The Story of TRU-JEN and the Masport Cup

Story:Tony Rutledge and Merv Sowden                                                     Photos:Merv Sowden

No major speedboat trophy has ever been won easily and without doubt the Masport Cup would be the most difficult to win in New Zealand.
Sometimes the race would appear to be an anticlimax after the build-up of publicity before the event.
However nothing that happens on race day can give any indication of the hours, weeks, months and sometimes even years of work that have gone into the craft competing. Harry Rutledge and Bill Ruffell’s 3½ ton Allison powered unlimited hydroplane Tru-Jen, was one such craft. Susan Leigh II, later renamed Tru-Jen was built in Blenheim in the South Island of New Zealand in 1958 with the mission of winning the 1959 Masport Cup and taking it from Len Southward’s Redhead back to their club in Marlborough.

Susan Leigh II

Masport Cup day in 1959 was a double disaster for Susan Leigh II and Redhead when both boats went to the bottom of PictonHarbour, watched by a crowd of 14,000 spectators. The cause of the sinking was the same for both boats – a broken propeller blade. Redhead never raced again but when Susan Leigh II was raised she was renamed Tru-Jen after the wives of the co-owners, Trudy Ruffell and Jen Rutledge.

The Bent Prop Shaft

After 10 long years of frustration and bad luck, the dogged perseverance of the Tru-Jen crew was finally rewarded by Harry’s memorable runaway victory in the 1968 Masport Cup on the Tamaki Estuary in Auckland. The critics were staggered by the ease of the win against the then fastest boats in New Zealand on a very tight course totally unsuited to a 30 ft unlimited hydroplane.

Prop Testing

The main reason for Tru-Jen’s extraordinary performance that day was a new propeller made by Nadler and Biddle Ltd of Nelson, which had only been tested the day before the race.

The origin of the Masport Cup dates back to 1925 when Messrs Mason and Porter Ltd donated the Trophy to The New Zealand Power Boat Association as an annual trophy for the New Zealand Speed Boat Championship.

The Early Days of the Masport Cup (1925-1970)

The first Masport Cup race in 1925 was won by “Fleetwing Junior” at an average speed of 31.25 mph. 

Study of Masport Cup winners since 1925 reveals a number of successful boats fitted with aircraft engines. The first of these was the single step hydroplane “J & J” which was raced by Alderton brothers Jim and Jack of Wanganui from 1926 to 1931.

She was powered by an 110hp Hall Scott aircraft engine with a bore of 5 ½ inches and a stroke of 7 inches. The Aldertons retired unbeaten in 1931.

The next craft in this category was the “Pelorus Jack” of Marlborough, a single step hydroplane specially built for the Masport Cup and powered initially by a 160hp Beadmore engine. This proved to be underpowered and eventually a 360hp Hispano Suiza aircraft engine was fitted for the 1935 Masport Cup. The “Pelorus Jack” driven by Stuart Buckman won easily on this occasion even though the planking came away from the step on the hull and the boat had to be hurriedly beached when the race finished.

Fleetwing Junior

The following year the “Pelorus Jack” thoroughly trounced the opposition but was lucky to finish because the 1 ¼ inch diameter steel shaft between the engine and gearbox fractured soon after the race.

In 1937 “Pelorus Jack” won yet again and for the1938 race a new hull was built. Peter Hill, now of Blenheim was closely associated with the engineering of “Pelorus Jack” and he later became co-pilot for Len Southward’s “Redhead”. Eventually he became part of the “Tru-Jen” team where his mechanical knowledge and ability were invaluable.

In 1947 the first Masport Cup race after the World War II took place. The “Pelorus Jack” had been stowed away since the last race in 1940. The day before the race the boat was given a test run and found to porpoise badly. Trimming 5/16 inch off the step restored stability and the “Pelorus Jack” once again cruised to an easy win.

 Pelorus Jack

Finally in 1948, Len Southward’s mighty Allison Powered “Redhead” was too much for “Pelorus Jack”. “Redhead” won the Masport Cup from 1948 to 1958 except for 1954 when he lost on a technical disqualification.


