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A History of Power Boat Racing

on Lake Winnipesaukee

By Mark Howard

Owner/driver - Scotty

 

1929 – Racing expands - Conclusion

 

This 1929 photo shows boat racing at Weirs Beach, with Jim Irwin's

Winnipesaukee Gardens in the background - just opened on May 29, 1929.

Back on the lake, Elbridge Robie, who won last year’s outboard race around the lake was busy selling and servicing the new motors from Elto, Evinrude, Johnson and Watermota. To expand on the previous years’ racing success up to three ‘Outboard Only’ events were planned, including another marathon around the lake. The number of outboards buzzing around the lake made outboard specific racing almost mandatory. A new wrinkle in this year’s racing would be an increased emphasis on safety. The high attrition last year and events the previous month in England drove a safer, more cautious attitude towards the outboard racing events.

 

Elbridge Robie at the helm of his Elto Quad powered boat.

The race held in England that drove the cautious attitude was run in June. That race started off with high hopes but ended in disaster. The first ever cross channel ‘dash’ for outboard motor boats was meant to highlight the increased capabilities of the outboards. The rules were simple, starting in Dover, the first outboard to make it to Calais won. Organized by the British Motor Boat Club the event stipulated boats must carry at least three signal flares and carry some buoyancy in case the hull spring a leak. Compasses were recommended, but not required. The distance was short and direct enough, the organizers thought no one could get lost. As it happened the day began with fog that quickly settled in and reduced visibility to 500 yards. The 49 racers who signed up were not deterred and at 4:30pm, the race began. By 6:30 the race was abandoned and papers the following day ran headlines that started: “Names of the Missing”. This wasn’t the kind of coverage the organizers or manufacturers were hoping for. As it turned out, by the grace of God, none of those who entered were injured, but over a dozen had to be plucked out of the water by rescue craft the following day.

 

Race organizers on Lake Winnipesaukee were well aware of the English debacle and were determined it would not happen here. Even though racing on an inland lake was very different from racing on the ocean, no foolish chances would be taken. Every entry would be checked for seaworthiness and safety. 

 

Stocks were setting all time highs and it seemed there would be no end to the climbing prosperity thanks to the robust market. Early in June Sears Roebuck set a record high of 155 1/8 while Woolworth was trading at 217 1/2. A month later Sears was at 167 1/2; Woolworth 230. Union Pacific led most railway stocks closing at 241 while General Electric set a new high of 333 a share. There was some commentary about margin calls sending ‘chills’ through the stock market, but most commentary highlighted how there was no dampening of Wall Street’s mood. The market climb seemed to have no end. Local papers set up special delivery by boat to lakeside residents in case they could not make it into town. The papers stressed they could help summer residents keep abreast not only of local and national news, but the stock market as well. Patrons were told even though they were on a vacation; they could keep up with all market moves and analysis.

Racing was scheduled to start in earnest on Sunday, June 29 but due to very heavy rain all across the lake, racing was postponed at the Weirs. Weather had always been a factor in deciding whether or not to run a race, but in 1929 the weather would play a strong role almost every weekend. Many races had to be postponed or cancelled all together due to bad weather. Either high winds, waves or rain made running races impossible. The bad weather would plague the WPBA for the rest of the season.

 

Lake Winnisquam was expanding operations at Aviation Point by combining fast boating with aircraft related activities. A J-5 Whirlwind powered seaplane was making a summer base offering rides across the lakes region. The pilot, Gordon Berry, was reported to have over 4000 flight hours and had spent the winter in Florida watching Gar Wood and Major Seagraves race each other over the Intercoastal waters. The unique combination of aircraft with high-speed runabouts was being sponsored by the New Hampshire Aviation & Marines organization. Included at aviation point was a ‘Sign of the Wings’ club, dining quarters and three speed boats ranging from a 26 ft Gar Wood to a 12 ft Laconia craft boat powered by a Johnson sea horse. Located directly on the Daniel Webster highway at the Winnisquam bridge, the facilities were opened to the general public.

