Orlo III : A Mystic Sea Sled

Orlo III at the Detroit Races, 1921 Negative number 1984.187.7098F

Since the 1600s Mystic, Connecticut has been known for its shipbuilding industry, however many do not know that it was also at the forefront of constructing fast motor boats. The Sea Sled was constructed by the Sea Sled Company in West Mystic and Groton.

Albert Hickman, a Canadian and 1899 graduate of Harvard, became fascinated with motor boats and how to increase their speed after his boat, Viper, won a race in 1907. Hickman patented a boat propulsion system in 1911. (U.S. Patent no. 1,044,176). Hickman’s design would “simplify the construction of power boats and at the same time increase their efficiency.” He then patented the Sea Sled design in 1916. (U.S. Patent no. 1,204,355) The patents reads: “The invention consists essentially in the novel type of hull and in its association with the means of propulsion, and with the means of guiding.”

It differed from other boats in two main aspects. The boat rode high on the water due to its inverted-v bottom. The design provided lift making the boat faster. Secondly, its surface propulsion resistance was minimized by the elimination of an exposed propeller shaft and struts. The Sea Sled road higher on the water and could be safely taken into shallow and weed-filled waters.

The Sea Sled caught the eye of the press due to its speed. In 1921 a 35-foot Sea Sled, Orlo III established the official world’s speed record for displacement boats at 57.79 miles per hour, breaking the 47 mph record held by Orlo II, another Sea Sled, from a few months earlier.  (Although the Sea Sleds were called “displacement” vessels, they were in fact, planning boats.)

Hickman wanted the boats’ manufacture to mirror the assembly line of an automobile plant with interchangeable parts and construction without hand tools. The company built two models in the early 1920s to keep production simple:  22’ and 26’ models.

The Sea Sled Company kept the boats’ price low to appeal to the American family. Advertising depicted men and women, dressed in suits, driving their Sea Sled as if headed to work. In fact the seats of the Sea Sled almost look as though they were from the interior of an expensive car.  The Sea Sled Company also advertised the boat as easy to handle in rough waters and difficult to capsize. One advertisement showed a group of young, smiling boys as they weighed down one side of a still buoyant Sea Sled.

One cannot discuss Hickman without mentioning his experimental 1918 aircraft carrier. He designed a Sea Sled capable of 50 miles per hour that could carry a plane, though due to the end of World War I it was never used in action. Hickman received government contracts during World War II and built about 40 air-sea rescue Sea Sleds of differing sizes constructed in Massachusetts.

Pictured here is Orlo III at the Detroit Races, 1921.

Guest post by Cynthia Wrightsman, Rosenfeld Collection Volunteer