Vintage Race Boat Shop


 

A History of Power Boat Racing

on Lake Winnipesaukee

 By Mark Howard

Owner/driver - Scotty

 

1929 - Sam Dunsford & Scotty

 

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

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

1929 started out as an unusual weather year around the Lakes Region. The previous year had not been considered normal for the freakish weather patterns, but the winter of '28 and early '29 had been worse. There was far less snow fall than in previous winters and when winter turned to spring, much less rain. As a consequence, the lake fell to the lowest level ever seen. The low water caused rocks and other navigation hazards to appear where before, the lake had been high enough to allow boaters to simply glide over obstructions. While highlighting the need for increased navigation aids across the lake, this low lake level prompted many people to worry about the lake herself. Had she sprung a leak? The Lake Company, a firm in Laconia that controlled all water power and dam facilities across Winnipesaukee, was prompted to release notices in local papers assuring the public the low lake level did not mean the lake was shrinking or in some way failing, but was a consequence of the poor snow fall and light rain over previous months. They urged people not to loose faith and that the lake would bounce back in time. On a state level, boat registrations increased to an all time high of over 2200 boats. Although this number were scattered all over the state, well over 1/2 were expected to call Winnipesaukee their home.

 

In May, Jack Wright, an attorney from Boston and summer resident of Eagle Island, was elected Commodore of the Winnipesaukee Power Boat Association (WPBA). The WPBA also voted to construct a new, double decker powered barge to replace the unpowered single deck float race officials used to monitor and judge racing events. Jack was an enthusiastic racer himself and Sam Dunsford, the previous Commodore, was eager to turn his attention elsewhere. The WPBA had a full agenda of racing scheduled, including four water carnivals, one in Alton Bay, the second in Wolfeboro and the remaining two in the Weirs. In addition, there would be two or three outboard marathons around the lake, as the event proved so popular in the previous year. By this time Winnipesaukee had earned the reputation as the boating center of New England. Local papers commented how this was no idle boast. They compared racing results from the State of Maine championship held in Boothbay with the average speeds seen on Lake Winnipesaukee on any average race weekend and remarked how if speed was the criterion for judging, literally dozens of boats from Winnipesaukee would have walked away with the whole Maine program. The WPBA intended to keep the good times rolling. They reached an agreement with the Weirs Improvement Association that all races held at Weirs would fall under one of the organizations, insuring an even spread of the cost of promotion. As in previous years, an attempt would be made to alternate racing weekends, with the WPBA sanctioning races on one weekend, the Weirs Association sanctioning races on the following weekend. Other WPBA officers elected included Clarence Henderson of Glendale as Vice Commodore, Harry Hopewell of Wolfeboro as Rear Commodore, Jim Irwin as Secretary and Nat Goodhue as Treasurer.

 

 

The four largest boating outfits on the lake were Irwin Marine & Varney Marine, both on the western side of the lake, with Downing's Garage in Alton and Goodhue & Hawkins Navy Yard in Wolfeboro. All four outfits were busy preparing for the summer crowds. In Wolfeboro, Goodhue & Hawkins reported its best year ever selling 15 boats: 9 Chris Craft runabouts, a Dodge Water Car and a special Gar Wood. Her name was "Jayee III" and she would go on to make headlines for many seasons to come. She was a custom runabout powered by a Packard V-12 of 1500 cid that was reported to produce anywhere between 850 - 1100 HP. Whatever the true horsepower numbers, she could exceed 70 MPH and would prove to be a most formidable racer. Rounding out the sales were 4 cruisers, two Elco cruisers, a 35 ft A.C.F. and the largest, a 38ft Commuting Cruiser built by Chris Craft for Sam Dunsford, named "Lady Beth" after his mother.

 

In Ossipee, the Florida Boat Co. started by Water Meloon came to the lakes region with hopes of selling inexpensive boats to an eager public. Meloon was a wealthy business man who spent winters in Pine Castle, Florida and summered in New Hampshire. He had the idea of building small boats that could capitalize on the growing use of outboard motors.In Florida, his boats were sold to fishermen, but in New Hampshire, powered by much larger engines, his target market were speed boat enthusiasts. The boats were between 14 to 16 feet long, under $300 and could seat 5 people comfortably. They were made out of cypress and cedar, both woods readily found in Florida. He hoped his ability to test the boats in the winter months would mean his craft would be ready by spring. To transport the finished boats to New Hamshire, he constructed his own boat trailer that allowed him to pile multiple boats one on top of the other as if they were clam shells.

 

Jim Irwin opened his Winnipesaukee Gardens on May 29 with help from Mal Hallet and his orchestra. The public came by the hundreds to enjoy the evening of entertainment and the crowds on hand broke all records. Irwin had completely redone the Gardens over the winter with a new dance floor and larger windows. His plan was to keep the Gardens open for the rest of the season and people could dance until one o’clock in the morning. Rounding out the preparations for the coming season was the Mount Washington. The new owner, Mr. Sydney Baker, planned on continuing the 58 years of faithful service by installing a new electrical plant that promised to supply electrical lighting to every part of the ship, a first in her history. Captain Leander Lavalle would continue as ships' master. The new owner, along with his wife and two children, planned on living on board for the season in the newly refurbished galley area which had fallen into disuse many years earlier when the serving of regular meals was discontinued. With the galley taken out, there was enough room to install two small staterooms and a bathroom.

