Written by Robert L. Matthews
posted on August 13, 2011 22:31
June 1904 marked the beginning of the Gold Cup Races, considered power boat racing’s ultimate contest in North America and possibly the world. Winning the Gold Cup was, and still is, power boat racing’s most coveted price. But how did it all begin and why were there two races the first year?
The American Power Boat Association [APBA] was formed in 1903 and almost immediately planned a race to take place during June the following year. The Columbia Yacht Club agreed to host the event and graciously donated the trophy to be called the Challenge Cup [or the Gold Challenge Cup]. The trophy would be perpetual. The plan was to hold three races over three consecutive days, each race covering thirty two nautical miles. The course would be sixteen nautical miles up the Hudson River and sixteen nautical miles back. Each race would begin and end at the Columbia Yacht Club.
The power boat Standard, flying the colors of the Columbia Yacht Club, won the first race. Only three boats [called “auto boats” at the time] participated and one did not finish having hit a log resulting in damage too extensive to continue. Water Lily came in second.
The early Gold Cup Races were handicapped based on a formula involving a verity of measurements such as a boat’s length, horsepower, prop revolutions per minute, size of the prop etc. Water Lily’s handicap advantage was a head start of seventeen minutes fourteen seconds. Standard still won the first race by more than five minutes.
On the following day there were just two entrants and Standard was once more the winner. The next day she won the third and final race and thus became the first winner of the American Power Boat Association Challenge Cup [later to be called the Gold Cup].
C. C. Riotte, Standard’s owner and driver, was considered a mechanical genius who began building gasoline engines as a teenager. Standard was a displacement type hull roughly fifty nine feet in length powered by an engine described as a “110 hp Standard.“ Riotte was a pioneer in the design and building of gasoline engines but unfortunately passed away at the early age of 33.
Soon after the June races, the APBA decided to hold the second Gold Cup Race in September. The Columbia Yacht Club would again be the host. The course was to be identical to the first race but due to an error, the course covered only thirty nautical miles. It seems the turn around boat anchored a nautical mile short of where it should have shrinking the total distance by two nautical miles. There were ten entrees. Standard would not defend the cup as she was sold in August and her new owner, Price McKinney, then shipped the boat to his summer home located on the St. Lawrence River near Morristown. At the time McKinney was a member of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club.
William K. Vanderbilt’s boat Mercedes VI won the first race. Vingt et Un II, owned by Willis Sharp Kilmer of the Chippewa Yacht Club, finished in fifth place even though she had the faster time. The time handicap was too great to overcome. Headlines on the sports page of the Binghamton Press read “Binghamton Boat is Fastest in the World” and “is the Sensation of the Day.” [Kilmer was from Binghamton N. Y. and owned the Binghamton Press]
Of the eight boats which started the second race, only five finished due to high seas. Vanderbilt’s boat Mercedes VI encountered problems and did not finish. Vingt et Un II won the race and based on a point system was in first place after two races. The third and final race was also won by Vingt et Un II and she thus became the winner of the second Gold Cup Race.
Kilmer, Vingt et Un II’s owner, was a multi millionaire having made his fortune selling a bottled liquid medicine called “Swamp Root.” It was rumored that Swamp Root’s main ingredient was 40% alcohol. Later Kilmer got into horse racing and his horse Exterminator won the 1918 Kentucky Derby and in 1922 won horse of the year honors.
By winning the second Gold Cup Race, Vingt et Un II helped to establish the Thousand Islands as one of the world‘s premier summer destinations. At that time the Gold Cup winner decided the next Gold Cup Race site [early in the 1920‘s, this process was changed]. Thanks to Kilmer’s membership in the Chippewa Yacht Club, the 1905 Gold Cup Race was held in Chippewa Bay.
Thus began a string of nine consecutive years of Gold Cup Races held in the Thousand Islands. What better reason for a party than a boat race! It soon became the social event of the summer season attracting people from all over the world. The Thousand Islands was the place to be.
By Robert L. Matthews
Robert L. Matthews (Bob) was introduced to the Thousand Islands when he married his wife Prudence (See Hooked on Prudence). It wasn't long before they realized that they were both collectors and after many false starts settled on hunting for Thousand Island memorabilia. For the past nine seasons the Matthews generously loaned their collection to the Antique Boat Museum. Bob is the author of two popular books: Glimpses of St. Lawrence Summer Life: Souvenirs from the Thousand Islands: Robert and Prudence Matthews Collection, and in 2009 he published A History of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club. He was born, raised and spent his working life in Binghamton. He is still collecting… and one of his favorites are Kilmer bottles.