legendary Gar Wood of Unlimited hydroplane fame were alive and racing today, he
would probably be an Offshore competitor. Indeed, Wood's fleet of ten MISS
AMERICA hydroplanes, which held sway in Unlimited competition from 1920 to 1933,
had a closer kinship with today's Offshore racing craft than a modern
Unlimiteds and Offshores can be traced to a common origin. These sublimely
engineered machines are the fastest and most spectacular vessels
afloat--constantly re-defining the state of the art on the cutting edge of
Unlimited/Offshore genesis began around 1910. That's when the first "step"
hydroplanes appeared. The "fast-steppers" skimmed over the surface of the water
with a notch or "step" located approximately amidships on the underside of the
"step" allowed the boat to plane over the water with much less friction than was
possible with the old-style displacement craft. (The latter subscribed to the
only known theory of water speed at the time--plowing through the water rather
than planing over it.)
"step" hydros were often hard to handle, and they rode like bucking broncos. But
they were fast. The "fast steppers" could run in some of the roughest water
imaginable--the ocean, large rivers, or large lakes. Garfield
Arthur Wood and Christopher Columbus Smith probably did more to refine the
"step" hydroplane concept than anyone else. Wood and Smith collaborated on MISS
DETROIT III in 1917. They were the first to try a lightweight aircraft engine
adapted for marine use in a race boat. The engine in question was a 1650 cubic
inch V-4 Curtiss power plant.
DETROIT III achieved victory in the 1917 Gold Cup on the Mississippi River at
Minneapolis. Three years later, Wood's MISS AMERICA I set a long-standing Gold
Cup heat record of 70.412 miles per hour on a 5-mile course.
Replica of Miss
Detroit III - built by Mike Michaud
to 1936, the "step" hydroplane reigned supreme as the undisputed king of
big-time power boat racing. This was especially true in the area of Harmsworth
British International ("Harmsworth") Trophy was the bronze plaque traditionally
emblematic of the speedboat championship of the world. The Harmsworth was
technically a race between nations rather than individual boats. During the
years between the World Wars, the two countries that usually battled for
possession of the Harmsworth Trophy were the United States and Great Britain.
AMERICA I journeyed to England in 1920 and won the race hands down, powered by a
pair of Smith-Liberty engines. Wood found that by adding a second engine--and by
lengthening the hull accordingly--he had the fastest boat in the world.
time MISS AMERICA X came along in 1932, Wood had upped the ante to four giant
engines. These were V-12 Packards, rated at 7600 horsepower, installed
two-by-two in a mahogany hull, 38 feet in length. MISS AMERICA X had great
difficulty in cornering, but she was the first to average over 124 mph on a mile
Wood team was never beaten in Harmsworth competition, and retired undefeated
after 1933. Their strongest challenger was MISS ENGLAND II in 1931. With Kaye
Don driving, MISS ENGLAND II lost the race to MISS AMERICA VIII but posted the
fastest lap ever turned on a closed course at 93 miles per hour, a record that
would stand unchallenged until 1949.
1930s witnessed the birth of a radically different concept in competitive power
boat designs--the three-point hydroplane, which would forever alter the course
of boat racing history.
successful three-pointers were the product of the famed Ventnor Boat Works of
Ventnor, New Jersey. The father and son design team of Adolph and Arno Apel
introduced a craft named MISS MANTEO II at the 1936 President's Cup Regatta in
Washington, D.C. A 225 Cubic Inch Class competitor, MISS MANTEO II dominated the
225 Class action at Washington and posted speeds that were embarrassingly close
to those turned by the larger and more powerful Gold Cup Class hydros.
Apels did with MISS MANTEO II was to take the "step," split it in two, and put
them on the opposite sides of the hull. These pontoon-like running surfaces were
called sponsons. This greatly increased the footprint of the boat. MISS MANTEO
II was wider and less prone to tipping over than a "step" hydroplane.
importantly, from the standpoint of speed, a three-point hydroplane trapped air
in the "tunnel" between the sponsons and had a great deal more "lift" than had
been possible with the "step" boats. Even though the propeller was completely
submerged in those early days, there was still a lot less friction with the
water. And the three-pointer could also corner a lot better and faster.
decade of the 1940s dawned with the Apels' three-point concept solidly
ensconced. More and more owners of Gold Cup and Unlimited Class equipment
invested in hulls with sponsons on them. The time-honored "step" hydroplane
would soon go the way of the biplane and the Model-T Ford.
three-point revolution of the late 1930s effectively split big-time power
boating into two separate categories. The three-pointers metamorphosed into the
prop-riding Thunderboats of today, while the "fast-steppers" evolved into the
deep-vee Offshore racers that rose to prominence in the 1950s.
three-pointers had one handicap, it was there inability to perform in rough
ocean-like chop. They were too lightly constructed and too delicately balanced.
