A Short History of Motor Boating [1906]


Motor Boats
By Bernard B. Redwood

The term "motor boat" is generally applied only to a vessel propelled by the agency of the internal combustion engine, and it is in this sense that I propose to treat the subject. This paper might perhaps have been more accurately described as "An attempt to emphasise the possibilities of the internal combustion engine for marine propulsion," but the shorter title is quite explicit. The subject is one of considerable magnitude, and with the time I have at my disposal, it will only be possible briefly to describe and illustrate the salient features, and to outline the development of motor boating as a sport and pastime and for commercial purposes.

Some of the earliest boats in use in this country were those supplied and engined by the Daimler Motor Company, Limited, of Coventry, in 1897. The engines had two cylinders, were constructed in England from designs by Herr Gottlieb Daimler, and the explosive charge of petroleum spirit and air was ignited by being compressed into a platinum tube heated to a cherry red.

Daimler is generally considered bo have been the first man to produce an internal combustion engine suitable for road vehicles and for marine propulsion. Born in 1835 at Schorndorf, Wurtemburg, he exhibited a keen interest in mechanics from his youth upwards, and made them his constant study. He was first employed at a gun factory in Alsace and afterwards at a steam locomotive works in Manchester, finally becoming assistant to Dr. Otto. It was after Daimler had joined Otto that the latter produced the now famous "Otto" gas engine, although it is not claimed that Daimler took part in the invention of it. In 1886 Daimler fitted a launch with an internal combustion engine, and took eleven persons for a voyage on the lake at Canstatt. The engine of this boat had a single cylinder, and developed about one horse-power. It was from the design of this motor that DeDion evolved the high-speed engine fitted to his early tricycle. The second launch designed by Daimler in 1887 had a motor of 4 horse-power, which differed from that fitted to the first launch in that it had two cylinders, inclined together at an angle of about 15", working on a common crank, and was known as the "V" type. This type of engine was first constructed by Daimler in 1886, being then fitted to a road vehicle. It was first publicly exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.

It was generally conceded that Mr. Priestman was the first in this country to equip a boat with an internal combustion engine. Priestman's launch was running in 1888. In 1891, Mr. J. D. Roots fitted a launch with an internal combustion engine, and apparently achieved considerable success, as this boat was running between Richmond and Wandsworth with great regularity during the seasons of 1891 and 1892. Credit must also be given to Mr. F. Lanchester, the designer of the well-known car of that name, for the design and construction of a motor vessel in the year 1895. It was a stern wheel launch or motor punt, and was fitted with a single cylinder tube ignited motor. The speed was from four to five miles per hour. In 1897 Lanchester designed another motor boat, which was fitted with a two cylinder balanced engine similar to his car type, driving a reversible propeller. This boat, I believe, is still in existence.

The engines of the English Daimler launches of 1897, had two vertical cylinders and gave about 6 horse-power. This type of engine may be said to represent continental practice of that date, having been evolved from the old "V" type of 1889. The petrol was fed by air pressure to a large surface carburettor and also an auxiliary tank which supplied the burners for heating the ignition tubes. This air pressure was obtained by means of a small hand pump which had to be operated at short intervals. Reversal of the propeller was effected by means of two bevel friction wheels which were situated athwartships and engaged with two larger bevel friction wheels, the intermediate shaft being temporarily disconnected for this purpose. These friction wheels, which were covered with a composition of leather and rubber, proved most unsatisfactory for marine work, being adversely affected by moisture and sea salt. The original English Daimler engines were, however, well designed and built, and when fitted with spray carburettors and electric ignition performed satisfactorily.

