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The History of Pleasure Boating
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The History of Pleasure Boating
by Lorry Patton
The desire for pleasure never did instill the needed motivation for invention. True motivators are
need, curiosity, ambition and a competitive spirit. Ultimately, however, the results can be pleasurable, as
many inventions prove. For example, millions of people own boats just for fun. Boats are even
called pleasure crafts. Nevertheless, we didn't invent the boat for the joy of the ride; we invented
it because 70% of the earth is covered in water and like the proverbial chicken we needed to get
to the other side.
Perhaps the original design 20,000 years ago -- a simple dugout tree trunk -- came about
by accident. ( The root of 'boat' originates from the word 'to bite' or `to split' or 'to hollow out' as
in a log. ) It could be our primitive cousin straddled a fallen limb floating on a river and realized
its enormous potential. It could be, too, that our discerning ancestor felt exhilaration whilst
fighting the waves. No doubt, Cleopatra enjoyed her celebrated entrance on the River Cydnus, as
did the wealthy on their opulent sailing yachts; and surely, Columbus's crew marveled at the sight
of a sinking fiery sun. Still, it wasn't until the boat was coupled with another invention -- the
portable gas engine -- that we truly appreciated the simple pleasure of boating. Fascinating how it
all came about:
The first significant boat, dating from 2500 B.C., was the Egyptian sailing barge equipped
with giant oars. She carried our goods, fed our bodies, conquered our wars and satisfied our
Hands on deck, the two of us sailed into a future fraught with shipwrecks, sunken
treasures, piracy and new worlds, propelled by current, winds, and pure physical strength.
Somehow we managed, despite the unreliable winds, the uncooperative muscle power and the fact
that the rivers flowed in but one direction. We managed, but obviously, we were in dire need of
another form of propulsion.
It finally appeared in the late 18th century. Steam power. Unfortunately, Comte J.B.
d'Auxiron of France, who constructed the first steam engine in 1774, never got his invention past
the dock. A counterweight fell through the hull of his boat at the testing trials. Another year
went by before we actually moved a boat mechanically. The engine responsible for this
marvelous technological feat was owned by J.C. Perier. From that moment on we throttled full
After steam we harnessed electrical power. Ironically, the contraption we devised in 1839
emitted such poisonous fumes that testing had to be aborted. Then in 1881, Gustave Trouve of
France successfully propelled a boat using bichromate-potash batteries. ( The motor was easily
removed making it the first detachable or outboard motor ever built. ) It was clean and quiet and
especially loved by our custom officers over the clanking steam engine, but the frequent charging
was a nuisance. Not surprisingly, when the easily maintained gas engine came into existence, we
let the environmentally safe electric engine go.
By now, experiments with gas had begun. In 1865 French inventor Jean Joseph Lenoir
built and installed a petrol inboard exclusively for M. Dalloz, the manager of the newspaper 'Le
Monde Illustre'. In 1880, Brayton, an American inventor installed his version of the internal
combustion engine in a boat. However, it was the portable engine which emerged in the 1890's
that grabbed our attention.
Several mechanics were tinkering with the outboard, but it seems Gottlieb Daimler, a
German engineer/inventor was the first to produce the engine in a big way.
Periodically, danger overshadowed the excitement of the future 'autoboat', as it was being
called. The danger of explosion. At one point fear halted the installation of Daimler gas engines
at a dock in London until the area was heavily insured and several testimonials were given on the
safety of petroleum. ( Daimler was well aware of the controversy. He had been testing his
engines covertly since 1886! )
Meanwhile, William Steinway of New York ( yes, the piano man ), didn't hesitate to
import and install the volatile Daimler engines in his launches. Then in 1896, AMC of New
York, basing their design on the Daimler engine, introduced their gas outboard. One version
weighed 75 pounds and traveled 10 km per hour.
Other American models flooded the market -- the single-cylinder two- cycle Monarch
motor, the Wolverine and the Michigan. Soon, the Daimler Motor Co. Ltd. in Coventry had a
catalogue for their launch motors. A 1 1/2 HP single-cylinder engine, cost L85 (English Pounds);
and a 10 HP twin-cylinder engine cost, L336. ( English Pounds.) We, the public, curious and
eager for innovative recreation, were properly impressed.
Sir Alfred Harmsworth of England correctly observed our reaction and in 1903, to inspire
a competitive spirit in our new and exciting marine sport, he encouraged speed and efficiency by
offering the Harmsworth Trophy as a prize; and thus, the Marine Motoring Association was
established. Then America met with MMA and founded the American Power Boat Association.
By 1904, America had an equivalent Gold Cup Race and a magazine strictly about motorboats.
By 1905, America had her first National Motor Boat Show.
Happily, we bought them up. So we could race or fish or water ski or swim or skin dive
or sunbathe or, what the heck, plain old cruise. As our numbers increased, we formed clubs,
learned nautical terms and built elaborate marinas. Without a doubt, we were pleased. We liked
boating, and judging from the number of magazines on the subject, the success of boat shows, and
the yearly increase in sales, we still do.
To be sure, the original reasons for the boat still exist -- to carry, to feed, to protect and to
discover. That is evident in our huge oil tankers, our giant aircraft carriers, our ferries, our ocean
freighters, our fishing vessels, our nuclear submarines and our beloved Calypso. To the fleet we
have added police boats, tug boats, fire boats, life boats, pilot boats and even love boats.
Notwithstanding, it is our competitive spirit, our ambition and our insatiable curiosity ,
which has created the boats of today--the Hovercrafts, the Hydrofoils, the Jets....and it's far from
over. Almost daily, something new and wonderful pops up in the modern world of boating.
Let's face it, some of us are compelled to make things better and better while others . . .
well, we just relax and enjoy the results.