Truth to tell, the sponson boats could do their spectacular thing only on small
protected bodies of water.
years after World War II, such popular rough water regattas as the Harwood's
Trophy Marathon Around Manhattan Island and the Fite Memorial Marathon at Ocean
City, New Jersey, were largely ignored by the Unlimited fraternity. Race sites
such as Lake St. Clair in Michigan, the scene of MISS AMERICA X's 1933
Harmsworth victory over MISS BRITAIN III, were totally unacceptable for
three-point boats, which lacked the stability and durability to run safely in
that kind of water.
"step" hydros--and their successors, the Offshore deep-vees--had no such
problem. The typical pre-war "step" hydroplane had a slight-vee underbody. By
increasing the deadrise angle to 16 degrees or greater, this enabled the deep-vee
hull to slice through rather than bounce over the surface.
racing, in the 1940s and early 1950s, was largely an "underground" sport. Hardly
paid much attention to it. Offshore, as it is known today, began around 1957 as
the brain child of Sherman "Red" Crise, organizer of the famed Miami-to-Nassau
Power Boat Regatta. Crise almost single-handedly presided over the sport's
Miami-to-Nassau winner was the legendary Sam Griffith, who covered 360 miles in
9 hours and 20 minutes. Griffith drove in 6-foot seas at 40 miles per hour.
Offshore racing had become wildly popular. The participants petioned the
American Power Boat Association for their own administrative division, just as
the Unlimited people had done in 1957. Offshore powerboat competition is a
challenge of the open sea. Unlike Unlimited racing, Offshore is primarily
endurance racing, rather than a series of short sprints.
can--and often do--get pretty hairy in an Offshore race. One hard bounce broke
both ankles of a racer at an event in which his craft still finished! Another
competitor's boat struck a helicopter during one wild leap! A driver from Texas
carried a six-gun to ward off shark attacks in the event that his rig would
break down and be adrift on the high seas! Italian racer Ron Bonelli finished a
race semi-conscious, was removed from his craft on a stretcher, but won!
the new developments in marine machinery have been tested and demonstrated first
in Offshore racing. Fiberglass hulls--tougher yet lighter than wood--have made
faster boats possible.
modern out-drive form of propulsion--which actually steers the boat more
effectively than a rudder--has had a tremendous effect on the pleasure craft
industry. Outdrive propulsion was first publicly demonstrated in the 1959
Miami-to-Nassau race, and outdrives have figured prominently in almost every
high-speed diesel-powered boats were pioneered in ocean racing, which led to a
record of better than 60 miles per hour for boats of this type.
years, the catamaran configuration has risen to prominence in the Offshore
ranks. The double-hulled catamaran is essentially a deep-vee cut in two with a
center section added.
catamarans were usually reserved for duty on calmer race courses. For years,
many teams would bring two hulls to a race--a catamaran and a deep-vee. If the
water was calm on race day morning, the catamaran would be used; if the water
was rough, the crew would send out the deep-vee. The catamarans of today are
highly refined. The modern double-hulled boats can run competitively in almost
any kind of water.
the biggest names in Offshore history was the late great Don Aronow, who was to
ocean racing what Bill Muncey was to Unlimited hydroplane competition. Aronow, a
former chief lifeguard at Coney Island, was bored with retirement after
fantastic financial success in real estate before he was 35 years old. He turned
to the building and racing of Offshore power boats as a new challenge and
achieved instant success with his first boat, THE FORMULA.
subsequently built and drove many champion hulls, bearing the names DONZI,
MAGNUM, and the dominant CIGARETTE RACING TEAM. The original 35-foot CIGARETTE,
reputed to be the first craft big enough to have a good-sized bunk and galley
down below, but still look like a race boat and go fast. (The accommodations
were required by international Offshore rules at the time.)
the year of his retirement from racing, Aronow received the Union of
International Motorboating's Gold Medal, which was personally presented to Don
by the "Gray Fox" Gar Wood. Wood had received the same award in 1928.