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SNIFTA  pictured at high speed during a race and barely touching the water having just lifted off over a wave. Note the driver and mechnanic perched at the aft end with the motor midships, a typical configuration for these speedboats.

Clinker Speedboats

The clinker or lapstrake speed boat, ski boat and runabout has developed into a type of boat common to Australia, where a particular shape of hull has been followed to make it quite different from speed boats in other parts of the world.

Origins:

The initial origins are obscure, and whilst there is a clear development in the post World War II period, there is evidence of craft built and raced a little earlier which have some of the characteristics that are typical of the class. One of these is the racing speed boat ZOOM, a clinker hull with veed forward sections that gradually decrease in deadrise to the transom. The stem has a shallow rake and there appears to be some tumblehome in the transom section. This craft was racing successfully in 1940.

The Australian clinker speed boat has no direct connection to any overseas design or influence on the shape. The concept of wooden speedboats or runabouts was common in the USA and Australia, but the round bilge, raked stem, tumblehome transom and clinker construction characteristics of the craft is a design developed in and almost unique to Australia. The initial development may have occurred in the late 1930's, possibly based on carvel or diagonally planked hulls; however the beginnings of regular production of these craft are post WWII. In the USA there is a clinker workboat style hull called the Jersey Sea Skiff, built in the 1940's which was also raced, but the design has not evolved in the way that the Australian design has. Critical to their development was the fact that they were also racing craft, with a fierce competition, which is still active. It was claimed that these were the fastest racing displacement boats in the world.

Significant Builders:

There were three main manufacturers of clinker ski boats, Lewis, Everingham and Hammond, all in NSW. Elsewhere there were others who made just a few boats or had small turnover. These include Winton, Seacraft Syndicate, Simpkin and Brian Storm.

Lewis Bros had the greatest volume of production, running from about 1947 until 1970, working at Taren Point NSW. The brothers then split, one went into fibreglass production, the other Frank, went to Huskisson NSW and continued building wooden boats, but was killed in a motor accident in the mid 1970s.

Bert Everingham learnt from his father and established a business building runabouts after WWII, working on the Hawkesbury River NSW. His turnover was not as great as Lewis. Bert's son Malcolm became a boat builder as well and currently builds fibreglass hulls, and one of Malcolm's sons is now also entering the trade. This brings the total to four generations that have built runabouts and ski boats. In 2005 Bert Everingham built a wooden hull from old moulds.

Both Lewis and Everingham had employees to run a small production based concern. They were rivals on the racing circuit, and like car makers or makes, had their own groups of followers who made disparaging comments about the other builder's craft. Everingham followers referred to Lewis boats as 'leaky Lewis's'.

In contrast to these two builders was Harry Hammond at Hammondcraft in Brookvale NSW, who built boats from the late 1940s onwards. He had no employees and only built boats to order. They were very high quality and considered the superior version or Rolls Royces of the class or type. Consequently his turnover was quite small compared to the other two builders.

Design and Construction:

The competition between the builders ensured the type evolved with new engines (always inboard mounted) and a gradual evolution of the hull shapes, whilst retaining the clinker construction method. The hulls had a generous rake to the stem often around 45 degrees, which rounded into a straight keel. The forward sections were quite veed, and then the dead rise decreased back to the transom with a very shallow vee or even a flat bottom at the centerline. The bilge section was quite firm, and this would be very obvious at the stern where most craft had tumblehome put into the topsides. Sheer lines were straight, and transoms were vertical or slightly raked forward. The deck had a distinct camber which would often decrease at the transom. The rudder hung off the transom, and there was an additional skeg for directional control forward of the middle sections.

They were planked in various timbers, usually around closely spaced, small sectioned frames, with big bearers or girders running full length to mount the engine. The decks were plywood, often grooved and filled to look like planked decks with a wide covering board. Wrap around wind shields protected the driver and passengers. Racing boats were more extreme in their shape than the recreational craft, which had to include a passenger cockpit aft of the mid mount engine. In the racing boats the driver and mechanic were often positioned close to the transom with the engine well forward, giving a shallow angle to the shaft line and propeller thrust.

Racing was well supported through out the country in classes based on the engine size, such as the 225 and later 255 cu. inch class. 45 to 55 mph was fast for the early 1950s, whereas modern day craft can do far greater speeds. Racing took place on enclosed waterways, better suited to the hull shapes than rough water and swells. It was potentially dangerous too, the Lewis Bros father Clem died in a racing accident in 1948.

In 2005 the craft remain popular, old boats are being maintained and restored, and many of the fibreglass racing boats still have the essential shape characteristics of their wooden counterparts.

References:
Hodge, Ron 2004, My Life with Lewis Brothers, (first apprentice at Lewis Bros), private publication
Seacraft 1954, article on Lewis Bros
Information from David Lewis (Son of Frank Lewis) and David Pagano, private collector of vintage speed boats