 

Unfortunately, Berry made the type of headlines he would much rather have avoided when his seaplane crashed into a motor boat driven by Carlton Williams of Weirs. The two craft collided head on as Berry was forced to make a dead-stick landing owing to his running out of fuel shortly after take off from the Weirs. He assumed he had enough fuel to make it back to Winnisquam, but found out very shortly after his take off how wrong he was. His engine quit only a few minutes into the air and efforts to restart were for naught. He landed near Little Island in Paugus Bay. Meanwhile, Williams was showing a friend of his, Mr. Kenneth Davison from Yonkers N.Y., the beauty of the lake when the airplane ‘appeared’ directly on their bow. Williams dove into the water but his passenger Davison elected to remain in the boat as he could not swim. Although both men were shaken up by the incident, apologies were made and accepted all around.  Williams even drove back to a local marina to get Berry some gasoline and once refueled, the plane took off and made it safely back to Aviation Point, Lake Winnisquam. Of course, that was after the crowd and media had gathered to see the commotion.

Aircraft activity was picking up across the lakes region and making headlines. The area was remote enough that road travel was difficult; the dominant mode of travel to the lake was via rail. Most roads remained unpaved and were a single car width. The poor road infrastructure coupled with the increased level of activity around the lake opened up a business opportunity to help people get to and from the area. The Curtiss Flying Service seized this opportunity. Curtiss was more than an aircraft manufacturer; they operated their own airline service at 28 locations across the eastern seaboard of the United States. On 14 July, Weirs became the twenty ninth location. Using a 5 passenger amphibian plane known as a Keystone-Loening, passenger service began between Manchester and the Weirs Garden.

 

Jim Irwin owned and operated the Weirs Garden and while the primary purpose was to provide a dance hall for entertainment, Irwin, being an energetic entrepreneur, used the Gardens as a sales location for his line of Chris-Craft runabouts, large dining hall and other money generating ideas that came into his head. Starting the previous month, Mal Hallet and his orchestra came back to the Garden to help act as both a draw for crowds into the facility and provide dancing music all weekend into the wee hours of the morning. Irwin’s motives weren’t entirely commercial; instead he had a genuine interest in promoting the lake and surrounding area. Active in the WPBA since inception, he could always be counted on as a man who would generously back any local organization in their effort to better the surrounding area. Irwin was Treasurer of the WPBA and his efforts this year would focus on both expanding business and helping the WPBA run races at the Weirs more efficiently than before.

 

The WPBA was always having trouble with it’s ‘Official’s Barge’ as it was proving to be a hassle to place the barge in a central location and anchor it in place for the racing weekend. Irwin offered to solve this problem at the Weirs by building up a corner of his Gardens to include a judges’ stand. Irwin thought the high location would give the judges the ability to monitor all boats racing at Weirs. He was right and the WPBA was grateful for his support.

 

Early in July, the WPBA received a formal invitation from the Narragansett Bay Regatta Association to attend the third annual Newport Motor Boat Regatta held the next month on 2-3 August. WPBA officers thought the time frame was a little short and conflicted with a busy racing calendar on Winnipesaukee but Irwin replied the WPBA would try to send a representative fleet of racers. His plan was to convince a few of the local racers who used Hacker ‘Pelican’ class race boats to make the journey. These boats were restricted to running inboards of 151 cid and most of them used the Ford ‘Fronty’ engine. There were over a dozen ‘Pelican’ 151-class racers on the lake and the number was growing every season. The WPBA Commodore, Samuel Dunsford raced one named “Tired Tim Too”. Jim Irwin raced one named “Miss Fit II”. Others were named “Betty S”, “Wee Scamper” and “Baby Wildcat”.

Local papers were beginning to write stories calling out what many called the ‘Speed Boat Nuisance’. The authors highlighted the fact many of the drivers were boys and girls in their early teens who could not qualify for a car driver license yet were able to drive high-powered boats without any sort of license.  Most articles mentioned it was fine for boats to travel at high speed out on the open water but when they got closer to the shore, they needed to slow down. The noise and wakes were troubling canoeists, fishermen and summer guests who wanted a little peace and quiet. Papers urged parents to educate their children better about boating in such a way that would remain mindful of those around them and in the case parents failed in their parental duty, then the state Public Service Commission was urged to step in and start to regulate “these insensate speed maniacs” who operate their boats “with reckless abandon and without a decent regard to the safety and enjoyment of others.” Today in 2007 we face these same issues, but now the focus has shifted to the exclusive use of state regulations by forcing all boaters regardless of age or experience to slow down. 

