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Damned by faint Praise

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  • Title Damned by faint Praise 
    Short Title David Seidman 
    Author David Seidman 
    Publisher Article appearing in Wooden Boat 100, May/June 1991 
    Source ID S1180 
    Text "Damned by faint Praise", By David Seidman in WoodenBoat 100 May/June 1991

    I'd like to introduce you to Albert Hickman as I first found him, through this odd quote at the top of a piece of 1940's promotional material:

    "Truth is like unto a star, appearing somewhat small, but bright and secure".

    Now, what would possess a man to include something like that in a brochure? The rest of the pamphlet was a straightforward sales come-on, but that obscure quote sounded so defensive, so utterly desperate, that it caught me by the heart. Obviously, here was a man whose small star was anything but bright and secure.

    Albert Hickman and his sea Sleds seem to be one of those perennial boatyard myths. No one's sure who he was or what his boats were like, but the names seem to linger on as part of our collective unconscious.

    In factual terms, William Albert Hickman was one of the first men to achieve high speeds on the water without resorting to high power. He proved that a hull could be made to go faster by forcing air under it, invented the surface-piercing propeller, designed and devised tactics for the world's first high-performance motor torpedo boats, discovered that propellers generated lift, effectively used counter-rotating props before anyone else, built the first high-speed aircraft carrier, and patented the ideas for lifting strakes, sponsons, non-tripping chines, and the prop-riding speedboat.

    As a man, he remained a mystery. Hickman saw the world differently than anyone else, and was intellectually superior to most of his contemporaries. He kept company with men like Alexander Graham Bell and Henry Ford, was a commentator on political matters and the arts, acted as a representative for his government, and was a popular writer of fiction.

    But mostly he was an observer. Terminally curious, he had a genius for seeing what others could not. For this, and his often too-direct manner of telling people what he saw, he was left to remain an enigma in the back-waters of naval architecture.

    What follows is the first comprehensive history of Albert Hickman ever to be published, and I hope it will clear up some of the mystery. To say that this was a difficult piece of investigative reporting would be a gross understatement. Hickman worked alone, confided in no one, and shared nothing. Each paragraph represents days of going over oral histories; yachting, literary, and technical magazines; correspondences from people like Lyndon B. Johnson or Howard Chapelle; government records; patents; research papers; and endless legal statements. There was an incredible amount of hearsay and only a disappointingly small core of provable facts. It is from this core that the following story has been pieced together.

    For all the outstanding accomplishments of his life, Hickman was essentially ignored by the press. In my research I found surprisingly little about him or his boats. It seems as though he was thought of as an eccentric and an annoyance that most wished would quietly go away. The only one who told his story was Hickman himself, and although editors like Thomas Fleming Day and Charles F. Chapman acknowledged his genius, they printed precious little about his work.

    In all fairness, this might have been in self-defense, as Hickman could be an incredibly self-righteous, arrogant, patronizing pain in the ass, as well as a prolific proselytizer of his cause. For, even though he referred to himself as "ruinously truthful", Hickman's writings were hardly ever objective in any sense, and, in most cases, were outright pieces of self-promotion. But it was from these writings that most of my information has been gathered. As much as possible, I have tried to temper this with other opinions, but many times there were none. He was that thoroughly ignored.

    Hickman's early years are as obscure as as the rest of his life. The consensus is that he was born in Dorchester, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1877, and soon after moved to Pictou, a small Nova Scotian town on the shores of the Northumberland Strait, which leads out to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is here that Albert, as he preferred to be called, was educated and introduced to the comforts of life within a wealthy shipbuilding family. He was later send to Harvard University, where in 1899 he earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering and was remembered as a sculler of some note. Upon returning to Canada, he became a Commissioner of New Brunswick, served as a lecturer for his government in Britain, and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute.

