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Stepped/Shingled Hull Design
APBA Unlimited Historian
The most prominent Gold Cup boat of the 1930s was EL LAGARTO, "The Leaping
Lizard of Lake George" (New York). Owned and driven by George Reis, EL LAGARTO
was the first three-time consecutive winner of the APBA Gold Cup in 1933, 1934,
The popular "Lizard" did much to focus positive attention on powerboat
competition during the years between the World Wars. Owner/driver Reis was a veteran boat racer whose career dated back to 1916 when
he took third-place in the Gold Cup at the wheel of A.L. Judson's HAWKEYE.
EL LAGARTO's remarkable career began inauspiciously with an eleventh-place
performance in the 1922 Gold Cup at Detroit as MISS MARY II. Designed and built
by John Hacker as a V-bottom displacement-type of boat, she measured 25 feet 10
inches in length with a 5-foot 6-inch beam and used a 150-horsepower Peerless
The Gold Cup boats of 1922 were restricted to the use of monoplanes without any
"steps" or shingles" on the underside and a top piston displacement of 625 cubic
inches. Prior to 1922, the Gold Cup had been a wide-open event with virtually no
limits on hull or engine size.
Reis purchased EL LAGARTO from original owner Ed Grimm in about 1925. He named
the craft after his brother's estate in Palm Springs, California, which was
named "El Lagarto" because of an abundance of lizards in that vicinity. George
installed a rebuilt 621 cubic inch Packard engine and used her as a pleasure
craft on Lake George for several years. He occasionally entered her in
free-for-all races against such local contenders as JOLLY ROGER, FALCON, and
The Gold Cup rules were amended in 1929 to allow hydroplanes with "stepped"
hulls to compete for the American Power Boat Association's Crown Jewel. Reis ordered a single-step hydro from the Purdy Boat Company of Port Washington
and christened it EL LAGARTITO--"Little Lizard."
The step on
Detroit III - a replica built by Mike Michaud
With Reis at the wheel and his Lake George neighbor Anderson ("Dick") Bowers
along side as riding mechanic, EL LAGARTITO was trounced in the 1930 Gold Cup
contest at Red Bank, New Jersey, which was won by HOTSY TOTSY, a V-bottomed
old-timer that had been "shingled" by owner Vic Kliesrath. Back to Lake George trekked Reis and Bowers with ideas of fitting a series of
shallow hydroplane steps to the bottom of a displacement-type boat.
Early in the summer of 1931, Reis applied five steps to the underside of EL
LAGARTO and trotted her out as a trial horse for EL LAGARTITO. With Bowers at
the helm of the old boat and Reis handling the new one, they squared off in the
middle of the lake for a comparison of speed. There was none. The old "Lizard"
ran away from her younger sibling.
Five steps/shingles were added to Bill John's
- a Gar Wood Speedster.
Reis retired the $12,000 EL LAGARTITO on the spot. He never campaigned her
again. The TITO was eventually sold to E.A. Guggenheim who renamed her MISS
SARANAC. From then on, Reis and Bowers concentrated all of their efforts on the
old rig that, for years, had been little more than a runabout, errand boat, and
When the Gold Cup participants assembled at Lake Montauk for the 1931 race, they
were surprised to see EL LAGARTO instead of the one-year-old EL LAGARTITO. The reason for the change became quickly obvious. EL LAGARTO grabbed the lead in
the first heat and showed her transom to the entire field for the first 28
miles, until she dropped a valve and drifted helplessly, while HOTSY TOTSY
breezed to an easy repeat victory.
Later in the season, EL LAGARTO triumphed in the National Sweepstakes at Red
Bank--her first major win--and then annexed the President's Cup on the Potomac
River in Washington, D.C.
In 1932, Reis modified the after-shingle. As a result, she ran faster, but the
formerly smooth-riding EL LAGARTO became the legendary "Leaping
Lizard"--although her porpoising action obviously did the trick. George's
explanation as to why his boat was swifter around a race course than its
contemporaries was due largely to its controlled air vents.
The 1933 Gold Cup in Detroit is sometimes recalled as "The Year of the Dodge
Navy." No fewer than five DELPHINE boats were entered by Horace Dodge, Jr., of
the Dodge automotive family and four of these were among the seven actual
starters. But EL LAGARTO ironed the Dodge Navy flat with the fastest 30-mile heat speed since
the 625 cubic inch piston displacement limitation: 60.866 miles per hour in the
first round. Bill Horn, the 1932 champion, made a race of it with DELPHINE
IV--and actually outdistanced "The Lizard" in the Final Heat--but lost the Cup
on points--1322 to EL LAGARTO's 1361.