 

Racing events that were scheduled for Saturday the 13th had to be postponed until Sunday the 14th due to heavy rains. Never the less, over 6000 people watched the Weirs race to see a new racer, Mr. Lawrence Lacaver win the feature stock runabout race in an unnamed Chris-Craft. Second place in the runabout class was won by Mr. William Cannon with his son, Andrew Cannon, coming in third. Samuel Dunsford won the 151-class race in his Pelican class speedster named “Tired Tim Too”. Second place in the 151-class went to A.F. Doty in “And How”. Dunsford did not always drive his 151 boat but regularly turned over the driving opportunity to his trusted mechanic, Elmer Folsom.

 

As a rule, Dunsford concentrated on the larger class of racers, and this would normally have included his new Gold Cup race boat “Scotty”. However, while “Scotty” made an appearance at Weirs she was not race ready. “Scotty’s” appearance was more meant to show support for the WPBA and the racing program. Dunsford’s eyes were on the upcoming Gold Cup race to be held in August off Red Bank, NJ. As “Scotty” was delivered so late, there had not been enough time to properly break her in and make her race ready.

 

Click here for more photos of Scotty.

On the 14th, most of the scheduled races ultimately had to be cancelled, this time due to very high winds and waves. The only events that took place were some aircraft flybys and takeoffs and landings, which, due to the winds and waves, made for a very interesting spectacle for the observers. The papers all commented on the massive amounts of spray kicked up by the aircraft propellers as they struggled to take off.  

Later that same week, on 18 July, four of the 151-class boats, “Miss Fit II”, “Betty S”, “Wee Scamper” and “Tired Tim Too” along with the Gold Cup racer “Scotty” were shipped to Portland, ME. They participated in the annual regatta sponsored by the Portland Yacht Club. This was in measure a return match of the previous year’s race where Portland racers came to Winnipesaukee to participate in the WPBA races. Among them was a custom built racer powered by two Liberty V-12 engines named “Miss Barbette”. Regrettably, rain, fog and very rough seas forced the cancellation of most of the two days of racing. The Portland club attempted racing Saturday morning, but the seas were so bad only one event for outboards was completed. In the afternoon, with over 8000 spectators on hand, a few races in the 151 class ran with Sam Dunsford taking the prize driving “Tired Tim Too”. In all, the New Hampshire navy took 5 trophies home.

 

A banquet was held that night to honor the New Hampshire visitors but upon their return, most of them were unsure they would try to race next year at Portland. Shipping the five boats across the dirt and gravel roads was an all day affair, both going and coming, and making matters worse, they had very little water time to show for their efforts.

 

Back on the lake, W.A. Corby’s new Gar Wood runabout “Jayee III” was making headlines in the New York Times. “Jayee III” was named as the fastest runabout in the world due to her power plant, a Packard aircraft engine that had been modified for marine use. At 1500 cid, she was reported to put out over 880 HP and could travel over 70 mph. She was running away with almost every race she entered. Her only weak point was her inability to turn well. In a straight line she was all but unbeatable but was forced to slow way down to make the turns at the buoys. Her racing in Alton Bay was noticeably weak as turning around the bandstand in the southern end of the bay forced her to a slow crawl.

The Alton Bay race carnival committee selected August 10th for the carnival date and published notices all over the lakes region. All boaters were invited to come and take on the Alton Bay favorites. The local boats were very familiar with the racecourse and knew how to handle the sharp turns the narrow bay demanded. The program would run all day and night judging by the funding the committee had in place, enthusiasm was running high. A band would be on hand to play off and on all day, trophies would be awarded and every class of racing would be represented, from stock runabouts to an unlimited event. Last year’s race was won by Peterson in his “Rip IV”.

