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The Masthead

How We Learned To Skim In Steps

Development of the Stepped Hydroplane

By Dave Gerr, CEng FRINA, © 2014 by Dave Gerr


ast issue, we examined the development of

someth i ng we al l take for granted these

days—planing . Newfangled gas engines provided

the spark, whi ch—qui te li terall y—permitted pl an-

i ng ( fly i ng too , i t was no acc ident that the Wright

brothers ’ success was at th is time ). Steam

engi nes—even sophi sticated doub le -act i on, mult i -

p le -expans ion, compound mach i nes—had simpl y

been too heavy for the power they produced.

The i r sheer mass cou ldn’t generate the zi p re -

quired for high -speed excitement .

Now, with gasol i ne mach i nes , al l that was l ef t

was to fi nd the proper form of lightwe ight hull to

mate wi th these newfangled featherweight

powerp l ants and we ’d be set. From 1905 on,

th i ngs were rea lly cooki ng : mode l test s, experi -

ments , false start s, races and more races, and

i nexorably rap id progress . Indeed, the conven -

t i ona l p l ani ng runabout , as we saw l as t i ssue ,

was bei ng mass produced jus t a few short years

l ater—by 1909.

Stepp i ng Off

So far, however, we ’ve onl y covered half the

s tory . I n fac t—bes ides

the right Reverend Ra-

mus, who we di s -

cussed l ast issue—

there was yet another

i nventor that would

i nfl uence pl an ing boat

deve l opment—Wi ll iam

Henr y Fauber . Fauber

took out no less than

nine patents on an all-

new approach to pl an-

ing , the principle ones

be i ng i n 1908 and


Fauber reasoned that , si nce a boat sk immed

(pl aned or generated li ft ) by s t ri ki ng the onrush -

ing water at a slight angle , adding more of these

angles would generate more lift. His ang les were

i n the form of mul ti ple j ogs or steps in the bot -

tom of the hull . What’s more , whil e the boat was

supposed ly skimmi ng a l ong on these numerous

s teps, only the i r very tips would be touch i ng the

waves . The rema i nder of the hul l underbody

would be in contact with air and foam alone.

Si nce everybody knows that ai r (and foam) are

l ess dense than water, resis tance shoul d de -

c rease dramat i ca l l y .

What ’s parti cul arly nice about all th is , is that—

broad ly speak ing—Fauber was right. In fact, just

a year l ater (1910) , a mult i-step hydro competed

i n the Brit ish I nternat ional T rophy. (Powerboat

raci ng was hot , hot , hot back then—i t was


new.) Accord i ng to the September, 1910


magaz i ne :

“Dix i e I II

[the U.S. defender] got the hon-

ors but

Pioneer ,

a Fauber hydroplane ,

Now, about the design dope ; where does a fellow beg i n when he starts

out to des ign a hydropl ane?

Naval Arch itect , E . Wes ton Farmer

Maple Leaf IV

at speed. Look closely at the waterline to see some of her multiple steps.

Photo: The Consuta Trust,

Dec. 2014 Page 13