Watercraft -- A Status Report
By Doug Milliken, first published in Human Power, The
Journal of the IHPVA. Fall/Winter, 1994-95, Vol.11, No. 4.
Well, its been over a year, and the spray from
The Du Pont Human Powered Watercraft Speed Prizes has mostly settled. Not the
spray from the vehicles (the fast ones didn't leave much), I'm talking about
what was learned from the contest -- by competitors, officials, and the IHPVA as
the sanctioning and promoting organization. This article summarizes my view of
how it started, what happened and where HP Watercraft might go from here. Along
the way I learned a lot about running contests and I'd like to get some of that
down too--looking toward the day when IHPVA runs another big contest.
My previous article on the Du Pont prizes [reference 1] described
the process of setting up the contest and the many people that contributed. It
also properly credited Allan Abbott and Alec Brooks with the first demonstration
of a fast HP hydrofoil, the Flying Fish, and their dramatic slide show
at the Indianapolis Speed Championships in 1984. Not mentioned in the earlier
article was Brad Brewster's master's theses  which indicated that a HP
hydrofoil could be built. There were several popular articles written in the
embryonic period of HP watercraft design [3, 4, 5] that give a flavor of the
thinking at that time.
To make a long story short,  ended with a prediction that the contest would
be won in 1990-91. While the "symbolic barrier" of 20 knots (10.37
m/s) was not broken as I had expected, MIT's Decavitator went 18.50
knots (9.53 m/s) in the fall of 1991. This speed was not exceeded during 1992
(the last year of the contest) thus the MIT team led by Mark Drela, Marc Schafer
and Matt Wall was the Grand Prize winner .
Besides the two teams mentioned above, the other serious team that
comes to mind was Sid and Steve Shutt's Hydroped, based on their
hydrofoil sailboat experience. The major players (formal entries for the Grand
Prize) were very few. In hindsight, this can be easily explained; the 20 knot
speed predicted by  and used as the Grand Prize goal is hard
to achieve. The teams that made headway all had a great deal of previous
experience (often professional) in related fields such as hydrodynamics,
aerodynamics and/or advanced composite construction.
A number of novel ideas were tried but the contest winners all used combinations
of existing technology, albeit with a great deal of cleverness and refinement.
Hydrofoils and propellers were eventually used by all the fast machines. While
the rules allowed hovercraft, only one Dragonfly was in existence
before the contest and this was not developed during the prize period. Parker
MacCready's flapping wing machines (culminating in the Preposterous Pogo
Foil are probably the closest humans have come to imitating bird flight,
given the various attempts at building ornithopters over the last centuries. I
am aware of several attempts to build hydroplane-style craft that would
"skim" over the water, riding on a trapped bubble of air but none of
these (again to the best of my knowledge) were able to get up "on the
step" with human power.
From my vantage point, no one team made an all-out effort to exceed the 20 knot
goal that we set up as part of the contest. While I had hoped that 20 knots
would be broken, thus ending the Grand Prize contest, the structure of the rules
(fastest in the four year period) allowed competitors to play a waiting game. By
all-out effort, I mean developing a really good vehicle, training an elite
athlete to skipper it and finally setting up private record attempts to give the
most advantageous operating conditions for the particular craft. Each team had
good reasons for their level of effort and I have been told that, behind the
scenes, teams that appeared to be quiescent were in fact working quite hard (but
not advertising/tipping their hand to the competition). I still think that 20
knots is possible!
Several teams (or potential teams) spent an inordinate amount of time fighting
the rules of the contest--either publicly (in Human Power / HPV
News) or privately (the correspondence is still in my files...) While
defending the rules, I had some moral support from an experienced HPV land
racer--his advice to disgruntled competitors was essentially, "get back to
the drawing board--the rules have been published and you aren't going to change
them". In fact we didn't change the rules although there was a procedure
change or two. With that said, all of the competitors and teams were easy to get
along with,even under race day pressure, thanks.
Running the Contest (and
the yearly events)
In writing the rules, my lack of experience (and time pressure to
finalize the contest) led me to make one major mistake--at the time that the
rules were published IHPVA didn't really know how to time the 100 meters with
automatic start/stop timing. In looking back at some of the notes from the
Watercraft Prize ad hoc Committee members, I can see that I was warned about
this problem. If there is any one piece of advice I'd like to pass along to
future contest directors it is very simple: make
sure that all the equipment for judging the contest is reliable, accurate, well
understood, tested, and that a number of people are familiar with the system.
