A Brief History of Canadian Roostertails

The 1998 Thunder Tour for Unlimited hydroplanes presented by Las Vegas expects to feature two races "North of the Border" in Canada — a first-time show in Barrie, Ontario, on June 21 and a third-time event in Kelowna, British Columbia, on August 2.

The current series of Kelowna races began in 1996. This marked the first time that Unlimiteds had raced on Canadian waters since an earlier series at Kelowna in 1966 and 1967.

The last time that the Unlimiteds competed in the province of Ontario was during 1960 and 1961 at Picton for the Harmsworth International Trophy. The Harmsworth was technically a race between nations — specifically Canada and the United States — rather than between individual boats.

The Canadian defender, Miss Supertest III driven by Bob Hayward, prevailed both times in a best two out of three heat race format. The Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered Supertest outran three U.S.challengers in 1960: Gale V with Bill Cantrell, Nitrogen with Norm Evans, and Nitrogen Too with Ron Musson. Miss Supertest III and Hayward defeated a lone U.S. challenger, the Miss Detroit with Chuck Thompson, in 1961.

As per Harmsworth rules, the U.S. boats were limited to engines designed in the United States. This meant that only Allison power could realistically be used. The more-powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin was considered a British Empire engine--even though the Merlins had been manufactured in the States by Packard. None of the Merlin-powered U.S. Unlimiteds (which included Miss Thriftway, Miss Bardahl, Hawaii Kai III, and Miss U.S. I) were eligible to compete for the Harmsworth Trophy, which was traditionally emblematic of the speed boat championship of the world and dated back to 1903.

Prior to the two Harmsworth races, Picton hosted an Unlimited contest in 1956 for the Prince Edward Trophy at the Dominion Day Regatta. Miss Supertest II won that one with Bill Braden as driver. The Supertest II, which likewise utilized a Rolls-Royce Griffon, defeated a field of seven U.S. contestants. Jack Bartlow finished second with Miss U.S. II, followed by Bud Saile in Miss Wayne, Bill Cantrell in Gale V, Walt Kade in Dora My Sweetie, Gordon Deneau and Marv Henrich in What a Pickle, Roy Duby in Gale IV, and Fred Alter in Such Crust III.

Another Ontario race, the Maple Leaf Trophy at Windsor, was a fixture between 1949 and 1956. The Windsor event was conducted on the Detroit River between Belle Isle and the Canadian mainland.

Sponsored by the Windsor Yacht Club, the Maple Leaf Trophy was slow to catch on. Only two boats participated in 1949 and only four raced in 1950.

The best all-around show at Windsor was probably the 1955 classic. Eight boats started and eight boats finished the Final Heat, which was run on a very narrow 3-mile course with a dogleg in the middle of the straightaway. The first three finishers in the Final Heat crossed the finish line less than two seconds apart — Miss Supertest II, Gale V, and Gale IV in that order — although first-place overall went to Saile and Miss Cadillac which scored 869 points to 795 for Braden and Supertest II.

Then came Gale V with Lee Schoenith, Gale IV with Cantrell, Wha Hoppen Too with Henrich, Such Crust III with Kade, My Sweetie with John Ban, and Short Circuit with Chuck Thompson.

Miss Supertest II's Final Heat speed of 99.457 in 1955 was the fastest heat ever recorded at Windsor.

The last time that two Canadian races were conducted for Unlimiteds in the same calendar year was in 1956. Don Wilson won the Maple Leaf Trophy on June 23 with Dora My Sweetie and Braden captured the Prince Edward Trophy on June 30 with Miss Supertest II.

(Reprinted from the UHRA Thunder Letter, Vol. 4 no. 325, December 12, 1997)