This is in memory of Ricky Oliver, Ted Jones, Paul Stoddard, Warren Bibbins, Chris Van Buskirk and Paul Hoffmann, Islanders who liked to turn wrenches, go fast and were a big part of this quirky “only on Vashon” tradition.
The late 1950s and early 60s were the peak years of outboard racing, there were outboard hydroplane race circuits and marathon outboard races for professionals and amateur boaters going on around the country and in Puget Sound.
In the 1950s Unlimited Hydroplane racing was revolutionized by Seattlite Ted Jone’s innovative three point hydro design. The speed and excitement of Jone’s Slo-Mo-Shun VI ignited another generation of young men, thrill seekers, mechanics and tinkerers to get into boat racing, among them Quartermaster Harbor neighbors, Roger Stanley, (who bought a Ted Jones built outboard hydro in 1958) and Warren Bibbins.
In 1955 Stanley went for a run around the Island in his home built hydro, this run was the seed of the Annual Fourth of July Round-the-Island Hydro Run, a unique Vashon tradition that has endured for 60 years. The round-the-Island run has unique qualities that are the key to it’s continued success. With few exceptions the drivers have always been Islander’s, the typical serious and professional racer would never put his motor in the more corrosive salt water, for this reason, the Round-the-Island run has never depended on off Island participants or been sanctioned-marketed-promoted or monetized, keeping it as it was from the beginning, essentially a few guys, who like to wrench on things and go fast, out for a yearly run together, carrying on a tradition that is part of their Island heritage.
The fact that the hydro motors are ear splitting loud and it is run at 5am, gives the run an in your face outlaw status, adding tension between those who do not like the early morning noise and the drivers and fans who embrace the tradition and consider the noise part of the “fun.”
Looking back at the history of boat racing, early speed boats and water sports gives a perspective and setting for this unique event.
Early Boat Racing
In 1905, Cameron Beach Waterman built an outboard motor for small boats, called the Waterman Porto, In 1909 the first Evinrude outboard engine hit the market. In The History of Outboard Racing in the Northwest, Craig Fjarlie wrote, “A variation on an old advertising adage applies to outboard racing, if you build it-they’ll race it,” by the mid-1920’s, outboard racing was going on all over the country. Young men, thrill seekers, mechanics, and tinkerers flocked to outboard boat racing. Don Morgan, Paul Billingsley and Bert Stanley began running outboard race boats on Quartermaster Harbor in the late 1920’s, starting a tradition that continues today.
The Gold Cup is the oldest active trophy in motor sports. The trophy was first awarded in 1904 as the APBA Challenge Cup. The winning boat averaged just over 23 miles per hour and was 59 feet long, with an 8-1/2-foot beam, powered by a 110-horsepower steam engine. In 1911 a hydroplane won the Gold Cup for the first time. Hydroplane hulls were different than the displacement hulls of the past, they skimmed over the surface of the water with a notch or “step” located on the underside of the hull. The “step” allowed the boat to plane up out of the water creating less friction than a displacement hull. The “step” hydros were fast, rode rough in the water and were hard to handle, but could run in some of the roughest water. They ran in the ocean, rivers, or lakes. Hydroplane racing became a tradition in Detroit when designer Christopher Columbus Smith (of Chris Craft boats) built a Detroit-based boat with a 250 horsepower Sterling inboard engine that broke the 60 miles-per-hour speed barrier of the time and won the Gold Cup in 1915.
The Seattle Outboard Association was organized on January 16, 1929, events had been held on Green Lake as early as 1924, when drivers steered with a tiller. Boats in the 20’s were often sea sleds or converted row boats, hulls built exclusively for racing came a few years later. A local tradition of marathon outboard races began in 1928, with the inaugural 13-mile Sammamish Slough Race, between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish. In a 1994, Seattle PI story, ex-racer Bob Jacobson, speaking about the early days of the slough race said:
You couldn’t tell where the channel was in the big straight stretches so you would just stay between the barbed wire fences on both sides of you. The fences were to keep cattle in so if you were in the middle you figured you must be in the channel, it was a lot narrower and there were logs in it and it was pretty messy. Howard Anderson, past vice president of the American Power Boat Association said, I don’t think there was a race like it in the nation, ever.