This type of engine remained in vogue for some considerable period in this country in spite of the ever present danger associated with the use of the hot tube ignition. I well remember the many exciting flare-ups which were the invariable accompaniments to a pleasant afternoon's run on the river. In America, however, the motor boat had already assumes a position of considerable importance, and apparatus for electrically igniting the explosive charge having been adopted. I may mention that it is a matter for surprise that hot tube ignition, with its obvious disadvantages for marine work, ever gained a footing in this country, especially in view of the fact that the earliest commercially successful gas engines designed by Mr. Lenoir and constructed in 1860 was fitted with a device for electrically firing the charge. As in this engine no attempt was made to secure compression of the gaseous mixture, no particular care was taken to "time" the spark. In a description of this engine by the makers, we read that "As the piston advances it draws in an explosive mixture of gas and air. About mid-stroke this was ignited by an electric spark." In 1888 Benz used electric ignition for the engine of his motor car, and in 1901 Mr. G. Priestman in this country employed it for marine work. a very simple means of electrically firing the charge and accurately timing the spark was adopted for the early American motors, a primary battery and primary coil alone being employed.

In spite of the fact that boats fitted with these American engines were imported into this country in large numbers, and were sold at very low prices, the type never secured any lasting popularity, and we now almost exclusively employ for the purposes of marine propulsion, engines constructed to work on the four stroke or Beau de Rochas cycle, a type which is familiar to everyone as an ordinary motor-car engine. The inauguration of motor boating in this country as a sport and pastime, and also tentatively for commercial purposes, may be said to date from the employment of a trustworthy system of electric ignition of the explosive charge.

Towards the end of the year 1902, great activity began to be discernible in the marine motor industry (it must be remembered that in every case I am employing the word "motor" in its restricted sense), for it was about this time that the British and continental motor-car manufacturers began to turn their attention to motor-boat construction. In the majority of cases these manufacturers were possessed of little or no experience of marine work, and were evidently of opinion that it was only necessary to put an automobile engine into a hull in order to produce a highly successful motor boat. The engines available for this purpose were, at the time, particularly in this country, rapidly undergoing a process of evolution, and were scarcely to be considered satisfactory for road work. When, however, they were installed as marine engines, the troubles were intensified. Mostly of the single or two-cylinder four-stroke cycle type, badly balanced, and frequently recklessly overloaded, they performed fairly well on road vehicles, where the driver had several ratios of gearing to fall back upon, where the cylinder jackets and radiators were exposed to a cooling draught, and above all where the unbalanced vibrations of the engines were absorbed by spring suspension. When installed in a hull, however, these engines were usually worked at constant, and in some cases at an overload, circulating pumps were found to be too small, or, if large enough, the cylinder water jackets were then inadequate; vibration was constant and excessive, being usually transmitted to and magnified by the hull structure, and the general details of installation, more especially the electric ones, were found to be quite unsatisfactory for marine work. Moreover, a considerable portion of the structure, including the crank chambers, and also many of the fittings were made of aluminium, a metal which is quite unsuitable for marine work, owing to the corrosive action upon it by sea water, and even by Damp air.

It was speedily recognized that special methods of construction would have to be employed if the internal combustion engine were to be rendered satisfactory for marine propulsion.

Several eminent firms, such as Messrs. J. I. Thornycroft and Co., Ltd., and D. Napier and Sons, to mention only two instances began to turn their attention seriously to the industry. As an outcome of this development a cup was offered by Lord Northcliffe, then Mr. Alfred Harmsworth, for international competition, the contest to be confined to boats of a maximum overall length of 40 feet, built and engined in the country which they represented, no other restrictions being imposed.

In 1903, the first race for this cup was held at Cork, there being three competitors. It was unfortunate that time did not permit of any foreign entries, although it is true that a Mercedes launch actually did come over, but was ineligible to compete, as the hull was constructed in France and the engines in Germany.

It was decided to race for this cup in heats, as it was thought by several members of the committee that the wave-making of these fast launches would be excessive and would preclude the possibility of many competitors racing together. This supposition has, of course, been shown to have been based on a fallacy, a well designed hull making very little wash, even at a speed of over 20 knots. It may be remembered that Napier I, designed by Mr. Linton Hope, and engined by Napier, was the only 40-footer taking part in the contest. This boat was the first of a series of racing launches engines by Napier and Co., and presents many interesting features. The hull was built of 20 gauge steel, there being no keel but two longitudinal girders were fitted extending from stem to stern, which also served as engine bearers. The engine was a four cylinder Napier motor giving about 66 b.h.p The design was immensely rigid, all four cylinders being contained in one casting. This rigidity of design without doubt contributed largely to the successful performance of the boat.

