Speedboat Kings :
I can't help but feel a little sympathetic at the figure of the blond young Briton, Kaye Don. He had come across three thousand miles of sea, his head erect, his eyes dancing in the brilliant light of expectant conquest, his lips smiling his contempt for danger.
And now, he was returning to England, the limp figure of failure, bowed before the dark Atlantic sky, as though his crippled boat were swinging idly like a spent corpse in his once mighty fingers.
Bitter feeling had swept all England because of the disaster. Officials of the Rolls-Royce Company, Ltd., said, "No. Never again. No more Harmsworth races for our engines."
But a chunky red-headed Englishman of Hythe, Southampton, a man who had been thoroughly concerned at five repeated British failures to lift the Trophy, stepped up. He wanted the Rolls-Royce engines for a boat he planned to build.
Hubert Scott-Paine had reason to feel he could beat Wood. He was an engineer of the top rank, a director of Imperial Airways. During the War he had designed motors and built planes for the British Air Ministry. He owned the British Powerboat Company at Southampton; built Segrave's first speedboat, Miss England I; won the famous Schneider Cup Air Races in Italy in 1922; built and flew the first amphibian across the English Channel. He was the type of man that has helped make England supreme on the seas since the days of Nelson.
Scott-Paine started to build boats by accident. On his way to South Africa with his family for a much-needed vacation one summer, he stopped casually at a boat works near Southampton, England, to buy some engine parts. Before he left he had bought the entire boat plant.
In 1926, he set aside £26,000 for a future Harmsworth challenge. Now, he wanted to use that money.
But he had to have those Rolls-Royce engines, which he'd been trying to get since 1930. This time he enlisted the aid of Lady Fanny Lucy Houston, the richest and most militant woman in England. He knew Lady Houston would do things. She had done them before. With the remark that the British Lion resembled "a toothless old lapdog," England's thirty-five million dollar heiress offered a million dollars to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when her income tax fell due in 1932 for the government to buy aeroplanes and bombs.
The government refused the offer.
However, she gave a half-million of her munitions fortune to the British Air Ministry to enable English fliers to win the Schneider Cup races.
And now, she marches militantly to the British Air Ministry to get Harmsworth engines for Hubert Scott-Paine. The Air Council agreed to let Scott-Paine have the engines if, IF he could get the consent of the Rolls-Royce.
But Rolls-Royce refused. "We're not in the boat racing business," they said. Scott-Paine could not even BUY their engines.
The man was sorely disappointed.
But he was not to be denied the thing his heart was set on. He went next to the Napier Lion Company. He discovered there that only three Napier Lion engines were available-two ex-Schneider Cup engines which Napier Lion had repurchased from the Air Ministry; and the engine Sir Malcolm Campbell was using in his racing car.
Scott-Paine bought the two former engines and started to build the most revolutionary boat in all racing history-a tiny, dangerous, single-engined craft, scarcely twenty-five feet long, built entirely of metal. Like Miss England II, it was propelled by a single manganese bronze screw that turned 3,600 revolutions per minute. (The screw of Miss England II had turned 12,000 revolutions per minute.)
The craft was extremely dangerous at three points - its light weight; its single screw, (which makes any boat difficult to control); and the position of the cockpit forward of the engine. Scott-Paine's cockpit was doubly dangerous because the pilot had to be almost shoehorned into it. In the event of a turtle at high speed, his chances of getting out were mighty close to zero.
But the stuff of pioneering is of necessity the ingredient of danger. When Captain L. M. Woolson, Packard inventor and engineer, told officials of the United States government that he'd build a plane that would travel three hundred miles an hour they asked him how he could do it.
One of the things Woolson told them was that the plane would have no landing gear.
"But who'll take a plane like that into the air? After it's up how could you get it down? We don't know of anyone who'll take the first flight."
Woolson, in dead earnest, said to them, "I will. I'll take it up."
Pioneers live on the blood of danger.
When Gar Wood put 7,600 horsepower into his Miss America X the experts told him the boat would blow to pieces. That didn't mean a thing to Wood.
