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Hydroplanes from the 1930's

'Still looking good in their 70s'

There are a number of complete boats that have survived from the 30s decade. Some are still in original condition, some suffered the ravages of time and others that have been restored. What follows is a selection that illustrates the range of tethered hydroplanes that raced in that decade varying from the semi-scale with commercial engines to the experimental units from the enthusiastic engineers that were evident in every club.

The 30s started with the flash steam powered boats having held the speed record continuously since 1908. This was not to change until 1936 when an IC engined boat took the record for the first time.

The two boats shown here date from the turn of the decade and are fine examples of IC engined boats of the period. The hulls are traditional launch style with a single step. The 'scale' element still carries through to the extent that Vamp even has the deck planks lined in. Both boats are fitted with a single tether plate for pylon racing, but the water-cooled motors would indicate that they also saw service as straight running boats at some stage.

The engines are almost identical examples of the Sharp designed 'Grayson' that was in turn derived from the earlier 'Economic Electric' motor. Available in 25cc and 30cc versions, this engine was also sold by Gamages and Bond's  as an early example of 'badge engineering'. The 20s influence is still evident as both motors still have the early updraft surface carburetters that lie alongside the crankcases.

Top:     Vamp from the South Shields Club, restored and ready to run. Updated Aug 08

Bottom: Mark Russell's similar example with added 'straight running' fins.

While the four-stroke IC motor would come into its own in the 30s, the simpler two-stroke also had its advocates but was not to achieve major success and universal popularity for another decade. Gems Suzor, achieved most of his success with these motors, while in the UK, Andrew Rankine was in the forefront of development with the 'strokers'. Travelling regularly from Scotland, he achieved a great deal of success with his superbly engineered 'Oigh Alba' boat. Below are examples of boats with two-stroke engines, the first a 'one off' from two very high profile modellers and engineers, and the other with a hull and motor, both built from published plans by an enthusiast in Newcastle. Both these boats are in private hands with 'Jildi' fully restored and 'Fast Cat' awaiting workshop time.

In 1934 Captain Bowden's boat with a Westbury Atom Minor took the World 'C Class' record to 24.78mph. A Westbury designed scow hull with an English Mechanic's 30cc motor as run by Norman Dixon in the late 30's

Two 'scow' type boats that represent the level of engineering that was required to be in the 'running' at regattas. Most of the hulls were variations on a theme and it was in the engine department where most of the development went on. The motor in Enid is typical of the high performance OHV single cylinder engines that were the norm throughout the 30s, while 'Spook's motor was a very determined attempt to be 'different'. 'Enid' and 'Spook' are both in private hands.

'Enid' is the youngest of these survivors, being built by Bob Thomas in 1939. The 30cc motor is from Ken Williams' castings. Charles Booth from Bolton built a series of 'Spook' boats and this is the 1937 version powered by a 30cc Aspin rotary valve motor.

Two superbly engineered boats and engines from two very prolific builders. George Noble from Bristol began competing, along with his brother, in the early years of the last century and produced an incredible number of motors of widely differing types. L.J. French started building boats in the late 20s and published many of his designs in Model Engineer under the name of 'Spectator'. He was anything but, as the delightful 15cc 'Little Star' proved so effectively.  'Bulrush' remains with the Colbeck family while 'Little Star' is back with a private owner .

George Noble built 10 'Bulrush' boats, with the first taking the  speed record in 1913. This the very successful 'Bulrush 8'. John French, with his beautiful 15cc 'Little Star', took the C Class record from Bowden with a run of 34.86 mph in 1936.

It is fitting that the following two boats have survived as they hold a unique place in tethered hydroplane history. They are the only 'A' class boats to have held the outright speed record and, equally, the only four-stroke motors to have achieved the same feat. 'Faro' is in a private collection and Betty has now been donated to the Victoria Club.

'Betty', the first IC engined boat to hold the outright speed record. Built by the Innocent Brothers in 1933 Ken William's 'Faro', built in 1935, was the only other 'A' Class IC boat to hold the British and European speed record

Grateful thanks to Ken Smith, Tom Clement, Tim Walcott, Jim Free, Mark Russell, Alan Thompson and Peter Hill for the photographs.