The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of technological wonders, among them the incandescent light bulb, the automobile and the airplane. Refinements in the internal-combustion gasoline engine also were fueling innovation. Put one of these small, powerful engines into an airplane, and how far could it fly? Install one in a motorcar, and how fast could it go?
It was no different in the marine industry. About the same time daredevils were flying over the English Channel and racing cars on beaches in Florida, yachtsman and industrialist W.E. Scripps decided to see how the gasoline engine would fare during a long sea voyage. It was 1912 when Scripps, commodore of the Detroit Motor Boat Club and president of Scripps Motor Co., took delivery of his trans-Atlantic-capable motorboat.
Scripps had turned to the Matthews Boat Co. for the boat’s design and build. The Ohio company was known for its Gold Cup Race winner Standard, as well as the the 74-foot cruiser Onward, which carried the Matthews family more than 9,000 miles from Illinois down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, up the East Coast and through the Erie Canal to Ohio.
Scripps’ pioneering vessel was Detroit, a husky 35-footer with a 10-foot beam and plenty of freeboard. The Scripps Motor Co. supplied her 2-cylinder, 16-hp engine. Thomas Fleming Day would be the skipper.
No stranger to bluewater boating, Day was the driving force behind the first Bermuda Race — which he won — and had just sailed across the Atlantic. Taking Detroit’s wheel at New Rochelle, New York, Day and two mates steamed to Long Island Sound and into the Atlantic.
Twenty-one days later, they landed in Ireland “barely able to walk.” Detroit had become the smallest gas-powered vessel to cross the Atlantic.
This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.