In the early days of the twentieth century large displacement hulls with what was known as ‘packed power’ were the order of the day.
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 under way.
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 on 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 Maid 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 Volant.
Adolph E Apel and his aviation son, Arno, ran the Ventnor raceboat-building yard in Atlantic City. In 1932 they had built Emanicpator Special complete with the Apel patent concave bottom and small non-trip chines. test runs showed that when rounding a buoy, the atern would slide but the bows dug into the water. Apel had already noticed that with smaller outboard boats, this tendency had been corrected by fiting bustles or wing stubs. Apel decided to turn a pair of water-skis into bustles. fairing their front with the rising forward chine. These additions gave the Emancipator Special just the stability it needed, and greater speed. In 1937, Pop Jacoby's North Bergen workshop was working on a secret project to develop a race winning three-point hydroplane for outboard power. When the Apels got wind of this, they filed a patent for their three-pointer. This marks a turning point in the whole history of the sport; outboards, the Gold Cup, Harmsworth Trophy, Duke of York's Trophy and even the world unlimited water speed record.
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 beam.
To be continued....