The First Susan Leigh

Susan Leigh Racing In Auckland

Harry and Bill bought the first Susan Leigh from Don McLeod and Syd Williams of Aucklandin 1956 mainly for the Allison engine and gearbox and also to get some experience in racing against Redhead. The boat was capable of about 90 mph but above that speed it was virtually uncontrollable.

After racing Susan Leigh behind Redhead for a couple of seasons Bill and Harry decided that it was time for a better hull capable of using the maximum power available from the Allison V-1710.

 Susan Leigh Arriving In The South Island

The Allison V-1710

The Allison Division of General Motors Corporation in Indianapolisbuilt these engines. At peak production during World War II, 1000 V-1710’s were made every month. The Manufacturer most identified with the V-1710 was Lockheed who built the P38 Lightning. During the early war years the V-1710 was also put to work in the first 500 North American P-51 Mustangs. After the war there was a large surplus of V-1710’s and they were could be purchased very cheaply.

The Allison Been Lifted By A Tow Truck Crane

The V-1710 is a supercharged liquid cooled V12 with a bore of 5 ½ inches and a stroke of 6 inches giving a capacity of 1710 cu in (28 litres). A study of the Altitude Performance Chart for the V-1710-81 reveals a take-off rating of 1200hp at 3000rpm for a boost of 52 in hg.

It is interesting to note that during the 1968 Masport Cup, Tru-Jen’s Allison reached 3800rpm at a boost pressure of 76 in hg corresponding to a power output of well over 2000hp on the chart. At these revs Tru-Jen was estimated to be travelling at over 125 mph on the course. The deafening thunder of an Allison operating well beyond its war emergency rating was an experience not likely to be forgotten by spectators.

The huge power output of the Allison was matched by an equally huge consumption of 130-octane aviation fuel of the order of 3 gallons per minute. Harry and Bill were very thankful that BP sponsored their fuel and oil costs in the latter years of their racing.

 Looking Back At The Massive Allison

The Allison was a massive engine to work on with 4 valves and 2 spark plugs per cylinder. Even the carburettor was a highly specialized instrument that required the expert attention of New Zealand’s National Airline Corporation workshops periodically. Changing the 24 sparkplugs, some of them in the most inaccessible places, was a major task and checking the magneto timing required considerable expertise. Fortunately the Allison’s were usually very reliable and only required routine servicing. The engine that won the Masport Cup eventually put a rod through the crankcase- understandable in view of the punishment it had taken.

Opps! A Hole In The Block!

The original engine in Tru-Jen was completely ruined by saltwater when the boat sank in Picton in 1959. Another engine partly submerged during a launching mishap and had to be rewired. A third engine blew its supercharger when the impeller bearing failed and a forth engine‘s supercharger was also destroyed by an explosion when the mixture control accidentally vibrated to the full lean position. At the end of Harry and Bill’s racing career in 1970 the supply of Allison’s was beginning to dry up.

 Harry Rutledge Checking The Allison

The Gearbox

The gearbox in Tru-Jen came from the first Susan Leigh and Mr Bates of Morrinsville built it in 1947 at a cost of £740.00. It had three beautifully machined herringbone gears 5inches wide giving a step up ratio of 3 to 1. The centre gear was an idler gear that gave sufficient distance from the engine crankshaft to the propeller shaft to enable the shaft to run beneath the engine with the gearbox mounted in front of the engine.

The Gearbox From The Drivers Seat

One of the major problems with the gearbox was to find bearings capable of withstanding the high loads combined with the very high rpm of the output shaft – up to 11,400 rpm. With over 2000 hp being transmitted through the gears the gearbox not surprisingly become quite hot through the race.

Another problem with the gearbox was that it weighed ½ ton. Harry spent a whole day and night turning excess metal from the gears and eventually removed about 1 cwt.

Gearbox From The Motor End


The Hull

Ted Jones of USA who at the time was one of the world’s leading designers of unlimited hydroplanes designed the hull. It was similar to Hawaii Kia III the current world record holder for propeller driven craft, which had achieved 195.32 mph. The main difference between them was the cockpit and engine layout.

