Friday, December 10, 2010

Ankle Deep: Lake George’s First Gold Cup Race Boat

After the Gold Cup races of 1914, the Ankle Deep was loaded onto a horse-drawn farm wagon and taken up the road to a corner of Count Casimir Mankowski’s estate on Northwest Bay – a humiliating end for a splendid boat, but then again, she had just suffered a humiliating defeat.

On the final day of the races, her propeller shaft had snapped. Mankowski let go of the wheel, and was sent overboard, right in front of the Sagamore. Her rival, the Baby Speed Demon II owned by Paula Brackton of New York City, went on to establish a world’s record. The Count, apparently, was too depressed to even remove the boat from the wagon. “Just leave the wagon where it is,” he told the drover. “Send me a bill for it.”

And that, more or less, was the end of both the Ankle Deep and Count Mankowski himself. The Ankle Deep caught fire and burned in a race held later that summer in Buffalo. The Count left Bolton Landing and never returned.

Nevertheless, the Gold Cup races of 1914 were a critical moment in the history of boating on Lake George. Gasoline powered boats had come to Lake George only a few years earlier. Competitive motorboating began in 1906, when the Lake George Regatta sponsored a race between boats owned by LeGrand C.Cramer, W.K.Bixby and Herman Broesel. Flat bottomed, sloping gradually toward the stern, the boats traveled at speeds of 20 miles per hour or more.

The 1914 race was the largest power boating event ever to be held in the United States; the field of starters was the largest, the boats were faster than any that had competed in previous races. The crowds too were the largest that had ever assembled in one place to watch speedboat races. Some of the spectators came by a special train from Albany. The Horicon met them at the station and took them to Bolton Landing. There, the Horicon anchored inside the race course, a 6 nautical mile ellipse that stretched from Montcalm Point to a point south of Dome Island. Throughout the races, cars lined the road from Glens Falls to the Sagamore.

The Ankle Deep was the first long distance speed boat ever built. Thirty-two feet long, she had two 150 horsepower engines, and was capable of a speed of 50 miles or more per hour. After winning the Gold Cup races on the St. Lawrence River in 1913, Mankowski brought the cup – which was made by Louis Comfort Tiffany and displayed at the Sagamore – and the races to Lake George.

The first race was scheduled for July 29th, but a northwest gale forced it to be postponed until the following day. On Thursday ,at 5:00 PM, the races began. The Ankle Deep was late getting to the starting line, and finished behind the Baby Speed Demon and two other boats.

The Count made certain that he would not repeat that mistake. Here’s how the Lake George Mirror reported the Ankle Deep’s start on the second day of the races: “But a few feet back of the line and going at almost full speed she jumped like a thing of life as the Count yanked the throttle wide open, and crossed the line a shimmering streak of mahogany, soon distancing all her rivals.” By the end of the second day of racing, however, it must have been obvious that the Ankle Deep was no longer the fastest boat in the field. The Baby Speed Demon II passed her on the second lap, retaining the lead that she had established the previous day.

The Ankle Deep now had no chance of victory unless the leaders were removed from the competition by some accident or by mechanical failures. Frank Schneider, the retired industrial arts teacher who restored boats at the Pilot Knob boat shop, wrote an account of the third day of the races for the Lake George Mirror in 1964.

“I saw this race from a small motor launch. Beecher Howe of Glens Falls and I, from Pilot Knob, proceeded to go diagonally across the lake to where we could see. As we got past Dome Island, going at a speed of approximately five miles per hour, our engine stopped and we found ourselves plumb on the regatta course, stalled, while two of the contestants, Baby Speed Demon II, and the Buffalo Enquirer were bearing down on us. One of those speedsters passed us on one side and the other on the other side, and after they had long gone by us, a patrol boat approached us and hollered, ‘Get off the course!’ We finally got the engine started again, and headed for the Sagamore dock, to watch the rest of the race. We did not see the Ankle Deep in action as it had broken down at the beginning of the third heat.”

When the scores of each boat were calculated after three days of racing, the Ankle Deep was in third place, behind Baby Speed Demon II and Buffalo Enquirer.

Gold Cup boats did not disappear from Lake George, of course. Albert Judson of Bolton Landing, a president of the American Power Boat Association, which sponsored the Gold Cup Races, owned the Whipporwhill Jr. That boat raced in Minneapolis, the Thousand Islands, Detroit, Lake Ontario, and in 1920, in England, where it competed for the Harmsworth Trophy. The driver in that race was George Reis. Reis himself brought the Gold Cup races to Lake George in 1934 ,35 and 36. Melvin Crook had the Betty IV built as a Gold Cup boat, but did not race her, although she achieved a speed of 111 miles per hour in a qualifying trial for the Hundred Mile Per Hour Club.

The Ankle Deep, however, retains pride of place as our first Gold Cup boat. As the editor of the Lake George Mirror noted after it was learned that she had been destroyed by fire on the Niagra River, “To Count Mankowski and the Ankle Deep belongs the honor of creating a new epoch in motor boatdom, and no matter how fast the boats may go in the years to come,Lake George will always remember with pride the name of the beautiful queen that carried her flag to victory on the St. Lawrence.”

Photo: Count Casimir Mankowski, center, on Lake George in 1914.

Anthony F. Hall

Anthony F. Hall

Anthony F. Hall is the editor and publisher of the Lake George Mirror.

Anthony grew up in Warrensburg and after an education that included studying with beat poet Gregory Corso on an island in the Aegean, crewing a schooner in Hawaii, traveling through Greece and Turkey studying Byzantine art and archeology, and a stint at Lehman Brothers, he returned to the Adirondacks and took a job with legendary state senator Ron Stafford.

In 1998, Anthony and his wife Lisa acquired the Lake George Mirror, once part of a chain of weekly newspapers owned by his father Rob Hall.

Established in the 1880s, the Mirror is America’s oldest resort newspaper.


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