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Racing On The Bay: The Wolfeboro Vintage Race Boat Regatta

Thomas P. Caldwell - August 12, 2013

Roman Candle

‘Roman Candle’ will leave the exhibition at the NH Boat Museum in order to race in this year’s boat regatta. (Tom Caldwell Photo)

Having completed its biggest fundraiser of the year in July and overseen the activities at the Alton Bay Boat Show on Aug. 10, the NH Boat Museum now is looking ahead to the Wolfeboro Vintage Race Boat Regatta, taking place Sept. 12-14. The event, which is sanctioned by the Vintage and Historic Division of the American Power Boat Association, will involve heats on Wolfeboro Bay with some 60 drivers participating.

“The Vintage Race Boat Regatta takes place here every other year,” explained Lisa Simpson Lutts, the executive director of the NH Boat Museum. “We alternate with the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton NY which sponsored the 2012 regatta.”

Coordinating with the American Power Boat Association makes this the greatest cooperative event for the boat museum, with entries ranging from small outboards to Grand Prix hydroplanes running heats on a one-mile oval course set out in the bay. “They run laps within their divisions,” said Lutts, “beginning at 8:30 a.m. both days [Friday and Saturday].”

An opening night reception and cookout, open to both participants and the public, takes place Thursday, Sept. 12, at the Wolfetrap Restaurant. “Each evening there is a reception for the drivers and their families and crews, but anyone can go and meet the drivers,” Lutts said.

The race course is set up on Thursday, with opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. Friday when triple cockpit runabouts will go around the course. That will be followed by the heats, beginning at 9 a.m. and continuing every 20 minutes until 5 p.m. The activities will resume on Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and continue until 5.

The NH Boat Museum will provide a cocktail party with hors d’oeuvres as a fundraising and awareness event at 6 p.m. Friday. Funds raised will go toward the museum’s educational programs.

On Saturday evening, there will be an awards banquet and auction at the Wolfeboro Inn.

While spectators will be able to watch the heats at no charge from the Wolfeboro Public Docks, those wanting a better view may want to purchase tickets on the Winnipesaukee Belle, a 65-foot replica of a 1900’s-era paddle-wheel boat. The Winni Belle will offer one-hour cruises along the boating course, providing a chance to see the action from the water. Tickets will be available at the dock but advance tickets are offered at a discount on the NH Boat Museum website at

Another option for spectators is to ride the course with one of the drivers. Many of the race boat drivers donate their time for special heats in which members of the public pay to ride in a vintage boat, with proceeds going to the boat museum and to help with the costs of the regatta. Participants will be required to sign wavers and they must wear APBA-approved safety equipment for the ride. A list of participating boats is posted on the NH Boat Museum website.

Finally, spectators will have opportunities to visit the “hot pits” where the boats are stored in trailers, awaiting their turn to be lifted by crane to the waterway. Normally a restricted area, the public is allowed on a donation basis during the lunch period (approximately 11 a.m. to noon) when the owners and crew are not busy. They will be available to answer questions during that period.

The Wolfeboro regatta is considered one of the best in the country for the quality of the course, the friendliness of the town, and opportunities for interaction with the public.

According to a history of the event by Donnie McLean, appearing on the NH Boat Museum website, the regatta had its roots in 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 ….” They came up with the idea of holding a regatta in Wolfeboro where, in the 1920s, resident Sam Dunsford had commissioned a Gold Cup race boat, Scotty, from John Hacker of Hacker Craft. The Scotty was delivered to Wolfeboro by rail.

(The Scotty currently is on display at the NH Boat Museum as part of its 2013 exhibit on the history of race boats on Lake Winnipesaukee.)

The first Wolfeboro Vintage Boat Regatta took place in September 2000, just a month after the regatta in Clayton NY. During the second year’s event, in 2001, the group decided to continue the regatta every other year so it would coincide with 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,” writes McLean.

Today, participants come from as far away as south Florida, the upper midwest, and Canada, and the event attracts a couple thousand people each day.

While the boats were designed for speed with the intention of racing them, today’s heats are planned with safety considerations at the forefront. Rules govern both the event and the safety equipment that the drivers must employ.

The race boat exhibit at the NH Boat Museum clearly demonstrates how safety came into play, with photographs of the early drivers showing a surprising lack of any safety equipment. Some of them appear to be wearing suits, having just left the jackets behind for their race over the water.

The exhibit includes old headgear and uniforms as well as the boats that made history on the lake: the Scotty and the Roman Candle being the biggest contrasts. The Scotty is a 28-foot vessel that looks more like a submarine than a race boat, while the Roman Candle with its fuel-injected engine and flat, wide appearance looks as if it could take on anything. In fact, it will be removed from the exhibit during this year’s regatta to race again before returning to the exhibition.

It takes lots of preparation and lots of volunteers to make the regatta work, so the boat museum welcomes anyone who would like to donate some time to the event. Lutts said people may choose to work a morning or afternoon shift and still have plenty of time to enjoy the show.

See for more information on the regatta and the race boat exhibition at the museum. 

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