1948 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, August 28, 1948
Mass Destruction at the Gold Cup
Detroit's August 28 regatta, scheduled as the 1948 contest for the Gold Cup, developed into a mass destruction of floating equipment rivaling the scuttling at Scapa Flow [lagoon in Orkney Islands in the US where the German navy scuttled many boats after WWI —LF]. A record fleet of 22 fabulously expensive racing craft was entered and on hand the day before the race. Fifteen of these actually crossed the starting line on a course whipped into white capped rollers by a brisk wind that blew directly against the swift current. As the curtain fell on boating's Black Saturday, Al Fallon's Miss Great Lakes, battered and sinking but the only starter to finish both early heats, chugged slowly to victory with driver Dan Foster shaking his fist at the officials for not flagging him down and ending it all.
Since the Gold Cup rules limit the number of starters in any heat to 12, it was necessary to split the first heat into two sections, with 11 entrants in each section. The dozen boats making the fastest time in the first heat sections were to be allowed to race it out in the second and third heats. Dukie and Sheri-San were prevented from starting in the first section by mechanical woes. Sister Syn was not completed in time to race and Nuts and Bolts was withdrawn because of the rough water.
Pre-start maneuvers of the six contestants were routine. Most of them circled for so long far off to the west of the line, that they not only did not risk jumping the gun, but doomed themselves to a late start. Doc Robinson in his seven liter Will of the Wisp was first over the line by a wide margin. Then, down the middle and traveling at tremendous speed came Morlan Visel, his hump-backed Hurricane completely airborne most of the time. Outside the pack, close to the yacht club pier, Guy Lombardo nursed Tempo through his favorite starting slot at close to 100 miles an hour, apparently planning to cut across Visel's wake and go inside the big California boat at the first turning buoy.
And right then the watching hordes, already gasping at the speed, noise and flying water, came close to mass heart failure. A stone's throw beyond the start, Hurricane's propeller, strut and rudder suddenly failed and the huge craft sheered to starboard directly into the path of the oncoming Tempo. Looking down on the scene from the tall press stand, it was clear that Guy had but two choices. he could crash at tremendous speed into the broaching Visel craft, or try to throw Tempo into a broadsiding stall. He chose the latter, and for a split second it seemed that his famous old Ventnor campaigner might achieve a miracle of stability and stay right side up. For a split second only it seemed so—till Tempo dug her port sponsors into a sea, whirled on her side and flipped over in a huge cascade of spray, splotched with debris and Lombardo's body.
When the geyser subsided, it could be seen that Tempo was strewn for yards along the course, Guy was floating safely and Hurricane lay inert nearby, like a large dog, feigning innocence just after it has upset the dinner table. Lombardo was taken to a local hospital where it was found that he had fractured his left forearm. Tempo, raised the next day, was missing her superstructure and transom. The port side and frames were badly broken from the sponsons aft and the dash was buckled deeply.
With one third of the starters eliminated in the first quarter mile, the first section settled down to a more prosaic pace. Doc Robinson held his lead only through the first turn, for Lahala moved out ahead early in the backstretch. G-99 [Miss Pepsi] followed suit and passed Will of the Wisp to take over second place near the Whittier.
As they finished the first lap, Lahala was still in front, riding the rough seas without too much apparent effort, though she seemed to demand a lot of steering. Her speed for the first three miles was 63.643. In second spot came the G-99, spanning the seas like an aircraft carrier but running some 7˝ miles slower than the leader. The third position was held by the Italian contender, Sant' Ambrogio, which traveled with an easy but noisy jack-in-the-box motion. Robinson was well in the rear.
On the second circuit, G-99 pulled off the course, rudder and carburetion difficulties putting her out for the day. When they finished the second lap, Lahala, still in the lead was seen to be losing the extruded aluminum rub rail from her starboard sponsor. For the remainder of the heat this long strip whipped madly about as the jersey entry lunged on in the lead.
Positions and conditions remained unchanged until mid-way through the fourth lap when Sant' Ambrogio, her hull wracked and leaking from the booming leaps, was steered into shallow water and sank. As the breeze freshened and the seas built up, the Lynn boat cut her pace more and more and Robinson slowed almost to a walk. At the end of the 30 miles, Lahala received the checkered flag and credit for finishing at just a whisker under 49 m.p.h. Will of the Wisp did not complete the 30 miles within the 9 minutes following the finish of the first boat and so received no points.
The first section of the first heat went off so slowly that the committee had to postpone the second section for fifteen minutes. Astraea could not be completed in time for the start and Katy-Did had been eliminated by an accident during an early-morning trial run. Apparently unaware of the postponement, Dan Foster and Bill Cantrell, driving Miss Great Lakes and My Sweetie respectively, were out on the course before the finish of the first section. The remainder came out at the usual time and these nine boats milling around in the heavy seas made one of the largest and easily the most spectacular group of operating Gold Clappers ever seen at one time.
Lou Fageol had So Long close to the line and moving fast as the clock reached sixty, with My Sweetie and Such Crust a short distance astern but closing up fast. As soon as they reached the first buoy, the complexion of the race became evident. The three-pointers So Long and Such Crust slowed to make the bend but Cantrell maintained his high speed and pulled away from the others around the turn as though they had suddenly cut their engines. My Sweetie's deep vee, multiple step bottom, combined with her novel propulsion and steering arrangements make her seem faster around the buoys than on the straightaway.
