"Rollo" : The Marine Automobile :
The Recent French Invention of the Automobile Launch [1902]

Automobiling on water has now become an accomplished fact. French engineering skill has turned the features common to the racing automobile into use for propelling the long slim, body of the automobile launch through the water at a furious rate of speed. The machinery is the same as in a high-powered automobile, the manner of transmitting power is the same, the fuel, the motive power and the manipulating devices are practically identical. The only actual differences are that the motive power instead of being carried on wheels is incased in a smooth wooden canoe skin., offering a minimum of resistance to the water, and that the device steers by rudder instead of by mechanism acting on the front axle. In all other essential respects the automobile launch and the automobile carriage are virtually alike. A competent chauffeur can handle either type, and it would not be impossible to build a motor vehicle out of the machine parts belonging to a motor launch--so closely identified are these otherwise apparently dissimilar means of travel.

It is quite natural that the sport of auto-launch racing should receive its baptism in France, the native home of automobilism, for the French, though poor at yachting as a nation, enjoy a well-merited reputation in the line of light craft for pleasure boating.

The motor as well as the hull herewith shown were specially designed for racing, and it was found that the motor worked perfectly under all conditions, starting with a half turn of the handle and maintaining its speed smoothly and regularly. The type of motor adopted was made famous by the Panhard & Levassor establishment, makers of the Panhard automobiles. The superintendent of the factory, M. Krebs, selected a 24 horse power gasoline motor and made some minor changes in it to fit the marine equipment of the launch. After considerable experimenting it was found that the motor under favoring circumstances actually developed more horse power than its indicated rating, and then the idea of racing this new and strangely unfamiliar craft occurred to M. Giraud. He applied to the Helix Club of France for a series of trials over measured distances of salt water, entering his craft under the name of "Rollo"--an automobile canoe measuring 39 feet 3 inches in length, with a beam of 4 feet 3 inches and 24 indicated horse power. The first race took place at a course near Argenteuil, in which "Rollo" was entered among a number of high-power launches of her class. She finished a winner of the 24-kilometer (14.90 statute miles) course in 1 h. 17 m. 31 s., a speed of 11.53 statute miles. In a subsequent race at the Cercle de la Voile de Paris at Meulan the course was 52 kilometers (32.30 miles) and her time 2 h. 41 m. 28 s. or a trifle over 12 miles. In the Helix Club de France races the course was 48 kilometers (29.80 miles), and "Rollo" time was 2 h. 8 m. 3 s.; equal to a speed of 14 miles. In a 24 kilometer brush under H. C. de F. rules she made the distance in 55 m. 25 s., a speed of 15.67 miles, or a gain of 22 minutes 6 seconds over her initial showing. This progressive improve- ment reflects much credit on M. Tellier, who had charge of the motor in these races. In order to try her on the deep seas M. Giraud had her transported by rail from Paris to Lorient, on the Bay of Biscay, and under the management and assistance of an engineer "Rollo" was safely sped down this dangerous coast to the fashionable watering place Arachon, a distance of some 200 miles, making an average speed of some 13 knots, mostly in the open sea. This is probably the finest achievement by any power-propelled launch or canoe of like measurement and capacity, and won for M. Giraud a leading place in the development of the new sport. On a certain occasion, the tide favoring, "Rollo" slid over a measured mile on the Seine River at a clip that would have placed 25 miles to her credit within the hour had she continued for that time. It was on this occasion that the photographs herewith shown were taken by M. Giraud. One picture represents the start, when the craft cleaving the water at top speed comes tearing down on the mark. M. Tellier was seen at the rudder sitting sideways in the cock-pit so as to better manipulate the engine and the steering simultaneously. It will be seen that the force with which the craft is urged is sufficient to lift its nose well out of the water. The other view shows "Rollo" looks as she comes tearing through the brine head on for the stake.

Automobile launching or "canoueing" as the French call it, is not only now recognized as a distinct development in light craft engineering, but as a sport with rules and tennets of its own. A great many wealthy French sportsmen have had auto canoes constructed on the lines of "Rollo" the pioneer, and on the other side of the Channel the fever has caught on to the extent of putting several such craft into commission for racing the French during the coming season. That most energetic of launch-owner organizations, the Helix Club of France, is about to organize a technical committee composed of engineers and other specialists, under the presidency of Count Recope, in order to gather reports regarding new developments in pleasure and racing navigation with light draught power craft. The club, which is one of the most influential in France, seems to realize that the industry of automobile launch building is still in its infancy despite the wonderful performances of M. Griaud's "Rollo," and its members have settled down to the task of perfecting the sport with much enthusiasm.

When the British and French automobile launch fleets meet early in the spring to decide the proposed international launch championship, interest will not only center in the spectacular features of the speed performances, but also in the comparative test of the English system of power propulsion against the French.

The races, which are scheduled to include a brush across the Channel from Dover to Calais, may, nevertheless, be close enough to excite an interest vying in popularity with that surrounding international yacht races. We are indebted for our particulars to Le Sport d'Automobile Canot.

(Transcribed from Scientific American, March 1, 1902, pp. 143-44. )

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page --LF]


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Leslie Field, 1999