A 1950s race boat returns to its home waters
To understand the history of outboard racing in Hague on northern Lake George, we need to go back to the early days of the Lake George Regatta Association (LGRA), an organization founded in Hague in 1880 and originally called the Hague Rowing Club. The name was a misnomer as they also hosted diving, swimming, and canoeing competitions, along with inboard regattas, attracting competitors mainly from Hague and Bolton.
My grandfather competed regularly in his inboard race boats as did his older son, my Uncle Bob. They both did well, but were no match for Count Casimir Mankowski, who won the Gold Cup in 1913 at Alexandria Bay in his boat Ankle Deep, earning the right for the LGRA to host the 1914 race on Lake George. In 1933, George Reis won the Gold Cup with his boat El Lagarto, returning the race to Lake George, where he also won the Cup in 1934 and 1935.
My dad, Jack Henry, was too young to race the powerful, expensive inboards during those early years. But with a father and older brother who spent their summers tuning, repairing, and racing boats, it was pretty much predestined that he would also develop a passion for boats and speed. But with the advent of the Depression, the LGRA disbanded, and Dad never got to race.
At the end of World War II, he returned to Hague with his new bride. Although his family had been strictly summer residents, he was determined to live on Lake George year-round. He bought a marina in Ticonderoga, became the Mercury dealer, and took up the relatively new sport of stock utility outboard racing. The American Power Boat Association (APBA) had begun sanctioning stock utility outboard regattas in 1948, and interest in these boats boomed.
Dad competed around the northeast, including in the Albany-New York City regatta on the Hudson River. His first stock utility racer was a Speedliner, which he aptly named Miss Timarine, to promote his marina. He trailered his boat to races around the northeast on summer weekends. After seeing again and again how well Raveau boats performed, particularly in the grueling Albany-New York City race, he gave up his Speedliner in favor of a Raveau, boats handcrafted by the Frenchman Marcel Raveau. Miss Timarine had not fared well in the 1949 race on the Hudson. Just south of Poughkeepsie, the boat’s hull cracked, and despite Dad’s valiant efforts to repair it underway with a piece of wood from the river and later with a flattened tin can fastened over the crack, “it became obvious that the only thing between Timarine and submarine was a few minutes,” as one reporter wrote.
In the early 1950s, a group of local guys in Hague – likely spurred on by Dad, cabin fever during the long winter evenings and perhaps a few beers – started talking about rekindling the LGRA and holding races in Hague again. This time, however, they would race outboards that they could all afford. It didn’t take long for the group to convince the Chamber of Commerce that a regatta would attract visitors, and they should thus be a sponsor. It helped that most in this group of early enthusiasts owned hotels, shops, and other small businesses in town and were Chamber members. A few of the guys bought stock utility race boats and started learning how to drive them. Others volunteered to help with publicity, finances, sponsorships, and the many other tasks involved in organizing a regatta.
In 1954, the ‘Racing Committee of the Hague Chamber of Commerce’ held its first races on a closed one-mile course, running five laps. By the next year, the APBA had agreed to sanction the race, and the LGRA had been reconstituted as the sponsor. Carlings Brewery also later signed on as a sponsor. The annual races quickly became a huge success, with up to 150 boats registered in some years and newspaper reports of between 10,000 and 20,000 spectators. In 1955, Dad sold his original Raveau to the town’s postmaster and IGA store owner, Charlier Fitzgerald, who named it Havin’ Fitz. Dad bought another Raveau, which he named Gingerly.
He raced Gingerly, with its Mercury Mark 55 40-horsepower motor, until 1962, when my brother Johnny turned 14 and was old enough to take over the helm. Johnny already had two years of experience under his belt, having raced our smaller A-U class Raveau starting in 1960. When he graduated to Gingerly, he turned the A-U over to me, and I began gearing up for my first big race. I can only imagine how our parents must have felt about having their 14-year-old and 13-year-old competing in this grueling 90-mile marathon. Dad was likely bursting with pride, while Mom was probably terrified. And though I never would have admitted it back then, so was I. As luck would have it, my boat developed a crack in the hull on race weekend, and I had to withdraw. Looking back on it today, I regret missing that chance to compete. But back then I was secretly very happy to watch from the sidelines. As interest in the marathons waned and sponsorship money dried up over the years, the Northern Lake George Regatta became a thing of the past. Its last year was 1964.
Fast forward to the mid-1980s, when my younger brother Ed, who had raced both of our Raveaus in the 60s, trailered Gingerly and her motor out to his home in Wyoming, with plans to restore it. Life got in the way, and Gingerly hung from the rafters in Ed’s barn for nearly four decades. In 2022, he trailered Gingerly back to Lake George to be professionally restored. He knew he’d never get around to doing it, our cousin John Beekley was interested. John and his wife Karen had already restored our family’s boathouse in Hague, built in 1929, and we all agreed this would be a far more fitting home for Gingerly than a barn in Wyoming.
When Ed arrived in Hague with Gingerly in June of 2022, having driven more than 2,200 miles, we invited nearly 100 friends and family to celebrate her return. The party buzzed with people recounting their memories of Gingerly’s glory days in the 1950s and early 60s and the thrill of those race weekends. We were kids in those years, and the races were a highlight of our summer. It was a time when all those drivers from around the country showed up in town with their speedy – and yes, noisy – little boats, and excitement ran high. None of us had forgotten those days.
Over the course of the next year, the team at Mountain Motors & Restoration in Hague returned Gingerly to her former pristine condition. What started as a relatively routine restoration job for them quickly evolved into a labor of love as they grew to understand just how special this boat is to so many people in our town. She’s a piece not only of our family’s history, but also of our town’s history.
In June of 2023, we held a launch party for about 100 of our closest friends and family, including my sons – who had only ever heard tales of Gingerly, but never seen her in action. The excitement mounted in the days leading up to the party. Would the motor start so Ed could do a fly-by?
The guests arrived, and the ceremony on the beach began, in front of a veiled Gingerly. There were speeches and even a blessing by another cousin, an Episcopalian priest, for “all the big little boys and their fast toys, and for Gingerly as she begins her new adventures. Grant her sunny skies, smooth waters, and safe, speedy drivers. May she bring terrified delight to all the many lovers of speed.”
With that, Gingerly was unveiled and moved from the beach to the water. Ed donned a life jacket, waded into the lake, and climbed in. As the guests looked on, shouting words of encouragement, Ed pulled the rope. Nothing. He pulled again. Still no spark. After numerous attempts, the boat was carried back up onto the beach. The crowd murmured in disappointment and turned back to their conversations and cocktails. But Ed wasn’t willing to give up. He performed tests and made a few adjustments, and Gingerly was carried back into the lake. The guests’ attention turned back to the boat. Ed climbed in and gave a short pull, and then another. And another. Anticipation was at fever pitch. Shouts of encouragement came from the crowd: “You’ve got this!” “Pull it!” “You gotta want it!” “What would Jack do?” Finally, the motor sparked. The crowd cheered, but still no start. On the eleventh pull, there was a puff of exhaust and a roar – from the motor and then from the crowd. Gingerly zoomed out onto the lake, creating as much excitement as she had all those decades ago – perhaps even more.
Visit Gingerly’s website (www.utopianstate.com/gingerly), where you can watch videos, see photos and learn more about the history of the 90-mile outboard marathons in Hague (1954-64).