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Surviving Pioneers 

Early racing models were based on full sized speed boats which were normally displacement type hulls as the hydroplane was still in its infancy. They were quite large being anything from a metre to a metre and a half in length. These boats were intended for straight line racing although many were adapted to race 'round the pole' when it became an accepted style of competition. Two examples of these launch type boats still in existence are 'Dot' from South Shields and Ted Vanner's Leda III.


Text by Bob Kirtley

Photo's Alan Thompson

We are pretty sure that the small, very old steam speedboat  was originally built by one of our old time model steam boat members, Thomas Tully. He and his friend Captain Wilson were active in the early part of the 20th century.  The South Shields Club, still called South Shields Model Yacht Club was founded in 1886 but powered boats appeared shortly after.  Two engineers which we knew well, Bob and Gilbert Sutherland (now unfortunately dead) remembered Mr Tully running his boat around the pole when they were young just after WW1. Gilbert, or Gib as he was known, actually saw the boat in question again in its unrestored state before he died and confirmed that it was a Tully boat.  Thomas Tully was an excellent engineer who also built at least two magnificent steam yachts.  During the 1960's one of them was running regularly with the then owner.  It was big, with a compound engine, but the blowlamp was very similar to the one found in the small speedboat.  The steam yacht was called "Dorothy". It had a sister ship called "Dorothea" and the speedboat, long since disappeared but now rediscovered was called "Dorothetus". It will probably have competed in the old straight line speed event at South Shields, but has also clearly been an early round the pole boat, monopolising the lake as the old timers complained.

Coming up to date, the boat has been beautifully restored by our club member Don Walkinshaw, who also has an excellent scale model of Campbell's "Bluebird" complete with gas turbine engine.  In the small speedboat which he has christened "Dot", he has used the original engine, a twin cylinder double acting one of mainly gunmetal construction with double acting water pump.  To this he has added an oil pump and a new flash boiler and blowlamp.  The old boiler was thoroughly burnt out but I have the original blowlamp. The boat has a huge propeller and ran under its own steam last year for the first time since, we believe, the 1920's.
Thanks to Bob Kirtley and Alan Thompson.

Leda III

Built in 1910 by Ted Vanner, one of the founder members of the Victoria Model Steamboat Club, this was the second boat to carry the Leda III name. The first version was a steam boat that proved to be a failure as a straight runner. The second used "a fierce noisy, smelly, and generally bad mannered petrol engine". This was a large single cylinder 4-stroke engine, laid down in the hull and started with a key. The Belvedere engine he used was to power many of the early boats. Like many hulls, construction was sheets of tinplate shaped and then soldered together. Ted Vanner would normally use his boats for straight running but would compete in both straight and circular course racing and often gave demonstration runs 'round the pole'. The name 'Leda' regularly appeared in results for each type of competition and Ted would travel extensively throughout Britain to regattas. He also made trips to France, the first being in 1913 which must have been quite an adventure with such a large boat.

Leda III was run regularly up to Ted's death in 1955 impressing spectators with its huge bow wave, often twice the height of the boat. In 1969 it was passed to Alwyn Greenhalgh  in a pretty sorry state, but after a great deal of work, to both the hull and engine, was restored to the current condition. The boat made several runs at the 1973 Grand Regatta following its renovation and remains in the 'Greenhalgh collection'.

Thanks to Tim Westcott for the Photo  

Vanner was a prolific builder of boats prior to WW1 and two more of his boats from this period have survived, the flash steam Ledaette that was sometimes run by his wife and an unnamed boat, still with  its horizontal Belvedere motor.

Vernon Delves-Broughton and Herbert Teague pioneered the use of the functional hydroplane hull, rather than the semi-scale racing launches setting the first ever record with a tethered boat. 'Folly' built in 1908 and the later 'Folly II' set a trend in hull design that lasted through to the 1950's. Amazingly three examples of  flash steam powered boats with their relatively basic hulls still survive from the period before the first World War including one that bears a remarkable similarity to the 'Folly' designs.

Original watercolour by Herbert Teague of 'Folly' at speed, 1910

A contemporary of Teague and Delves-Broughton was H. H. Groves who was probably better known for his work on lightweight flash steam plants for model aircraft. He used his experiences in this specialised field to produce very effective flash steam hydroplanes. It was the 'Irene' series of boats that was to gain Groves recognition in the tethered hydroplane world. 'Irene II' established the basic layout of a metre long rectangular box, with a single step, and a twin cylinder rotary valve engine, essentially an updated version of Teague and Delves Broughton's 'Folly'. 'Irene II' was badly damaged in an accident early in 1914 and an almost identical boat built to replace it called 'Irene III'. A failure of the tethering pole caused the destruction of this boat after just a few runs. The steam plant was transferred to yet another similar hull which became 'Irene IV'  and took the British record in 1914 at 24.25mph. This layout proved very successful and was used by others as the basis for numerous steam and IC boats that followed. Although none of the Irenes have survived Groves retained the steam plant which he incorporated into a new boat when he returned to competition in 1920. This boat with the hull made entirely of 'Dural' sheet riveted together, is now in the care of the S.M.E.E. The true identity of this early hydroplane was in doubt until recently as it was incorrectly described by Edgar Westbury as 'Irene IV' and later even as 'Irene III' but it is in fact 'Berti'.

Thanks go to Norman Billingham and Mike Crisp of the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers for providing these photographs.

In 1938 Edgar Westbury was charged with disposing of two of Groves' boats. 'Irene IV' (actually 'Berti') went to a Mr Bullivant in Minehead, and is now in the care of SMEE at their South London headquarters.  The  24 inch long 'miniature hydroplane' which it is believed was built in 1911 went to a Mr A Jones of Speke in Liverpool and eventually turned up in a junk shop. Peter Hill, the MPBA historian was able to identify the boat and rescue it. The boat has now been restored and returned to its original colour. The 24 inch long boat used a lightweight single cylinder slide valve engine that had previously seen service in one of Groves' model aircraft. The engine "is a masterpiece of lightweight design" and complete with pumps weighed just 9ozs. There is a distinct family resemblance both in design and construction between the two boats illustrated although the hull of the miniature boat is steel or tinplate rather than aluminium. The 'miniature' is currently believed to be the oldest tethered hydroplane still in existence. In the photo below, Groves is seen here with the boat at his feet.

Fred Westmoreland's 'Evil Spirit' took the record from 'Irene' in 1915 and held it till 1922. He freely acknowledged that the boat was an almost exact copy of 'Irene III' and Groves was closely involved with the development. 'Evil Spirit' and Groves' boats are the earliest of the racing hydroplanes that are known to have survived. The Northern Association is in possession of the boat and is considering building a modern replica. For the full story of 'Evil Spirit' click here.

From 1910 'Speedboat' racing was administered and controlled by the Model Yacht Racing Assoc. By 1914 they required the 'Unrestricted racers' to run on the circular course only, whilst the more scale boats of class A and B could still be run on a straight course. Details of the racing rules, designs and photographs of early boats can be found in Edward Hobbs' excellent book 'Model Power Boats' first published in 1914.