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The Highs and Lows of a Model Powerboat Man
Jim Hampton

My earliest recollections of modelling was as a 10 year old kid in 1945 saving my 6d per week pocket money to purchase a small motor boat that I had seen advertised. I built that boat, all of 12" long with great difficulty and then saved many more weeks for the electric motor. The big day came; the torch batteries were connected- the boat launched out into the choppy waters of Southsea Canoe Lake, never to be seen again. Quickly decided that model boats were a waste of time and took up fishing.

Some month’s later my elder sister’s boyfriend presented me with a Keil Kraft Achilles rubber powered model aeroplane kit and showed me how to set out the plan on a board to build the fuselage and wings. Another lesson on tissue covering and doping and the plane was ready for flight. Knew nothing of trimming, only balancing the plane by its wingtips before launching it skywards. Seemed pretty good fun, so decided to save up again at 6d a week to purchase a Keil Kraft Ajax kit, a slightly larger plane. Still no knowledge of trimming, but the Ajax flew too well and vanished over the fence of Southsea Model Village, which was closed for the winter and had notices warning of guard dogs. Nobody had told me about putting my name and address on models.

Purchased four copies of ‘Aeromodeller’ and was won over by the picture and advert for the Keil Kraft ‘Scorpion’ powered model aircraft. Believe it was £2-7-6d, well beyond my savings of 6d a week so talked my father into buying it for my birthday. Soon had it built and proceeded to pester my father into getting a Mills 1.3cc diesel engine as a present for passing my 11 plus. Neither my father or I had a clue on starting small diesel engines, so that was another disaster.

Elder sister’s boyfriend had acquired a model air sea rescue launch and some members of Portsmouth Model Boat Club helped fit a Stentor 6cc engine on glow plug ignition. He soon decided model boats were not for him and I became the new owner. This engine started easily so a second Stentor was purchased for £3, secondhand from John Coxhalls local model shop, and work started on a 36" model Vosper MTB, soon completed and running.

Started reading Model Engineer in 1946 and joined Portsmouth Model Boat Club in 1947 while still only twelve. My father had now become interested and built a 4’ 6" version of the Vosper MTB using my Xmas present as an excuse for purchasing a 10cc Channel Island Special engine for it. A small free running hydroplane was built for the Mills 1.3cc engine and a second Thorneycroft air sea rescue launch equipped with a 5cc DC Wildcat diesel engine.

Picture above is Jim with Air Sea Rescue launch 1947, and below MTB 1948

By 1949 many free running I/C engined craft were running on the Canoe Lake at Southsea, mostly by us youngsters and soon the adult enthusiasts became worried about collisions to their mostly steam driven ships. At the next monthly meeting it was agreed that all fast I/C engined boats should be run tethered as in pre-war times at the Canoe Lake. Mr Caesar, one of only three remaining members of the old Portsmouth Model Steam Boat Club offered to find the pole and point out the socket location in the lake. I couldn’t see myself running MTBs and air sea rescue craft tethered round a pole, but saw this as a challenge and entered into the spirit by building a small hydroplane powered by a Frog 500 engine given to me by a non-active club member.

Never did get the pole located in the lake, but runs of 25mph were soon obtained by holding the tether line by hand. Attended Southampton model boat regatta, and after seeing Ken Hyder’s 5cc Dooling engined boat run at over 50mph decided to avoid embarrassment and not unwrap my model.

Portsmouth Club were now running coach trips to the MPBA Grand Regatta at Victoria Park and I was able to witness more hydroplanes in action run by Bill Everitt, Dick Phillips, Ken Hyder, Basil Miles and others so soon became hooked on circular course speedboats. Our coach driver Jim Bobey, who doubled as the coach firm’s mechanic, watched events at Victoria Park and also got hooked sufficiently to build a 15cc two-stroke engine and a hydroplane, going on to obtaining a McCoy .60 American engine.

My schoolwork suffered badly and I left to do an apprenticeship at a local engineering firm, starting on 31 shillings per week. 10 shillings for my home keep, 10 shillings paying off cost of a second-hand lathe and 11 shillings for clothes, overalls, tools etc. No cash for parties, alcohol etc in those days. I had little chance or cash to get a McCoy engine, so after reading Westbury in ME and studying engine tuning articles in Model Maker, set about carving out a couple of very crude crankcase patterns, one 10cc and the other 30cc.

