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Record-setting run

Imagine driving the runabout pictured here from New York to Florida. In 1930. That’s exactly what Frank Morley did. The adventurous college student from Mount Dora, Florida, took just over 14 days to complete the passage. And he set a speed record — yes, a speed record — in doing so.

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The boat was a 16-foot Harpoon. Pratt, Read & Co. of Deep River, Connecticut — a renowned piano maker diversifying to fight off the Great Depression — was the builder, and powerboat pioneer George Crouch was the designer. Morley made a few test runs on the Connecticut River, then sped to New York, averaging close to 30 mph for the 120-mile trip.

It could hardly have prepared him for what would follow.

Equipped with a pair of oars, a compass and a chart case, a 40-gallon gas tank, several bilge pumps, camping gear, an Elto Quad outboard and a spare engine, Morley endured breakdowns, bad weather and bad luck as he made his way south. With no Intracoastal Waterway, navigation was haphazard. Morley would miss a marker and end up in some river, canal or swamp, poling or even pushing his boat.

On the few occasions when Morley was able to run the Elto Quad wide open, the Harpoon averaged 20 to 25 mph, which “gave an idea of the capability of the boat under favorable conditions.” Running offshore, the engine was exposed to the elements; salt water seeped into the spark plug wires, making starting the outboard nearly impossible. One stormy night, he slogged into Norfolk, Virginia, on the spare engine.

Morley reached Miami on a cloudy, dark day. It started to rain. Going “by feel,” he lost his way and ran aground in the shallows. Once he spotted the causeway, it was a “simple matter to reach [downtown] Miami.” He tied up, ending his journey, about 10 p.m.

In the October 1930 issue of Motor Boating magazine, an anonymous writer noted that “the Elto Quad had actually run no more than 75 hours, so that it is apparent that speed alone is not the only factor to be considered in making a trip of this kind.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.