Harry and Bill opted for the cab over configuration with the cockpit in the front of the engine. This allowed the driver greater visibility and a smoother ride. Furthermore the driver was not deafened or cooked by the engine. There was also considerably less danger in the event of fire, explosion or propeller shaft failure.

 Framing Up The Middle Section

When Tru-Jen was built the cab-over configuration was quite new to thunder boats. Thriftway Too was the first cab-over in 1957 and Tru-Jen was the second in 1958. Tru-Jen was also the first true 3-point thunder boat to be built out side of the USA.

The hull is 30ft long and 12ft wide at its widest point tapering to 3ft 6in at the stern. The sponsons are the self-draining type (wet sponson) and are bolted to the main hull with 50 bolts per side.

Turning The Hull Over Before The Sponsons Were Bolted On.

The cockpit was built to accommodate the driver and two passengers, one on either side of the driver. On the rear of Tru-Jen is a WWII P51 Mustang tail fin and was offset slightly to help counteract the torque that the Allison developed. The tail fin gave the boat an aircraft-like silhouette.

Sponsons Bolted On

The Ted Jones plans for the hull were obtained from R S Nicholsen of the Royal New Zealand Air Force based in Ohakea. He raced a small hydroplane and was very keen to see a true unlimited hydroplane built in New Zealand. On the plan there was no information on how to set up the boat for engine position, balance point, rudder or propeller. These problems all had to be solved by Harry and Bill.

 Admiring The Hull After The Turn Over

Construction of the bare hull was started early in 1958 by Harry. The first job was to laminate the two 30ft long by 14-inch deep engine bearers from imported Oregonusing 2 gallons of “Norstick” epoxy glue in the process. A further 7 gallons of glue were used during the hull construction. The highest quality plywood was used and the tunnel bottom and sponsons were double skinned. Altogether 20,000 galvanized sprigs and 1000 woodscrews were used in the timberwork.

Before The Stringers Were Cut

Some extra strength was built into the hull for safety reasons. At about this time several thunder boats in the USAhad bad accidents where hulls completely disintegrated and Harry did not want their boat to do the same. Because of the extra hull strength and the weight of the gearbox Tru-Jen was heavier than most of her contemporaries. The Unlimited hydros in the USAalso developed considerably more horsepower than Tru-Jen and used the latest state-of –the-art propeller designs. Tru-Jen was therefore not expected to perform in the 180-190 mph bracket but it was hoped that speeds of 100-110 mph would be easily attainable on the course regardless of water conditions.

 You Can See The Added Angles For Strength

The Racing History of Tru-Jen

Initial Trials of Susan Leigh II

Ready To Rumble

After more than a year of hard work Susan Leigh II was ready for her first trial runs 3 weeks before the Griffith and Masport Cup races to be held in Picton on Easter weekend of 1959.

It was decided as there were no cranes available to lift Tru-Jen into the water as they did in the USA it would be easier to transport Susan Leigh II on a flat trailer and to back her into the water as they did with the smaller boats. Every time Susan Leigh II was transported she needed a special over width permit from the Transport Department.

 Been Towed To Her Maiden Launch

 Jen Rutledge and Trudy Ruffell launched her in the old lagoon at Picton close to where the Cook Straight Ferry Terminal now is and christened her Susan Leigh II with the traditional bottle of champagne on the bow.

Getting Ready To Fire Up

After being towed under the bridge into the open water, her engine was started and she cruised down to the harbour at low speed. During her first run, which took 20 minutes her speed increased progressively to about 90 mph with no problems.

On her second run she was estimated to have reached about 105 mph. After one more run she was taken out of the water and Harry and Bill were two very satisfied men. Their hours of work had been rewarded by near perfect behaviour and performance with no major problems apart from the boat being slightly light in the stern. Hopes were running high for a good performance against Redhead.

 The First Run

However a week before the race during a practice run the shaft broke just ahead of the propeller, which was lost. A new larger diameter shaft and another propeller loaned by Len Southward were fitted. Weight distribution was not quite right with this propeller and a bag of shingle was loaded into the stern and gradually increased until the correct balance was achieved.

The shingle was then removed and blocks of lead to the same weight were bolted in place. At this stage everything seemed perfect and it looked as if Susan Leigh II had every chance of beating Redhead.

