WOLFEBORO — Bob Mueller, who lives in Alton now but grew up in New York, explains his lifelong interest with boats – especially fast boats – by explaining that an ear condition prevented him from swimming when he was younger.
“It started when I was a little kid on Long Island,” Mueller said. While other children splashed in the water, Mueller’s attention was focused on the power boats that raced offshore. “I used to stand on the beach and watch these boats.” He promised himself that, when he could afford to, he would have a race boat.
After several decades and a career in banking, Mueller’s three race boats will be among the 30 expected to participate in the Vintage Race Boat Regatta in Wolfeboro Bay this weekend. The event started on Friday and continues throughout the day on Saturday, and will attract hundreds, if not thousands, of spectators, including children who might just have the same reaction young Mueller had years ago on Long Island.
Mueller now has three race boats. Two of them, “Illusion” and “Compulsion,” are replicas of Gar Wood race boats built in the 1930s. His third is “Sassy,” a Jersey Speed Skiff. All three are participating in the regatta this weekend. Racing was held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, and will continue during the same time period on Saturday.
The vintage race boats will speed around an oval course with turns near the Wolfeboro Town Docks and Sewall Point. Boat operators will travel about a mile per lap on the course, and, though they will be traveling at speed, veteran referee Gerry Davidson said they won’t be racing each other.
“It’s not competitive racing,” Davidson said. “It’s demonstrative.” The event is sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association, he said, which requires that the laps around the race course are only to exhibit what the vintage race boats are capable of, not which driver is the fastest.
Davidson, who has been part of the Wolfeboro regatta since its first year, in 2000, said all boats will undergo a thorough and detailed safety inspection.
“You play any games with the rules, you’re going to stay on the trailer,” Davidson said.
And that’s important, because some of the boats are capable of triple-digit speeds. The boats will be permitted to stretch their legs, too, thanks to a waiver from Marine Patrol that allows them to ignore the noise and speed limits that other boats on Lake Winnipesaukee must observe.
Bill Marcussen of Tuftonboro will be one of those thumbing his nose at the 45 miles-per-hour speed limit this weekend. He will be behind the helm of “Illusion,” Muelller’s 21-foot Gar Wood Gentleman’s Racer replica. That boat, Marcussen said, is powered by a 454-cubic-inch V-8 engine manufactured by Chevrolet, producing about 600 horsepower. He said he expects to get “Illusion” up to around 70 miles per hour on the race course.
Despite the age of the design, Marcussen said the boat can still handle the speed.
“It handles more precisely than a typical runabout,” Marcussen said. “These boats were built for running on a race course.”
What’s it like to operate such a boat?
“Exhilarating," Marcussen said. "These boats have very small windshields, so the sensation of speed is magnified.”
As fast as Marcussen goes, it will be about half the velocity that Lyle Dinsmore expects to achieve in “Miss Gangway,” a wood and aluminum hydroplane built in 1971. Powered by a 1,200-horsepower, supercharged Chrysler V-8 engine, “Miss Gangway” has been clocked at 173 miles per hour with Dinsmore at the controls. Wolfeboro Bay doesn’t have enough water for that kind of speed, though, so Dinsmore said he’ll likely only get it up to around 150 miles per hour this weekend.
And what's it like to go that fast?
“You don’t have time to think, you only get a few seconds from turn to turn,” Dinsmore said.
Dinsmore trailered “Miss Gangway” up from his Grand Island, New York, home for the regatta. This is his second time participating.
“It’s a nice place up here, there’s a lot of nice people to meet,” he said. His wife, Kathy Barton, agreed.
“They really put out the welcome mat to make you feel so special for coming up,” Barton said.
That’s not by accident. Mueller not only contributes three of the vessels participating, he’s also one of the event’s organizers. He said participating boat owners spend an average of about $2,000 to attend, and he wants each of them to be glad they’re here.
“We try to make it as easy as we can for them, by running a great event, well organized,” Mueller said. “We like to bring all this stuff together, it’s unique.”
While he was working in New York, Mueller became involved in community development projects that showed him how various actors could come together to create something that has broad benefit. He sees the same thing in the regatta.
“This whole event is a truly collaborative effort. There’s a lot of people who contribute to it,” Mueller said. “To have this opportunity to do this kind of thing in New Hampshire is huge,” he said, referring to both the collection of vintage race boats and the fact that the event benefits the New Hampshire Boat Museum in Wolfeboro.
“I like the museum, I love the boats, I get a tremendous charge out of driving," Mueller said. "I’m willing to do anything I can to make it successful.”
The regatta is not only a fundraiser, it also pairs well with the NH Boat Museum’s efforts, said Martha Cummings, executive director.
“It’s an opportunity to exhibit vintage race boats live – they are exhibiting what the race boats can do,” Cummings said. The museum’s exhibit this year is “Racing on the Waters of New England,” with information about racing on Lake Sunapee and Lake Winnipesaukee.
The museum also has several race boats in its collection, including a triple-cockpit of the kind that Jim Irwin sponsored to race across the big lake, and a small outboard race boat build by Eldridge Robie, who raced it on Winnipesaukee in 1926 and 1927.
“If people want to see more and get really up close and personal, they can come to the musuem,” Cummings said.