Speedboat Kings :
Miss America X — 8 Tons of Dynamite [1932]

Ch.1 The World's Classic - The Harmsworth Trophy
Ch.2 The First Hydroplane - Smith, Ryan & Blackton 1911-12
Ch.3 The Dream Boat-Miss Detroit I - Miss Detroit I & II and the Gold Cups 1915-17
Ch.4 The Teddy Bears in Full Dress - Miss Detroit III and the 1918 Gold Cup
Ch.5 Gar Wood Wins The Harmsworth [1920]
Ch.6 Sheldon Clark, Gar Wood and the 1921 Harmsworth Race
Ch.7 150-Mile Race - Gar Wood and the International Sweepstakes Races 1923-26
Ch.8 The French Challenge - 1926 Harmsworth Trophy
Ch.9 Miss America VI Cracks Up - Barbara Carstairs and the 1928 Harmsworth Trophy Race
Ch.10 Marion Barbara Carstairs - The 1929 and 1930 Harmsworth Races
Ch.11 Segrave Is Killed [1930]
Ch.12 Over 100 Miles an Hour [1931]
Ch.13 Kaye Don - [1931 Harmsworth Trophy Race, Pt.1]
Ch.14 Sinking of Miss England II [1931] - [1931 Harmsworth Trophy Pt.2 & 1932 Water Speed Record Attempt]
Ch.15 Miss America X - 8 Tons of Dynamite [1932]
Ch.16 Johnson Saves The Teddy Bears [1932 Harmsworth Trophy]
Ch.17 Hubert Scott-Paine
Ch.18 Sir Malcolm Campbell [1939]

I went to England during the winter of 1931-32.

The 1931 [Harmsworth] race had caused such bitter controversy that the Yachtsmen's Association of America found it advisable to send a representative to England to confer with motorboating officials and with officials of the Royal Motor Yacht Club about making some changes in the Harmsworth rules.

Kaye Don and Charles F. Chapman had suggested the changes. These men met in New York and agreed that a new Harmsworth course was necessary. Chapman made his recommendations.

Changes in rules must be authorized and sanctioned by three governing bodies; first, the donors of the Trophy, the Harmsworth Estate or its representative (who at the present time is Commander F. C. Armstrong); secondly, the Royal Motor Yacht Club, London, custodian of the Trophy; and thirdly, the national governing body holding the Trophy at the time (in this case the Yachtsmen's Association of America).

I had with me in London the plans for a new and longer Harmsworth course. The old course on the Detroit River, we felt, was no longer practical for 100 mile-an-hour boats. The turns were too sharp. It was dangerous. Before I left for England Gar Wood had objected to any changes in the course. "My boats can turn those buoys," Wood had said to me. "There's no danger from my boats."

But I pointed out to him that several times during the 1931 race, even before Miss England II spilled negotiating the westerly buoy, Kaye Don had extreme difficulty straightening his boat after a turn. "Those turns are too sharp, Mr. Wood," I told him. "It's our responsibility to make the course safe, to avert tragedy."

Wood told me then that he'd agree to any change the officials felt was necessary.

Captain C. A. Park, superintendent of lighthouses for the United States Government, then set to work charting a new course on Lake St. Clair. It provided for one lap seven nautical miles around running parallel to the Grosse Pointe shore-line; a three mile straightaway on each side; a one-half mile swing at each turn; and a two-mile straightaway from the start at the judges' barge to the first turn at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.

I had the blueprints of the new course in my pocket in London. I submitted them to Commander F. C. Armstrong, representative of the Harmsworth Estate, to Colonel W. S. Bersey, commodore of the Royal Motor Yacht Club, London, and Scott-Paine.

The plans were accepted.

To me the acceptance meant that the English, in the face of repeated disasters, were determined to win back the Trophy.

In the plant of the Hampton Launch Works of John I. Thornycroft, Ltd., on an island in the Thames Fred Cooper started to build a new boat, Miss England III. It was the fastest boat British engineers had ever built. And the safest. Lord Wakefield had ordered a boat that could turn the buoys at high speeds. Miss England II hadn't been able to do that.

Cooper installed two propellers. (Miss England II had had only one propeller.)

He also abandoned the stern rudder. (Miss England II had had a stern rudder.)

He made the step an integral part of the boat. (Miss England II had had an adjustable step.)

He abandoned the tapering streamlined stern; built it square. (Miss England II was streamlined.)

The Miss England III more closely followed orthodox American design. In fact it was similar to Wood's Miss America IX. The NINTH was not a streamliner like Miss England II. But when Wood built the boat he wasn't thinking of beauty first; he was thinking of safety. Don's streamliner spilled in 1931; Wood's boat was on the water at the final gun. That's the important thing.