    It was during these years at the very turn of the century that his self-image was based on security and achievement. He had money, position, and was on his way to becoming a true gentleman of letters. In 1903 his novel of romance and adventure, The Sacrifice of the Shannon was received with rave reviews. From the New York Sun, "At last in the great mass of fiction…an original idea and a new condiment". Through his writings you would sense a person of great warmth and understanding, along with good-natured humor and a feeling for Victorian Romance. 

    It was in this state of well-being that, in the summer of 1907, he and a local Pictou character call Sanford Munsie, "a house painter and paper-hanger by profession, and an adventurer by inclination, most especially after dark", One day drew up the lines for a fast boat that was "so simple it seemed ridiculous that no one had tried it before". The boat was to be 20'2" x 3'6", with a flat bottom having a fore-and-aft rocker of 2 ¼" . Built solely as a lark, out of spruce flooring, the rough and heavy boat was produced by Mr. Munsie and five helpers in a 30- hour marathon. 

    She looked something like a crude coffin and was derisively called VIPER, after the fast British warship which had recently run into a farm during a fog. Immediately after launching, she was fitted with a 3-hp engine, sent to race against "honest motorboats", and won with a speed of 8 mph. She was then fitted with a 7-hp engine and got up to 14.3 mph, a record speed for that small amount of power. This may not sound very revolutionary today, but here for the first time was a low-powered, fast planing boat that was suitable for everyday use. With the success of VIPER, Hickman's life changed completely. No longer careful and comfortable, from here on he began crawling farther and farther out on a limb to pursue the elusive ideal of a practical, seaworthy, high-speed motorboat. It became an obsessive passion that was to bring him his greatest successes, and his most soul-deadening defeats. Hickman realized he was on to something with his "Flying Coffin" and formed the Viper Company Ltd., to sell boats and finance further experimentation.

    Starting in the autumn of 1908, Hickman and Munsie began their research with the similar, but better finished, VIPER II. They realized that the boat's flat bottom was forcing out spray and a considerable wake. In his engineer's mind, Hickman saw it as energy that was being wasted. To prevent this, side plates that looked like straight bronze sled runners were added at the chines and proved effective in trapping air and redirecting spray back underneath the boat. The end result was increased lift and speed from the same power. To Hickman, it was becoming obvious that "the principle of confining air beneath the hull might be of the utmost importance in the development of boats that are to be run at speed".

    Hickman was also becoming aware of the properties of water at high speed and how underwater appendages caused a great deal of unnecessary drag. Although it was still an unproven fact, he humorously sensed that "the hardness of water at 50 miles per hour might compare with the hardness of cheese….at rest". So, why drag anything through it if you don't have to.

    Independent of Munsie, he began to tackle the design problems of a surface-piercing propeller system that would eliminate unnecessary resistance. To continue with Hickman's cheesey analogy, "Since the water under the boat is as hard as cheese, it seemed easier to cut the cheese with the knife blade alone, rather than with the blade and the handle. So we hoisted the handle---being the propeller shaft, hub, etc---up out of the sea altogether".

    This idea, which is seen today in the Arneson Surface Drive, had been around since 1818. As with so many things, the concept was understood; but no one knew how to apply it. This was where Hickman excelled. He knew how to make ideas work.

    He also knew how to irritate people. In the July 1910 issue of The Rudder, Hickman launched a beautifully barbed rebuttal to an accusation by Malby, a venerated old-line designer, that his VIPER's were shams, and that he was inadequately versed in theoretical naval architecture. The piece was called "Weary of Theory", and Hickman made his case with deadly elegance. I'm sure he considered it a coup, but in actuality it was the opening of the door to oblivion.

    At about the same time he was ripping apart the establishment, he was also running test on the old VIPER II, this time with the world's first surface-piercing propellers. The engineering was rough and the props too small, but the boat made reasonable speed, showed a propeller slippage of only 8%, ran unaffected through the thickest weeds, had half the draft of a conventional boat, and ran without the frictional drag associated with fully submerged propellers.