 

In order to help navigation around the lake three new lights were installed. One at the Witches, a second off Randlett’s Island the third between Timber and Governor’s Island. The lights were also the newer type that that used electricity in place of the more common for the day ‘acetylene’ lights. The hope was with over 1000 boats on the lake, nighttime navigation would be improved to a point where anyone traveling from Wolfeboro to the Weirs or Meredith would always have at least one light in view. This was a significant upgrade from the current situation where nighttime navigation was done purely by moonlight.

 

On Sunday 21st of July, Dunsford was visited at his estate by William Chapman, the editor of Motor Boating Magazine. Other nationally known boatmen were present and the media coverage of the visit was lake wide. There were many topics of discussion from the local racing program the WPBA sponsored to the upcoming Gold Cup race to be held in Red Bank, NJ. Dunsford was trying to get his racer, “Scotty” ironed out but she was proving to be troublesome in both handling and the fitting out of the Packard engine. Still, the dignitaries were visibly impressed by the performance of W.A. Corby’s speedboat, “Jayee III”. Her speed over her rivals was so great some reporters complained the racing was getting boring as “Jayee III” simply walked away from the competition.

The following week the WPBA received two invitations for the New Hampshire navy. The first was to race at Lake Memphremagog in Vermont. There were a series of races to be held and over a thousand dollars in prize money to be handed out. The races would be held on August 16 and would be run under the auspices of the American Legion and the International Power Boat Association. Racers from all over Canada were expected to attend and try their luck against the Americans. The second invitation was received from the New Bedford Yacht Club in New Bedford, MA, and was for a series of races to be held two weeks earlier. This conflicted with an earlier invitation the WPBA had received to compete at Newport, RI. In all cases, the WPBA was beginning to be a little overwhelmed by all this attention and no firm commitments were made to attend. The WPBA did promise to ask its membership if there was any interest and stated if anyone attended, it would likely be the 151 class boats as they were the most easily transported.

 

By the beginning of August, the leaders in racing across the lake were Jim Irwin in his “Miss Fit II” and “Polly Enna” owned and driven by William Hoyt of Concord. Corby was winning almost every race in the unlimited category with “Jayee III” and the expected competition with “Scotty” was not taking place as Dunsford was very busy trying to get “Scotty” ready for the Gold Cup race to be held in a few weeks.

 

Jim Irwin made more news with his purchase of “Miss Massachusetts”. Irwin was not satisfied with being the leader in the 151 class but decided to increase his racing to include a boat for the unlimited class. Something that might give Corby a run for his money. Technically “Miss Massachusetts” was a 151 racer, similar to “Miss Fit II”, but was larger and had two steps in the hull. Further, she was powered by a Miller 151 engine that had a supercharger. The combination of steps in the hull with a very powerful engine drove her to well over 60 mph. She had a reputation as being very difficult to handle and had been involved in some earlier crashes. Two years earlier, she threw her propeller and driver out of the boat rounding a turn. The previous year, she had been shipped out to San Diego for some races but the driver had not been able to tame her. Still, Irwin was a very experienced boater and was certain he would be able to get the best performance out of her. Classified as an unlimited racer, Irwin would racer her in the Commodores Trophy free-for-all.

Racing that was scheduled for the 4th at Weirs was postponed until the following weekend due to high wind and waves. This bad weather did not affect the Weirs so much as the other racers who would have driven to Weirs and would have to cross “The Broads”. Some races were held in Meredith and top honors were taken by “Deuces Wild”, a Liberty engine powered Chris-Craft owned and driven by W.A. Irving. Knowledgeable observers commented the win must have been an easy one as the sounds coming from the Liberty engine’s gearbox was not the familiar ‘hum’ she usually put out when at top speed.

 

Later in the week Dunsford shipped “Scotty” to Red Bank, NJ for the Gold Cup Race. She wasn’t ready for the race, certainly not as well as Dunsford wanted but he was running out of time. He decided he had to ship her early to NJ and hoped to find out of there were small changed that could be made to optimize her running in salt water. Ready or not, Dunsford had been building up to the Gold Cup races for many years and he wasn’t about to miss his début. When held, “Scotty” and Dunsford, along with his trusty mechanic Elmer Folsom did quite well finishing second in all heats, but lost the overall race to “Imp”. The first heat was closely contested with “Scotty” coming in second by a few seconds. The New York Times reported “Scotty” ran down the straights “like a freight train” but had to slow way down for the turns, allowing more than enough time for “Imp” to pass. In the second heat, “Miss Los Angeles” flipped upside down in Scotty’s wake.