 Ready To Race

1959 GriffithCup

The 1959 Griffith Cup was contested at Picton on Easter weekend between Susan Leigh II and Redhead. In typical sporting fashion Len Southward had agreed to race at Picton rather than Wellington. There was widespread publicity leading up to the event and hopes ran high that the brand new local boat would dethrone Redhead which had remained unbeaten from 1948 to 1958.


 As well as the big boat from Marlborough Redhead was also up against the much smaller but very fast hydroplane Mystic Miss driven by Frank Gatland of Auckland, which was entered in the Masport Cup to be held on the same day. The Ferrari V-12 powered hydro at that time held the Australasian water speed record of 116.8 mph.

 Mystic Miss

All races in New Zealandat the time were ran in a clockwise direction and 14,000 people were crammed in Picton that day to see the battle of the two giants and the very fast and beautifully prepared Mystic Miss. The first big race on the programme was the Griffith Cup and before the start Harry and Len had a gentleman’s agreement to stay together for the first few laps before beginning the race in earnest.

 Susan Leigh II Getting Ready To Race

  When the pole boat flag was dropped Susan Leigh II and Redhead growled around the course side by side for 2 laps at about 80-90mph with both Allison’s cruising comfortably at well under 3000rpm. At the end of the second lap Harry and Len unleashed full power and with her roostertail up Susan Leigh II edged past Redhead.

Redhead On The Inside – Susan Leigh II On The Outside

Just before the inner harbour turn there was a sickening crunch from Susan Leigh II and she glided to a stop as Redhead went past. In dismay the Marlboroughsupporters watched Harry and Bill’s pride and joy sink in 30ft of water. Redhead cruised the remaining laps to retain the Griffith Cup.

 Susan Leigh II Sinking After Throwing Her Propeller

Later in the day, during running of the Masport Cup, Redhead disappeared dramatically in a cloud of spray after an exciting duel with Mystic Miss. An inspection after both boats had been salvaged from the bottom of the sea showed that both boats had broken propeller blades. The resulting out of balance force of the remaining blade rotating at 9000rpm was sufficient to break the strut and twist the propeller shaft into an S bend.

 The Bent Shaft And Broken Prop

The bottom of Susan Leigh II was so strong that only a small hole about 12 inchs long was punched through. The 3inch diameter main shaft in the gearbox was twisted 20° when the Allison stalled.

Redhead Been Salvaged After Sinking

Redhead never raced again and is now on display at SouthwardsMuseum. On the other hand Harry and Bill were just beginning and they had the heartbreaking and expensive task of rebuilding their labour of love for the next Masport Cup.

Now Renamed Tru-Jen After The Owners Wives Names

In the hope that a change of name would bring them better luck, Susan Leigh II was renamed Tru-Jen after Trudy Ruffell and Jen Rutledge, the wives of the co-owners. When they got the boat back to the workshop Harry and Bill began to realize just how much work was ahead of them. The Allison engine and all wiring and instrumentation were ruined by the salt water and would need replacement. The gearbox would have to be completely rebuilt with a new main shaft. The propeller shaft and struts required replacement and the hull damage needed repairing. Finally a new and stronger propeller would have to be made.

Tru-Jen Doing Some Testing

Work proceeded with a willing band of faithful helpers but then another major setback occurred. Harry had a very serious accident with a pea harvester, which left his arm completely useless so that he was unable to drive Tru-Jen. Bill then took over the driving and entered in the 1960 Masport Cup in Picton.

1960 Masport Cup

In this race Tru-Jen, Mystic Miss and an Australian boat, Jag were the main contenders. Bill drove a good race considering it was his first, but Tru-Jen did not reach anything like full revs due to a gearbox bearing failure during the race. Mystic Miss won with Jag 2nd and Tru-Jen not too far behind in 3rd.

After this race Harry and Bill decided to move the engine and gearbox back 13½ inches and remove the 200lbs of lead in the stern. With Harry incapacitated work dragged on slowly but early in 1961 the boat was ready for another trial run to see if it was good enough to go North for the 1961 Masport Cup. During a high speed test run the fuel mixture control accidentally cut to lean resulting in an explosion that blew the entire back off the motor.