But the English again built the cockpit AHEAD of the engines. Wood and Johnson ride BEHIND the engines.

When Kaye Don took the new boat to Loch Lomond, Scotland, he set a new world record of 119.81 miles an hour on July, 1932.

When I learned the British plans I was anxious to know what Wood would do. In his Miss America IX he was using the two most powerful engines built in America, supercharged probably to the ultimate. The best Wood could do with that boat had been 111.712 miles an hour. Again the English had more power, more speed, a better hull than before.

To my mind, sincerely, Wood had struck an impasse. Not because of his own inadequacy, but because of the power limitation of any available American engines. The English could easily pack at least 2,000 horsepower in one engine. The best engine Wood had been able to get in America was a 770-horsepower engine which had been stepped up to 1,400 horsepower.

I went to see Wood at his Grayhaven home one night in January, 1932, with the bad news. But I didn't get a chance to tell him. Four other men were there besides Wood and myself-engineers from the Packard plant. Wood had one knee on the floor and was tracing for Packard engineers the shape of a new boat on the carpet with a piece of chalk. "You see, men," he was saying, "I want those four engines like this-two in tandem," and he indicated them, two banks of engines, one behind the other, two engines in each bank. "We'll build a thirty-eight foot hull and we'll balance it for those four engines."

When I heard Wood talking like that I knew he didn't need any bad news from me. He was planning to take the engines out of his Miss America VIII and IX, set them, four engines, into his new boat, not as four engines but as one 24-cylinder engine on the starboard side and one 24-cylinder engine on the port side, with the crankshafts of the two engines on each side turning as one shaft.

Wood was starting an engineering revolution.

M. J. Steele, one of the Packard engineers, interrupted Wood. "You can't place that power in tandem, Mr. Wood. Not that way."

Wood looked up from the carpet.

Steele went on. "You can't put your crankshaft directly into your gear box. There's too much power there."

But Wood said, "Well, we'll try it. Take my engines out of the old boats and overhaul them."

Steele wanted to insert a flexible coupling on each side between the engines and the gear boxes to take up the tremendous vibration, to protect the engines from cracking up.

Wood said there wasn't room for flexible couplings. "We've got to save space," he told Steele.

But the engineers were firm. "You may as well put a bomb in an egg crate, Mr. Wood," Steele said. "The first trial in that boat might kill you."

"I'll take that chance," Wood answered.

The engineers rose and walked out of that place into the night. Wood went to bed. The next morning he flew his amphibian plane to Algonac, told Napoleon Lisee, his hull builder, his plans, and by noon America had started to answer the Harmsworth challenge.

The Packard engineers and Wood had the little problem now of timing perfectly twenty-four cylinders in each engine bank so that two engines fire as one. And they had to hook the crankshafts directly into the gear boxes. That was the dangerous part. That's what Steele meant when he told Wood the first trial in that boat might kill him -that direct hookup to the gear boxes.

But Wood said, "Hook it up solid. We don't have room for flexible couplings."

"But the gear boxes," Steele asked. "What about them?"

"We'll put them right there between the engine banks this time," Wood said.

"There isn't a gear box made, Mr. Wood," Steele told him, "that can take all that power."

"There isn't?" Wood asked. "Then-I'll design one myself." And he did. He designed his own gear boxes to stand the strain.

Not only that. Wood stepped up the horsepower of his engines. The horsepower of each engine had already been increased from 770 to 1,400. But now he placed the superchargers at the end opposite the flywheel. They had been at the flywheel end before. This change not only increased the output by Zoo horsepower, giving him 1,600 horsepower in each engine, but it effected a surprising economy of operation of fifteen per cent. And with only two hundred pounds added to the weight.

Still, Wood wasn't satisfied. He took his boat into the 1932 race with 6,400 horsepower, 1,600 horsepower in each engine. But since his last Harmsworth race he has increased the gear ratio of the superchargers. That caused trouble. His fuel was pouring out of the manifold at the high temperature of 155 degrees above zero. It had gone into the manifold at five degrees below.

So Wood changed fuels. He now uses one-third alcohol; one-third benzol; and one-third gasoline. The alcohol made a vast difference. Instead of the fuel coming out of the manifold at 155 degrees above, it now came out at only 80 degrees above.

Every day for months Wood was at Packard's, experimenting. Little by little each day the output was increased.

When the engine backfired on the dynamometer in the experimental laboratory great sheets of flame shot clear across the room. Finally, Wood and the engineers made a number of other changes, the dynamometer crept up, hit 1,800. "That's it," Wood shouted like a boy. No one could hear him in that terrific bedlam. "That's enough-7,600 horsepower is enough."

