In the early days of the twentieth century large
displacement hulls with what was known as ‘packed power’ were the order of the
Hydroplane history started with brothers, William
and Larned Meacham from Illinois, USA, who in 1906 applied for a patent for a
hydroplane with three planning surfaces. One forward of a central hull and two
at the rear on outriggers, all hydraulically adjustable – a reverse
three-pointer. They had been experimenting with hydrofoils for 12 years but
weren’t granted their patent until 1910.
In 1907, Parisian Paul Bonnemaison applied for a
patent for the ‘hull of an automobile canoe for high speeds’. His first boat, Ricochet – Nautilus, was a single-step
hydroplane, with its forward plane slightly curved. By 1908 the revolution of
the little Ricochet hydro was well
1910 saw the 15ft elipse-shaped hydroplane, Flapper, powered by a 40hp eight
cylinder ENV aero-engine. She was pointed at both ends, flat bottomed and had
round bilges. The weight of boat, driver and fuel was 6cwt and gave an unheard
of power-weight ratio of 160hp per ton. It was fitted with a front fin which
enabled the driver to alter the angle of attack of the rear plane. On one trial
Flapper reached a speed of 47mph.
Back in the US, John Hacker had designed Kitty Hawk, the very first single-engined
V-bottomed hydroplane to have her prop aft of the transom.
In 1913, Tommy Sopwith, driving Maple Leaf IV, a five-step hydroplane hit
an average speed of the Solent course of 58.5mph.
It wasn’t until the early 1920s that both boats and
engines became more compact in size. Count Johnston-Noad won the first Duke of
York Trophy race in Miss Betty, a
single-step hydro with a front rudder and powered by a 1.5 litre Aston Martin
engine. The engine cost £350 and the hull, £5000!
Outboard racing was seen as the ‘poor acquaintance’
to the inboard racing fraternity. 1923 saw the first organised outboard race on
the River Thames at Chelsea. In 1926, 24-year-old Colin Fair was persuaded by
the company draughtsman, Walter Lunn that getting their British-built Watermota
outboard engine involved in racing would boost sales. Fair asked Japanese
engineer and friend, Shingi Yano, to design a cylinder that would give their
current outboard more power. The result was the Watermota Speed Model, built in
only six weeks, developing 11bhp at 4000rpm, 345cc and weighing only 65 pounds.
This was fitted to a 10ft racing hydroplane, which was named British Maid I. British
became the most successful British outboard-engined hydroplane of 1927.
In July 1928, thousands lined the banks of the
Welsh Harp Lake at Hendon, North London to watch a staggering 77 outboard-engined
boats compete for both the Duke of York Trophy and the Duchess of York Trophy.
Over in the United States, New Jersey boat builder,
‘Pop’ Jacoby and his driver son, Fred Jnr had built their first raceboat. One of
the Jacoby’s earliest customers was E T
Bedford Davie, 15 years old but not without means, thanks to his family’s great
wealth. Together, Davie and Jacoby began to develop outboard hydroplane
raceboats into more sophisticated machines, beginning by replacing tiller,
throttle control with an automobile steering wheel. After less than a decade of
serious development, the ‘poor man’s powerboat’, using only 25hp, was already
climbing towards speeds thought extraordinary when first established back in
1910 by the 50hp, 12ft hydroplane, Soulier
1937 saw the creation of the British Hydroplane
Racing Club, formed by Percy Pritchard (he of Berylla II fame) and Sir Roy
Fedden. To ensure that the BHRC provided a starting point for new talent, they
commissioned Theodore Scovill to design a 1.5 litre hydroplane which could
provide evenly matched scratch racing for what came to be known as the Whippet
Class. The prototype of the class being a 13ft 9in single-stepper with a 5ft
To be continued....