Sammamish Slough race video
In 1929 the Seattle Times reported that close to seventy entries had been received for the sixty two mile Seattle to Olympia Outboard Marathon Race, sponsored by the Queen City Yacht Club, set for June 16th. The race, as the paper reported:
The race was won by Jimmy Tregoning who piloted his boat over the spanking bouncing waves and into the teeth of a roaring wind, in 2 hours and 42 minutes… all along the beach after leaving Vashon Head boats could be seen landed and drivers working on them to complete the trip, boats were finishing as late as 6 o’clock that evening.
In, A History of Outboard Racing in the Northwest, Craig Fjarlie wrote:
The 1929 stock market crash hurt boat racing. During the early 30s, most racers were people who had either inherited money or owned their own business. By the 1930’s outboard racers were driving boats built for competition, there were both runabout and hydroplane classes, although the hydroplanes were single step hulls, vastly different from modern three-point hulls. The engines used were either Evinrude, Johnson, or Elto models. Speeds ranged from 35 to 60 mph, depending on the class. Most events in the Northwest were sanctioned by the National Outboard Association, affiliation with the American Power Boat Association came after World War II. Safety equipment was primitive by today’s standards. Some drivers raced bareheaded, others wore a leather cap. Life jackets were required in competition.
Vashon Boat Racing before WWII
The first mention of Vashon race boats comes from a June 1929 Vashon Island News-Record article on the Seattle-Olympia outboard marathon race noting that:
Local boat, the Bay-Bee, owned by Donald Morgan, piloted by Earl Watson and Bob Weiss, was one of the entrants. The boys report that the water was the roughest they had ever experienced, at times the Bay-Bee, propeller and all, was completely out of water as it breasted 5 foot waves, and commenting they didn’t mind 5 or 7 foot jumps but 15 to 20 feet was going just a bit too strong. The Bay-Bee was leading the race when near the finish line it hit a piece of driftwood and sheared a pin on the propeller, while fixing the problem it was passed by the eventual winner, Jimmy Tregoning. Once fixed the Bay-Bee came in second place.
The Vashon Island News Record reported in July 1929 that Paul Billingsley had completed a 150 foot dock, had a new 36′ cruising yacht, and two speed boats, Duck Soup and SEEBEE II, another article that month reported that Billingsley’s neighbor, Bert Stanley:
Came in violent contact with a floating stick, followed by a plunge into the briny deep. He was trying out the fine new boat he recently built and was going the limit. When rescued the boat was in reverse position with Mr Stanley purchased aloft.
Family photo’s and home movies show Paul Billingsley Jr, his sister Joy and neighbor Bert Stanley racing their run-about’s, SEEBEE II and Duck Soup around Quartermaster Harbor.
Joy Billingsley in SEEBEE II, circa 1930, Billingsley family home movie
The movies also show Paul racing on Lake Sammamish, Carol Billingsley-Bangsund recalled that both Paul and Joy won races that day, Joy in a borrowed boat, Half Pint. The Vashon Island News Record reported in July 1931, that 14 year old Paul Billingsley Jr nearly won while racing on Green Lake:
But 100 feet from the finish in the first heat his motor stopped, in the second heat he came in first, and in the third heat his boat collided with another boat and overturned. Duck Soup did her best, but it just wasn’t in the cards that Paul was to win, as he did last week in Bellingham.
Paul Billingsley (jr) racing Duck Soup at Lake Sammamish, 1931, Billingsley family home movie
Early Water sports
The Billingsley family were avid boaters and water sports enthusiast’s, photos and movies show them in canoes, sail boats, yachts, speedboats, racing boats and dingy’s. In the 1920’s they were doing an early version of wake boarding, at the time called surf boarding. A handle was attached to rope, the surfer would stand on a piece of plywood and “surf” the boats wake. The family along with their neighbors the Morgan’s and Stanley’s started an enduring tradition of boating and water sports on Quartermaster Harbor, after WWII another generation of Stanley’s and Billingsley’s would start the Fourth of July Round-the-Island Run.
“Surfboarding,” Quartermaster Harbor, 1930, Billingsley family home movie.
World War II Era Racing
Hydro historian Craig Fjarlie wrote, “World War II shut down all motor sports, including outboard racing, rations were placed on gasoline and restrictions were placed on manufacturers use of aluminum, which they needed for engine blocks.” Many of the drivers were gone fighting in World War II. In 1947 action returned to Green Lake in Seattle, there were outboards and inboards on the program. Outboard motors took a step forward after the introduction of Mercury outboards to competition shortly after World War II. The Mercury outboard motor, a lighter more powerful two stroke engine, proved to be an excellent racing engine. E.C. “Carl” Kiekhaefer, founder of Mercury and his lead engineer, Charles D. Strang, revolutionized outboard racing. Among their other developments was the Quicksilver racing lower unit. As Fjarlie wrote:
There’s no question Mercury saved outboard racing, there just weren’t enough of the old engines around any more. Mercury’s were reliable and ready to race off the showroom floor. Whereas the old Evinrude’s and Johnson’s needed constant mechanical work, the Mercury’s could run all season with only routine maintenance required. The sport was suddenly open to people who lacked mechanical skill.
