Chris Smith & His Boats
Back in the Dark Ages, fifteen years or more ago, when we thought boats ought to run on an even keel and when racers were classed for time allowance by overall length, we in the East considered that we had practically a monopoly of the art of speed boat designing. Our naval architects were all scientifically trained men and we thought that the ‘wild and wooly’ knew little about fast boats. Now and then, rumors of high speed craft came from somewhere out in the Middle West, but even in the East, almost every new record made was assailed on the ground that the course was short of the timing inaccurate. Those were the days when the big boat was the fast boat. We raced with 60-footers and the British International Trophy was contested by 40-footers. When the British team brought over Miranda, that little Thornycroft double ender, she looked like a toy alongside the Pioneer, a 40-footer. This was in 1910. and although Pioneer did not take the cup home with her, due to a bunch of seaweed in her water intake pipe, she traveled at such a pace that the attention of all speed boat designers was turned toward the hydroplane. True, we had read much of experiments made abroad but, as holders of the worlds recognized speed trophy, we had not attached a great deal of importance to these reports.
But we were due for an awakening. In 1911 we had disturbing reports of little single stop hydroplanes which were built somewhere near Detroit by a man named Smith. We did not have to wait long for confirmation, for in the Spring of 1912, Chris Smith sent a 20-footer to the East which showed a speed of better than 40 mph in carefully timed trials held over an accurately surveyed course. In that same year, two boats designed and built by this same Chris Smith, swept practically everything before them, cleaning up the 20-foot, 26-foot, 32-foot and 40-foot Mississippi Valley championships and winning the Mississippi Valley mile dash in the races at Davenport, Iowa, in the July 4, 5 and 6 regatta. They repeated at Chicago the next month in the regatta of Western Power Boat Association and the Baby Reliance II, the faster one of the pair, captured the first heat in the race for the British International Trophy late in August.
At Buffalo, she finished her season by winning the Great Lakes 32-foot championship, the free-for-all, the inter-Lake championship and the championship mile trials.
Compared with the accepted type of racing boat, these little single step hydroplanes were odd looking craft. They were very full forward, their sides being nearly parallel. Their bottoms were almost flat, except for the step amidships, and the turn of the bilge was extremely hard. It somehow did not seem right that a little 20-fotter should be faster than a 40-footer of the accepted type, and yet the Smith wonders showed the way home in every race in which they were entered.
That began the long reign of the ‘Wizard of Algonac,’ and with each succeeding year, his boats were better and faster. The first of the fleet were smooth water craft and were slowed down considerably when they met rough going. In spite of the fact that the Baby Reliance II won a heat in the B.I.T. race, the rough water qualities of the British challenger took the cup back to England. It was finally brought to this side by Miss America and was successfully defended against the British by Miss America II, both of them Chris Smith craft.
Just as the B.I.T. represented the world’s speed boat and championship, so was the Gold Cup the premier trophy on this side of the water, and the Gold Cup has been won no less than nine consecutive years by boats designed and built by Chris Smith and his sons. That is a record which we believe unequaled, and is a mark at which any designer and builder may shoot for a long time.
Quiet and self-contained, Chris Smith does not on the first glance impress the casual visitor with his attainments. We have never heard him blow his own horn nor depreciate the work of a rival. As far as we know,he makes no elaborate calculations nor lays down many lines on paper, but he has an eye for a boat, gained by long experience, and has produced the most remarkable racing motor boats ever turned out in this country or, we believe, in the world. His sons are following in his footsteps and with their experience in show and in the racing game, are already prominent figures in the motor boat world.
A year ago, the Chris Smith and Sons Boat Co., inaugurated an experiment inline with the policy which has been advocated for many years by this magazine, concentrating their facilities on a single size and model of standardized boat. The type they selected was that of the Gold Cup winner of 1922 and 23, known as Packard Chris Craft. The experiment has been successful, and from now on, according to Jay W. Smith, vice president and general manager, the standardization policy will be permanent. The popularity of the Chris Craft, as the boat is called, last year caused a marked increase in the original figures set for production, and this season more boats will be turned out.
The boats are fast, simple to operate and indeed, many of them have been sold to men who have never before owned a boat of any kind. Last year, at Detroit we saw 22 Chris Craft start in a special invitation race, and seventeen of these completed the first round with less than a minute between the first and the last.
The Chris Craft is 25 ft. 10 in. long, 6 ft. 8 in. beam and draws 22 in. The power plant is a Curtiss Smith 100 hp at 1,600 r.p.m. and driving the boat 35 mph. The boats construction is strong, the framing being of oak and the planking of mahogany.