for the day. The committee then announced a postponement until the following Monday.
A more perfect day for racing of high-speed power boats could not have been conceived than the day set for the running of the postponed race. The Sound was like a millpond, with just enough breeze blowing to stir the bunting on the large fleet which was early on the scene to see what later proved to be the finest race of its kind ever held in this country.
The start was slated for 2:30 p.m., but the presence of a couple of party-boats, whose captains were evidently unaware that they had anchored directly on the course, necessitated a postponement of 30 minutes, which was rather awkward, since most of the contestants had not provided much more than enough fuel to cover the course; but the word was soon passed around and all the boats stopped until the warning signal. The boats maneuvered about slowly, and the English craft excited no end of admiration by the manner in which they were handled by Messrs. Robbins and Fentiman, the Helmsman of Wolseley-Siddeley and Daimler II, respectively, two gentlemen who have spent years at the game and known all the tricks of the sport.
On the gun, or rather the whistle, Dixie II got under way like a flash and got over some 15 seconds after the signal with Den close aboard; close behind came Daimler II and Wolseley-Siddeley, and last of all U.S.A. All the boats were over and away on the great race for the Championship of the World, and what a race it was! The writer, being helmsman of U.S.A., had a fine chance to see the race from a position that could not be equaled. Dixie naturally was our only boat, Den and U.S.A. being added only to fill out our full quota of three; and Dixie therefore was not to be hampered by our own boats. Her sudden jump and burst of speed, I believe, rather took our English cousins by surprise, but not for long, for they soon unhooked a burst of speed that fairly tore up the course. Halfway to the first mark Daimler slowed down and was passed by Wolseley. About this time we passed Den and the going was certainly splendid, although our path was about as smooth as the Gulf Stream on a busy day. The poor little Den was sticking to the crowd in great shape but seemed to be submerged half the time by the big combers thrown out by the leaders. Daimler's slowing up was but temporary, for she soon unloosed a gait that placed her abreast of Wolseley, and as they sailed around the first turn side by side, away went Daimler after Dixie with a most extraordinary burst of speed. Holy smoke, how she did go! Apparently she was pulling Dixie back by jumps, but alas for poor Fentiman, his triumph was short-lived, for something let go in the starboard engine and she had only 350 h.p. left; which fact may sound peculiar but is descriptive of the type of boat--put out of commission with still nearly double the power of the leading boat available.
An interesting fact in connection with the breakdown of Daimler was the presence on the wharf of a complete duplicate engine, which had been shipped with the boat; but as the trouble did not develop previous to the race the spare engine was not of much value on the dock.
As Dixie Sailed by the committee boat we timed her from our ship, and to our surprise noted that she was doing at least 32 statute miles per hour, which accounted for the manner in which we were being treated. Thirty-two miles per hour in competition! We could hardly believe it; but the fact was evident, for Wolseley-Siddeley was behind and, barring an accident, seemed likely to stay there. from our position we could see the gap between the boats close up a little and then open a little wider, so we just plugged along behind and had the race of our life, although we never for a moment were in the hunt. Dixie led the procession for two more rounds and the British International trophy remains on this die of the pond for another year at least.
Like true sportsmen the Englishmen admitted that they had been fairly and squarely beaten and the 1908 race was history, the only regrettable feature being that one of their boats had not completed the course at her maximum speed.
After the finish an analysis of the results shows that Dixie had beaten Wolseley-Siddeley 33 seconds, and had to go 27.75 nautical or 32 statute miles to do it, and that she had beaten U.S.A. 3m. 50s. and Den 5m. 45s. All this by a boat that had been in the water less than eight days.
(Transcribed from The Rudder, Sep. 1908, pp. 113-119. )
[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page LF]
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