    This test validated Hickman's belief enough so that by the end of 1911, he was offering a boat that was specifically designed for these props. The new boat was VIPER IV (the missing VIPER III was just a production model of the old VIPER II). She was the same length as the other VIPER's, but a little wider and had  V-sections in her forward half. With a 25-hp motor, she could make 20 mph, and was rigged with a pair of counter-rotating propellers and Hickman's new side plate rudders.

    The rudders were brass plates attached by hinges along their forward edges, one on each side of the boat. To steer to port, the port plate would be pushed out by a rod. When going straight, both plates would be held to the sides of the boat and offered minimal resistance, as well as being non-fouling.

    At this point, Hickman was satisfied with his surface-drive system, but was less so with VIPER IV. For the next two years he continued to experiment, looking for a hull form that would eliminate pounding, not require massive power to achieve speed, be manageable in a seaway, and not be wet riding-in other words, the exact opposite of anything yet known or available at that time.

    What he came up with, and displayed for the first time at the 1913 New York Motor Boat Show, was like nothing else anyone had ever seen before, or even had the imagination to dream up. As a reporter would later say, "Any resemblance to a boat could not be recognized….".

    The new VIPER V looked like someone had taken a perfectly normal V-bottomed boat and cut it down the centerline, then reassembled it so the original sides were in the center and the centerlines were on the sides.

    Sort of like putting your shoes on the wrong feet. The boat had a tunnel forward in the shape of an inverted V that flattened as it went aft. This was enclosed by two outward-turning bows that seemed to be pulling the boat apart right down the middle.

    Hickman call[ed] the hull type a Sea Sled, because of its two straight out-board keels and perfectly parallel sides. The "experts" didn't know what to name it, but found its un-boat-like character an affront to their tamer sensibilities. Even more offensive was the fact that she did everything Hickman said she would, and most things their boats couldn't. As Tom Day, editor of The Rudder, put it, "The trouble is, Mr. Hickman has committed one of the most terrible offenses known to the code---he has knocked on the head and badly damaged a number of elaborate scientific theories. In plain English, he has exploded a bomb under a pile of pet ideas evolved by impractical persons….". And, of course, once again, Hickman rubbed their noses in it with unbridled glee.

    There were plenty, though, who liked what the[y] saw. The same reporter that couldn't recognize her for a boat finished his statement with "…but in seagoing qualities she was years ahead of any hydroplane". Here was a boat that, for the first time in history, could be taken in rough water with speed and safety. She was not intended for speed alone, but for usable speed at sea.

    Of primary importance was the effect of the tunnel formed by the inverted V and the two outward-turning bows. This collected the bow wave and spray, plus compressing incoming air, which created a pressurized mixture of aerated water that reduced surface friction and generated lift. Because of this, Sea Sleds were drier running, planed faster, and needed less power to achieve the same speeds as a typical V-bottomed boat. They also had greater load-carrying abilities. A writer for the September 26, 1914, Scientific American calculated that the best boats of the day could plane with a maximum of 45 lbs/hp, while the Sea Sled could do the same with 70 lbs/hp. As per the sixth edition of Shene's Elements of Yacht Design, "…from a weight/speed standpoint the Sea Sled was one of the most efficient hulls ever built".

    The boat was also remarkable well behaved. Compared to other planing boats that jumped from one small wave to the next, Hickman's boats ran like a sled on ice. Even in sizable seas, the absence of harsh pounding was well documented. Hickman attributed this to the air being compressed under the hull. But Johan Valentijn, today's most experienced Sea Sled designer, believes it is more likely a result of the sectional shapes of the two bows.

    These bows also provided other unique features. Because of their outward-turning waterlines, steering was self-correcting in a beam or following sea. This made the boat almost impossible to broach, and helped it hold a steady course regardless of the relative direction of the waves, In addition, the lateral spread of the bows brought extra buoyancy outboard, which increased initial stability and dampened the boat's rolling motion.

