Where it all began

Where it all began!

Where it all began! Reproduced with the permission of Ed Williams-Hawkes.In 1903 John Thornycroft entered the first running of the Harmsworth Trophy and the Yachtsman’s Cup Handicap Race for auto-boats in his cedar planked on an American elm frame, boat Scolopendra, named after, some say, a fictitious sea monster. She had a turtle-back foredeck and pine planked deck aft, covered with a serge canvas. The relatively low powered but efficient running 800kg boat had been entered as a substitute, when the forty footer being built especially for the contest was not ‘race ready’ (this boat may have also been named Scolopendra).

Thornycroft & Co were established builders of steam cars, commercial and military road vehicles, at Basingstoke; and steel torpedo boats for various foreign navies, at their Chiswick Yard on the Thames. Back in 1873, John Thornycroft produced one of the first motor torpedo boats, the steam powered, 458 hp, Gitana and she achieved 24 mph. Four years later, in 1877, Thornycroft took out several patents for skimming semi-displacement hulls, and for a revolutionary semi-submerged propeller.

Thornycroft motor launch "Seolopendra II", Winner of many races in 1904

The ‘British International’ Harmsworth Trophy

The Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, and its offshoot, the Marine Motor Association planned to manage a race of auto-boats for a magnificent new prize, the Harmsworth Trophy. The race was to be run along similar lines and rules as automobile racing’s Gordon Bennett Cup, whose rules and conditions were in turn duplicated from sailing’s America’s Cup. The aim of all three trophies was that the contest should be a test of nations rather than individuals, and that the vehicles used should be constructed in the represented nation. The inaugural 1903 Harmsworth auto-boat race was held in Southern Ireland, as a new dimension to the auto-car Gordon Bennett Cup race program.

S F Edge and the Napier race team were the current holders of the Gordon Bennett Cup, ‘the greatest automobile race in the World’. The defence should have been hosted in England, by the defending nation, but the government’s enforced ban of speed, in excess of 10mph, on the public highway, precluded the possibility. The Automobile Club decided to switch the races’ venue to Ireland. Edge entered a boat named after its engine Napier. The canoe-stern craft was painted in the new British Napier Gordon Bennett Racing Team colour of dark green, this colour was chosen by Edge, as ‘a tribute to the Emerald Isle’, the race hosts. The phrase ‘British Racing Green’ and the expression ‘Gordon Bennett!’ (Synonymous with surprise), subsequently became a part of every day language for subsequent generations of speed freaks. The Harmsworth Trophy has proved to be the longest standing competition for high speed motorboats.

The first HarmsworthTrophy Races 1903

1st Heat. Three o’clock, Saturday 12 July at The Battery of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, Queenstown Road, Ireland. The course was 10.3 miles, one way, up-stream, passing through the West Passage, with Black and Marino Points to starboard, to a large crowd waiting on the Promenade Quay, at the Cork Marina finish line, on the River Lee. There was a two knot flood tide flowing upstream. The start cannon banged and the two boat standing start was between Durandel and Napier. Durandel went into the lead. Napier showed her pace in the calming up-river water and went through to win by 3 minutes; Beadle’s Durandel completed the course well within the maximum fifty minute qualifying time.

2nd Heat. At quarter past three, Saturday 12 July. Due to the German entry Mercedes not being deemed eligible (due to running a French hull with a German motor) it was Thornycroft’s turn to qualify in Scolopendra, racing against the clock, on her own. If the qualifying 13 mph minimum speed was beaten a place in the Final was guaranteed. She succeeded.

3rd Final Heat. At twenty minutes to five, Saturday 12 July. It was high water and the stream now slack. Soon after the start, the Thornycroft launch, Scolopendra went into the lead. Napier had Alfred Harmsworth’s close friend, Campbell Muir, at the helm, and also on board was S F Edge’s close friend, professional chauffeuse, and the Womens’ World Land Speed Record holder, Miss Dorothy Levitt along with owner ‘SF’ in control of the engine. They soon passed the leading Thornycroft boat Scolopendra. Napier soon showed her superiority and went on to win at an average speed of 24.98 mph, crossing the line, more than a mile ahead of the competition, in a time of 24m 44s. In second place came Scolopendra in 30m 28s (20.28mph) and third Beadle’s Durandel in 37m 44s (16.37mph).