IHPVA generally contracts with local promoters to
run the IHPSC. The HP water craft were new and unfamiliar to most HPV race
promoters. The result was that we usually didn't get the level of support that
was required. Another bit of advice to future directors--make sure that there
are enough volunteers available to run the event. If the event is new, most of
the crew will probably have to come from outside the local area.
The Prize Committee members are ultimately
responsible to the IHPVA. What makes a good committee member? Beyond the obvious
requirements of interest and experience, consider the following: If the prize is
small then the contestants' motivation may be assumed to be "for the
glory" thus, relatively idealistic committee members are suggested. On the
other hand, if the prize money is high, the contestants have "additional
motivation", in this case I think the committee should include fairly
"realistic" or "hard" members; with a big prize the
"contest" aspect comes first, not the technology that may be
developed. This latter is only fair to the sponsor and the competitors (who will
work as hard as they can, hopefully within the rules). We had an excellent Prize
Committee--thanks for your help.
In the "Regulations and Conditions"  we defined a
watercraft as using "control by reaction against the water". This had
the result that several craft, including the Grand Prize winner, Decavitator,
bore little resemblance to traditional ideas about "boats". There
seems to be consensus that any future water contest should also require
"propulsion by reaction against the water". At the time that the rules
were written, the Dragonfly hovercraft was a contestant and Steve Ball's stated
reasons for the air prop didn't really get into the speed advantages it might
Future water rules should be more specific on timing (now that MIT has shown us
how to do it optically) and on measurement of wind and current. While I
personally have no doubt that the actual Grand Prize run was made in legal
conditions, the wind measurement procedure and its documentation were not
adequately called out in the rules, and this was cause for later complaints.
Another approach to the whole question of "power from the environment"
(i.e., wind assist) is to restrict contests to one or two day events. This
avoids the whole concept of "fair conditions" that can be duplicated
at a number of sites worldwide. Thus the winner on a particular day may well be
the team that chooses to run at the most advantageous time. This is certainly
true in other forms of racing (car, boat, etc.) where such variables as
temperature, surface conditions and/or wind conditions have a big effect on
times; part of the game is to second-guess the weather.
One of the goals in writing the rules was to formalize a protest procedure for
contestants that was reasonable, and most important workable.
The need for a protest procedure was established during the Du Pont Speed Prize
for 65 mph on land. No official protests were filed in the watercraft contest,
so the rules as written must have worked. However, there were a few complaints
filed (see above) and a rewording that might make the procedure even more clear
Protests can only be filed by official entrants in the contest. An entrant is
defined as a team that has filed an entry with IHPVA and paid the (typically
nominal) entry fee to cover IHPVA expenses.
There is no stigma attached to filing a protest, rather, a protest is a
mechanism for opening up the actual detailed facts of an attempt to scrutiny by
If no protests are filed during the protest period, the attempt is official and
not subject to further attack (no double jeopardy for the team being protested).
I am open to comments on the above thoughts and will pass them on to the current
IHPVA Rules Committee. The bottom line is that while volunteer officials will
try their best to judge accurately, competitors should not trust the officials
blindly and there should be a concise review (protest) procedure in place.
What did IHPVA learn?
Size and type of prize(s) - Given the various comments
that came my way I could say that the Grand Prize was too big. With $25,000 on
the line (and no second place) some entrants took the contest too seriously and
lost the sense of technological exploration that IHPVA tries to foster. At other
times, I felt that the Grand Prize was not big enough--looking from the outside,
it seemed that no team really tried everything possible to break the 20 knot
goal. In contrast, the yearly contests (1989, '90, '91) had smaller prize money
and the prize list paid down to last place. This latter system was well received
by all, I don't recall any serious complaints.
So, you say, why not run future contests this way,
with prize money for most entrants. The simple answer is that the money comes
from a sponsor and, in general, the sponsor has a big say in how the money is to
be spent. I think we were very lucky that Du Pont allowed us to distribute about
1/3 of their total gift over the yearly events.
Operating expenses -- In our agreement with
Du Pont, money to run the contest came from interest on the prize money. I can
only say we were lucky, the contest coincided with the big bump in interest
rates and, by skimping a bit IHPVA came out ahead in running the Grand Prize
contest. Thanks to Dick Woodward, Du Pont picked up the operating tab for the
yearly events--these events broke even.