    On the negative side, the Sea Sled was difficult to build in wood. The form was hard to frame and plank, and the overcoming of substantial torsional stresses demanded sophisticated (ie: expensive) construction methods. This all resulted in a heavy boat that needed all the extra lift the hull could provide. It was hard to turn---especially at slow speeds---because of the two parallel keels and less-than-efficient side plate rudders. They were sensitive to excessive loading aft and could become poor performers under such conditions. But, most damaging of all was the Sea Sled's appearance. For all our lip service to the beauty of a form that follows function, the Western aesthetic demands simplicity and unity. The Sea Sled provided neither, and this eventually turned people away from accepting the boat on its merits.

    As a test of the Sea Sled's qualities, the famous Charles F.Chapman, then editor of Motor Boating, took five friends on a 260-mile ocean trip from Boston to Bar Harbor. He reported in the August 1914 issue that the stock 26' runabout, fitted with a standard surface-drive, carried a full load of supplies, ran through fogs, gales, and large seas, averaged 35 mph, and did a maximum of 45 mph. Even by today's standards this would be a reasonable accomplishment, but back then, when fast boats went to sea for periods measured in minutes and only in dead calms, this was considered somewhat of a milestone. In addition, Walter Bieling of The Rudder Thought that the Sea Sled was "…the best sea boat I have ever been in".

    Hickman was elated. Within a period of just a few years he had come up with two extraordinary breakthroughs in marine engineering and showed himself to be one of the few men in that field capable of taking an original thought through to a working conclusion.

    Based on the overwhelming acceptance of his Sea Sled, Hickman decided to open a Boston office in 1913 and begin a working relationship with the Murray & Tregurtha Company of South Boston. They were experienced engine and boat builders and a good choice for dealing with the Sea Sled's inherent complexities. Every Sea Sled from them until 1919 was built in their yard; this was one of Hickman's few successful joint ventures.

    In September of 1913. Hickman demonstrated his Sea Sled to the Navy as a potential high-speed rescue boat. They were so impressed that they, and the Army, began purchasing only Sea Sleds for high-speed (25+ mph) Service in open waters, a policy that was to last to the end of the First World War and infuriated the other builders who were being cut out of a very profitable pie. As a final touch of good fortune, a collection of three of Hickman's novelettes and four short stories was soon to be released under the title of Canadian Nights. As before, it was well received.

    For the next year, Hickman basked in his successes. But, by the summer of 1914, Europe was choosing up sides for war, and as a citizen of the world, Hickman believed it would not be long before the United States would be drawn into the conflagration. He rightfully predicted that most naval engagements in this war would be brief skirmishes, rather than the more traditional group-fleet battles. With this in mind, and other intentions that were not totally altruistic, he conceived procedures and tactics that suggested"…carrying torpedoes with a destructive charge for capital ships in small motorboats that were so sea-worthy, so fast, and so highly maneuverable as to form almost impossible targets for gunfire". And, of course, the small motorboats he envisioned were Sea Sleds. Still, here for the first time was the how-to book of modern offensive torpedo-boat warfare.

    Hickman presented his idea to Rear Admiral David W.Taylor, who was the Chief of the Nayy's Bureau of Construction and Repair. Taylor saw the merit of such a plan and, as an expert in marine propulsion, was fascinated by the Sea Sled and its surface-piercing props. The two men were of kindred spirit, and Taylor encouraged Hickman to pursue the concept further. By September of 1914, Hickman had drawn up a full set of plans for a 54' Sea Sled torpedo boat, along with complete details on how it should be campaigned. While the Navy's general Board found the proposal attractive, the new Secretary of the Navy, Joesphus Daniels ( an ex-newspaper editor with no naval experience, and a staunch pacifist), rejected it on the grounds that we were not at war.

    Hickman then took his idea to the British Admiralty's Invention Board, who thought it interesting, but believed that "no fast boat of 50' to 60' length would be sufficiently seaworthy to make it workable".

