How old is the Batboat III ?

How old is the Batboat III ?
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Now you might be excused for thinking you were in some time-warp with this motorboat which fetched EUR 57,176 (US$77,588 ) at auction recently. Known as the Batboat III, it is powered by a 10.5-liter twin overhead camshaft V8 engine and has caused quite a ripple of excitement among nautical types. Given the above information and the accompanying photograph, have a guess at how old it is.

“Batboat” motorboats were designed by sporting automobilist and sailor John Montague Batting between 1912 and 1914. The name derived from his surname and became a popular term given to hydroplane and flying-boat hulls of his own designs. The Batboat III was built in 1914, the massive engine is an Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine from the period and at the time of its manufacture, it was a state-of-the-art Racing Hydroplane. This particular craft was built to contest the Harmsworth British International Trophy race and was of unique, lightweight construction, creating a new advance in hydroplane development. Unfortunately, the advent of hostilities in 1914 postponed further racing for Batboat III, but it contributed to the war effort as a test bed for nautical engineering, including the construction of amphibian aeroplanes and torpedo boats. Later on, it was used for developments in the accuracy of torpedoes, fitted with two engines driving contra-rotating twin-screw propellers.

Its second owner, Commander Belleville RN acquired it in the early 1930s and mildly modified it during a long family ownership well into the 1980s, when it was purchased by the most recent owners prior to its sale at RM Auctions recent Sporting Classics of Monaco auction which broke all sorts of records.

Since then, it has undergone an extended restoration, and it was re-equipped with components more suited to its original conception. It is now powered by a water-cooled Hispano-Suiza V8 aero-engine of the type fitted to such aircraft as the RFC’s famous SE5-A and French SPAD. Of double-skin carvel construction with a curved turtle-back foredeck and a raised coaming to the center cockpit, the hull has been recently re-varnished, and the craft has had a period of commissioning on the water. It comes with a tailor-made dual-purpose wheeled cradle for either slipway launching or permanent storage when off the water.


The 1914 British International Trophy Motorboat Racing Championship Contender


Engine: Hispano-Suiza V-8 220HP Twin overhead camshaft 10.5 litres Transmission: Capitol Marine WA-8 H-S conversion gearbox with forward and reverse gears: single-screw propulsion. Length: 25 ft (7.6 metres) Beam: 6 ft (1.83 metres) Draught: 2ft (0.62 metres) Builder: J. Samuel White & Co, Cowes, Isle of Wight and Maynards of Chiswick. Construction: Double-skin carvel construction to hard chine of wood throughout, curved turtle-back foredeck with raised coaming to centre cockpit, engine mounted forward of cockpit.

The series of “Batboat” racing motorboats were conceived and designed by John Montague Batting between 1912 and 1914. A keen sporting automobilist and sailor, he commenced racing with his inaugural boat and a subsequent contender in 1913. The name derived partly from his surname, and partly from a term given to single-step hydroplane and flying-boat hulls of his own designs. The original powerplant was an in-line six-cylinder aeroplane engine built by the Green Company, rated at 100 horsepower. This craft was specifically created to contest the Harmsworth British International Trophy race and was of lightweight construction, creating a new advance in hydroplane racing development. The best description of the construction is recorded in an extract from “Motor Ship and Motor Boat” journal dated 6th August 1914: a full copy of which is available for inspection, giving further critical details of the original boat and its ultra-lightweight specification & construction.

In the same edition of the magazine is a good account of the first round of eliminating trials for the British International Races (Harmsworth Trophy), under the auspices of the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Netley off Southampton water. In the event, Sir Thomas Sopwith’s “Crusader” was the victor over two stretches of the 29-mile course, from “Batboat”, with “Izmay” some distance behind having experienced fuel-feed problems. The average speeds for the two fastest boats were respectively 36.6 knots and 35.0. The maximum speed attained was nearly 50 knots at high revs on the calmer straight stretches. The judges decreed that a further trial should be run before the final selection the following Saturday and summed-up: “In any case, however, owing to the course of International circumstances, it is highly improbable that the actual races will be run, or if they are they will be devoid of the normal interest.” This prophetic statement came just barely a week before the commencement of European hostilities in August 1914.

However, for “Batboat III,” racing would be postponed indefinitely, as the war gave rise to its valuable use as a mobile test-bed for nautical engineering and development. The hull was closely examined and copied widely for the construction of amphibian aeroplanes and torpedo boats, the designs being invaluable in the rapidly escalating need for high-speed craft, enabling it to survive the duration of the war. Subsequently during the 1920s, Batboat III was further utilised for important and significant developments in torpedo designs. It was fitted with two Vauxhall “30/98” type four-cylinder motors and contra-rotating twin-screw propulsion, which when applied to torpedoes, prevented them from turning off course from excessive torque and cavitations. This enabled much more accurate weapons to be incorporated into the British Naval Marine and Aviation armouries.