Publicity -- If the goal is to really make a
big splash, then much more advertising/PR work needs to be done. In hindsight,
to do the promotion job right, it should probably be budgeted at an amount
similar to the prize money offered. The two go together, with a bigger prize
more money should be spent to get the word out. A good recent example is the HP
Submarine Races promoted by H. A. Perry; they actually hired a professional
promoter/advertising agency to plug their event with the result that they were
eventually covered by National Geographic TV. In contrast, our contest PR got a
paragraph mention in their magazine.
Contacts made outside the direct area of fast
watercraft -- Perhaps the most interesting contact was from the Rockefeller
Foundation. RF hired an independent researcher to put together a white paper on
technology contests and I was interviewed on the telephone. Her final write-up
makes fascinating reading. Most of the contests studied were underfunded (like
ours) and thus required a "zealot" (a true believer) to run them. I
had to agree that I must be a true believer in the possibilities of human power
to put up with the demands of the director's job. This probably applies to most
of the IHPVA volunteer staff!
We seem to be in the process of linking up with the
HP submarine builders, witness the recent issue of HP on this topic and the
recent San Diego event held with IHPVA sanction.
During the contest period, two great HP water
achievements occurred. Dwight Collins pedaled his screw-driven "Tango"
solo across the North Atlantic (Newfoundland to England) realizing a childhood
dream and also breaking the previous rowing records. Kenichi Horie, also in a
pedaled, screw driven boat traveled from Hawaii to Japan. Videos were made of
both voyages and aired on US/Japan TV.
Did we contribute to the start of a new sport as I suggested in my
previous article? I would say that the answer is a tentative yes, judging by the
new pedal powered craft on the market, i.e., Eide Seacycle, Yamaha Waverunner
and others listed in the IHPVA Source Guide. International
interest is also high at this time with similar contests run in Europe (the
Waterbike Contest) and especially in Japan with the first Japanese IHPVA
sanctioned event, the Second All Japan HPB races and the well sponsored Dream
Ship Contest (strangely, the DS Contest is only open to entrants from Japan).
Unfortunately, the future of both of the Japanese contests is in doubt as they
have lost their major sponsors.
In the making are two new vehicles that I am aware of, a fast monohull
displacement boat and a "recreational hydrofoil" with lower power
requirement. Both use water props and rudders. I won't steal the builders fire
by revealing their names, both groups are well known to IHPVA members, just
While there is no new watercraft contest in the near future, the goal of 20
knots has not been achieved. With or without a prize, I think this sprint speed
will be reached, but it may take a long time -- look at how long the Gold Rush
65+ mph record stood, and the commitment required by the Cheetah team to beat
At the 1994 IHPVA Annual Meeting in Eureka, CA, the Board of Directors elected
Nancy Sanford as your new Vice President for Water. Nancy is the enthusiastic
owner of an HP watercraft and brings her user's perspective to the job. I'm sure
you will be hearing more from her. For me, it's been a fun, educational, and
challenging five years, thanks again to all who helped out.
Doug Milliken is a long-time HPV builder, wind
tunnel junkie (bikes and race cars), and former IHPVA VP-Water. He is also the
co-author of the book, "Race Car Vehicle Dynamics", which can can be
seen on the SAE Online Bookstore (www.sae.org). He is a dealer for Alex Moulton
Bicycles, accessories and parts (USA). For information on AM products, he can be
reached at his engineering company Milliken
1. Milliken, Doug, "Creation and development of the Du Pont
human-powered watercraft speed prizes", Human Power, Vol. 8 No. 1,
2. Brewster, M. B., "The Design and Development of a Man-Powered
Hydrofoil", B.S.M.E. theses, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA, May 1979.
3. Wilson, David Gordon, "A Short History of Human-Powered
Vehicles", American Scientist, Vol. 74, July-August 1986.
4. Brooks, Alec N., Allan V. Abbott, and David Gordon Wilson,
"Human-powered Watercraft", Scientific American, December 1986.
5. Wilson, David Gordon, "Getting in Gear: Human-Powered
Transportation", Technology Review, October 1979.
6. Drela, Mark, Marc Schafer, Matt Wall, "Decavitator human-powered
hydrofoil",Human Power, Vol 9, No. 3, Fall-Winter 1991-2.
7. Brooks, Alec N., "The 20-knot human powered water craft", Human
Power, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1987.
8. "The Du Pont Human Powered Watercraft Speed Prizes, Regulations
and Conditions", IHPVA 1989.