    Frustrated, but also well financed from his rescue-boat contracts, Hickman decided to prove his point by privately building the world's first high-performance motor torpedo boat. With the help of Rear Admiral Taylor and Strauss, the boat was launched and demonstrated to a crowd of U.S. and foreign officials in February of 1915. Also observing was a representative of the British Admiralty, a Lieutenant Hampden.

    Once again, Hickman made his point. The 41' Sea Sled, in combat weight with four 150-hp engines and surface props, did 40 mph in the rough winter seas off Boston. And once again, Hickman's point was thought to be of little value. Although many were impressed, there were no takers.

    But the war progressed, and by the summer of that year Lieutenant Hampden and two other British officers presented the Admiralty with the idea of a small motor torpedoboat. This was immediately deemed appropriate, and Tom Thornycroft's single-step hydroplane, MIRANDA IV, was chosen as the prototype. By April 6. 1916, the second modern torpedoboat, or CMB (Coastal Motor Boat), had been launched. It encompassed many principles from Hickman's original presentation to the Admiralty, yet from then on the credit would always be attributed to the three British officers.

    But in August of 1915, this personal defeat was still almost a year away. At this time the General Board, with Secretary Daniels's approval, agreed to buy a Sea Sled torpedo boat for evaluation purposes. Once again, Hickman was elated. But not for long.

    Two months later, Secretary Daniels changed his mind, and called for competitive bids. As so often happens with the inexperienced, Daniels's choice was based solely on price. The winner, to be known as C250, was a conventional V-bottomed boat built the Greenport Basin, of Greenport, New York, for $19,900. This was $10,000 less than Hickman's lowest bid, and $40,000 less than the highest bidder.

    Once again, Hickman felt he was being brushed aside. Even though his public writings proclaimed an optimistic view for the future of Sea Sleds, his private notes were becoming increasingly dark and defensive. By 1916, with the launching of the first CMB, it was obvious that Hickman was now overly preoccupied with the idea of a Sea Sled torpedo boat and the belief that he was being wrongfully persecuted. For the first time in an otherwise charmed life, self-doubt was rearing its ugly head.

    And it publicly surfaced in a full-page ad in the December 1917 issue of Motor Boating. There, crudely scrawled over a photo of his 20' Sea Sled, Hickman had written: "Why do we hear so little about the Sea Sleds these days? And why, at the same time, are the Sea Sled principles being extended to cover all the high-power high-speed boats in the world?". It is true that in the future almost all of his ideas would be used to the great advantage of others, but in 1917 this degree of paranoia seemed grossly inappropriate. 

    What made it even stranger was that this was the period of some of his greatest successes. In 1916 he offered a 36' Sea Sled that at 34 mph was the world's fastest cruising cabin boat. In 1917 Daniels approved a contract with Hickman for the building of C-378, a second U.S. torpedo boat, the V-bottomed C-250 was launched. It was a year late, leaked, pounded badly, and never reached its contracted speed. The boat failed miserably, and Hickman couldn't have been happier. It was also during this same period that he met an extraordinary naval officer, Capt. H.C.Munstin. Impressed by the Sea Sled's smooth ride and stability, Munstin suggested to the Navy that they contract Hickman to build a high-speed aircraft carrier. His idea was to increase the range of heavy, land-based bombers attacking Germany by launching them from Sea Sleds in the Zuider Zee.

    Someone in the Navy Department bought the idea, and by early 1918 Hickman had designed and the Murray & Tregurtha Yard built two 25-ton, 55' prototypes. Using only 1.800 hp, they made 55 mph with a 10,000-lb Caproni bomber on board. With the bomber's engines racing, they could make even higher speeds, which were enough to successfully effect a launch.

