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In the Seattle Gold Cup, fastest and most intensely contested speedboat race in the United States, anything can happen. A $25,000 hydroplane, the product of years of design and agonizing months of tune-ups, can suddenly sputter and stop dead in the middle of a heat; or her gearbox may come unstrung under the tremendous strain of acceleration in a trial run, preventing her from even making the starting line. Or, as happened in last year's race to Wild Bill Cantrell of Detroit, her rudder may jam, sending her careening into the middle of a sedate cocktail party (left), leaving her driver with nothing but to stalk off muttering angrily, "This is the first damn time I ever walked away from a boat race."
Gold Cup entrants know this. But no one knows it better than a Gold Cupper named Tudor Owen Jones, a handsome, husky man of 45 with flecks of gray in his dark hair, who has had more to do with this year's Gold Cup entries than any man alive. As a young mechanic in Seattle's Boeing aircraft plant, Ted Jones conceived the original design from which virtually every one of this year's boats was copied. As chief architect for Stanley Sayres (SI, Aug. 23, 1954), a wealthy Seattle automobile distributor, he designed the Slo-Mo-Shuns IV and V that have won the Cup for the past five years and set two world speed records to boot; and Jones himself drove Slo-Mo IV to her first Gold Cup victory in 1950.
Victories are fine, but Ted Jones wants credit—and headlines. In the world of the Gold Cup however, the headlines go not to the designer but to the owner. In 1951, for example, Jones says Slo-Mo IV was judged the greatest mechanical design of the year and that Owner Sayres took the award, forgetting to credit his designer. Jones was furious. That year and the next, while Slo-Mo V was taking shape from Jones's design in the boatyard of Builder Anchor Jensen in Seattle, a three-cornered feud developed involving credit, authority and, of course, money.
Jones has dedicated his life to speedboat design. He began when he was a boy of 17, building first an outboard racer, then a 14-horse-power water sled that he used to run at 33 miles per hour through the rolling wake of the passenger boats that plied between Seattle and Tacoma. He also puttered around on land with a motorcycle and a hopped-up Model T, both of which he raced.
"I was just like a lot of other kids in America," he said. "I didn't contribute anything, but I had fun."
In a very few years, however, he contributed plenty. Lacking an engineering education, he pored avidly over technical magazines and journals and tried to apply what he read to the hulls he hammered together in his father's cabinetmaking shop. In 1929, he built himself a conventional hydroplane with a single step on the bottom of the hull, but with bulges or bustles added on each side, angled at 45�, to get him through high-speed turns without flipping over as the old, flat-sided hydros were prone to do.
Then he thought, why not ride on the bustles? Get the hull up clear of the speed-resisting surface skin of the water, so that there would be only three points in contact with it: a tiny aftersection of each bustle and the propeller. It took him five more years before he finally completed his first three-point hydro; and when he finished, he had a real freak on his hands. The boat had two outriggers forward, much like the jet in which Don Campbell just broke the world water-speed record, and rode on these two projections and on its stern.
"It was a dilly," Jones recalled. "The boat couldn't be turned in a 40-acre field, and it slid sideways almost as fast as it would go forward."
Bad as it was, Jones's lobster-clawed horror was the beginning of something big. For the next eight years, he juggled his designs. He brought the protruding sponsons in and incorporated them as part of the hull; and he moved the engine up, balancing the boat so far forward that the propeller came halfway out of the water.
"The speed jumped 25 miles per hour right there," he said. Then he moved the sponsons back to keep the three-pointer from nose-diving after she came down from a bump.