Monday, December 22, 2008

E. W. Scripps: Hermit of the Seas

The Detroit
Built by the Matthews Boat Company

Beginning as a copy boy at the “Detroit News,” E. W. Scripps rose to prominence as one of America’s great newspaper publishers. He founded the Scripps-Howard news syndicate, and established the United Press International, better known today as the UPI. The multi-talented publisher was also the founder and engine designer of the Scripps Marine Motor Company. Scripps served as the commodore of the Detroit Yacht Club and built “Miramar,” his enormous retirement home near San Diego.

Despite his successes, Scripps remained an eccentric, reclusive individual, who was most comfortable sailing the world aboard his yachts, the “Kenah” and the “Ohio.” He often referred to himself as the “hermit of the seas.” In 1912, Scripps found a way to thrill readers of his dozens of newspapers and promote his gasoline marine engine while spending time on the high seas.

Scripps would demonstrate the reliability of his company’s marine engine by using it to power the smallest boat to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean. He contacted the Matthews Boat Company of Port Clinton to design a vessel capable of such a voyage. Known around the world for quality construction, Scott Matthews took on the challenge. “The Rudder” magazine called the finished product a “trans-Atlantic liner,” but others called it an “oversized lifeboat.” Indeed, the 35-foot vessel was a double-ender that was heavily built - much like a lifeboat. Scripps christened her the “Detroit.” She was driven by one of his company’s 16-horsepower, two-cylinder model engines that could move the boat at 5 to 6 knots.

Five stainless steel fuel tanks, holding 1,000 gallons of gasoline, were fastened under the deck midship. Another 1,275 gallons was stored on deck. (No doubt the necessity of a smoking ban posed a problem for Scripps, who was known to smoke up to fifty cigars a day.) The “Detroit” also carried engine oil, 200 gallons of water, food for ninety days, and sails and a mast in case of engine failure..

Captained by Thomas F. Day, editor of “The Rudder,” she began her voyage from Detroit on July 12th. Scripps and two others rounded out the crew. The boat passed through Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, the Hudson River and Long Island Sound. On July 16th, the “Detroit” set out on her 4,000-mile transatlantic journey from New Rochelle, New York. Other than engine inspections that took place every few days and a single incident of water in the fuel, the engine ran continuously. Twenty-one days later the “Detroit” arrived in Cobh, Ireland – the smallest boat with a gasoline-powered engine to cross the Atlantic. After a few weeks rest and re-fitting, Scripps decided to head to Europe. From there, the “Detroit” journeyed to St. Petersburg, Russia, making port on Sept. 13th.

Scripps lived another 14 years after the “Detroit’s” transatlantic voyage. Much of that time was spent roaming the world aboard his yachts. He died off the coast of Liberia in 1926 at the age of 72. He was buried at sea.

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