Flying Boats

Last year I did not have good luck at the Syracuse Hydrofest as it was raining off and on and the race was called after a bad crash. Fast forward to last weekend and I spent two days photographing the races on Onondaga Lake. Thanks to the Central New York Hydroplane Association (CNYHA) for allowing me to be out on the course in one of the Race Official’s boats.  For these photos I used the Nikon 70-200VR f/2.8 lens which is one of the premier sports lenses ever made.

Last year I only got to see a demonstration run of the Jersey Speed Skiffs. I was thrilled to see six of them out competing for this year’s event. They looked like a blast to ride in.

The Jersey Skiff JS-65 seen "flying" over Onondaga Lake during Syracuse Hyrdofest on Sunday, June 20, 2010.

The Jersey Skiff JS-65 seen "flying" over Onondaga Lake during Syracuse Hyrdofest on Sunday, June 20, 2010.

The Jersey Skiff is a beach launched boat first appearing around the end of the 1800s. They were first used as fishing boats, to be launched through the surf, sailed to the fishing grounds and then retrieved through the surf. The skiffs turned into something else during prohibition as they were modified into motorized speedboats to bring rum and other liquor in from ships waiting just outside United State’s territorial waters from Bimini and the Bahamas.  The biggest Rum Row was in the New York/Philadelphia area off the New Jersey coast where these speed skiffs would go out to the ships and motor past Coast Guard patrols in the dark of night.

The Jersey Skiffs, JS-40 and JS-100 (orange hull), race side by side into a turn at Syracuse Hyrdofest on Sunday, June 20, 2010.

The Jersey Skiffs, JS-40 and JS-100 (orange hull), race side by side into a turn at Syracuse Hyrdofest on Sunday, June 20, 2010.

Today, the Jersey Skiffs are raced all over the eastern United States under rules sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association (APBA). Roll cages and safety harnesses are now required, engines are restricted to 283 or 305 cubic inches with very strict specs to keep them as stock as possible, engines are usually Chevy Corvette class and the hulls remain at 16 feet in length.  With the hull design and weight distribution, the boats are barely in the water at times with just the aft and propeller reaching speeds in the 75 to 85mph range.  A driver and a rider are on-board as a nod to the Jersey Skiff history (the passenger was a lookout during prohibition) and today serves the same purpose to let the driver know where the other boats are during a race.

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13 Responses to Flying Boats

  1. That looks like FUN! One of those events where you start shooting and don’t stop until it’s over 😉

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  2. montucky says:

    Cool shots! I think I’d enjoy that kind of racing.

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  3. Karma says:

    How lucky for you to get to be out there in the official’s boat! Very cool shots. Your commentary on prohibition reminds me of a trip to Newport RI a couple years ago where we took a harbor tour on a boat called the “Rum Runner” – they claimed it was used for the purposes you mention, and it was great fun when they demonstrated the speed of the boat!

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  4. Kathy says:

    This is so strange, Scott. Because, when I was downstate, my brother and I got in a long discussion about the hydroplanes he built when he was a kid. After our discussion–he’s really thinking about building another hydroplane. What a weird synchronicity!

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  5. Gerry says:

    All those years watching the roostertails on the Detroit River and I’d never heard of the Jersey Speed Skiff. I like ’em! Especially the part about having a rider, as is proper.

    I believe the speedboating heritage in Detroit might go back to certain nighttime crossings from Windsor and other points along the Canadian border back in Prohibition Days.

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  6. Nye says:

    Very cool shots, made me want to get a better zoom lens. 🙂

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