By season's end, the team of Reis, Bowers, and EL LAGARTO had claimed the Triple
Crown of powerboating: the Gold Cup, the President's Cup, and the National
Sweepstakes--a performance every bit as impressive as that which Gar Wood was
accomplishing at the time in the Harmsworth International (Unlimited) Class.
After the close of the 1933 season, the rule makers decided to pep up a category
that was being dominated by an eleven-year-old museum piece, resurrected from
obscurity. So, they voted to permit superchargers on Gold Cup engines. Nevertheless, George Reis decided to fight out the 1934 Gold Cup race with his
unblown Packard. Defending the title on home waters, EL LAGARTO established a
Lake George 30-mile competition record of 58.064. But she really wasn't extended
except for a few laps when Bennett Hill was on top with HORNET, which set a
terrific pace. But EL LAGARTO took over the lead and claimed the victory. HORNET
fell by the wayside and faded to fourth in the overall standings behind "The
Lizard," DELPHINE IV with Horn, and IMP with Jack Rutherfurd.
At the 1934 President's Cup, EL LAGARTO leaped along to its third Potomac River
triumph in four tries over six other contenders. "The Lizard" averaged 53.776
for the 45-mile distance, dominating the first two heats and taking a safe third
in the final go-around. Rutherfurd's LOUISA took a trio of second-places, while
MISS SARANAC (nee EL LAGARTITO) handled by Bob Purdy won the last heat for an
For the 1935 campaign, the rule makers went to work again and approved the use
of power plants up to 732 cubic inches--thereby putting the American Gold Cup
Class on a level with the International 12-Litre Class, which was quite popular
in Europe at the time. They further resolved to banish virtually all hull restrictions after the 1935
Gold Cup Regatta. The low weight per horsepower ratio possible under the new
rules would soon sound the death knell for such storied old campaigners as EL
Undaunted, "The Lizard" made it three Gold Cups in a row with her tried and
proven 621 cubic inch unsupercharged Packard. She annihilated the hopes of
Kliesrath in HOTSY TOTSY II, Horn in DELPHINE IV, and Clell Perry in NOTRE DAME. And, in the Fall of 1935, EL LAGARTO ran an official mile trial of 72.727 miles
per hour. This was the highest straightaway speed ever recorded by a Gold Cupper
of the 625 cubic inch restricted hull variety.
Reis finally re-powered "The Lizard" for 1936 with a 732 cubic inch 12-cylinder
Curtiss aircraft engine. But EL LAGARTO lost the Gold Cup to Englishman Kaye
Don, driving Horace Dodge's IMPSHI, after "The Lizard" conked out in Heat One.
At the 1936 President's Cup, EL LAGARTO led in the first heat until an oil line
broke and she was passed short of the finish line by NOTRE DAME. In the milling
around prior to the start of Heat Two, NOTRE DAME rammed "The Lizard's"
starboard side and smashed her so badly that she had to withdraw after
completing one lap. EL LAGARTO was repaired during the winter of 1936-37 and entered the 1937 Gold
Cup at Detroit. For three quarters of Heat One, she ran close behind Perry in
NOTRE DAME and Harold Wilson in MISS CANADA II until "The Lizard's" oil pump
gave out and she was withdrawn from her final race. It was back to home port for
the last time for EL LAGARTO.
For the next several decades, Reis kept "The Lizard" as a pleasure boat on Lake
George. According to columnist Mel Crook, as late as 1956, she still looked fit
and traveled in the 70 mile an hour range. Reis, who passed away in 1962, estimated that he averaged 2000 miles of running
time with EL LAGARTO during each of the first 30 years that he owned her. That
adds up to more than 60,000 miles--the equivalent of 2-1/2 times around the
Earth at the Equator.
From the standpoint of history, George Reis, Dick Bowers, and "The Lizard"
established a standard of excellence that was a tough act to follow. Not until 1947 did another boat score victories in each of the Gold Cup,
President's Cup, and National Sweepstakes events during the same calendar year.
That's when Danny Foster turned the trick with the Dossin brothers' MISS PEPS V. And not until 1965 did another boat (Ole Bardahl's MISS BARDAHL, driven by Ron
Musson) match EL LAGARTO's feat of winning three successive Gold Cup
Nearly seven decades have elapsed since "The Leaping Lizard of Lake George" last
made her competitive presence felt. She is still remembered as a boat that
earned her retirement and inspired the following YACHTING MAGAZINE poem, penned
in 1936 by Everett B. Morris:
Faster than fire in a flaming canebreak,
Tougher than her reptile namesake,
Quicker than a frightened rabbit,
A boat that has the winning habit.
George Reis, EL LAGARTO, unbeatable pair,
Benignly blinking in the spotlight's glare."
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