A local foundry cast them in aluminium alloy and I spent the best part of a year machining up the 10cc engine, which proved reasonably successful in the hydroplane ‘JIM 1’. The 30cc engine and boat followed, but a mishap occurred at the Canoe Lake when a hook failed on the tether line, allowing the boat to break free and mount the bank.

By now I had become a member of the Southampton Society OF Model Engineers and enjoyed great times at their water, the Ornamental Lake on Southampton Common. During this time Ted Harris came into hydroplanes and we were able to work together. We both eventually did obtain McCoy .60 engines and were getting quite reasonable speeds around 70mph.
(Victory Cup at 1956 Grand Regatta)

I had now embarked on producing another 10cc engine, this time producing much better split patterns and core boxes in order to cast my own crankcases similar to Dooling, but much stronger to stand up to the rough use in hydroplaning. Ted Harris now had a small lathe so machined up the first set of castings and soon had the engine installed in a boat and running. My engine was only 70% finished when I was called up for National service during which time I met my future wife Cappie. The marriage took place in Southsea after I completed my military service and Ted Harris was my best man.

Picture above: Ted (right) and Jim (middle) along with Don Careless were featured on the cover of the Model Engineer for 4th June 1959 where they were photographed at the Canoe Lake with their respective 10cc and 15cc boats.
Below: Exquisite patterns and part finished 10cc engine. Casting carried out in the fire grate at Jim's parent's home.

It is now 1962, Jim Boby had passed away but Alan Osborne, Dick Tuck and Dave Winter, a junior, had now joined the Portsmouth hydroplane group and we were able to keep things going, attending the St Albans and Southampton events. Sadly running at the Canoe Lake and Southampton became more problematic and in the end tethered hydroplanes were actively discouraged and so the remaining enthusiasts formed their own club and kept running for several years with members from Hampshire and the south coast.

1957: 30cc hydro with home
built engine.

1958:68mph with McCoy engined boat Southampton Regatta.

 1963: 10cc hydro 'Cappie' McCoy series 20 engine

  Ted Harris   Alan Osbourne    Dick Tuck
       Jim Hampton            David Winter

During this time I did build new 2.5 and 5cc boats for Super Tigre engines and was fortunate to get the 5cc record at St Albans ( 28th Aug 1967, 72.0 mph with 'Noodle') and European silver medal with the 2.5 at Amiens, France in 1967 before packing up the hobby. I loved the hobby and was passionate about it before local difficulties overtook the sport. Since I retired from racing over 30 years ago I have collected model engines and now intend to run both ‘O’ gauge and gauge I steam locos in my back yard.

Silver medal European Championship Amiens 1967

'Tiny' the diminutive class A1, 2.5cc hydro

Thanks to Jim for putting all this together and supplying the photographs that illustrate the article.


Ted Harris another south coast enthusiast

Pit Box is normally reserved for interesting items that have come to light after a number of years, and this is how a McCoy 10cc motor offered on eBay might have ended up had the story behind it not been so fascinating. The item description mentioned that the engine had been used in a tethered hydroplane in the 60s and regularly recorded speed around 70mph, so off went an email to see if we could find out more?

What was discovered was a complete racing career, memories, mementoes and hardware that have led to this Pit Box special edition.

Peter Lambert, Ken Hyder and Ted Harris Portsmouth Canoe Lake 1961.

By the mid 1950s tethered car racing had all but vanished but tethered hydroplanes were flourishing and had evolved into sophisticated racing boats that were running in the high 70mph bracket. This inspired a young engineer from Portsmouth to become involved in the sport, and Ted Harris joined a group of local enthusiasts that were racing at the Canoe Lake on Southsea Promenade and the Ornamental Lake on Southampton Common.

One of Ted’s fellow Portsmouth Club members was another young engineer, Jim Hampton, and the two of them formed a formidable partnership. Ted and Jim along with Don Careless were featured on the cover of the Model Engineer for 4th June 1959 where they were photographed at the Canoe Lake with their respective 10cc and 15cc boats. Jim also raced a 30cc A class boat which was restricted to home built engines whilst the 10cc class was dominated by the Dooling and McCoy motors imported form America.

