In the halcyon days of peace, before the last war came to black them out, Whitstable people were talking of a new type of motor-driven vessel that was being built down on West Beach at the Number 2 shipyard.
A small craft, it was called a speed boat, and the designer of it was a young man, Leslie Herbert Wood, whose father at that time was the owner of the shipyard. The electrifying speed at which these midget vessels were driven thrilled the spectators watching from every vantage point on the beaches and along the Tankerton slopes.
Visitors on summer holiday would spend hours there on the chance of seeing one of the little speed boats dash past, often obtaining such momentum that it would leap from the water like some sportive porpoise, come down, and rush madly on again. Designing all his own boats, tuning his own engines. Leslie carried on at the shipyard, with his new venture with increasing success. He became known in in speed racing circles for his skill and daring.
In 1930 he represented England at the international meeting at Venice where, when his boat was racing at 60 miles an hour, he was thrown out and injured. He raced at Lake Windermere, on the Serpentine, at Nottingham, Bristol on practically every open stretch of water in the country. Competing in a 100 mile open race at Poole Harbour he won the handsome trophy presented by the “Yachting World” newspaper to the victor. Other prizes awarded him were the Lord Wakefield, the Earl Dufferin, the Roy Fedden, the “Daily Mirror” and the Prince of Wales trophies, the last named being the award for winning a speed boat racing contest on the Thames. The various trophies he has won number more than 50, some from places abroad, but most of them awards made to him in this country.
The designs he turned out for speed boats for himself and his numerous customers ran into hundreds. When the last war broke out he stopped making speed boats and took up work for Government service departments at the West Beach shipyard. His last race in a speed boat of his own design was on Lake Windermere, in September, 1939, when his craft attained a speed of 100 miles an hour.
In 1943, he disposed of his business at the shipyard and started a small motor garage and workshop in Essex Street. Last year he went in for motor cycle racing. Riding a German BMW machine, a treasured possession of his, he has raced at Ashford and other places, winning all his heats in a number of contests with most of the crack riders of the day. A friend of his who is often with him at these events, and occasionally takes part in them, is Eric Knowles, the son of “Charlie” Knowles. The success he is having as a racing motor cyclist, however, does not turn Leslie’s thoughts away from his old love, speed boat racing, which he is hoping to excel in again when circumstances permit.
His work at the Essex Street motor garage now and again brings him into business contact with another friend of his, Norman Perkins, the owner of a small shipbuilding yard on Island Wall, trading under the name of Perkins and Smith.
Written by Ernest Brindle in May, 1948
Transcribed by Brian Baker in Feb, 2018