After WWII Gold Cup racers began to use war surplus 2,000 horsepower Allison airplane engines to power their boats, racing in front of crowds of more than 200,000 people. The 1948 APBA Gold Cup on the Detroit River was one of the most destructive in boat racing history. Only one entry out of 22 was able to go the 90-mile distance within the allotted time and it sank at the dock while the driver was being presented the trophy.
Post War Speedboats on Quartermaster Harbor
Gene Sherman related a couple speed boat stories to me:
In 1948 George Jordan wanted to see what his boat would do with a big engine. Chuck Gimlett had a 33 hp Evinrude Speedifour, they put it on Jordan’s Pan Yan boat, but in short order the boat’s transom lessened up and they had to quit.Jordan purchased the hull back east and towed it across the country to Vashon. Later Gimlett put his engine on a 16′ Reinell cedar plank boat that would do about 30mph which made it the fastest boat in the inner harbor at the time.
Kenny Beal had a step hull speedboat, with a 10 hp Johnson on it. Kenny and his cousin Fergie came by my place and said its a beautiful day and you’ve got a surfboard, will you let me take it for a ride? Kenny started to pull Fergie but the boat didn’t have enough power to get up on a plane so Kenny climbed out onto the bow just as the surfboard bit into the water, stopping the boat and throwing Kenny over the bow where he was able to grab on. The boat quickly headed for shore and he didn’t want to risk letting go and get cup up by the propellor. he was able to climb aboard just as the boat hit the beach.
1950’s Seattle and the modern day hydroplane
In the 1950’s Seattle and Puget Sound’s economy was based on natural resources, with companies such as Weyerhaeuser creating wood products from Northwest timber. Manufacturing which had boomed at Boeing and other companies during and after WWII was an important part of the economy. Maritime industries, from fishing fleets, to supply chains for Alaska and the world were long established.
Businesses that served and supplied the growing population included ones we shop at today like Nordstrom’s, and Bartell’s Pharmacy. The Smith Tower was the lone high rise building downtown. The old part of the city still consisted of buildings built after the 1889 Great Seattle fire. The Pike Place Market was a working market not a tourist attraction. The “skid row” area from the Market to Pioneer Square was a bawdy street of bars and strip clubs. There were no freeways other than the viaduct and highway 99. No high rise bridge to West Seattle, no I5 through downtown, no Space Needle or Seattle Center. There were no high tech companies, no internet, and “social network” had a whole different meaning. Seattle had a working class, rough and tumble vibe with a large Scandinavian population and a higher percentage of Seattle families that had been here for generations. Seattle was more of a backwater, isolated and far from the halls of power back east.
Sports teams and hero’s of the 1950’s included the Pacific Coast minor league baseball team, the Seattle Rainier’s, and the Rainier’s home town star, 1938 Minor League Player of the year, and ex Detroit Tiger pitcher, Fred Hutchinson, who returned to manage the Rainier’s in 1955. Seattle U basketball team had star player and future NBA player, Elgin Baylor and UW football had new coach Jim Owens.
But on top of the list of Seattle sports in the 1950’s was unlimited hydroplane racing and Ted Jones, who designed the first prop riding, unlimited three point hydroplane.
Previous “step” hydroplane designs had allowed boats to get up on top of the water, decreasing friction and making them faster. Sponson hydroplane designs brought everything but the stern and propellor out of the water, allowing air below the hull creating only three contact points with the water; the aft end of the two sponsons and the propellor. In Jones’ design the prop lifts the boat out of the water, but the sponsons carry no weight, they provide only balancing while the boat rides along on air. Jones described his design process to Pacific Motor Boat magazine:
My first multiple pointer was of the 151 cubic inch class, built in 1934. I placed the sponsons aft, which gave her stability and served her well on turns, but she was no faster than a conventional hydroplane. In my following boat, I put the sponsons forward, and found her about 12 mph faster. By putting the boat into balance, instead of ploughing the stern through the water, I had achieved a racing model that for the first time would get right up on a film of air. After tearing off and rebuilding the sponsons 13 times, I finally had them where I wanted them. It was through this trial and error that I learned that the angle of attack of the sponsons drives the boat out of the water into a correct planing angle, and then as speed is increased the air pressure takes over and supports the weight of the boat.
