Cruising area: southwest
Join Date: Aug 2006
Some jottings I wrote down a few years ago regarding MLIV and the Harmsworth Cup races 1913.....
On Monday 8 September, RMYC Enchantress was towed, by tug from Netley to Osborne Bay, off the Isle of Wight, and anchored a mile from Wooton Creek. A large crowd of VIP guests assembled on board for the motorboat contest of the year. The racing was to continue until one boat has ‘won twice’, a gala dinner was arranged, on board, for the eve of the final race.
1st Heat. Half past two, Wednesday 10 September. Light breeze and smooth water. Sir Thomas Lipton’s steam yacht Erin had been placed at the ‘entire disposal’ of the Royal Motor Yacht Club, and was to be used as start, and committee vessel. The course was carefully designed well out of the way of general traffic so that spectators would have a view of the whole distance. It was an octagonal and laid out by Smith & Sons, a well known Southampton firm of compass adjusters, six laps, around eight mark boats, at least a ¼ mile apart forming 120° turns in Osborne Bay, all carrying large flags. The widest part of the course, between Ryde and Cowes, had only ¾ mile seperation between the hulks on Mother Bank and the Royal Yacht’s Tender Buoy in Osborne Bay. The total distance of the race was 37.3 miles. The start and finish lines were between two flags, hoisted on the bridge of the Erin, and a mark boat anchored a cable (200 yards) away just off Wooton Creek. Eight boats, all single or multi-step hydroplanes representing Britain, France and America assembled for the start. Robby in Izmé was first across to a perfect start, the two Despujols boats chasing hard, soon led, followed by Disturber III, Ankle Deep, with Izmé dropping to fifth, and late starter Maple Leaf IV running at the back. Crusader was unable to start her engine and went over the start line seventeen minutes late. The two French boats tussled for the lead seemingly well in control, the engineers speeding open the throttles if they were threatened from behind. On the second lap Izmé, overtook Ankle Deep. At the end of the lap two, Despujols I was having trouble and with a back-fire through her carburettor and ‘spitting flames’, eventually burning out two pistons as well as suffering a rudder problem, on the eastern leg of lap four. This allowed her sister boat to continue in the lead. Soon after, Disturber III was then seen ‘belching flames’ from her cylinder tops and running slowly. By lap six, Sopwith in Maple Leaf IV was gradually catching up, having gained 1 m 22 s, on the leader, over the preceding five laps, and by the finish she was up to second place. Despujols II came in first in 41 m 34 s, at an average speed of 53.78 mph. Maple Leaf IV (41 m 50 s) crossed the line, sixteen seconds later. Ankle Deep (42 m 42 s) was in third, followed by Izmé, and Despujols I (55 m 39 s) crossed the finish line using a thwart as a rudder followed by Crusader and Disturber III who slowly continued round to finish just inside the three hour time limit.
Overnight wonders were performed, by the French team, ‘gangs’ of mechanics worked on the rudder and fractured exhaust pipes of Despujols I. A new rudder came from Paris on the over-night ferry from Havre to Southampton, the order for its casting having been telephoned from Cowes, fifteen minutes after the race. Disturber III was also ready by nine the next morning, fitted with several new cylinder heads.
2nd Heat. Half past two, Thursday 11 September. Weather again ideal ‘for the attainment of high speeds’. Barometer reading 30.3 ins. The same ‘re-checked’ course. A very fine start saw Ankle Deep first across, ten seconds after the gun, followed by Izmé, Despujols II, Disturber III and Despujols I all within the next five seconds. The two French boats, once more, gained an early lead, Maple Leaf IV started thirty one seconds late, but soon came through the pack and formed, with the two French boats a breakaway trio, a mile ahead of the rest. On the fourth lap, Despujols I appeared to be having steering problems with her new rudder. At about the same time Despujols II lost a ‘sideplane’. Whilst rounding a mark boat, maybe catching an anchor warp, a bilge keel was torn off the hull the damage started a leak and water was soon being splashed around the engine bay by the spinning fly wheel, this wet the engine magneto, resulting in a bad misfire. She limped off the course toward Cowes. Meanwhile the bolts holding the new rudder to the transom of the now leading Despujols I were working loose. The engineer, realising
the cause of the steering problem was leaning out over the back of the boat endeavouring to tighten the bolts, with a spanner. The boat sped across a steamer wash and jumped clear of the water and on landing the engineer banged his head, on the rudder quadrant wheel, losing consciousness. Victor Despujols slowed the boat, pulled the engineer back into his seat and managed to revive him. Maple Leaf IV went past the stationary Frenchmen, into the lead, and completed her final lap at a record speed of 57½ mph. Despujols I soon got going and tried her damndest but could not regain the lost ground. Maple Leaf IV won the heat at an average of 56.44 mph, in 39 m 29 s. Royal Cruising Club member Walter Ledger wrote in the log of his 5 ton cutter Blue Bird “frantic was the applause when the English boat won”. Yachting Monthly described it as “a crescendo of steam whistles, klaxons and hooters“. Maple Leaf IV was followed three minutes later by the unfortunate Despujols I (42 m 48 s). America’s Ankle Deep (42 m 52 s) had made a splendid cut round the last mark, almost succeeding in gaining second place from Despujols I (42 m 48 s), but was four seconds behind her at the finish line, in third place. Fourth came Disturber III (43 m 25 s), fifth was the very consistent running Izmé (44 m 8 s) whose lap times were almost identical, throughout both heats, and in sixth place came Crusader (50 m 41 s). Despujols II retired, making her ineligible for tomorrow’s final.
