THE SPORT AFLOAT.
THIS OUTBOARD RACING
Its Steady Decline in Popularity—and The Move to Bring an bnprovement.
THROUGHOUT history, the British people have always excelled in a crisis. Well, there is a crisis for them now.
From the end of 1929, outboard racing has suffered a steady decline in popularity. Spectators no longer turn up, and competitors have grown fewer and fewer ; deeper and deeper has the general depression become. The London Motorboat Club has held their first meeting of the year at the Welsh Harp. There on the pontoon stood many of the men who had made outboard history. But they wore overcoats and a defeated expression. Now and again one would turn to another, and ask if he remembered the time when Mr. Cotton walked into the boat house at Rickmansworth in the middle of a race, and asked if we could help him remove his hydroplane from a flower bed ; or the time when Peter Godfrey and half London motorboat men arrived at the Watermota works in the middle of the night and said they were sorry, but Peter had dropped his engine into the lake ; and could they get some of the mud out of it in time for to-morrow’s race ? And for a moment the gloom would lift. Yes ; those were the days.
To what end ?
It is true that people with a vivid imagination could gain a considerable thrill from a glance at the average man’s steering and control wires ; this has always been so. But, the thrill should be provided by the racing, not by a potential accident. This state of affairs, does not seem to worry the more responsible club members, who, when they have recovered from their surprise at having been questioned on the subject, take you on one side and say :— ” Young fellow ! you have the wrong idea. We are not trying to organise a successful race meeting. These enthusiasts have come here for an
afternoon’s amusement.” We English certainly take our pleasures sadly.
Let us follow the rise and fall of outboard racing.
The noise problem.
In the first place ; one or two people discovered that a small boat, skimming over the water provided a great thrill, so they gathered together and raced. The public meanwhile, turned up to satisfy its curiosity and the whole affair was quite a success. Gradually, the little motors developed and began to go quite fast ; race meetings were organised, and the public turned up and was greatly entertained. Still a success. Race after race was run, and the sport began to take on almost national importance. Then came one or two complaints about noise, a few court cases, and finally the threat of an injunction. This, unfortunately, caused something of a panic and the M.M.A. immediately issued a series of rules which, out of respect for the dead, shall not be criticised. From then on, every make and type of engine had to be passed for silence. Engines were transported by the dozen to an engineering works at Teddington, and their exhaust notes tested by a weird and wonderful German instrument known as an “Audiometer.” Engines were then sold to the public complete with an enormous mass of iron at the back, and the public decided to make the best of it. This was not all, however. Each individual engine had to possess a certificate of silence (price 10/-) which was granted to people who fitted approved silencers, which had to be approved at a cost of 2 guineas. If, on the other hand, a man wished to fit a silencer, of his own, he had to send his engine to the Audiometer to be tested ; also at a cost of 2 guineas. Wider and wider grew the grins of the silencer salesmen, until at last they decided that en
gines required silencing at the carburettor end as well.
An engine fitted with all these contraptions_ soon began to lose its charm, and one or two drivers began to drop out. Nobody particularly wanted to see outfits silently labouring round and round, so spectators began to dwindle as well. Immediately the cost of racing went up owing to the lack of ‘gate,’ and once again ‘the powers that be’ had to think of some solution to the problem. They thought of the speed dinghy, as it did not capsize. Now the speed dinghy is one of the most ingenious developments of modern motorboating, but as a sprint racing craft for a place like the Welsh Harp : Well
all this time there was a rule stating that none but standard engines might be raced. This rule was brought in ostensibly to prevent wealthy men from making expensive additions and alterations to their motors, thereby raising the cost of racing, although ‘the powers that be’ at the time seemed to consist mostly of people who were interested in the sale of new motors.
A concerted effort.
There must be several thousand people in this country who will rejoice at the news that the unsatisfactory state of outboard racing has at last been realised in influential circles, and a strong movement is afoot to remove the ‘standard engine’ rule altogether, and to put racing on a much sounder basis.
May this be successful.
It certainly has the backing of all those who would like to race but cannot afford to do so.
When discussing a situation as serious as the present one, it is impossible to avoid annoying a few people whose views differ, but perhaps in this case they will make a real effort to sink their differences for the common good and pull together.—R.C.