1909 Monaco Regatta
The Motor Boat Races at Monaco
At the foot of the Southern Alps where they drop off into the blue sea the gay little city of Monaco, in the principality of that name, snuggles around the small basin amid cliffs that can hardly be dignified by the name of harbor, and looks out across the fickle Mediterranean towards the distant African coast. Here, every spring, is held the greasiest international motor boat speed meet of the world, and here, between April 4 and 11 this year, was witnessed a series of races which was the most successful and sensational ever seen there, and resulted in a number of records for that course being smashed so decisively so as to make one wonder if the limit of speed in the water is yet within the range of a binocular.
With a list of over 100 entries, which included every conceivable type of speed craft, from the hydro- plane to the flimsy knife-like creation, it remained for the sanely-designed boat of clean, easy lines and fair displacement to carry off the chief honors and attain the highest speed. As so often happens, the freak creations were weighed in the balance of average conditions and were found wanting, and the accepted type of hull, which has come down through the years with the modifications of experience and science, again demonstrated its superiority.
The course at Monaco is in the open, and is laid out in the form of an ellipse, one side of which is close under the abrupt cliffs, from which the spectators can look down on the struggles, while the longer sides are parallel to the shore. The Mediterranean is noted for the heavy swell which rolls and breaks at the foot of the cliffs, and the course, being for the most part parallel to the shore, forces the boats to take nasty heave abeam, which was the cause of many of them coming to grief. The hydroplanes and freaks were the worst sufferers under these conditions, and while neither of the American entries can in any way be placed in these classes, it is indisputable that they suffered to a large extent from the long heave and swell. Standard, a practically untried boat, was so cranky that she did not actually start in a single event in which she was entered; and in some of her few trial spins before the first race she was frequently seen to roll her gunwale under--and this is when she was not fully opened up. The motor proved extremely powerful--so much so, in fact that the men running it did not dare to let it out enough to drive her at top speed. She was finally hauled out on the ways for some readjustment of her weights before the 100-kilometer international race.
Dixie also suffered from the sea, and at no time could she be driven to her limit, as she was on several occasions last summer. Long, narrow, and lightly built for the conditions she had to face, it would have been the height of folly to have forced her. Had she done her best, it is doubtful if she would have held the British Wolseley-Siddeley, with her two wonderful records. Mr. Crane, her designer, had expected to have Panhard-Levassor (the winner of last year's meet, but with more powerful engines installed) to beat; and in the 100-kilometer, with a smooth sea, Dixie had the French boat behind her up to the thirteenth round, when she was forced to withdraw on account of a broken circulating pump.
At the exposition before the races, Dixie attracted unusual attention, with her fine, sharp lines and beautiful, light construction. beside the powerful Wolseley-Siddeley II she looked small, not only on account of the former's greater size and 6 feet of beam, but also by reason of the shape of the hulls. The British boat has a flaring bow, and somewhat flat floor, with the greatest beam at the waterline somewhat aft of amidships, and a tumblehome from there to the deck. Her broad stern with its twin screws adds to her appearance of power, while her two engines develop from 600 to 650 horsepower. it is a good thing for us that she is too large to compete for the Harmsworth trophy in August, or we would have some uneasy days in store for us. It is reported however, that a smaller sister is being built to take the cup home with her, so there may yet be plenty of trouble awaiting us.
Though failing in the rough water to demonstrate their superiority, the hydroplanes were still much in evidence at the meet. One of the largest of these was Alla-Va, which was expected to do wonders; but she unfortunately hit a sea with such force as to crack her planking and engine bearings, and was forced to beat an ignominious retreat.
The interest in the racing naturally centered in the events which the Wolseley-Siddeley, Panhard and the American boats were entered. The first of these was the 50-kilometer (31.05-miles), and was started on the afternoon of the 5th, with the cliffs and terraces overlooking the sea lined with an eager crowd watching the struggle. Some excitement was occasioned among the spectators by the sinking of the German entry, the 50-foot Prinz Heinrich, shortly before the race. This boat was built for the event in seventeen days, and it was evident from her appearance that she was a "hurry-up" job.
But four boats lined up for the start, the French Panhard and Alla-Va, the British Wolseley and the Dixie. The method of starting is different from that seen in this country, the judges taking their places on a stand built on a promontory overlooking the sea, from which they can look down on the boats. The starting signal consists of a preparatory gun five minutes before the race is started, and a black ball dropped each minute thereafter, the last one exploding a bomb for the starting signal. Alla-Va, the big hydro, was the first across the line, some hundred yards ahead of Panhard, with the British boat third and Dixie last, some fourth of a mile behind, owing to her having been lying with engines stopped while the other craft were under way at the gun-fire. Once opened up, however, the latter tore after the others for half a mile or so at something like her old speed, and then her crew had to shut her down, as she rolled and yawed dangerously in the heavy swell that was running, though the surface of the sea was not so bad. The hydro felt it, too, and sneaked back to harbor after completing a round.
