History of the Wolfeboro Vintage Race Boat Regatta

by Donnie McLean

Scotty-5It all started at a Halloween costume party in 1999 as a small group of “vintage and antique boat” friends sat around discussing the boating season that had just come to a close and of plans for the next year’s schedule of fun things to do.

We talked about regattas we had been to in the past and those in the future we wanted to participate in. Several of us had recently been to a big regatta in Canada, and most were planning to go to Clayton, New York for the “Antique Race Boat Regatta” in August the next year. As we relived the events we’d been to and talked more about those we would go to, the banter took on a little more serious tone…Why not have a regatta of our own at home, on beautiful Wolfeboro Bay?

The event would be (and to this day still is) presented by the New Hampshire Boat Museum, and run under the auspices of the American Power Boat Association’s Vintage and Historic division, who’s mission it is to preserve vintage and historic race boats and to demonstrate with them at events intended to recreate race boat regattas from years gone by.

race4ScottyWhat made our idea even better was that Lake Winnipesaukee had been very active with boat racing in the early days with boats of all kinds including the big triple cockpit Gar Wood, Hacker Craft and Chris Craft boats. In fact, in the late 1920’s, Sam Dunsford, a local man, commissioned John Hacker to design and build a Gold Cup race boat to be named Scotty. Scotty was delivered to Wolfeboro by rail ultimately being received at the Goodhue and Hawkins Navy Yard. Scotty survives to this day in Wolfeboro and can be seen at the New Hampshire Boat Museum’s 2013 exhibit on the history of race boating on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Those at the party basically formed a committee on the spot and planned a real meeting to work out the details for what would be the first regatta presented by the New Hampshire Boat Museum. Our first meeting was held at Kathy and Hank Why’s house. In fact all planning sessions for the first three regattas were held at Hank’s.

Members of that first committee were Hank Why, Gerry Davidson, Geoff Magnuson, Shaun Berry, Bill John, and Donnie McLean. Through the years members have come and gone but half of the original group continues to help steer the event with a committee that has grown to double the size of the first one.

One of the first things to do was to choose a name so we could start with permits from the town and begin publicizing what would be the “Wolfeboro Vintage Race Boat Regatta”. We learned quickly that running a successful event required a lot from everyone and an additional one hundred or so volunteers to do the job right.

The regatta in Clayton, New York is held every other year, and we had planned our first one for mid-September 2000, just a month after Clayton’s that same year. We held our second Wolfeboro Vintage Race Boat Regatta a year later in September 2001 but planned to continue from there with regattas every other year to be on Clayton’s “off year” and to prevent wearing out our welcome with the town or with the large group of people needed to make an event like this happen.

The Wolfeboro Regatta was almost immediately recognized as a premier event among many events each year, in part for the great location and also for being very well organized. Since those early years, participation has grown so much that we’ve had to be careful to not overburden the venue with to many boats. We have participants that consistently come from as far away as South Florida, the upper Midwest United States and Canada.

Held in a beautiful location, presented by the New Hampshire Boat Museum, and enjoyed by thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants through the years, the 2013 Wolfeboro Vintage Race Boat regatta marks the 13th anniversary and the 8th running of a great event.

Please make your plans to join us September 12-14, 2013 in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire for one of the best exhibitions of vintage race boats you may ever see. Spectators and participants please call us at 603-569-4554 for more information!



by Mark Mason

Sam Dunsford must have loved boats because he surrounded himself with boats. Runabouts, Fast boats, Commuter boats, Speedboats. He raced boats. He built one of the greatest boathouses here at Winter Harbor, as a home for his boats. Dunsford had Michigan designer, John Hacker, create two Gold Cup race boats. This first SCOTTY, did not turn well due to hull problems and she came in a disappointing second. Her Packard engine was removed to power a second boat, named SCOTTY TOO. Both boats were built in the 1929-1930 period. Today Mark Howard owns Dunsford’s first SCOTTY, a cigar shaped beauty. Sam Dunsford, the consummate sportsman, stopped mid race in the 1929 Gold Cup, to aid other racers in an accident.

scotty too-tiffBill Marriott began coming to Lake Winnipesaukee in the 1930s when he was very young. His family’s cottage was very close to SCOTTY’s boathouse. Bill saw Sam racing and testing SCOTTY TOO each summer. Bill would occasionally row over to Dunsford’s and look up under the doors at SCOTTY TOO hanging in the hoist.

During one of SCOTTY TOO’s last runs after WWII, Dunsford arranged for teenager Bill Marriott to have a ride that would kindle a fire and love for speed, and for SCOTTY TOO, that still burns today.

After Dunsford’s passing, his caretaker Elmer Folsom, inherited all the boats in the boathouse and eventually sold them off one by one. A legendary early collector here at the Lake, Sam Rogers, purchased both of the Scotties. Sam then sold SCOTTY TOO to Ted Larter of Dunstable, Massachusetts circa 1968, who ran her with a succession of modern V8 engines.