    These boats were Hickman's masterpieces, and they probably took the Sea Sled form to its most effective conclusion. They incorporated the first use (backed by international patents) of planing sponsons, lifting strakes, bevelled (non-tripping) chines, and many other details that were to find their way into his future boats---and into those of other designers.

    Still in his early 40s, Hickman had successfully defended the new ground he had begun to reveal back in 1907. While this should have been the starting point for the most productive years of his life, he began to entrench and stagnate. From here on, he was only to refine what went before, never venturing too far beyond, jealously patenting everything he did. He no longer wrote, or delved in any other interllectual activities unless they related to his sea Sleds. He was a man possessed.

    The timing could not have been better. By request of the Bureau of Aeronautics, the Navy was, for the first time since the end of the war, showing interest in developing a fleet of high-performance small craft as rescue, or "crash" , boats. By 1933, the Navy had already bought a 45-footer by Luders for testing purposes. And by 1934 Hickman, insisting on comparative trials, was ready to challenge it---or anything else the Navy could come up with.

    In October of that year, Hickman received and order to build a test 45' Sea Sled crash boat for the Navy. To help finance the endeavor, he began to sell off the remaining boats of the old Sea Sled Company. He depended on this income, and to help thing he tried to rent space in the 1935 New York Boat Show.

    Once again, politics were against him, Henry Sutphen, President of the National Association of Engine and Boat Manufacturers (which ran the event) and also President of Elco (a direct competitor for Naval contracts), told Hickman that he couldn't display his boats because they were "distressed material". Hickman noted that Sutphen had used the show to empty Elco's warehouses during the Depression, but it was to no avail. Sutphen was perversely obstinate and smugly told Hickman to take a hike.

    Although underfinanced, Hickman immersed himself in the project, using an independent contractor to build the boat. As it had many times before, his enthusiasm clouded his judgment. Naively thinking that the

    Navy would be lenient because of their remembrances of his World War I rescue boats, and in an attempt to meet unusually demanding high-speed turning requirements, Hickman knowingly allowed a lot of design and construction flaws to creep into his 45-footer.

    The May 1936 tests at Hampton Roads did not go well. All the problems that Hickman had let slide came back to haunt him. The boat yawed badly, was hard to steer, pounded, performed sluggishly, and showed structural weaknesses. But no one could have ever said the tests were truly fair. As a matter of record. Irwin Chase, the head designer at Elco, was a consultant to the Trial Board. And Hickman might have never had a chance from the start. But the overwhelmingly poor showing of his boat was undeniable. The Trial Board's report was devastating, and from then on the Navy never again seriously considered a Sea Sled.

    In his blind dedication to his cause, Hickman never clearly saw the writing on the wall. For the next 20 years, he persisted in trying to get the armed forces reinterested. And for the next 20 years he was constantly being beaten down in the process. His tenacity and will to overcome was as inspiring as it was tragic, but in the end it was all an exercise in futility.

    In 1938, the Navy's Bureau of Ships (BuShips) announced a contest for torpedo boat designs and refused to accept Sea Sleds. When George Crouch advised them that the Sea Sled was the best type for the job, they refused to listen. After Crouch won with one of his V-bottomed boats, he wrote Hickman that the Sea Sled would "---be far superior to that of the best possible V-bottom or hard-chine design".

    Also in 1938, Bethlehem Steel's Shipbuilding Company offered to build a 70' Sea Sled torpedo boat at their own expense if the Navy would test it against a traditional boat. The deal was that if the Sea Sled won, Bethlehem Shipbuilding would get the contract for building the boats. The Navy refused on the grounds that the work should be spread among many small builders. A year later, the Navy awarded a $5 million contract to Elco, a division of the Electric Boat Works (later to be known as General Dynamics), for V-bottomed torpedo boats.

    In 1942, under the Lend Lease program, Mexico ordered three 75' Sea Sled patrol boats. BuShips intervened and cancelled the order. Soon afterwards, the Soviet Purchasing Commission requested 80 Sea Sleds from Hickman, a $17,600,000 order. Once again BuShips cancelled it and turned the order over to a builder of "conventional" boats. 