Motors were getting scarce by now and it was some time before one could be found. Another year went by before the new motor was in and Tue-Jen was ready for more trials at Picton.

By this time the launching ramp had disappeared due to the development of the Picton Ferry Terminal. An attempt to launch Tru-Jen on the temporary ramp resulted in one wheel of the trailer sinking and Tru-Jen partly filling with water and all instrument and electrical gear were once again ruined.

The Tru-Jen crew was used to setbacks by now but on the brighter side Harry’s arm had made a miraculous recovery and he decided he could drive Tru-Jen again. On the next trial run at Picton in late 1964 yet another gearbox bearing failed and it was back to the workshop again only 3 weeks before the Pelorus Jack Cup

1965-1967 Pelorus Jack Cup

Managed A Wave At Over 100Mph

In January 1965 the Marlborough Power Boat Club decided to attract the top North Islandboats to race against Tru-Jen by offering big prize money for the Pelorus Jack Cup. The year before, the 1964 Pelorus Jack Cup had been won by Harry’s brother Jack with his midget 12ft hydroplane Excuse Me Too that was powered by a 1000cc V4 engine built by Jack from two 1947 500cc Triumph Speed Twin motorcycle engines. At that time Tru-Jen and Excuse Me Too were the largest and smallest inboard hydroplanes in New Zealand.

The 1965 race was again to be held at LakeRotoitiand this posed some problems for Harry and Bill. Between Blenheim and the lake were 6 bridges all too narrow for Tru-Jen’s 12ft beam. In their inimitable style Harry and Bill overcame this by running one wheel of the trailer on thick planks and so tipping the boat enough to enable one sponson to clear the side of the bridge. It took them 2 days to make the 75-mile trip.

Their efforts were well worthwhile. After an exciting duel with Jock Appleton’s Elray, Tru-Jen won when Elray broke a rudder shaft with a half a lap to go.

Tru-Jen got away to a slow start but closed the gap during the race forcing Jock Appleton to keep up a hair-raising pace on the rough water that had the spectators on their toes. In those days Jock used to strap himself into his hydro so he would not been thrown out. This was Tru-Jen’s first victory and it had taken 6 years to achieve. Autobeat driven by George Butler was second with Slipray II third.


In 1966 Tru-Jen won again easily and the following morning Harry became the first South Islander to earn a 100mph Gold Badge.

Two months after the 1966 Pelorus Jack Cup Harry and Bill had more speed trials on PictonHarbourbut a super charger impeller bearing failed. No more motors were available and they were left with a new but lower powered Allison donated by Dr Buckner of Picton.

This motor was tried out 1 week before the 1967 race. The carburettor was given trouble and it was rushed to N.A.C. in Christchurchfor testing and repair. It got lost en-route and eventually turned up just 24 hours before the race. The new motor ran perfectly and Harry drove to another easy victory with Gold Mist 2nd and Manta 3rd. The next morning Bill did 110.7 mph on the measured kilometre to earn his 100 mph Gold Badge.

 Ready To Show Some Pace

1967 Record Run

 Tru-Jen Was Always Launched Like This From A Trailer

Tru-Jen was by now performing so well that Harry and Bill decided to attempt the New Zealandwater speed record, which was currently held by Mystic Miss at 124.62 mph. In their first attempt a water hose inside the boat burst and Harry averaged 119 mph with the boat half full of water. Finally on the 18th of March 1967Bill Ruffell took Tru-Jen through the measured kilometre for a record breaking average of 126.74 mph. The run out of the harbour was quite slow because of the limited run up. On the return run Bill took Tru-Jen out of sight down QueenCharlotteSoundbefore turning around for the run back in.

  Tru-Jen At Speed

On the return run Bill kept his foot hard down and Tru-Jen wound up to an estimated 140 mph, so fast that a low flying Cessna with a photographer on board on board could not keep up. The roostertail from Tru-Jen was 100ft high and a ¼ mile long and individual propeller blade marks can easily be seen in the photo.

 Plane Vs Hydroplane

The propeller used on the record run was made by Nadler and Biddle of Nelson and had more pitch and less blade area than the prop used for racing.