The best speed ever shown by Napier I was 18.8 knots while running at Cowes. The other competitors were two 30-foot launches. One was the Durandel, designed by Mr. E. Wort, and engined by the Motor Manufacturing Company, Coventry, with an 8-cylinder engine reported to develop 50 horse-power. The method of hull construction of this boat is interesting. She was built by Saunders on his well-known system of three or more skins of mahogany sewn together with copper wire. The other entrant was the Scolopendra, constructed of Wood by F. Maynard, of Chiswick, and engined by Thornycroft and Co., with a 4 cylinder motor developing 20 horse-power.

Considering her low horse-power, the Scolopendra was undoubtedly the most efficient boat in the competition, easily making 15 knots. The course for this race was laid in Cork Harbour, and was 7.8 sea miles in length. The Napier ultimately won the cup, accomplishing her heat and the final at a mean speed of 18 knots.

In 1903 was introduced for the first time in our waters motor-launch racing on a regular organised basis, with recognised rules for measurement, rating, and time allowance between different boats. I may say that launch racing had been popular for some considerable time in America, the favourite propulsive agent being petrol, both used in an internal combustion engine and instead of water in a steam-jacketted boiler, and thence conveyed to an ordinary steam engine.

Early in the year of 1903 the Marine Motor Association was started, and, after collecting all the information possible, it formulated its rules for assessing the power of motors---or "motor power" as it was termed by this body---and thence ascertaining the rating of the boats. It mat be remarked that the American Power Boat Association which was started some months later, practically adopted our rules for motor power, and rating with but few modifications.

The most important event of this year was the first of the annual reliability trials for motor boats organised by the Automobile Club through its Marine Motor Committee, which was formed in 1903 at the suggestion of Lord Boverton Redwood. This "reliability trial" was intended to be an endurance test chiefly for cruising boats, and consisted of two days running under observation, the duration of the daily run being 10 hours. A large number of entries ws secured, and the contest was undoubtedly of great benefit both to manufacturers and users. The title of the Harmsworth Cup was in this year altered at the request of the donor to that of the British International Cup, and the race for this trophy created great interest. France challenged with Trefle-a-Quatre, Gardner-Serpollet and Clement-Bayard, and America with Challenger.

The rules provided that only three boats were to be represent any one country, and as there were five British defenders for the cup, it was necessary to hold an eliminating race for them. One of the entrants for this was Napier-Minor, a 35-foot boat built by Saunders on his patent system, and engined by Napier with a 4-cylinder 80 b.h.p motor. This engine was of the same type as that installed in Napier I, possessing immense structural strength. The second entrant for the race was Napier II, built of steel by Yarrow and Co., who from this time forward took an active interest in the industry. As a matter of fact, the hull of Napier II proved somewhat unsatisfactory, and another was put in hand. Messrs. J. I. Thornycroft's Champak and Lord Howard DeWalden's Fer de Lance never materialised, so that Hutton I, the fifth entrant was left to walk over the course, which she did not succeed in doing.

Hutton I was a remarkable vessel, and possessed every feature requisite for high speed, with the exception of an engine that could be started, or when started could be kept running. The hull was a very pretty one, designed by Linton Hope and Co. of mahogany carvel. The accompanying illustration gives a good idea of her design, which at that time was quite novel, and at any period might justly be described as an extreme type. It can be seen that the hull was cigar-shaped, and consequently possessed great strength, although the weight was only 6 cwt. The engine of the Hutton I was a 6-cylinder one of fearful and wonderful design. There were two inlet and two exhaust valves for each cylinder worked by a hinged overhead rod. These valves, I may say, were originally designed to have their heads secured to the stems by means of ball and socket joints. The water jackets were separate from the cylinders, and were secured to the flange on the cylinders. Structural weaknesses of crank chamber and of valves, preignition due to high compression, faulty carburation and inefficient water circulation were among the causes contributing to the non-success of this engine. Of the French boats only Trefle-a-Quatre and Clement-Bayard came over, and the latter was early in trouble and never started. Trefle-a-Quatre was credited with being at that time the fastest motor boat in the world. She was only 30 feet 2 3/4 inches in length, and was equipped with a Richard-Brasier motor of about 60 horse-power. Previously, during the Monaco races, she covered 124 1/2 miles at an average rate of 23 1.2 miles per hour. The American boat, Challenger, was built and engined by Smith and Mabley, and presented no extraordinary features. The final heat of this race was won by Napier-Minor, but the cup was awarded to Trefle-a-Quatre on a technicality.