In the early 1980’s a major restoration of SCOTTY TOO was done, much of which was accomplished by vintage raceboat expert Mark Mason, who by that time had restored or owned four 1920’s Gold Cup racers. Mason had found a 1918 Hispano-Suiza H3 engine in a tobacco field in Kentucky, where it had lain outdoors for 45 years. He made the purchase for Ted Larter, who commissioned him to rebuild the engine for the restored SCOTTY TOO. Some people thought the behemoth engine (1127 cubic inches) was too powerful for the hull, but Larter had acquired historic installation drawings for the Hisso, and letters between John Hacker and Sam Dunsford, showing their plan to power SCOTTY TOO with this exact engine. When SCOTTY TOO again hit the water the Hispano engine was an overwhelming success.  She ran across the water like a scalded cat.

Mason moved to Winnipesaukee in 1985 and opened his shop in Laconia, New England Boat & Motor, Inc. Mark and Bill Marriott met in the late 1980’s and began exchanging stories and boat rides. At some point Marriott asked Mark what had become of Sam Dunford’s SCOTTY TOO. Mason was asked to make a bid to purchase her from Ted Larter. That offer was refused Larter died in 1994.

A decade later, the Larter’s pulled SCOTTY TOO from a dusty barn and brought her to Mason’s shop in Laconia to be spruced up to run again. She ran on Winnipesaukee, out of Mason’s Hiawatha boathouse cottage for a couple weeks before being scheduled to ship to Larter’s boathouse on Lake George, NY. During this time, early one morning, Mason and owner Alan Larter took Bill Marriot for his second ride in SCOTTY TOO, separated by half a century. Several offers to purchase SCOTTY TOO followed, but the Larter family refused to sell what had become for them, a family treasure.

During 2009 Bill and Mark discussed building a reproduction, with the Larter’s blessings. Later that year a contract was signed with a targeted delivery date of Saturday July 30, 2011, the date of the Meredith Antique Boat Show. Those few that know will confirm that Saturday night the 31st, she was elegantly swinging in the hooks of Bill Marriott’s boathouse.

Mason has built many boats in his Laconia shop, but in recent years he has chosen to subcontract bare hull construction outside his shop. Mason selected Steve White and Brian Larkin of Brooklin Boatyard, on the Maine coast, to build the bare hull. It was then brought to Laconia for all mechanical work, wiring and enough detail to make a grown man cry. Mason and his crew found a 1918 Hispano-Suiza aircraft engine in Michigan. It was purchased, restored and marine converted. Foundry patterns were located for the exact V-Drive gearbox that has been running in SCOTTY TOO. A complete gearbox was built from scratch for the new boat.

The boat you see today is a very close duplicate of the original and even bears the original racing number G-27.  Her name, pronounced the same as the original SCOTTY TOO, spelled with a twist……  SCOTTY TWO.


The Legend of “MISS AMERICA VII” By Jack Savage

Miss America VII-1Odd how serendipitous events from years ago guide our ambitions. Passion for classic boats is often stirred by some distant memory from our early years, some childhood resolution – when I grow up, I’m going to have a boat like that.

Such was the case for Geoffrey Magnuson, who vividly remembers being a teenager, watching with fascination a short film in the 1950s called “Faster and Faster.” In it, a twin engine, “Miss America’ leapt across the water, 24 cylinders of horsepower wrapped with just enough wood to call it a boat.

Fast forward four-plus decades to the New Hampshire Vintage Race Boat Regatta in Wolfeboro this past September. There was Jeff, joyously piloting his latest race replica, “Miss America VII”, around the 1.25 oval course marked out on Wolfeboro Bay.

The Regatta, staged by the Trustees of the New Hampshire Boat Museum, was held in conjunction with Wolfeboro’s annual Antique Boat & Car Rendezvous at the Town Docks. A veritable fleet of vintage raceboat replicas and originals gathered to run heats starting at 10 a.m., and thrilled the estimated 8,000 attendees with a day of mock racing.

It’s A Wonder

It’s A Wonder

Magnuson brought three replicas and two restorations from his Blueberry Hill Racing Team to demonstrate for the crowd, including the V-bottom “Arab VI” and single-step hydroplane “Arab IV”, both of which have won the ACBS Wine Country Regatta race multiple times – the only truly competitive race for such boats in the United States. Also on hand from Magnuson were the three-point hydroplane “It’s A Wonder”, and V-bottomed “Flashback”.

“Miss America VII” was one in the line of famous “Miss America’s” financed and raced by Gar Wood and designed by Napoleon “Nap” Lisee. The original “Miss America” was built by Chris Smith and his sons in Algonac, Michigan, in the years before they decided turn to pleasure boating by starting a little company that would come to be called Chris-Craft.