Don Careless, Jim Hampton and Ted Harris

These were expensive and difficult to obtain and several stalwarts still manufactured their own motors, including Jimmy Jones and Dick Phillips who held the British record in 1955 at 76mph. Nothing daunted, Ted and Jim set about building their own Dooling style motors and produced a superb set of split patterns and core boxes. Cirrus aero engine pistons were melted in the fire grate at Jim’s parents house to produce sets of castings for the venture and all the subsequent machining was carried out on small lathes at home.

Ted completed his engine and raced it successfully whilst Jim’s was well on its way when he was called up for National Service. After demob Jim moved on to other projects and his motor has remained unfinished. Ted continued to compete while Jim was serving in Germany and often raced Jim’s boats by ‘proxy’. One notable occasion at Southampton in 1959 saw him win the Scott Payne trophy for Jim.

By the beginning of the 60s the McCoy was unbeatable and Ted had obtained two very quick versions of this engine. To utilise the power of these potent motors a new boat was required and with regular visits from the world record holder Menant and other competitors from across the Channel it was inevitable that these exceedingly fast French boats should provide the influence for this lightweight and slim boat. With fully adjustable sponsons of balsa and a hull devoid of stringers the result was a featherweight boat. A coat of fuel proofer rather than paint kept the finished weight to under 3lbs. The hull and engine combination proved very competitive and would run at 75-80mph and allowed Ted to hold his own at regattas all over the country.

Launching the McCoy powered 'eddy' at Southampton Ted, Jim, Pauline Husbands (in waders) and David Winter

Some 40 lakes around Britain were in use for racing tethered hydroplanes and Ted Harris regularly travelled as far as Bournville Lake in Birmingham and the Altrincham Club in Manchester as well as numerous trips to St Albans and Victoria Park in London to compete. Even more adventurous was a trip with one of Jim’s boats to the Paris International, a regular event for British competitors. It was quite usual for Ted and Jim to strap a hydro each to their backs and ride off to the local lakes on a Triumph Thunderbird whilst for the longer journeys a coach would be hired for a ‘club outing’ with an unusual outcome that the coach driver became a committed boat racer as well.

In the late 60s Ted’s racing career was brought to an end by increasing family commitments and the lightweight boat and various engines were consigned to the shed were they remained until he decided to part with the first of the McCoy motors on eBay, which is where this story began.

Right: In the best tradition of Pitbox, a true shed find.

OTW enjoyed a very pleasant visit to see Ted at his home and to hear about his racing exploits. He kindly sorted out a number of photos and records for us to look at, as well as offering an opportunity to see the engines and the one surviving boat. What was totally unexpected and even more exciting was that the 10cc racing engine built by Ted around 1960 was still in existence and as can be seen from the photo above is a very handsome and well made motor.

Later we were given a guided tour of Southampton Common and taken to the Ornamental Lake, with all the reminiscences of this delightful location and popular racing venue. The same afternoon we visited the home of the Portsmouth Club at Southsea and marvelled at the thought of hydroplanes running on a lake in such a built up area.

Ornamental Lake on Southampton Common

Canoe Lake at Southsea

Our thanks are due to Ted Harris for a fascinating day and for all the important material he made available to us as well as an introduction to Jim Hampton who has provided a storehouse of information for a future article.

Update 2008.

With the engine and hull reunited, it was decided to do no more than repair the water damage on the front half of the boat and clean the motor, to preserve the boat as it was raced. The plywood in the nose area had delaminated, so this was reglued and the outer layer of the sponsons cleaned up. The studding sponson bars had to be replaced as the steel originals had rusted badly. Just a coat of varnish to fuel proof the repaired wood and that was the renovation was complete. 

Thoughts then turned to Ted's home built engine. No plans for the boat existed, but the picture on the front of the Model Engineer gave enough details to make a replica feasible. Simple ply construction and solid balsa sponsons made this a very quick build with the longest task being the skeg, shaft and fuel 'knock off system. The motor had been despatched to Mike Crisp for a rebore and new piston, as the original had been destroyed, and luckily a new Dooling Piston was found. This only left the hull to be painted, and the question of colour. For some reason, the boat in the B&W photo just had the look of blue, and happily the shade chosen was not far out.  With a set of Portsmouth registration letters added, this was as close to an exact replica as it was going to be possible to build, some 50 years after the original.

'Eddy' preserved rather than restored. Replica boat with Ted's home built engine.