In the backstretch Foster turned on his horsepower in Miss Great Lakes and made a bid to pass the second-place Such Crust. Arena was able to stave him off, however, and the positions of the three leaders remained unchanged throughout the lap. They completed the first circuit with My Sweetie still out front, clocked at 63.121, Such Crust some 100 yards astern and Miss Great Lakes the same distance behind the second boat. In fourth spot came Miss Canada, trying to shake off the effects of a bad start, while trailing the Wilson entry were Skipalong, So Long, Miss Frostie and Bee Jay.
These positions were maintained all during the second circuit, although Such Crust picked up speed and crossed the line close behind My Sweetie and slightly inside. Cantrell, with a hairsbreadth of open water showing between his stern and Such Crust's bow, threw the Schoenherr-Gregory entry into the turn, washing Arena far outside. It became obvious that Arena utilized the down-wind run of the homestretch to pick up on My Sweetie, lost to her on the turns and held his place on the backstretch where the strong headwind could be troublesome to a three-pointer.
Coming over the line at the end of the fourth lap, Schafer's boat was starting to disintegrate. Her deck and bottom had split right along the centerline with the result that the whole forepart of the boat was gyrating as two independent sections. Still Arena kept close to Cantrell, as the rest of the fleet dropped astern. All were taking heavy punishment from the rough going. Miss Canada seemed to be having the easiest ride of all. The three-pointers reared and plunged, while My Sweetie traveled in long, wheel-baring leaps. Each time the prop came clear of the water, Cantrell would ease off on the throttle and then bear down once more as the boat settled back. On the fifth lap, Arena cut his speed while the bow of Such Crust opened wider and wider as successive frames shattered. Cantrell slowed a bit but continued to improve his lead.
Early in the seventh lap, Cantrell, coming out of the first turn, slowed My Sweetie until her bow lifted a bit, and slammed her up on the beach. A steel plate, installed the night before the race as a guard over the propeller, had torn loose, pulling several square feet of the starboard bottom with it.
On the eighth lap, Miss Canada gave up the ghost. Her hull had split badly along the sides and a piece of ˝-inch gas pipe the main linkage in her steering gear, had come unstuck. On the same round, Stanley Dollar's big aluminum-hulled Skipalong resigned with steering gear trouble.
Such Crust won this second section of heat one at a speed of 57.452 m.p.h. She narrowly nosed out Miss Great Lakes which had been overhauling her rapidly toward the finish. Miss Frostie and So Long were flagged from the course for exceeding the nine-minute time allowance.
Running up the results of the first two sections, the committee discovered that Such Crust was entitled to 400 points for the fastest time but was too badly broken to continue in the race. Miss Great Lakes had gained 300 markers for the second best time while Lahala rated 225 for third. Of the 15 starters only these three had been able to finish within the legal time limit.
Word came out that the officials would allow anyone who had been eligible for the first heat to start in the second and third. This, it was reported, was meted with something less than enthusiasm by those who had beaten their boat; through a terrific 30 miles and particularly those who were still able to continue. Then a revised edict came out in writing, barring those who had not started in a first heat section, but permitting any that had made a start to go into the later stanzas.
With the wind rising and the seas becoming worse, it was surprising that any attempted to start the second heat But lo and behold, out came both the Robinson and Lynn boats. Doc made a good start, with Lahala trailing by 200 yards. Great Lakes lunged into the contest a minute later. As these neared the end of the first lap, Miss Frostie joined them.
Lahala took an early lead which she held through the first lap. Dan Foster pushed her hard, pieces flying from the deck of Miss Great Lakes. On the first turn of the second round, Lahala slowed down and Foster pushed his charge into first place. The next time around, the Fallon contender was shedding the cowling aft of the driver's seat.
Despite the disintegration, Miss Great Lakes maintained a safe lead and then, on the seventh lap, Lahala pulled off the course, her bow split and part of the bottom pulled loose. Foster continued on to win the heat. Will of the Wisp and Frostie were unable to meet the nine-minute deadline.
At this stage of proceedings, Great Lakes had picked up 700 points and was the only boat with any points still able to run. An announcement was made over the PA system to the effect that all Foster would have to do would be to answer the starting gun whereupon he would be flagged off the course and awarded the trophy since no other boat could possibly pick up enough points to beat him.
Miss Frostie started the final heat at a snail's pace followed in three minutes by Great Lakes, which received no red flag. At the end of the lap Foster looked in vain for the flag and pointed pleadingly to the bottom of his boat As lap after lap went by and the beaten-up boat continued around the choppy oval, Fosters attitude changed to fist shaking, and finally to abject resignation.
When he had completed the heat, Dan accepted a tow into the judges' pier where the presentation, radio and photographing festivities were to take place. Men with pumps jumped aboard the sinking boat and she was taken in tow back to her boathouse. Just as she reached home she sank — victorious but broken.
The final point score was Miss Great Lakes, 1500 (two firsts, one second, fastest 90 miles); Such Crust, 400 (one first); Miss Frostie, 300 (one second); and Lahala, 225 (one third). Thus the Gold Cup becomes the possession of Detroit's Albin Fallon until next year. Such Crust was awarded the trophies for the fastest lap (88.483) and the fastest heat (57.452).
(Reprinted from Yachting, [month?] 1948 pp. 50, 96-97)
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