Jones struck up an acquaintance with Stan Sayers, a wealthy local automobile salesman, and offered to design an unlimited hydroplane for Sayers without charge, in return for the privilege of driving it in the Gold Cup and the Harmsworth Cup race. The Harmsworth Cup was the first international award for motorboat racing, officially a contest, not between boats or individual drivers, but between nations. In 1950 the first three-point, Jones designed hydroplane, Slo-Mo Shun IV, with Jones piloting, broke the straightaway speed record, then won the Gold Cup in Detroit. In those days the Gold Cup winner had the right to select the site for his title defense. Jones selected his hometown, Seattle’s Lake Washington as the site and for the first time since the Gold Cup was inaugurated in 1904 the race was contested west of Detroit, a huge event. A week after Jones won the Gold Cup, Lou Fageol, driving because Jones broke his hand, took the Hamsworth Cup in Slo Mo Shun IV with an average speed of 95.903 mph, a race record. Ted Jones’ unique design had broken the straightaway record, won the Gold Cup then the Hamsworth Cup, and started a revolution in boat racing, in the span of just three months.
By mid 1950’s there was a whole fleet of Unlimited Hydroplanes racing that used Jones’ design theory. The sport was hugely popular, people had favorite drivers and boats, a Detroit vs Seattle feud fueled the interest. Powered by former airplane engines they became know as the “Thunder Boats” for the loud thundering sound of the engines. Slo Mo Shun IV won five Gold Cup’s in a row. In the 1955 Seattle Seafair race Slo Mo Shun V, with Lou Fageol driving, flipped and landed upright, one of the first ever caught on film, Fageol was seriously injured but survived.
The 1951 race started a Seattle tradition that continues, in 2019, drawing crowds of up to 500,000 people in it’s 1950s and 70s heyday. Four and five generations of hydroplane fans have made Unlimited Hydroplane racing a quintessential local tradition. Roger Stanley recalled:
It captivated everybody, Seattle was a ghost town, everybody was at the Lake on race day. All the drivers from the era, like Bill Taggart, Louie Fageol, they were all very individual, you had your favorite drivers, but you felt you new them all personally. When Slo Mo Shun V did her infamous back flip, I didn’t see it in person, I saw it on TV and it was just fabulous, flipped right over and landed perfect and coasted to a stop. Incredible piece of film. I was out there too when the Bill Cantrell landed the Gale II in somebody’s rose garden. I think back to those early races on Lake Washington and it was a thrill to sit on the shores there and watch Slo Mo Shun IV and Slo Mo Shun V come flying down on the start line, there was nothing like it.
After the 1951 Gold Cup race in Seattle, hydroplane racing gripped the imagination of local youth. Kids began making mini hydroplanes from cut out plywood and towed them behind their bicycles.
Boating Editor for Science and Mechanics Magazine, William D. Jackson, a naval architect, is credited with creating the “Mini Max” hydro. The Mini Max was a small 8′ hydro that could be built mostly from two sheets of plywood in a few days. With a small outboard on them a Mini Max could reach a speed of up to 40 mph with a 20 horsepower motor. Mini Max plans and other hydro plans were a big hit with kids who liked to build things and wanted to go fast.
Enter two young Vashon Island men, Roger Stanley and Warren Bibbins. Like most local young men they were both caught up in hydroplane racing. Many Island families of the era had deep roots on the Island, Warren Bibbins’ family homesteaded on Maury Island in 1886, Warren’s grandfather Frank Bibbins ran the steamboat Sophia, one of the first regular steamboats to run from Quartermaster Harbor to Tacoma. Roger Stanley’s family came to the Island in 1902 and like the Bibbins family had a greenhouse business.
In the mid 1950’s Roger Stanley built an 8′ B stock hydro from plans, he had a Mercury Mark 20 outboard motor on it that he would run around Quartermaster Harbor. In 2016 Stanley reminisced:
I had a little B stock hydro with a Mark 20 H when I first got that 20hp you could buy them right off the floor ready to race. because it really wasn’t competitive, the engine was great but the boat didn’t really have it, it wasn’t a good design. I don’t really know where it came from, maybe Popular Mechanics.
