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Thread: Part 18: John, Ralph and Bill DeSilva Boats by Karl Williams

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    Administrator Ron Hill's Avatar
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    Default Part 18: John, Ralph and Bill DeSilva Boats by Karl Williams

    Subject: "a little history" Part 18 -John, Ralph & Bill DeSilva, DeSilva Boats. John 1899 - 1969 , Ralph June 1, 1922 - (98), Bill June 15, 1926 - 1998

    John DeSilva (father) born: Bear Valley, California 1899, Ralph DeSilva (son) born: Atwater, California , Bill DeSilva (son) born: Newark, California

    John was a house building contractor in Pittsburg, California. John DeSilva built his first boat in 1926, to race with a new Quad F engine. Shortly after he was asked to build boats for other racers. All races at the time were 15-20 mile marathons. (closed course racing did not start until 3-4 years later) These early boats were 14’-15’ in length capable of holding 2-3 people.

    The first DeSilva National record was that of Martin Leach, Modesto, California, who, in 1932 set a Service C Runabout (Amateur) competition record of 37.34 mph.

    Ralph and Bill entered the service during WW-II, Ralph in the Air Force and Bill in the Navy. After the war their father had a stroke. Ralph and Bill stepped up and took over the boat building business. Additionally, they designed and built speciality boats for anyone upon request. These boats were generally 14'-15’ pleasure boats built for personal use. They had a request from Bill Guyst to build a special pleasure boat. This was used as a pattern for the first fiberglass boats after the war.

    All their boat at this time were built from Philippine mahogany. Bottoms and decks were 5/16” planks. Eventually the mahogany forest were overcut in the Philippine Islands and the wood was no longer available. This was so plentiful at one time crates were built from this wood. Similar situations are under way in Brazil and Africa where forest management has a lot of room for improvement.

    Plywood was introduced in the U.S. in 1865. The first standard 4’ x 8’ sheets became available in 1928 for the building industry. The glues in plywood were not acceptable for marine use until the mid 50’s.

    DeSilva’s built their first “banana boat” in 1952.(DeSilva’s did not hang this name on their boats and at this point it is not know where the name originated) At Long Beach in 1954 DeSilva boats won most of the classes thus kicking off their racing boat production to all new heights. In the 1953-55 range they shipped their first boat to Quincy Welding by Flying Tiger Air Service for $17.00. Flying Tiger went broke and all boats had to be shipped in a containers.

    Weldwood glues came along and changed boat building for the better. Marine plywood with Weldwood used in their construction paved the way for an all plywood skinned boat.

    The old glue used on the planked boats was “KUHL”. It never dried and stayed pliable. DeSilva’s bought this in 55 gallon drums.

    DeSilva’s flat deck runabouts ran from the mid 50’s to the 1970. The first had 14” sides and later changed to 12” sides. The boat bottoms were continually being changed as the speeds increased.

    Willis Comet was their main competitor from the end of the war until approximately 1960. In 1950 at the nationals in Florida they noticed a lot of bow movement from the Willis Comet runabouts and they knew the source of the problem. 10 years later DeSilva dominated in runabout sales. At the nationals in Mt. Carmel, Illinois Paul Hayes told DeSilva’s he sold 50 Willis Comet boats through his Willis dealership. This is just one dealer another indicator they were very big at one time.

    The KR series came out during 1970 with Charlie Bailey buying the first boat. Homer Kinkaid- Pro VP at the time approved the boat. KR stand for "Kinkaid’s Responsibility”. Bruce Nicholson bought the second of the KR series runabouts. Besides winning a lot of races including nationals these boats set the DR speed record at that time. The KR was the first runabout with a cowling.

    After the KR series they built the “Delta” series (1987) because of the boat speeds This boat was first approved by the Pro commission and not long after disapproved. They returned to the KR series for awhile then decided, because of the speeds the new engines were capable of pushing the boats, to not make any more pro boats other than for the antique classes. Krier boats filled this gap very successfully.

    During the 70’s -80’s Desilva built mostly flat turning boats. For a 2-3 year period they were forced by demand to build chine turning runabouts. This was led by Bill Fales as he wanted boats with new designs - new ideas.

    DeSilva boats were shipped to European, Scandinavian, Asian, South American and Australian countries - virtually world wide and have been driven by the Who’s/Who of boat racing.

    Ralph says the success they had of almost 100 years was due to continuing change. The last runabout Ralph built was for Tim Weber, 2nd to last Craig Ingalls (son Nick -driver) and the 3rd to last Mike Gibson (Justin Gibson -driver)

    Ralph’s favorite class is C-Service Runabout as it preceded the PR Johnson era.

    At 98 Ralph still has his shop beside his house in Hiran, Georgia. He spend time making specialty furniture for his family.

    DeSilva First:
    1) 1927 first closed front deck racing runabout
    2) 1946 Cab-Over hydro
    3) 1956 the modular flow conic front deck cowl
    4) 1959 lift chine runabout rails
    5) 1983 first outboard runabout to run over 100 mph -700cc class 102.004 mph
    6) 1965 first genericMod VP bottom design
    7) 1987 evolutionary Delta outboard racing runabout
    8) 1972 KR outboard Racing runabout - a standard in ally runabouts for a long time

    Photo 1: combination 1931 and 1962 California bottom part is Bill DeSilva with his “A” Anzani & DeSilva hydro
    Photo 2: DeSilva with plank bottom and plywood sides/deck.
    Photo 3: DeSilva flat deck 14” sides and DeSilva “banana boat” at Valleyfield, Quebec.
    Photo 3: 2 DeSilva KR’s and a DeSilva flat deck, Welland, Ontario, May 29-30, 1982.
    In one of our future parts we shall see if a photo of a Delta series DeSilva is available.

    Attached Images Attached Images     
    Last edited by Ron Hill; 2 Weeks Ago at 06:18 PM.

  2. #2
    Team Member DeanFHobart's Avatar
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    Lake Sammamish, Washington and Indio, California
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    Ron, now that is some cool boat racing history. Keep it coming. Thanks.
    Dean Hobart

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