A short extract ten years later from “The Motor Boat” journal on 31st August 1934 gives a brief insight to that purpose: the second known owner of “Batboat III”, a Commander Belleville RN, who had acquired the craft in the early 1930s, entered it for motor boat races during the August Fortnight at Poole in Dorset. He implied some difficulties, but hoped to develop the design to go more reliably at higher speeds. Modifications to the engine covers and cockpit layout extended further aft, but the exhaust stubs protruding from the port-side hull, where the twin-engine layout determined some minor alterations to the original; the side-planking still shows those older repairs covering the exhaust modifications on both sides, whilst the cockpit could now accommodate two persons in comfort with a small bench seat behind them.

The Belleville family retained ownership of Batboat III during the Second World War and into the 1980s, when it was sold. By this time further changes had been made to the craft, in the interests of maintaining it for pleasure pursuits. Some time prior or just after WWII, the twin engines were removed and replaced by a single Gray Marine “Fireball” motor, an in-line 6-cylinder side-valve unit, favoured by manufacturers such as Chris Craft, giving a top speed of approximately 40 knots, which was remarkable for a boat now 60 years old.

Principally being used in salt waters, the original lightweight aluminium deck fittings had since been replaced by more durable bronze units; the engine covers, originally light aluminium now replaced by more stable wooden ones of cedar and mahogany; even now, still sporting racing numbers from the late 1930s events. In this form it was offered for sale in the mid-1980s, and a specialist survey report was commissioned by the new owner.

His extensive report detailing once again its original construction methods, but that its condition was noteworthy, concluding: “Batboat III is a very interesting example of the racing craft of the early part of the century. The building has been very well executed and every effort made to produce a light strong hull, in the days when marine plywood and resorcinol and epoxy resins were non-existant, and the fact that this craft has survived bears out how well the old time builders and designers plied their craft” dated July 17th 1986.

The boat in this form was purchased by the current owners a year or two later, and has undergone sympathetic restoration with contemporary components more suited to its original conception. The hull was perfectly sound after many years of continual preservation, some deck planks have been replaced to match the originals whilst all the deck fittings remain those fitted in the 1930s. Powered now by an Hispano-Suiza V-8 marinized aero engine, the original design type fitted to such aircraft as the famous SE5-A of the RFC and French SPAD in 1917; this is coupled to the specialised “Capitol Marine” gearbox, dates from c1918, and is rated at 220HP; the water-cooled engine has been refurbished and runs well, employing a new radiator with combination oil-cooler for the dry-sump lubrication system; whilst new exhaust manifolds with copper water-jacket cooling have been fitted, with twin copper exhausts running through the cockpit to exits each side of the stern transom.

A new phosphor-bronze propeller specially designed to the engine power output is geared to give approximately 45 knots at about 2,000rpm. The steering is still the original layout by wire cable externally to starboard by pulleys and quadrant atop the rudder. A large aluminium fuel tank with twin fillers is situated aft of the cockpit.

The hull has been recently re-varnished and repainted below the waterline; the cockpit is replete with new seats of wickerwork with leather cushions to an aviation pattern design of 1914, whilst the dashboard features cast fascia with a complement of period instruments including early chronometric rev-counter, oil-pressure gauge, clock etc: contemporaneous to its original build date. Currently the engine is running after refitting, and the craft has had a further period of commissioning on the water.

The Capitol Marine design provides a 12-volt electric self-starter and dynamo for charging, with dual ignition. It comes with a specialist-built dual-purpose wheeled cradle for slipway launching, easy movement and permanent storage when off the water.

A folio of useful documentation and photos relating to its history, together with two large-format original photographs by Beken of Cowes, taken in the 1950s, accompanies this important and extremely rare survivor of the Golden Age of motorboat racing.

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John in Brisbane
Yep, that\'s pretty cool. I feeling like carving up the bay and then popping in on Monty and Percy for some cards and a few iced gins. I\'ll have my man rebuild the motor and wipe the inch of oil off everything then its off home! With any luck we\'ll bag a few ducks on the way back. Splendid!
A friend of mine just asked what became of the old Batboat that I sold after my father's death in 1982. I had no idea it was still afloat, let alone in such magnificent condition. My father, Nigel Tunnicliffe, was step-brother to Tony Bellville (note correct spelling) and was left the Batboat in his will. He did extensive restorative work on the hull and engine which enabled him to pass scrutiny for the Cowes-Torquay powerboat race one year in the late 70's. Luckily for everyone, I'm sure, the weather turned foul and my father decided not to attempt the race. He died a few years later and left the Batboat to me. For a while, I wanted to complete the Cowes-Torquay challenge, but I would have been an inexperienced driver in a dangerous race and the boat, by that stage, had been out of the water for a few years and needed some tlc to make it seaworthy again. Sadly, I had no option in the end but to sell it. Seeing these lovely photos of the Batboat in its restored condition bring back many happy memories.