Water Sports on Quartermaster Harbor
The Billingsley and Stanley families “surfboarding” behind their yachts in the late 1920’s continued into the 1950s. After the war Mercury and Evinrude outboard motors were just powerful and fast enough to pull skiers on single skis, in the mid 1950’s Warren Bibbins had a 16′ Reinel ski boat with a 33 hp Evinrude that would pull a waterskier, as Roger Stanley explained:
Surf boarding behind powerboats that was our earliest, before waterskiing we had surf board. We would surfboard behind my fathers boat, right off the float, you could lean and go out of the wake and all that. You didn’t have handles to hold onto, you had a rope attached to the surf board you could hang onto and shift your weight to go to one side or the other and the boat was attached to the board. You just hung on for dear life by a rope attached to the board, that was early surf boarding, the board was a piece of plywood. I have an early pair of water-skis in the garage and this is when water-skiing was very new and someone put a pair of tennis shoes on them and that was a pair of waterski’s. My brother Norman and his cronies bought a pair of waterski’s. That was the earliest waterskiing I knew of was mid to early 1950’s. I remember when we converted from two skis to one ski and we used to do jump starts. The tow boat would go out and you would be hanging onto the handles and before the handles came taught and you would say go and the boat would take off and you would jump and if you timed it right you really didn’t get wet.
In the 1950s the harbor’s skiers began to attempt some tricks and speed runs on skis. Gene Sherman recalled a daredevil waterski feat by Rod Spencer in 1955:
Rod probably holds the Island speed record for water skiing. This plane belonged to Nat Brown who had been a bush pilot in Alaska. When the plane became airborne Rod’s speed picked up considerably. They passed Janet in her Skippercraft like she was tied to a piling, Rod realized how fast he was going (60-70 mph) That was enough for him and he let go.
Stanley and Bibbins would also perform a speed skiing trick; one of them would be in the hydro and the other skiing behind the ski boat, the hydro would drive past the skier and hand him a ski rope, the skier would then let go of the ski boat rope and be pulled by the hydro for a thrilling high speed run.
Tom Bacchus recalled another skiing feat by Bibbins:
It was a warm summer evening just before dusk in 1964 maybe. Laurie, Ladd, Randy, Brett, Don Leighton and I were getting our sleeping bags and pillows out on the lawn of my folks place as we did so often. Towards the west past Billingsley’s dock an outboard fired up. After warming up a few minutes it was at full throttle and we could make out Warren’s boat pulling someone skiing. They went east towards us immediately around the dock, the skier just following straight behind the boat. We never had done or seen much night skiing, it was hard enough to dodge floating debris in daylight, wasn’t worth it. Occasionally during full moons there would be guys out there but no full moon that night and we just watched to see who it was. The tide was in and they headed straight for our raft that was anchored 100′ offshore. There was an unspoken rule in the Harbor, Nobody takes a boat inside the zone from the raft to the beach.Looked like they were going to this evening! The skier was out to the right of the boat setting up for his cut. As he went into it our jaws dropped. A rare phenomenon was active in the water that night, phosphorous. That glowing wall of water was unforgettable. When he came up after the cut we could see Warren waving with a big grin on his face. We were fortunate in that the event occurred the following night and we were able to participated in it. What a huge difference from seeing it and doing it.
Warren Bibbins’ raft was a ski clinic for a new generation Quartermaster Drive skiers in the early 1960s, Bibbins would mentor the young skiers giving advise, such as how to modify store bought skis, as Tom Bacchus recalled:
He told me to grab a single ski from an old pair and customize it to look like his. From just behind the back of where the back boot was to go I tapered each side down to an inch, just wide enough to make sure the screws the 4″ fin had bite. My absolute favorite ride… Most of the things I remember doing so well he taught us, the jump start off a raft, step start off the beach, the step off walking landing on the beach… I think he got pleasure from seeing us kids progressing using the tips he’d give us.
1950’s – 1960’s Outboard Racing
During the 1950’s and 1960’s there was a series of marathon outboard motor races around the country including Puget Sound. In 1955 a marathon outboard speedboat race was inaugurated around Whidby Island. The approximately 115 mile race, co-sponsored by the Puget Sound Outboard Cruising Club was restricted to stock motors and lower units, each boat had weight requirements, and required to have a rider aboard. No pit stops were allowed so each boat had to carry enough gas for the trip, the only thing mechanics were allowed to change was spark plugs and propellers. The winner of the first race completed the course in 3 hours 9 minutes and 12 seconds.
