Friday, March 4, 2011

Lake George, Once Home to World’s Fastest Boat

In August, 1914, following the victory of Baby Speed Demon over Ankle Deep in the first Gold Cup race to be held on Lake George, the Lake George Mirror reported that “C.C. Smith Company has been commissioned to build a hydroplane for a prominent member of the summer colony who is located at the far end of the lake. This boat is very similar to the winner of the Gold Cup.” The Lake George Mirror itself offered the Mirror Cup for hydroplanes in the Lake George Regatta Association’s races later that summer. The winner was a young George Reis, who would bring the Gold Cup races back to Lake George in the 1930s.

The summer of 1914 was Lake George’s first introduction to boats that plane above the water, rather than moving through it. The inventor of the planing hull was Chris Smith, the founder of Chris Craft and the designer of Baby Speed Demon, who, in response to someone’s remark that his boats were not long enough to displace enough water to travel at top speed, said, “Displacement? I don’t care about displacement. All I need is enough water to cool the engines, that’s all.”

From that date forward, all Gold Cup raceboats were constructed with planing hulls.

But before 1914, the fastest boat in the world was a Lake George steamboat, the Ellide; 80 ft long, and eight feet wide in the beam, she was built of mahogany and cost $30,000.

The Ellide was owned by E. Burgess Warren, a Green Island cottager and an investor in the Sagamore. In June, 1897, the Ellide made a trial run on the Hudson River, where she covered a measured mile in forty two and one half seconds. The trial was a preliminary one, and although she achieved a speed of thirty five miles per hour, she was capable of going even faster, and later reached speeds of 40 miles per hour. The engine, boiler, screw and hull of the Ellide were designed by Charles Mosher, one of the foremost designers of the day, and built in Nyack, New York by Samuel Ayres & Son. (Mosher built a number of fast yachts, among them the Arrow, which was 130 ft long.) Warren reportedly paid Mosher a bonus of $6,000 if he could make the Ellide exceed thirty miles per hour. Other reports claim that the Warren’s contract with Mosher specified that the Ellide would cost $15,000 plus $1,000 for every mile-per-hour speed that the boat was able to maintain. If the boat could travel at speeds of 40 miles per hour, the cost would have been $55,000, a remarkable sum for those days.

In July, 1897, the Lake George Mirror published a first-hand account of the Ellide‘s speed:

“If you have ever ridden on the tail of a comet, or fallen from a balloon, you may have thought you knew something about speed; but the effects produced by the above are slow and commonplace in comparison with the sensations experienced by a reporter last week in a trip on E. Burgess Warren’s fast launch Ellide, when she covered a mile in one minute and thirty -five seconds on her trial trip on the Hudson, or at the marvelous rate of thirty-eight miles an hour.

“On the dock looking down at the little flyer, one saw a highly polished hull that rode lightly on the water and the powerful engine ( Mosher’s masterpiece) was covered with a tarpaulin. It did not look formidable, so when the covering was removed, and the engineers and stokers began to get up steam the crowd of spectators , who gazed curiously down at the yacht from the string-piece, were greatly disappointed in the appearance of this highly polished mass of steel and shining brass. It resembled the average marine engine about as much as the finest Waltham watch movement does the old-time Waterbury.

“It took but a few minutes to generate sufficient steam to turn the engine over, and,at the command the mooring lines were cast off and Ellide slipped out into the stream, traveling at what was considered a very slow pace – about twenty-five miles an hour. She was traveling under natural draught, and carrying but sixty pounds of steam: she nevertheless skipped through the water at this remarkable pace without any apparent wave, and leaving a wake scarcely larger than that thrown by a good-sized naptha launch. Making a wide sweep, Captain Packard, who was at the wheel, sounded the signal to increase the speed.

“Designer Mosher, who crouched on the engine room floor, gave the word to his assistant and the throttle was pulled wide open. The second quarter was covered in twenty three seconds, making the time for the first half of the journey just forty eight seconds, a history unprecedented in the history of steam craft. When within one hundred yards of the finish line the sound of the rushing waters was drowned by the roar of hissing steam from the two safety valves, and the the midship section of the boat was hidden in a white cloud. The brass jacket of the reversing gear had become jammed, and an instant before had blown off. The accident was trifling, but the designer thought best to stop the engine to prevent more serious complications. The craft drifted over the last one hundred yards under the momentum she had gained.

During the Spanish-American War, rumors circulated that the Ellide would be sold to the U.S. government for use as a torpedo boat. Plans called for furnishing the vessel with a steel deck and with armor plates for her sides. When refitted, she would have carried a torpedo tube in her bow and a rapid fire gun.

As late as 1904, the Ellide still held world speed records, and Warren was still exhibiting her at local regattas. After Warren’s death, she was sold to a local garage owner for $1500, who operated her as a tour boat. At a much later date she was shipped to Florida where she was also used an excursion boat until she was finally lost on some rocks.

Photo: Ellide, Lake George Mirror files.

For more news from Lake George, read the Lake George Mirror or visit Lake George Mirror Magazine.

Anthony F. Hall

Anthony F. Hall

Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.


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