Extracted from Bendor, the Golden Duke of Westminster, by Leslie Field (Pub. 1983):
In 1910 Bendor [the celebrated 2nd Duke of Westminster] ordered a new forty-foot speedboat from the East Cowes boat builders, Saunders and Company. He was considered one of the most experienced amateur motor yachtsmen in the world and he planned to use his new boat, which had more powerful engines than had ever been used in a speedboat, in the international races scheduled for August in America. On 10 July, he arrived at the Saunders boat yard in his launch, Laxford. When the manager handed over his new £3500 toy, Bendor boarded her for a trial run, along with Noel Robins, the motor manufacturer's agent and two mechanics. Wilfred Lloyd followed in Laxford. Bendor was well dressed for the occasion in white flannel trousers, white turtle-neck sweater, blue reefer jacket, waterproof over-trousers, long-skirted loose jacket, a heavy woollen scarf wound several times around his neck and rubber soled buckskin boots laced up the front. Robins and the mechanics tested the engine while Bendor took the wheel. As he headed towards open water, he signalled to Wilfred Lloyd to follow. Lloyd, travelling at about ten knots, saw the speedboat surge forward. As the Duke opened up the engines, the noise echoed from the cliffs and the nose lifted straight out of the water. About a mile from East Cowes, Bendor swung the wheel hard over to port, and almost instantaneously, in a vast burst of spray, four bodies were seen hurtling into the sea. Within seconds, the boat shuddered to a stop, surged out of the water, subsided, broke up and sank. By now Lloyd was only about two hundred yards behind and as he saw the boat reappear, keel upward, he heard Robins shout to the mechanics to make for her, while he swam towards Bendor, who had been carried some fifty yards by the tide and kept afloat by his heavy clothing. As the three men watched in horror, they saw Bendor sink beneath the surface, but Robins was a powerful swimmer and reached him just as he went under for a second time. He grabbed his collar and kept him afloat until Lloyd came alongside and managed to get them aboard. Bendor was unconscious, and Robins nearly so, but artificial respiration soon brought the Duke around. 'It was a very near thing', Robins said afterwards. 'But for the prompt arrival of the motorboat, we would probably have drowned.
Noël Robins' association with the Duke of Westminster extended back to at least two years before the above related fateful outing off Cowes, for he had helmed the Duke's 16-cylinder and 400 h.p. Speed-Boat, the Wolseley-Siddeley, to victory over the Comte de Vaux's Panhard-Levassor in the International Sporting Club's Prix de Monte Carlo back in April 1908. 'At the start', reported a yachting world correspondent, 'the British boat got away some 200 yards behind the Panhard-Levassor, and the excitement was tremendous when it was seen that at the Cap Martin marks Wolseley-Siddeley was on fighting terms with her rival. As they came up to the straight, again and again Mr. Robins put his boat at the Panhard-Levassor's wash; again and again the Wolseley-Siddeley, rolling her gunwale under, failed to get through the great quarter waves drawn by the French crack. At last, as the two boats came to the home marks, the British boat got through, and amid the shouts and cheers of ten thousand people, the two great racers took the turn broadside to broadside. Wolseley-Siddeley, as everyone now knows, eventually winning by two minutes and 2.5 seconds'. Back in England, the Daily Mirror concluded, 'It has been a great British victory'.
In July 1908 the Wolseley-Siddeley was raced for the first time in England in Southampton Water, where she sported the White Ensign, the entitlement of Bendor as a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, who on this occasion took the helm from Robins without incident. The following month, Robins took the boat to the United States in an unsuccessful bid to bring back the British International Trophy which had been won the preceding year by the American Dixie II.
Shortly after the near fatal accident East of Cowes in July 1910, Robins returned to Huntington Harbour, New York, to challenge for the trophy, but denied use of the boat which had broken up and sunk so dramatically in the Solent, was unsuccessful. In the following year he was again robbed of victory when the Duke's new boat, Pioneer, suffered a mechanical failure when closing the Dixie II. But Robins revisited Monte Carlo to helm Bendor's boat Ursula to considerable effect between 1911-12.
An intriguing letter, dated 15.3.1916, which is included in the album of ephemera described above, suggests that Robins went on to assist the Admiralty in the Great War, not least with the R.N.'s quest for a fast Patrol-Boat with which to counter the mine and U-Boat threat in British coastal waters. In the event, the Admiralty finally settled on the famous Motor Launches designed and supplied in pre-fab form by the Elco Motor Boat Company of Bayonne, New Jersey. The first large batch of 500 M.Ls arrived in early 1916 and underwent trials at Portsmouth. An extract from the above letter reads, 'Morton was in town last week but had to return hurriedly last Saturday. He was after some of those Yankee boats which I think you have had one or two trips in. Have they succeeded in reaching the guaranteed speed yet?' [Morton may well be the Park Lane Doctor and pre-War Motor-Boat enthusiast, Commander Morton Smart, D.S.O., a 'Wavy Navy' man].
That Robins was in one way or another involved with secret Admiralty plans seems beyond doubt. It is not without interest that the Ursula, one of the Motor-Boats that he raced pre-War, was used by Captain (later Admiral) "Blinker" Hall, to spy on Kiel Harbour. Under the guise of an official visit, "Blinker" steered her up to the verboten zone of the port and feigned mechanical failure. Whipping out his camera for a few useful shots, it was some time before the Germans cottoned on to his game. And when they gave chase, "Blinker" opened the throttles to achieve 35 knots, leaving his pursuers far behind.