Gar Wood would break with the Smiths, but Nap Lisee would end up continuing to work for the industrialist who made his fortune by inventing the hydraulic dump truck. Lisee is credited with more than 30 of the world’s finest race boats, including all 10 “Miss Americas”, all the “Miss Detroits”, all the “Baby Gars”, “Baby Americas” and “Gar Jrs”.

Miss America VII-2In many ways, “”Miss America VII” represents the most exciting elements of powerboat racing during the I920s. In 1928, Englishwoman Betty Carstairs challenged the Americans for the Harmsworth Trophy, bringing to Detroit the “Estelle II”. Carstairs had proven herself by winning the Duke of York’s Trophy in Newg against an international field in 1926. Gar Wood, while publicly expressing disappointment at being challenged by a woman, had the newly-built “Miss America VI” made ready. During testing less than three weeks before the race, however, and reportedly while under the full power of her twin 12-cylinder Packard engines capable of generating 2,200 horsepower, the 26-foot “Miss America VI” nose-dived and ended up at the bottom of the river. Wood escaped relatively unharmed, but mechanic Orlin Johnson suffered considerable injuries, including a broken jaw.

Wood was nothing if not a man of action. He arranged for the big Packard engines to be raised and rebuilt. A new 28-foot hull, “Miss America VII”, was built in less than three weeks. Presumably, Lisee felt two additional feet in length were needed to handle the considerable horsepower of the twin Packard engines. Wood was ready for his challenger by race day. The race itself was something of an anticlimax, as Carstairs and the “Estelle II” capsized on the first lap, leaving Wood with an easy victory. “Miss America VII” had defended the Harmsworth Trophy.

Miss America VII-3Less than a month later, on Oct. 1, 1928, “Miss America VII” was officially timed by the UIYA in the unlimited class at 92.82 mph. Like her “Miss America” ancestors, she was then a world record holder.

“Miss America VII’s” next challenge came in the spring of 1929 when Major Hane Segrave set out to capture world speed records on land and water. His 27 foot hydroplane, “Miss England”, took on “Miss America VII” in Miami, where she managed to outpace Gar Wood and his crew on the straights, but reportedly couldn’t maintain speed in the turns. “Miss America VII” was credited by press with a world-record speed of 94 mph. The boat would be joined by a nearly identical sister, “Miss America VIII”, in Detroit in the late summer of 1929. The two boats were there to fend off another challenge from the young Betty Carstairs, who had commissioned the construction of “Estelle IV”, initially equipped with three 12-cylinder engines that, in theory, could generate 1000 horsepower each. Engine trouble gave the Detroit Harmsworth race once again to Gar Wood, whose team finished first and second in the two “Miss Americas”.

“Miss America VII” and the older “Miss America V” then were taken to Venice for the Count Volpi Cup, open to an international field that included Segrave’s “Miss England”. There, in the rough waters of Venice, “Miss America VII” would meet her end- piloted by Gar Wood’s brother Phil with Orlin Johnson as mechanic, VII hit something and reportedly jumped 30 feet into the air before crashing. Phil Wood and Johnson were rescued by the crew of “Miss America V”. Johnson reportedly nearly died as a result of the crash. Ultimately, “Miss England” proved her superiority, and “Miss America VII” was finished. According to Magnuson, the boat was recovered, and the engines were salvaged while the hull was ultimately scrapped.

The story that made it into the contemporary press suggested that “Miss England” could better handle the choppy waters of the Venetian race course. Magnuson, having driven the “Miss America VII” replica and seen “Miss England”, doubts that conclusion given the considerable weight (more than 9,000 lbs.) of the “Miss America”. More likely, he posits, “Miss America VII” simple hit something floating in the water and went down, and “Miss England” was ultimately a faster boat than “Miss America V”, especially without Orlin Johnson in the mechanic’s seat.

Magnuson’s replica of “Miss America VII”, meticulously researched and built with plans lofted off the still-extant “Miss America VIII”, was launched 70 years later in July of 1999 for initial test runs on Lake Winnipesaukee. The hull is virtually identical in shape to the original 28-foot single-step hydroplane, built by Rich Woodman with double-planked mahogany sides and a marine plywood under mahogany bottom. Magnuson and collaborator Mark Mason installed twin Rolls-Royce Meteor 1650 cubic-inch twelve-cylinder engines, which generate about 60 percent of the horsepower of the original twin Packard twelve’s. Custom cam covers help the Rolls engines look the part, and Magnuson says that the replica, with help from a custom gearbox with overdrive from Mike Sage of S.C.S. Gear, can reach 75 mph, or about 80 percent of the original boat’s top speed.

No doubt, spurred by childhood memories and in the spirit of Gar Wood and his team, Magnuson will keep refining “Miss America VII”, always looking to go “faster and faster.”

Jack Savage is the author of “Chris Craft” a history of the world’s largest manufacturer of mahogany boats published by MBI Publishing, and lives in Middleton, NH.