 Anyone Need A Ride?

With the New Zealandwater speed record behind them Harry and Bill decided that they should enter the 1968 Masport Cup, which was to held in Auckland. Tru-Jen was taken to Rotoiti for the 1968 Pelorus Jack Cup. By this time all races in New Zealandhad been changed to run in an anti-clockwise direction. In a practice run the propeller was badly bent and Harry and Bill were left with an old and inferior one, which they knew, would be useless against their fast opponents. And so it proved, Tru-Jen came in 3rdwell behind the winner Elray III. In the meantime Tony Shuttleworth of Nadler and Biddle was doing some frantic work in Nelson to make a new propeller in time for the Masport Cup race. Tru-Jen was taken straight to Nelson after the Pelorus Jack Cup and shipped to Auckland. Harry left early for Aucklandto take charge of the boat. Bill collected the new propeller and started off by car but was taken seriously ill on the journey and was rushed to hospital. In hearing of their plight Len Southward came to the rescue, picked up the propeller and some other gear and got it to Aucklandin time for Harry to have a practice run the day before the big race. The new prop was the best ever and gave the 3½-ton boat a new lease of life. Harry was quite confident that he could take the Masport Cup back to Marlborough.

1968-69 & 70 Masport Cup

Tru-Jen At Flat Rock Auckland

The starters for the 1968 Masport Cup included 6 boats that all had been officially timed at over 100 mph. They were Tru-Jen, Air New Zealand(ex Elray), Elray III, Autobeat, Slipray II and Gold Mist. Also entered was another South Island Boat Miss Print III an impressive flat bottom craft, which had been timed at just less than 100 mph.

From the pole boat start Miss Print III showed tremendous acceleration from the inside lane and rounded the top buoy first closely followed by Harry in Tru-Jen who had started in the outside lane. Harry put his foot down hard coming out of the first turn and flew past Miss Print III on the one mile straight. At the end of the first lap Tru-Jen had already opened up a lead of 400 yards. This was by far the best performance seen by Tru-Jen and even Harry was surprised at how quickly he had taken control of the race. In previous races Tru-Jen had always appeared to be glued to the water but that day she was completely airborne on occasions. She looked and sounded like a true Gold Cup hydroplane with the characteristic long low roostertail and the thunderous bellow from the Allison being pushed to its limited.

 A Real Crowd Pleaser

The spectators were treated to one of the most exciting displays of high-powered speedboat racing ever seen in New Zealand. The bank was a natural grandstand and every time Tru-Jen thundered past only 30 yards out, the ground vibrated. Although Tru-Jen won easily and cruised the last few laps of the 7-lap race there was an exciting duel for 2nd and 3rd place between Miss Print III, Air New Zealand and Elray III. Miss Print III managed to hold on to 2nd for a couple of laps until Elray III then Air New Zealandfinally got past. Autobeat was the only boat not to finish. The following day Tru-Jen had another easy win in the Moult Gold Cup with Air New Zealand2nd and Elray III 3rd.

 Tru-Jen Just Cruising

After this outstanding performance the critics of Tru-Jen were finally silenced and when Harry returned to Blenheim with the Masport Cup he was given a Mayoral Reception.

The 1969 Masport Cup was held at Picton and Tru-Jen once again burned off the opposition soon after the start. Air New Zealandput in a brief challenge after Harry had eased off but she retired soon after leaving Bill Paterson’s spectacular Allison powered flat bottom Aquanaut to fill 2nd and Bill Stokes in VooDoo IV coming in 3rd.

The 1970 Masport Cup was once again held at Picton and this time it was Tru-Jen’s turn to break down with a broken main-shaft in the gearbox. Aquanaut cruised to an easy win.

At this stage Harry and Bill decided to retire from racing having achieved most of their ambitions with Tru-Jen. At the age of 66 Harry found climbing around on hands and knees while working on Tru-Jen quite hard.

Tru-Jen did one or two more races with Tim Rutledge as the driver and after a couple of false sales, Bob Alexandra from Hamilton bought it.

 Copyright 2016,  Merv Sowden  All Rights Reserved.