In 1905, such was the growth of the industry that the Marine Motor Committee of the Automobile Club found that they were quite unable to cope with the situation, and accordingly the Motor Yacht Club was formed to carry on the work relative to the reliability trials and the British International Cup, both of which events had been previously organised and conducted by the Marine Motor Committee of the Automobile Club. A large number of entries were received in 1905 for the reliability trials, one firm, Messrs. Thornycroft, entering no less than five boats. The most interesting vessel entered by Thornycroft and Co. for the reliability trials was the Emil Capitaine, a type of harbour launch propelled by an internal combustion engine of 75 b.h.p, employing producer gas as a fuel.

The 1905 eliminating race to decide the British team for the International Cup race was held at Seaview, Isle of Wight, and there were five entrants. One of these was Hutton II, a new racer very similar to Hutton I which I have already described in detail. The engine was in fact the same with a few details improved and strengthened, and the hull was very similar, but of slightly greater displacement. Hutton II, however, broke down before the start. The fastest competitor on paper was Brooke I, designed by Shepherd, and built and engined by Brooke and Co., of Lowescroft, with a 6-cylinder engine, each cylinder being 10 inches in diameter. This boat never ran satisfactorily, owing, it was said, to the difficulty of maintaining a requisite supply of petrol for the huge engine. Another entrant was Napier II. The hull of this boat was built by Yarrow and Co. of steel, being an improvement on the previous year's boat of the same name. Two 4-cylinder 80 horse-power Napier engines, driving twin screws, were installed.

On this boat a raised seat for the helmsman is provided right aft and is protected by a dodger. It has been found by experience that it is preferable to steer these fast small boats from aft, and I have found from personal experience that some form of protection from the flying spray is necessary. This spray constitutes the chief drawback to motor-boat racing as and amusement, and as its velocity is very high, the impact is most un-pleasant. The general sensation of driving a motor boat is very reminiscent of a stroll beneath Niagara Falls, with this difference, that in the former case you are unable to gain relief by shutting your eyes, as it is necessary to keep a sharp look out. The fourth entrant was Napier, owned by Lord Howard DeWalden. The hull was built by Saunders on his patented system which I have already described, and the engine was the old 80 horse-power motor taken out of Napier-Minor.

The other entrant was the Competitor, owned by my friend, Commander Mansfield Cumming, R.N., and in it I had the pleasure of racing.

The hull may easily be recognised in the photograph as that of the old Napier-Minor, and the engine was a 100 horse-power Siddeley, constructed by the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Co. In this race, every boat except Napier II broke down, and it was decided to hold another eliminating race in the Southampton Water for Napier, Brooke I, and Competitor. In this race, Napier finished first, Competitor second, and Brooke I broke down. Ultimately Competitor relinquished her place in the team in favour of Brooke I, as it was thought that the latter could be got into racing condition in time for the Cup race, which was to be held at Arachon.

France showed extraordinary apathy over this contest, and it was only by the energy of a few private owners, that a semblance of defence was made with cruising boats. The Cup was ultimately won by Napier II, which had run well and consistently throughout the season, only having lost the cross Channel race by an error of her helmsman in passing the finishing mark on the wrong side.

The highest speeds attained by racing vessels in 1905 were 25.75 knots by Napier II, and 25 knots by Hutton II, during a short trial run. Recently during the present year a 40-foot launch named Legru Hotchkiss has attained an enormous speed of 29.65 knots during a run of 10 minutes. The hull of this vessel was designed by Linton Hope in 1904, and she was built on the Saunders system. Many motors have been installed, but the present engine with which the record run was accomplished ia an 8-cylinder Hotchkiss of 170 b.h.p.

(Transcribed from the Journal of the Society of Arts, March 23, 1906, pp. 512-520 )


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