Wolseley and Panhard were making good weather of it, however, the former slightly the better, perhaps, for she overhauled the French boat on the first round and took the turns well, rolling out, but recovering herself quickly. Both boats kept neck and neck for awhile, but the British craft finally drew away from her antagonist. She seemed to go through the water easier and with less fuss, leaving a clean wake; whereas Panhard traveled with a acre of foam hanging to her flanks. Wolseley was especially good at shouldering the swells to one side, going over and through them like a porpoise and steering a true-steady course. It was a great race, and the ovation that the winner, although a foreigner, received as she tore over the line testified to the popularity of the victor. Her time was 49 minutes and 4-5 of a second, and average of 38.1 statute miles per hour. Panhard was 14 seconds behind her, while Dixie, which had kept on under educed speed, came in some 39 minutes later. It was a great disappointment ot eh Americans present.
The next race in which these boats came together was the 100-kilometer for the Grand Prix International, on Friday, the 9th. Standard was out again the day before, having been improved somewhat as to stability, so that her engines could be opened up, and the crowd was eagerly awaiting her performance. It was not to be, however, for on the morning of the race, during a trial spin, she cracked a cylinder and could not start.
Seven boats appeared at the line and 5 nations were represented--France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and America. The boats were Panhard, Ricochet XIII (a hydroplane), Fauber Labor Motobloc, Wolseley-Siddeley, Liselotte Tellier, a German boat, Dixie, and the Italian boat Nibbio. Wolseley got again in the lead, followed closely this time by Dixie, with Panhard third. At the end of the first round the British boat was nearly a quarter of a mile ahead of Panhard, with Dixie further back. These positions they held until the fifth round, when the American boat passed Panhard on the turn, the water conditions not bothering her, as on the first day. It was soon apparent that the race, barring accidents was Wolseley's and the interest centered on the great fight for second place going on between Dixie and Panhard.
At the close of the thirteenth round Dixie was some two minutes ahead of Panhard and apparently running well, then headed for the harbor and abandoned the race, having broken a water circulating pump. On the next round Panhard stopped suddenly, a connecting rod having broken and gone through her bottom. She was towed to the harbor, where she sank before they could dock her. These events placed the German Liselotte in the lead for second place, the other contestants being strung out or having abandoned the race, and she hung on in that position to the end. Running with clock-like regularity, and apparently ready to go the same distance again, Wolseley finished in 1:55:3-5--a wonderful performance for the distance, considering that there were sixteen rounds to the course.
This ended the racing as far as our boats were concerned, as Standard was being made ready for shipment when the mile and kilometer race was started on the last day, and Dixie could not be repaired in time for this short race, which was held on Sunday, the 11th, first prize being a cup valued at 10,000 francs given by the Prince of Monaco. After her previous successes Wolseley was naturally the favorite in the racing class. The British boat had a walk over in her heat, and in the final had to meet Delahaye Nautilus XIII and Duc, two hydroplanes. These two led from the line, Wolseley-Siddeley being about thirty yards behind. It was a most exciting race, and apparently the two hydroplanes made a dead heat for first place, though the official time gave Duc the victory by a fifth of a second. The time for the mile and kilometer was 2 minutes 45 2-5 seconds. At the close of the racing the Prince of Monaco held a reception on board of his yacht, and presented Mr. N. M. Robins with the Cross of the Order of St. Charles, in recognition of his successful handling of the British champion.
Of the other events of the meet the one that attracted the most attention was that for the racing cruisers for the Championship of the Sea. This race was 200 kilometers in length (124.2 miles), and was won by the French Chantecler, a large 18-meter boat, in the excellent time of 4:45:58, or an average speed of 26.08 miles per hour. This boat was one of the most consistent performers, and also finished first in the 50-kilos for cruisers. In the elimination race of 100 kilometers between French boats to decide on the contestants in the Grand Prix International there were eleven starters, Panhard-Levassor getting away first and never being headed, winning in 1:47:24, an average of 34.78 miles. The other races, though often close and exciting, were not of great international interest. It was apparent in most of them that a mistake had been made in starting hydroplanes against legitimate boats, and it would be better in the future to confine the former in a class by themselves.
The interest in some of the races was marred by the large number of entrants that failed to appear at the starting line, or, starting, that failed to finish the race. This was due, in a large measure, to the roughness of the water, and also to the unreliability of the high-speed racing motor under trying conditions of a strenuous race. In many cases neither hulls nor engines were designed to meet the conditions that prevailed. In a number of events the classification was such that little 18-foot racers, or what they term racing cruisers, were started in races against boats 40 feet and over in length, with the almost inevitable result.
No excuses are to be made for the failure of our entries. Dixie could not stand the conditions, and, barring that, she was called upon to race against boats of twice her size and power--one of the events being unlimited as to size. This was a mistake which we are not likely to repeat if we are represented there another year. Standard, with an engine that was not designed and built for the hull, would, undoubtedly, have been a failure whether she raced at Monaco or in this country. Her engine has already been dismounted, and it is doubtful if she will ever appear again as she was in Monaco.
(Transcribed from Yachting, June 1909, pp. 479-481. )
[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page LF]
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Leslie Field, 2002