Racing the Mary Powell
Many claimed the Mary Powell was the fastest steamboat on the Hudson River, her fastest time being 26.5 miles per hour. She regularly traveled at 22 miles per hour. For context, the average cabin cruiser today tops out at 30 miles per hour. For a 300 foot long, three story tall vessel to make similar time is astonishing. Modern cruise ships operate at about 23 miles per hour today.
Officially, steamboat races had been banned since 1852 by an Act of Congress after the Henry Clay disaster, in which over 50 passengers drowned or died in a fire aboard the Henry Clay, the result of a botched steamboat race between the Henry Clay and the Amenia. But public interest in steamboat speed continued unabated. Even before her launching, the speed of the Mary Powell was subject to much speculation.
Still, there were always challengers. Over the years a number of steam and motor yachts, jet boats, and others claimed to have “beaten” the Mary Powell in “races,” however the Mary Powell and her captains were always much more concerned with making their landings in a timely manner than actually engaging in a race.