After the running of the Harmsworth race a handicap race for a cup donated by the proprietor of the Yachtsman magazine was won by SE Olopendra. She finished in third place on the water, again 5 minutes behind Edge but was allowed 11m 50s on Edges ‘scratch’ time and 6m 3s on Durandel’s handicap. Mr. Charley did not start the handicap race in Mercedes as he suffered from a ‘derangement of his machinery’ due to a lack of lubrication. The craft SE Olopendra is reported to be still in the yard of the Berkshire Wooden Boat business. She is currently owned by a Mr Bruce Devine of Montreal and awaiting somebody to take over the desperately needed restoration.

What a wonderful project to undertake. This must be the oldest British racing motorboat.

It was later that same year, on 17 December, 1903, that the Wright brothers were to make the first ever motorised aeroplane flight in Kittyhawk.

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Press Release 14th April 2019

Press Release – 14th April 2019

Embargoed until authorised by UKOPRA / COPC

Following the Classic Offshore Powerboat Club AGM at RAF Yacht Club today a presentation was held at their invite from UKOPRA to publish their new classes for historic racing which take immediate effect.

COPC as an existing avid supporter of the regenerated offshore racing scene in the UK had prior to that presentation formalised their affiliation with UKOPRA by unanimous decision in order to allow event organisation under their sanction.

Much work has gone on in the past months and UKOPRA are extremely grateful to the committee of COPC for their input and assistance in creating the new (old?).

Class 4 Historic

Sub Classes for Class 4 are as follows with offshore general rules to apply.

  • Runabout – Pre 1990 design to a maximum of 115 HP and 21 ft boat length.
  • Cruiser – Pre 1990 design with a maximum speed of 50 knots to be upheld.
  • Purpose designed – Pre 1990 design with a maximum speed of 60 knots to be upheld.

The aim is for historic boats to compete on the same courses as existing UKOPRA Offshore class boats with a reduced distance covered to reflect the need to preserve the historic equipment.

The points system to be allocated to this class of racing will take a form of only 25% coming from final race position with the remainder awarded to criteria relating to Presentation, Age, Spirit, Quality of restoration, Provenance etc.

In addition to the above the publication of new UIM rules relating to Pleasure Navigation now allows the following UIM Group B compliant boats to enter our offshore classes as follows.

  • UIM Promotion Class can enter UKOPRA 3A/B
  • UIM Production Class can enter UKOPRA 3X
  • UIM Super boat Sport S1 and S2 can enter UKOPRA 3N

Minimum levels of equipment carried will be as referred to in the UKOPRA general rules.

Records Weekend

With COPC now formally affiliated they are keen to run an additional event this year and have agreed to host

Performance Records

Event Organiser – Classic Offshore Powerboat Club.

Sanctioning body – UKOPRA

Date – To be advised but provisionally a weekend in late September / early October.

Location – To be advised although the Freshwater area of the Solent is favoured subject to permissions.

Eligibility – All UKOPRA classes with a minimum of two fully licenced offshore licence holders in control.

Course Measurement – Will be over 1 statute mile to be run in both directions and an average speed taken for the two runs.

There will be the opportunity for marine manufacturers to be measured subject to a suitable application and with a minimum of two UKOPRA licence holders in control of the vessel.

Whilst there is no requirement to be a member of any of our affiliated race organisers to take part in activities we do recommend you support them and any potential event sponsors would be gratefully welcomed.

2019 Poole Bay 100




Registration of vessels for any of the above classes will be opened on Monday 15th April 2019 which will add the owner to our databases for email contact.

Please subscribe to www.ukopra.co.uk for further updates.

Sponsors interested in being involved with the series as a whole should in the first instance contact info@ukopra.co.uk

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