1949 Harmsworth Trophy
Detroit River, Detroit MI, July 23-August 1, 1949
The Race Of The Giants
As the asbestos ascends on the 1949 power boat racing season, it is expected that the two big attractions of the show will be a a tremendous year of service outboard racing and a late July revival of Harmsworth Trophy competition.
Interest in the racing of utility outboards lies chiefly with the contestants who are writing a very large chapter in the history of our marine pastime. The Harmsworth, on the other hand, has attracted attention largely of a vicarious nature, amounting in the main to inquisitiveness. Most of those now active in power boat racing barely remember the last time a race was run off for this old plaque supposedly emblematic of world speed supremacy on the water. It is only natural that its emergence from a 16-year hibernation should inspire a large amount of curiosity.
The whole business started, it seems, back in 1903 when Sir Alfred Charles William Harmsworth, an Irish-born journalist who became one of the foremost publishers in England, donated to the Royal Motor Yacht Club the British International Trophy for Motor Boats. While the official title, possibly because of its cumbersome length, gave way to the name Harmsworth Trophy, the donor became Viscount Northcliffe, thus creating no end of titular confusion.
Despite the importance frequently attached to the races for his trophy, Northcliffe became much more famous for such deeds as popularizing comics in the British press and posting cash awards for the first flight across the English Channel (by Louis Bleriot, 1909) and the first nonstop hop from Newfoundland to Ireland (by Alcock and Brown, 1919).
Although the B.I.T. was not its donor's main claim to fame, races for it have long provided an interesting setting for the parade of the latest in high speed boats. With the only technical limitation on competing craft being a length maximum of 40 feet, it is quite natural that Harmsworth boats have generally been the largest and fastest internal combustion-engined craft of their day.
The first contest for Northcliffe's plaque was run off in 1903 with England emerging the winner through the 19.53 m.p.h. dash of its representative, Napier I. The following year, Trefle-a-quatre, the French challenger, showed the way at a speed of 26.63. 1n 1905 and 1906, British boats won, with nothing material in the way of speed improvements resulting.
1907 saw the first successful American attempt at Harmsworth competition when E. J. Schroeder's Dixie had things her own way in the race off Southampton, posting a speed of 31.78 m.p.h. The British shipped two craft to try and regain their prize in the 1908 race at Huntington Bay, Long Island: Wolseley-Siddeley powered by a pair of 200 hp. engines and Daimler 11, carrying three power plants that put out a total of 525 hp. Schroeder countered with Dixie 11, with a lone 220 hp. engine, but quite capable of holding the trophy for another year.
In 1909 there was no race, but the following year the American colors were defended by F. K. Burnham's Dixie III. One of the British challengers in 1910 was a boat named Pioneer ungainly in appearance by comparison with the finely modeled displacement craft of that era. Pioneer's main point of distinction, however, was that she was a hydroplane, designed to skim along on the surface of the water rather than slice through it in the style of that day. Dixie IIIs stamina won .her the trophy but only after the foreign hydroplane had completely outclassed her in speed. Pioneer's breakdown did not weaken the evidence of the speed superiority of that hull form.
Burnham had Dixie IV built to defend in 1911. The British stormed over with three craft to try and regain the prize in the first race under revised rules requiring a country to win two heats to gain victory. Dixie IV was equal to the assignment, winning at a speed of 40.28.
Next year the sons of John Bull pinned their hopes on Maple Leaf IV, a 40 by 8 foot behemoth developing 740 hp. from her twin engines. The American defenders were mostly smaller hulls with much less power. One of them, J. Stuart Blackton's Baby Reliance, took the first heat, but reliability told the story and Maple Leaf had enough of that to go on and win the next two heats in succession.
In 1913 we sent two challengers to the race at Osborne Bay, England, to fight it out with three British and two French boats. The gigantic Maple Leaf took top honors for what was to be the last British Harmsworth victory to date.
The first World War put a stop to this competition for the next six years. In 1920 Gar Wood made the crusade to England with two boats: Miss Detroit V, 38 by 8 feet of single step hydroplane driven by a pair of Liberty engines than Miss America, a 26 by 7 foot hydro, boasting a single Liberty. The third member of our team was A. L. Judson's Whipp-O-W ill Jr., slightly larger than Miss America but powered with two 16 cylinder Bugatti engines of 500 hp. each. Maple Leaf V, a new defender, had four 300 hp. Sunbeams while her older sister had been repowered with a pair of Rolls Royces. The French entered two boats. Although the Judson craft burned and sank before the race, the American team brought the Harmsworth back to the U.S. where it has remained ever since. Victory was credited to Miss America at a speed of 61.51 m.p.h.
When the Britishers invaded the "States" in 1921, they brought along Maple Leaf VII, 34 by 10 feet and built largely of plywood. Her engine space was filled with four Sunbeams. rated at 500 horses each. Wood came up with Miss America II, not quite as large as Maple Leaf, but powered with four Liberties. The Wood entrant had little trouble retaining the B.I.T. when the foreign challenger came apart early in the contest.
No further Harmsworth Races were held until 1926. In that year a French challenger, France Excelsior, appeared and was greeted by no less than three new Wood craft. Miss Americas III, IV and V. This turned out to be a needless precaution as tile French boat folded almost before she started.
1927 was another off year, but in 1928 Betty Carstairs challenged in the name of Great Britain with her Estelles, two lightweight hydros driven by single Napier engines of some 875 hp. Wood successfully turned them back with Miss America VII, a 28' by 79" boat using two 1000 hp. Packards to do the work.