 

Dunsford, ever the honest and true sportsmen, turned around and waited by the two competitors who were in the water near their upside down craft for the safety crew to come by and take control of the situation. Dunsford even shut off his engine to make sure his competitors could hang onto “Scotty’s” gunwale while they all waited for the safety crew. The delay, although only minutes, cost Dunsford the second heat. Papers covering the race called Dunsford’s actions magnificent and hailed him as one of the true gentlemen of the boating world. While Dunsford appreciated the accolades, he came away disappointed his best efforts failed and he was not able to bring the Gold Cup to Lake Winnipesaukee. The third heat was a disaster as Dunsford’s oil pressure was so low he had to slow to idle speed and putter his way around the course, allowing “Imp” an easy win.

 

Back on Winnipesaukee, “And How” driven by A.F. Doty won the Weirs race followed by “Shoo Fly” and “Polly Enna”. The following weekend “Fee Fee” took top honors over “Shoo Fly”.  Most of the racers were veritable new comers to the lake area as many of the racers from the previous years were having severe mechanical problems with their race boats. It seems most of the hulls and engines had two good years in them before they began breaking down. Most unfortunately, on August 25, the well-known racer “Deuces Wild” burned to the waterline after winning the free-for-all-race in Wolfeboro. The cause of the fire was not known as W.A. Irving made it back to his lakefront property in Loon Cove. The most racing success Irving had was in Alton Bay, where “Deuces Wild” was almost unbeatable. The Liberty engine was reported to put out over 500 hp and where ever she went; she was touted as one of the fastest boats on the lake.

 

Over Labor Day weekend, the final races of the year were held including the grand Free-for-All where the fastest boats on the lake would compete for top honors. Most people thought the race would boil down to two boats, “Jayee III” and “Scotty”. As it turned out, “Scotty” was not able to race as she was held up from her return from the Gold Cup Race. A wildcat railway strike ground rail service to a halt and so “Scotty” was sitting somewhere in New England, many miles from Lake Winnipesaukee when the final race was held. “Jayee III’s” performance was exemplary as she won at an average speed of 71.53 mph, a stunning achievement that made her one of the fastest boats in the country. In fact, as the race was held over a measured course, the WPBA submitted “Jayee III” for a world record. The Chris-Craft runabout “Alalou” came in second with “Wildcat” coming in third. The WPBA annual ball handed out the Commodore’s Trophy and the ceremonies and celebration continued on to the wee hours of the morning at the Irwin Gardens.

 

The rail strike that stranded “Scotty” had one knock on effect; Dunsford was forced to cancel his plans to attend the President’s Cup to be held on September 14/15 on the Potomac River. By the time “Scotty” arrived back in Lakeport and was launched back on the lake, there wasn’t enough time to turn her around and ship her south to Washington, DC. “Scotty’s” racing season was over. At the time, Dunsford was determined to iron out the problems he faced and get ready for the Gold Cup race the following year. At least that was his tentative plan. As we will see, he ultimately decided to commission a new racer from Hacker, a boat a little less radical in appearance and one that promised to be more easily maintained. He would come to name that new craft “Scotty Too”. With a little luck, he would be able to not only race in the Gold Cup, but also race her on Lake Winnipesaukee with regularity.

 

By the end of September 1929, the racing season was declared a huge success and the future look even brighter. The New Hampshire navy was recognized nationally as some of the fastest boats on any body of water. They could be counted on to put on a wonderful show for the thousands of spectators that lined the shore and were invited all over New England to compete against the best locals could offer. With unstinting support from men like Jim Irwin and Sam Dunsford, the WPBA helped set the standards other boat associations wanted to follow.

 

On a national note, after a bit of a tumble in late August, the stock market recovered and stocks were back to setting new highs. General Electric led the field closing at $387 a share. Nothing, it seemed, could stop American prosperity.

 

Stay tuned - to be continued with the 1930's ???!!!


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