The Bremerton Boating Club staged a marathon outboard boat race at Seabeck, in 1958 and Northwest Marine sponsored a 60 mile marathon outboard race from Golden Gardens in Seattle, around Bainbridge Island and back to Golden Gardens. The same summer the Seattle Daily Times reported on a marathon waterskiing race up the Sammamish Slough which included unlimited hydro driver Billy Schumacher as one of the skiers.
In 1963 the Mercer Island Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored a marathon race around Mercer Island. The race was a 4 hour race, with a parade start, unlimited hydro driver Bill Muncey was driving the pole boat leading the other boats.
The Northwest Stock Outboard Marathon Association sponsored a marathon race around Harstene Island in the south sound in 1967. The race was a two division race, boats faster than 50 mph raced three times around the Island, a distance of about 90 miles; boats slower than 50 mph raced raced two times around a distance of about 60 miles.
During this time period there were clubs like the Puget Sound Outboard Cruising Club, and Seattle Power Squadron Powerboats, that would take day cruises to Puget Sound locations like Blake Island, Poulsbo, Dockton, Harstene Island, and Fox Island.
Seeds of the Round-the-Island Run
The Seattle Daily Times reported on a marathon waterskiing race up the Sammamish Slough which included unlimited hydro driver Billy Schumacher as one of the skiers. Boat racing, from marathons to hydroplane racing, became popular throughout the country in the 1950s.
One summer day in 1955 Roger Stanley was running around Quartermaster Harbor in his hydro and thought it was such a nice day he would go for an extra long ride. Stanley threw an extra gas tank in the hydro and ran around the Island. That run became the seed that started the traditional Fourth of July Around Vashon Run.
A few years later in 1957 the Vashon-Maury Island Outboarder’s Association inaugurated an around Vashon predicted time race. Predicted time races were popular at the time, the winner is judged on how closely they come to the time they predicted (before the race) to circumnavigate Vashon-Maury Islands. The race was open to any outboard boat that could hold one or more passengers; no watches, speedometers, or touching land (other then emergency) was allowed. An official observer rode in each boat.
In a 1957 article about the Yacht Club’s predicted time race around island the Vashon-Maury Beachcomber reported:
Adoption of round-the-island race rules and consideration of a speed race for hydroplanes in Quartermaster harbor were the main items of business at the race committee meeting at Burton…the committee felt some event should be provided for the small hydroplanes. All hydroplane owners have been invited to this week’s meeting. A later article noted, Although interest seems to be low in a proposed hydroplane race, the matter would be discussed at the next meeting.
Both Stanley and Bibbins were involved in the effort to have a hydroplane race in conjunction with the Yacht Club’s predicted time race, although it never happened. Warren Bibbins ran the Around Bainbridge Island Marathon in his cat speedboat in the early 1960s.
Others were running hydros on the harbor as reported in the Beachcomber:
Capt. Ralph J.Swan and W. O. Bill Erikson of the (Fort Lewis), Nikki Battery tried out their two home-grown hydroplanes at Larsen’s Marina at Burton. The boats were built in the Army’s hobby shop under the supervision of SP2 Gillbert Burke and were painted by SP3 Rulon Graham. The boats are at the disposal of any men at the base.
Around 1958 Stanley went to Ted Jones’ Seattle hydro shop and bought a hydro, a short time later Warren Bibbins bought a Karelson hydro, Roger Stanley recalled, “He bought it from a guy who lived in Newport (south of the Judd Creek bridge), this guy was the first guy on the Island to race on the circuit.”
A 1958 Beachcomber article,
Neighborhood legend has it that Bibbins and Stanley had for several years lit off dynamite from a raft in Quartermaster harbor on New Years Eve, harbor residents complained about the noise and they were urged to stop. In response they went for a run in their noisy hydros at dawn on New Year’s Day morning 1958. Stanley has said that the first dawn run was only around Quartermaster harbor, he remembers the hydros went very fast because of the cold dense air in winter. In a July 4, 2017 Old Vashon Pictures and Stories facebook post, Tom Bacchus recalled:
For several years for a fireworks display on the 4th the Stanley and Bibbins guys would tow an old leaky rowboat out to the middle of the inner harbor, loaded with explosives. Then one of them would make a pass by the boat at 50 mph and drop a lit torch or punk in. They kicked off and put the topping on the Fourth.
Another run Stanley and Bibbins liked to do involved speeding, at nearly 70 mph, from the east end of Quartermaster Drive heading west under the Billingsley’s dock, then under the Long’s dock, each dock having not much more than 8 feet between pilings for the boat to pass through.