Miss Carstairs came back the following year with a larger Estelle, this time relying on three Napier engines. Wood created Miss America VIII, practically a twin of the VII. It was the same old story; the foreign challenger came unstuck and Commodore Wood won easily. This year, for the first time in 16 years, the winning speed was significantly boosted, as Wood reeled off a tidy 75.287.
In 1930 a third Carstairs challenge developed. In addition to her large boat of the preceding year, the Britisher brought a new one, Estelle V, apparently, copied from Miss America VIII, but equipped with a pair of supercharged 1430 hp. Napiers. Wood of course brought out a new Miss America, the IX, with two Packards for power. The new Carstairs boat got a bad start but overcame this in a whisk and passed everything on the course. And then came the inevitable mechanical failure caught up with Estelle V and she dropped out, leaving Wood to win again.
In 1931, Americans had a chance to see the last product of Sir Henry Seagrave. famed British auto and boat racer. Seagrave had been killed on Friday, June 13, 1930, while setting a new world speed record in his Miss England II. This was an enormous hull. scientifically streamlined driven by two Rolls Royce engines of 1850 hp each. After the fatal accident, the hull was salvaged and turned over to Kaye Don to drive in the Harmsworth. Wood stood pat with Miss America VIII and IX, although he did supercharge the latter, boosing her power to 2800. Miss England took the first heat, setting records which still stand 89.913 for the heat and 93.017 for a lap. After a series of historic adventures and public statements. Wood jumped the gun at the start of the second heat. with Don close after him in a jump of his own. Trying frantically to overtake Miss America IX in the first turn. Don hooked his chine and barrel rolled the big white challenger. With the IX disqualified. Wood's other entrant went on to win.
Came 1932 and some new rules requiring a course at least 35 but no more than 50 nautical miles in length. with a minimum of two miles from the start to the first turn. The British sent Don back with a new Miss England III, using the same two Rolls Royce engines, but this time driving two wheels in place of the single one used on the II. Gar Wood built Miss America X, 38' x 10'6", with four Packards rated at 1600 hp. each. Although Don led in the early stages, the enormous American craft moved out ahead midway in the first heat and was never passed.
The last of the Harmsworth Races took place in 1933. Hubert Scott-Paine represented Great Britain with a little 24'6" by 8' aluminum boat that carried one 1375 hp. Napier. The little fellow offered scant opposition to Miss America X, although she was able to turn a lap at 87.215 m.p.h.
Sixteen years have passed since that race years of depression and of war. The lack of interest in craft of Harmsworth caliber requires no further explanation. Even now there would probably be no prospects except for the throwing wide open of the Gold Cup rules to the point where a Gold Cup boat is now restricted by rules almost identical to those in the deed of gift of the late Viscount Northcliffe.
And so two men who have built boats for, and raced in recent Gold Cup contests, have now challenged for the Harmsworth. E. A. Wilson, of Ingersoll. Ontario, Canada, has for many years entered his Miss Canadas in Gold Cup Races. He has challenged with a boat that seems to have been placed under some sort of security classification by the Wilson organization. This much can be surmized: she will be driven by the owner's son Harold who has steered for him in many past races. The designer will be Doug Van Patten from whose board came the latest Wilson Gold Cupper. Greavette did the building on that hull and is most likely constructing the new one. It has been rumored that a Rolls Royce Griffon engine rated at a couple of thousand horsepower is the Wilson choice.
This Canadian challenge was made possible by a change in the Harmsworth deed of gift. Heretofore boats had to be designed and built entirely by nationals of the country represented, using materials and units built wholly within that country. Now the boat merely has to be built in the country she represents. A special new clause permits British Dominions to use British engines.
Another challenge has been received from Achille Castoldi of Milan Italy, who raced briefly in last year's Gold Cup. No details have been released about this challenger.
The United States is entitled to defend with a team of three craft. These will be selected by a Qualification Committee of ten members chosen by the Yachtsmen's Association of America, a body which serves as the National Authority for Harmsworth contests. According to J. Lee Barrett, Secretary of YAA, "Elimination trials for (the) Harmsworth Race will be held on (the) Detroit River about two weeks prior to (the) race."
Probable entrants in these trials include many of the well-known Gold Cup boats of the present vintage. Several new craft are rumored to be building especially for the B.I.T. Race, but only one is a well-established fact. This one is nearing completion in the Atlantic City plant of the Ventnor Boat Corporation. Her design is by Arno Apel, using Ventnor's patented three-point suspension. Both aerodynamic and hydrodynamic research have gone into the layout. Her dimensions are 32' by 11'8". A 3420 cubic inch, 24 cylinder Allison engine is being installed. This unit is rated 3000 hp. at 3000 r.p.m. Since the engine has dual counter-rotating crankshafts, power is being transmitted through universal joint jack shafts diverging outboard about 5° to two Arena gear boxes. From the vee drives the propeller shafts run aft, again diverging outboard, to two counter-rotating props. The design speed is 150 m.p.h.
This craft is being built at a cost of approximately $30,000 for the prominent industrialist, Henry Kaiser. Construction is composite, employing a structural aluminum backbone covered with special Haskelite plywood, said to cost $3.00 per square foot. Driving will probably be done by Guy Lombardo who is expected to keep his own Tempo VI for Gold Cup events and mount the Kaiser steed for the Harmsworth.
(Reprinted from Yachting, May 1949, pp51, 94-5)
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