Each engine and its superchargers weighed only 1,700 pounds. Over one horsepower to every tiny pound of those engines. It was like 7,600 bombs exploding.

Packard engineers believe that with a few structural changes the output of each engine can be increased even to 2,500 horsepower.

No engines in America, probably in the world, were ever driven like these Packard engines. The two forward engines had been used in Miss America VIII. The two engines in the second bank had been in three boats-Miss America VI, which cracked up on the St. Clair River in 1928; the Miss America VII, which cracked up in Italy in 1929; and Miss America IX, the first boat to set an official world record of over 100 miles an hour.

Those engines have history back of them.

I don't know what they're made of. But I don't want to know for certain. I like to think of them as being born from the fires of Vulcan, shaped out of some strange uncanny alchemy, never touched by human hands and held together by some eternal fragment of stuff that knows not human disintegration. That's the way they seem to me. That's the way they will always seem. I hope Wood puts them finally into a museum. Maybe the British Museum.

So much for the engines.

Now, Wood had his hull to worry about. How were they going to build a wooden shell of a boat that wouldn't blow to pieces when Johnson touched the starting button? Anything they could build would be nothing more than an egg crate, as the engineer had told Wood. There were no blueprints available for a thing like that. There seldom are for anything Wood does.

Wood had built hulls before, many of them. But none like the one he needed now. What kind of wood would hold together? How could he get the engine beds strong enough for over four tons of metal sending a stick of wood over a hard, bounding surface at 125 miles an hour? That's what water is at that speed-hard, like a corrugated iron sheet.

I imagine that if Wood could suddenly shut off his engines while his boat was traveling 125 miles an hour-and could keep going at that speed-it would sound something like a tremendous glass cutter, cutting out of the hard water solid chips of fine glass. It is possible for the hard water alone, without the vibration of the engines, to tear his boat to pieces.

And besides-and here's the important thing-if he did get wood and bedding that could stand the strain-how could he ever "spring" the hull after it had snapped? That little trick-"springing" the hull -had won his races many times. (By "springing" the hull we mean, forcing the bow down to make it plane. After the first heat of the 1931 race Wood's men had to force the bow down about five inches.)

Now Wood was deliberately building a boat which couldn't be sprung.

He told his men to order a shipment of Oregon spruce for stout engine beds. When the shipment arrived at Wood's plant and Nap Lisee examined it, he knew immediately that they'd never be able to spring the hull with that wood running full length. He told Wood about it.

But Wood said, "That's all right, Nap. Build her strong. We'll design an adjustable forward metal plane!"

And that was the answer. They wouldn't need to "spring" the hull. They'd put wedges beneath the forward plane until they got the correct planing angle. The metal plane was at once adjustable and strong. It would protect the wood from being ripped off by the hard water. Lisee laid four heavy stringers of Oregon spruce the full length of the hull.

It was in June, 1932, when I first saw the new boat that Wood had drawn on the carpet of his home that winter night. It was hanging there in its cradle at Wood's boatwell in Algonac-Miss America X, a finished product, with four giant engines developing 6,400 horsepower, two in tandem, one behind the other.

It looked to me like those four engines would tear that beautiful mahogany hull to slivers. The engineers had told Wood that the first trial in that boat might kill him. But that didn't stop him.

Slowly, as we watched there, the new boat was lowered from its cradle and slipped into the water for the first time. Wood and Johnson stepped into the cockpit. Johnson pressed the starting button6,400 horsepower was loose.

The boat shot like an arrow out onto the river. In less than a minute it was out of sight but we could still hear those engines roar, its sixteen carburetors pouring five gallons of gasoline into them every mile, its ninety-six spark plugs clicking and firing perfectly.

The boat came back in a few minutes and was again strung up in its cradle. Wood, his face still stinging from the hail of smashing spray, climbed out of the cockpit, took off the helmet from his white head, and smiled. He was satisfied, happy as a young boy who has suddenly discovered the secret of a toy puzzle. "She'll do," he said. "She'll do."

It wasn't quite that simple. There had to be changes, many of them. No man in the world can build one of these fast boats, slip it into the water, and find it true as a die. But Wood was satisfied that this boat was the thing that had been cradled in his brain five months before. It was here, complete.

It was thirty-eight feet long, with a nine-foot, eight-inch beam. Only two boats in Harmsworth history had ever been longer-the Dixie I, built in 1907; and the Maple Leaf IV, built by Saunders at Cowes, Isle of Wight, in 1912. The limit for Harmsworth boats is forty feet.

Again, Wood was ready. That is . . .

(Reprinted from Speedboat Kings : 25 Years of International Speedboating by J. Lee Barrett [Detroit : Arnold-Powers, Inc., 1939], Ch.15)


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