With an unsettled sky and a dropping barometer that Thursday night, during the formal dinner on Enchantress, much of the conversation centred on the possible outcome and even the chances of the Americans having a good chance if it was rough. All the competitors seemed in agreement, that the stated course length was short of the mark. Maple Leaf IV’s best recorded speed of the season, up to now, was 54.3 mph, and she had been given a lap speed of 57½ mph.
3rd Final Heat. Half past two, Friday 12 September. During the morning the South storm cone had been hoisted at the Royal Yacht Squadron, by 2 o‘clock it was dropped and the ’boisterous’ conditions settled to a light wind and a ‘trifling swell’.
As the start gun sounded three of the six starters were over the line, the start was described by the Times reporter as ‘one of the most extraordinary ever witnessed’. Half a minute early Ankle Deep roared over the line, realised her fault and proceeded to do a sweeping turn around the Erin. Then Crusader approached at speed, suddenly slackened her speed and proceeded to run along the line without crossing, as this was all happening Izme, Disturber III and Despujols I all crossed at full speed and were some distance over as the gun finally sounded. Erin immediately raised the individual re-call signals and sounded repeated blasts on her siren. Izme returned to re-start but Disturber III and Despujols I deafened by their engine noise did not obey the re-call and were
not considered starters until they re-crossed after completing their first lap. Maple Leaf IV making up for her disastrous start the day before, crossed the line perfectly, three seconds after the gun and soon led, overhauling the Yankee Disturber III, and then the illicit French in Despujols I at the closing stage of the first lap. Disturber III and Despujols I were both effectively a lap behind, due to their jump start. Izmé suffering from a broken valve cotter, Crusader and Ankle Deep followed on. By the third lap Despujols I (on her effective second lap) was closing up to Maple Leaf IV’s transom, only for, this time, the English boat to accelerate away, Ankle Deep was now in fourth place, on the water, a few hundred yards astern. Crusader and Izmé were having a good tussle followed by a struggling Disturber III, once again belching flames from her 24 cylinders. Maple Leaf IV (40m 10s) won by a quarter of a lap to successfully defend the Harmsworth Trophy for another year, and the Red Ensign was immediately hauled aloft on Erin’s signal halliard to signify a British victory. There was ‘a storm of cheers and a wild blowing of whistles and sirens from every vessel in sight’. In second place although fourth on the water was Ankle Deep (43 m 29 s), third Crusader (46 m 30 s), followed by Despujols I with a broken piston, and struggling Izme ‘gave up’ when the finish line was crossed by the winner.
The competitors all assembled on Enchantress for the trophy presentation. Lord Northcliffe’s representative Mr F. P. Armstrong gave the trophy to Mr Mackay Edgar, whom he congratulated for winning it a second time. The helmsman Tom Sopwith, the builder Mr Saunders and the Austin Motor Company were also praised ‘for such a brilliant victory’. Maple Leaf IV was toasted as ‘admittedly the fastest all round racing boat in existence, her steady running and reliability contributing towards making her the most redoubtable vessel afloat in all kinds of racing’.
One of Maple Leaf IV’s laps had been recorded at 58.5 mph, the race speeds were officially protested, by the American team They claimed that the surveying and laying of the course had not been done correctly and short of the advertised distance, making the timing of laps understated, and the speeds improperly high. (The Times of London reported, 12 August 1920, the top lap speed for this race as 50.94 mph, muddling nautical and statute units).
Letter to the Editor of The Times,
Mr. J. C. Smith of Messrs. F. Smith and Son,
23, Oxford Street, Southampton, writes under date
of Sept. 13 :-
“With reference to your article on the race for
the British International Trophy in yesterday’s
paper, in which you state that on comparing the
fast speeds of Maple Leaf IV., you assume the course
to be about 10 per cent. short, I beg to inform you
that the course was laid out with the utmost care
and precision by myself, checked on the morning of
the race, and same was proved to be as near 5.4
sea miles as it is possible for one to get it, and if there
was any shortage at all it was merely a matter of a
few feet. . . At the same time, I would point
out for the information of your correspondent that
when the boats were going to the westward the tide
against them was practically nil, but on turning to the eastward they had a strong flood running with them.”