Sometime between that first 1958 dawn run and 1962, it became a yearly tradition for Stanley and Bibbins to make a round-the-island run at the crack of dawn on Fourth of July morning. While aware of other marathon races, in 2016, Stanley said that they were not a direct inspiration for the original runs around Vashon, “Billingsley’s SEEBEE II, I didn’t know about that, I knew about (Paul racing) Duck Soup, the Billingsley’s had one side of Duck Soup mounted on their beach house wall. I can’t remember how it started, Warren and I did it with Glen McCormick starting us off his sailboat in the harbor, we did like to make noise on New Years and the Fourth of July.” In his July 4, 2017 facebook post Tom Bacchus remembered the Fourth of July in Quartermaster Harbor as a kid:
On this date about 60 years ago a few of us went out with our bags and pillows to sleep outside and count shooting stars. The next morning about daybreak the “wake up alarm” went off when Roger Stanley fired up the Mercury outboard engine that sat on the transom of his homemade pontoon hydroplane. He let it warm up for a few seconds then hit it full throttle throwing up a 10 foot rooster tail while the scream of the engine echoed around the inner harbor. Within seconds he was around the Burton Peninsula out of sight but not sound. It was a few minutes before the roar of the engine faded away. After talking about it for several minutes we all laid back down. I laid there unable to snooze and it was too early to get up. After about an hour of tossing and turning I heard what I thought was a mosquito and moved down in the bag to get completely covered. But the mosquito kept getting louder. Then it hit me and I woke up the others in time to see him round the Peninsula on his way in.
News reports from the 1960’s show hydro races throughout the Northwest in places like Nanaimo BC, Kettle Falls, Newman Lake, Lake Stevens, Portland, Green Lake, Devil’s Lake and Coos Bay, the Northwest circuit stretched from British Columbia to California. Roger Stanley raced his hydro on this Northwest circuit, recalling those days he said:
I probably raced on the circuit for three years. I raced on the circuit any where from Canada to Northern California, there’s a picture my boat on top of Chuck Stanick’s 56 Chevy with a hydro strapped down on the top of it, that’s the way we went to races we put the motor in the trunk and strapped the boat on the back, and Chuck Stannic had a little Chevy pickup and I used to have 2×4’s across the bed of the truck and we put it stern first then strapped in down and put the engine underneath it and I remember we up to Canada with that rig to race one of the Canadian races, we took the private ferry to Victoria. We’d drive all night to get to them and I think Chuck coming back from one of those Canadian races he was so tired he just rolled his sleeping bag right out on the car deck of the ferry, laughs. You know we were all working and we had to be back Monday morning because we all had jobs. We would leave Friday evening and drive all night… There was one incident, I was coming down to the start line and there were two guys just a few feet on each side of me and as we hit the start both of them blew over at once. That was something, I think it was air from my hull, we were all so close 3 or 4 feet, we were probably doing 70 mph and my hydro scooped so much air under it that the air would escape from the sponsons on each side and I think that’s what tripped them, just perfect in unison they went over, out of the corner of my eye I watched them go over.
Round-the-Island Run 1958 – 1970
Stanley and Bibbins ran above water exhaust causing quite a racket at 5 a.m. in the morning. To boost their performance the outboard racing engines use an exhaust system of “stacks”, short pipes that come right off the back of the engine into open air. In a 1959 Seattle Daily Times report, Green Lake race official Bruce Haskell described the noise racing engines make, “The regular stock motors hum sort of like a swarm of bees, B-stock outboards, with above-the-water exhaust are the noisiest, like angry hornets.” Normal outboard engine’s exhaust systems release the exhaust underwater which muffles most of the engine’s sound.
To take advantage of the calm water required for running the small hydros the race has been running at 5 am since the earliest runs. At early morning hours there are typically few boats out on Puget Sound and very little wind, perfect conditions for the hydros. The on-going prank of loud noise for holiday sleepers is part of the “fun”.
Compared to distances raced by similar hydros in sanctioned American Powerboat Associationraces; typically 2 heats of three laps each on a mile, or 3/4 mile course, the approximately 43 mile circuit around Vashon is considered a marathon distance and required special techniques as Roger Stanley recalled,
We had a three way fuel valve and we would hook two tanks together through that valve. I would put about 4 gallon in each tank. A full 6 gallon tank was too heavy for the back. I had one tank in the bow and one in the back connected by the three way valve. The point I would switch at would be Heights. I usually passed the ferry dock and got heading south and then switch the tanks. The tanks had all the air out and it was a seamless switch I never stopped.