Scott-Paine, too, defied danger. His - theory in building Miss Britain III was to achieve low weight per horsepower in almost its ultimate sense. He had to spare space, to cut down weight. And, in that, he did remarkably well. The entire boat did not weigh more than 3,36o pounds. It resembled a bullet split lengthwise. It gave the world a pinhole glimpse into the future of racing craft.
Scott-Paine himself did not believe he could lift the Trophy with his under-powered craft. He wrote to me from Southampton. "I'm sorry I can't put up a more formidable challenge to America. I don't hope to beat Gar Wood. My boat is not powerful enough. I'm just trying to keep alive England's interest, that's all. Maybe if I put up a good race I'll be able to get the engines I want next year."
That was his sole reason for sending a challenge-to prove his mettle. And he did-in a way that startled Wood.
Few in America believed Scott-Paine had a chance. Here was a single-engined boat with less than 1,400 horsepower pitted bravely and almost hopelessly against Wood's four-engined powerhouse. A mere 1,400 horsepower against 7,600 horsepower.
Americans were not interested in the race. It was too one-sided.
And they said so by staying away from the St. Clair River when the race was held. Where 600,000 spectators witnessed the 1931 and 1932 events, less than 100,000 saw Wood and Scott-Paine battle it out in 1933 -
But they forgot one thing-weight. It was the vast difference in weight between the two boats which cut down the advantage of Wood's powerplant. Miss Britain III weighed 3,36o pounds; Miss America X weighed over ten tons. And speed is decided largely by the weight per horsepower ratio. In this the two boats were remarkably well matched - Miss Britain III with 2.4 pounds for every horsepower; the Miss America X with 2.6 pounds for every horsepower.
The English boat therefore had a slight advantage. If the crowds had studied these figures closely they would have seen what a formidable contender for the Trophy Scott-Paine had brought to America. At times the English boat spurted at 110 miles an hour down the straightaway. Wood was sorely pressed in every lap, in every heat. If Wood and Johnson had had any trouble with their boat at all, Scott-Paine would have beaten them.
But not at any time in either of the two heats did the daring red-headed Englishman have the lead. Wood's four powerful engines droned perfectly; his boat was leveling off and planing at just the correct angle. But even with that perfect performance the English driver crowded him all the way; taking the buoys almost at top speed; driving a daring, reckless race and giving his tiny metal craft everything it had. The movie cameras showed that on the back stretch of the second lap Miss Britain III went clear out of water. But Scott-Paine kept his throttles open, regardless. He pounded his engine so hard that he had to have a new engine for the second heat.
The 100,000 spectators at the race had never seen a greater demonstration of courage and expert boat handling as Scott-Paine and his mechanic, Gordon Thomas, gave. For once in their lives they were watching a pair of Englishmen who knew how to build boats and who knew how to handle them after they were built. They gave Wood the biggest scare he's ever had in these races.
Many believe that if Scott-Paine could have used the Rolls-Royce engines-as he wanted to-the British International Trophy would today be under the custody of the Royal Motor Yacht Club, London, instead of at the Detroit Yacht Club, Detroit.
To beat Scott-Paine, Wood had to average 86.939 miles an hour. That figure stands today as the all-time Harmsworth record. (Kaye Don, driving Miss England II in the first heat of the 1931 race, holds the Harmsworth heat record with 89.913 miles per hour and the Harmsworth lap record with 93.123 miles an hour. But Wood's Miss America X holds the Harmsworth race record.)
On September 17, 1937, Scott-Paine put his Miss Britain III across the measured mile at Venice, Italy, at 110.10 miles an hour. (Two weeks before that, Sir Malcolm Campbell rocketed his Bluebird across the measured mile on Lake Maggiore, Italy, at 129.5 miles per hour.)
(Reprinted from Speedboat Kings : 25 Years of International Speedboating by J. Lee Barrett [Detroit : Arnold-Powers, Inc., 1939], Ch.17)
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