    In 1943, Hickman got an order for the Army Transportation Corps for a 78' fast supply boat that was eventually to be tested against two PT Boats. On the way to the test area it was run aground, and then accidentally ran over a can buoy. With only surface repairs made, the boat was sent out for testing in rough seas. Afterwards, when the test's report was released, the Sea Sled was said to have had an "ultimate collapse of the structure", with no mention of the grounding or collision. To the contrary, an independent inspector found that the boat's basic structure was still sound except for some minor damage where it had hit the buoy.

    The incident led to a hearing where the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Assistant Chief of BuShips said that the boat's officer had lost the log, and then flatly denied that there were every any accidents. Hickman was understandably furious, yet when the famous columnist Drew Pearson asked for his help in exposing the fraud, Hickman mysteriously hacked off.

    Although it was a different world after the war, nothing seemed to have changed for Hickman. Now at the age of 68, with failing health and resources, he attacked on new fronts, doing battle in the press and trying to entice the Navy into one more try. All he managed, though, was to further alienate himself from the yachting establishment and get involved in a messy Naval contract that dragged him through the courts and drained his remaining funds. To his credit, though, he never gave up, and persisted into the mid-1950s by licensing builders to manufacture small outboard runabouts.

    These little Sea Sleds caught the eye of Dick Fisher of the Fisher Pierce Company, who, in the fall of 1955, was looking for a boat to build with his new system of foam-cored construction. On a blustery day in October, he and his designer, Ray Hunt, rough-water-tested one of Hickman's 17-footers. The measured it, ran it hard, And then approached him with a deal. Hickman's notes of that period show that a tentative royalty agreement was reached around October 30, and that the new boats were to keep the Sea Sled name.

    Apparently something went wrong after that. More than likely, Hickman began to demand increased concessions and control. He had protected his patents for so long it was doubtful that he would begin to relinquish them at this point in his life. What ever happened was enough to turn off Fisher, who then encouraged Hunt to proceed on his own with a similar boat. Hunt took the Sea Sled and added a center "hull" in its tunnel. His reason of record for doing this was to eliminate cavitation; more than likely it was also to prevent lawsuits. The finished "cathedral" shape was revealed in 1958 as the original 13' Boston Whaler. The rest of the story you probably already know.

    Hickman never survived to see this final insult. With eviction notices piling up in his pitifully tiny Boston office, crushing legal fees against the Navy, and his company in receivership, he died still fighting in the late fall of 1957.

    It was a life of incredible promise and stunning flashes of genius, all cut down to nothing for want of recognition by his peers. Where does the fault lie? I'd say somewhere between the fears of those who were less talented and Hickman's own self-destructive passion for total control of his creations and unrealistic vision of the world.

    The irony, though, is that his boats were just as good as he said they were. The new Sea Sleds being built today by Dr. Salvatore Iannotti in Florida, designed by Johan Valentijn, are everything that Hickman promised they could be. Fibreglass construction has eliminated torque-generated structural problems and has allowed for subtler modeling of the hull, Compared to a comtemporary deep-V, a new Sea Sled makes the same speed with one-third less power, turns in one-third the radius, is more comfortable, less sensitive to weight, and safer at sea. They are not a panacea, just good boats for safe, high speed at sea, which is all that Hickman ever claimed. With this in mind, the bravado of the quote which first brought me to tell this story now seems lamentably poignant. And after laying out the full scope of Hickman's life, I can't help thinking of another quote, one which new seems infinitely more appropriate. "It takes two to tell the truth --- one to speak, another to hear". For most of Albert Hickman's life, no one was listening……..….. [by] David Seidman …….

    (with thanks to Don Hayward and the Late Buddy Simpson of IVB Boats in New Zealand who apparently transcribed the above article and placed it on the web for me to find!) 
    Linked to William Albert Hickman