 

Thanks to the very mild winter, the boating season started early. Racing was scheduled to begin on the June 29 and run though the July 4th holiday at Weirs. Unfortunately, while the spring had been very dry, mother nature decided this would be a good time to douse the lake with heavy rain with the result the first few races had to be postponed. The weekend did not pass without note, however, as on Monday, July 1, a most extraordinary boat was launched in Lakeport. She was a new, custom built, Gold Cup racer for Dunsford. Although Dunsford already owned an old Gold Cup racer, "Rainbow IV" powered by a Packard racing engine, he wanted to upgrade his racing effort with both a brand new hull and brand new engine.

 

Since Dunsford's company supplied automotive wiring products to the Ford Motor Company, he traveled regularly out to Dearborn, MI., Ford headquarters. Although trips to Detroit were primarily for business, Dunsford was well aware of the marine talent in and around Detroit. His regular business trips brought him in contact with one of the most respected names in naval architecture, John Hacker. Hacker's boat company in Mount Clemens was only 28 miles up the road from Ford headquarters, a quick afternoon drive. In mid 1928, after concluding some business at Ford, Dunsford made the drive up to Mount Clemens to meet with Hacker. By August, the deal was done. The only hard stipulation Dunsford gave Hacker was the boat must be fast enough to win the Gold Cup, otherwise the choice of construction material and design were left completely in Hacker's hands. The boat would be powered by a Packard racing engine, which Dunsford would have installed at his estate back on Winnipesaukee. Dunsford had great confidence in Packard power and had already arranged to buy a new engine from the company. His old engine would be sent back to Packard to be overhauled by the factory mechanics. Hacker's only responsibility would be to build a fast boat that could win the Gold Cup race.

The class that was Gold Cup hydroplane racing was in disarray following rule changes made earlier in the 1920's. The rule changes were prompted by the dominance of one man, Gar Wood. He was a very dominating boat racer in the earlier years who consistently won almost every race he entered. His boats were all but unbeatable, and few had the resources to challenge him. So, the Gold Cup committee decided for the good of the sport, in order to insure competition, Wood had to be tossed out of Gold Cup racing. Starting in 1922, the only boats allowed to race for the Gold Cup were called 'Gentlemen's Runabouts'. They could not have any steps or shingles and were restricted to using engines that had no more than 625 cid. Although intended to give other racers a chance at winning while keeping costs down, the new rules did not work to racing advantage. In fact, the Gold Cup challenge fell on hard times. Gold Cup racing limped along for a number of years and in 1927 reached a new low; eleven boats started, only 2 finished. In 1928 the Gold Cup reached its nadir; there was no race at all. Rule changes for 1929 were meant to liven up the racing class while still keeping Gar Wood out. Sam Dunsford decided this was his chance at national fame. He was already a big fish in Lake Winnipesaukee, and wanted to be a Big Fish on a national scale. He hoped a custom race boat commissioned from a noted designer like Hacker would propel him into the national spotlight.

 

As a little background, prior to WW II, there was no established national circuit where boat racers could travel to race against one another. Instead, each race was sponsored by locals and followed locally developed rules. If a racer built a boat to one set of rules, he could not be guaranteed he could race in the next lake over. Every race boat was purpose built for one lake. If a racer won at a particular site, he could compete again the following year at the same location. Races never moved sites. Should a racer travel to another place, there might be a "Free for All" event he could enter, but that would be it. Nationally, the APBA was an active organization and they did recognize many races and race records, but they did not actually exert control over most contests.

 

The Gold Cup race was different. If a racer won, the yacht club he represented would select the site for the following year challenge. Dunsford knew if he could win the Gold Cup he could bring it, and national fame, to Lake Winnipesaukee. Dunsford had hoped to receive his new racer in April or May in order to allow him time to install the new motor and run her in trials. Unfortunately, due to a unique and time consuming construction technique that owed more to the aircraft industry than marine construction, the racer was not completed until the end of June, ten months after she was ordered. She was immediately placed on a rail car and shipped from Mount Clemens. A small group of people were at the rail station in Lakeport awaiting her arrival. When the covers were pulled back, onlookers were speechless. They did not know what to think. Highly unusual in appearance, she was unlike any other boat they had ever seen. There were so many curves no matter what angle you viewed her, the sun sparkled off her finish. Winnipesaukee hadn't seen anything like this. Some ware taken aback by her lines, a few even laughed at her shape; most just shook their heads and wished Dunsford good luck.

Click here for more photos of Scotty.

Dunsford was bitterly disappointed by the delay but pressed on. He had hoped to have plenty of water time to give the boat a proper shakedown. As an experienced racer, he knew no boat could be competitive right out of the box but that there would have to be a series of sea trials. Had the boat arrived on schedule, there would be plenty of time to work out the bugs. Now, he was forced to cram four months of testing into as many weeks.  The WPBA had already officially entered the Gold Cup race to be held in mid August off Red Bank, NJ, and Dunsford could not afford to wait another year. The racer was towed across the lake by Elmer Folsom, Dunsford’s racing mechanic. When the boat arrived at the Dunsford estate on Tuftonboro Neck, Folsom immediately went to work installing the engine. As a matter of habit, Dunsford named boats after the female members of his family. His mother, wife and daughter all had boats named after them. But in this case, the new racer was special enough he decided to christen her after his own nickname, "Scotty".

Click here for the next Chapter - 1929