In Our Wake: Foiled!

In Our Wake: Foiled!

Feast your eyes on the pioneer of hydroplaning, the No-Vac!

Images Courtesy: Popular Mechanics, Hearst Magazine Media, Inc.

During the depths of the Great Depression, an inventor named LaRoy Malrose set to work in his Chicago garage. His goal: building an outboard-powered boat capable of mile-a-minute speed. Going in, Malrose recognized a few factors he’d need to overcome while being pushed along by a sub-10-horsepower Evinrude “460.” First, of course, was the hydrodynamic drag created by the hull itself. Less understood at the time was the drag caused by turbulence and vacuum created behind the boat. Using aircraft techniques, Malrose designed a radical little craft—nine feet, two inches long and four feet, eight inches wide—from ribs of oak glued to a plywood shell. The hull resembled an airplane fuselage with a finely tapered transom. A sharp stabilizing skeg lay amidships while the Evinrude’s lower unit held a boomerang-shaped device that looked like a modern airplane wing—an early hydrofoil. Tapered, airplane-wing-shaped stern sponsons further smoothed air and water flow. The rider huddled uncomfortably in the cockpit lee.

Malrose christened this precursor to the modern hydroplane No-Vac and began testing it in 1933. With down-forces gluing No-Vac to the water’s surface and her airfoil-shaped stern and engine foil keeping her skimming just above it, Malrose was astonished that she could corner at full speed. “At first the designer had trouble getting a driver to enter his odd looking boat in a race,” wrote Fred W. McQuigg in Popular Mechanics’ May 1935 cover story. “It was such a radical change from the conventional design that fear was expressed as to whether it would work at all. Finally, Ralph Harrington, well-known racer, entered it in a contest as a last resort, after having cracked up his outfit. ‘I know I am in for a ducking,’ he told Malrose. ‘But I can’t just sit here and look on. Do you think this thing will stay right side up?’ He took the lead in the first run and held it all the way for a win by a city block.”

No-Vac cemented her reputation before thousands during the William Randolph Hearst races at the 1934 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition. “An army of the best drivers in the country were competing,” wrote McQuigg. “Jimmy Rogers was in the “No-Vac” for the first time. Three firsts and one second in the four races entered is the record he hung up.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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