The distance of the run and the type of hydros that run in it makes the round-the-Island run a truly unique event, pushing drivers (imagine kneeling in a bouncing boat, not being able to change position for nearly one hour), and equipment to the limit. Roger Stanley has said that, “Everyone that finishes the race is a winner.” In a common racer story, Paul Stoddard attempted the race many times and completed the full circuit twice, winning once. Stoddard’s story is typical among race participants who face a challenge to maintain the high performance needed from the antique outboard engines to complete the marathon race. While many racers hydro’s were unable to finish the Fourth of July Run due to mechanical problems Stanley rarely had breakdowns. He credits his success to using a 9 thousandths gap in the motor’s magneto, just above the manufacturers suggested 8 thousandths gap. The magneto generates electric current to spark the plug sparks, igniting the fuel, driving the piston. Many hydro racer’s bump the gap up the 15 thousandths, and the motor runs hotter and faster but raises the risk of burning a piston or magneto.
For the first years Stanley and Bibbins were the only participants in the run, in the 1960’s Roger Compton joined them. Compton had boat racing history in his family, his mother, Joy Billingsley-Compton, had raced her families’ runabouts in the late 1920’s and 1930’s with her brother Paul. Roger Compton also did some competitive hydro racing. Compton was a machinist and outboard engine mechanic who could make and machine replacement parts for the antique outboard engines, a valuable skill as parts were hard to find. The guys would tinker with their hydros over the winter and in summer take them out for rides when the water was flat calm. In the 1960s, on the days leading up to the Fourth of July, Bibbins would have his hydro on his raft, on the morning of the fourth he would launch from his raft, Stanley and Compton would launch from just down the beach at Stanley’s. They would run around the Island and come home, there were no real spectators other than Stanley and Bibbins neighbors and others that lived on the beaches around the Island.
The tradition would carry on that way with Stanley, Bibbins and Compton until 1970, when others joined in. Stanley recalled,
For a while I didn’t think we were getting any people interested getting started in this and that did get me concerned that there wasn’t any interest. I was concerned it would come to an end because there wasn’t any interest. Well I’m glad to see that new blood that came into it.
My family moved to the Quartermaster Drive neighborhood in 1962 and I’ve been getting up every Fourth of July morning at around 5 am and watching the hydroplanes ever since. At first it was just a neighborhood thing, later in the 1970’s it caught the attention of the whole Island. Quartermaster Drive was a great place to grow up, I was part of a new generation in the early 1970’s when there were 15 kids within 5 years age of each other who lived on Quartermaster Drive, between Vashon Hwy and Monument Road. We would all play and build trails and forts the woods, but the favorite place was the beach. Playing in the mud flats of Judd Creek, fishing for perch off the William’s family dock, swimming, skid boarding and water skiing. Like the generation before mine the most popular sport in Seattle was hydroplane racing and we knew all the drivers, my favorite was the Bardahl and driver Billy Schumacher. Like other Puget Sound area kids we made our own toy plywood hydros, other kids would tow their hydros on a string behind their bikes, living on the water we would tie the string to a stick and pull them around in the water. We would put u shaped nails, like the ones electricians use to make rooster tails and pretend we were a like Roger Stanley, Warren Bibbins and our favorite Unlimited Hydro drivers.
Starting around 1967 the hang out spot for many of these neighborhood kids was Warren Bibbins’ raft. Warren had a floating walkway out from his beach, made from logs and planks, that led to two large rafts. Warren began to take all the neighborhood kids water skiing in the summers, he trained teenager Matt Frohning to drive the ski boat so Warren could get a few runs in too.
Warren was an “old school” skier, he skied with a double handled hemp rope, on a flat bottomed ski, with the bindings mounted very far back, he would throw up a huge spray with his ski by leaning back and cutting across the wake, you could feel him pulling and slowing the boat as he cut, more than any skier I have ever towed. He did a little move with his hands, pulling with the outside hand first then the inside, pulling all the slack he could out of the line, hemp rope is very stretchy and if you leave slack in the line it will crack like a whip and yank your arms, There was no better waterskier on the Island, Bibbins was the first to waterski around Vashon.
In the late 1960’s water ski design changed drastically when concave bottomed skies became popular. One by one all the neighborhood kids began to ski on tunnel water skies, Warren did not like the tunnel skis and continued to ski on his old red ski. The ski was permanently warped from all the runs Warren took on it. Warren would mentor kids, some kids were ski boat drivers, some hydro drivers and some water-skiers, I was one of the kids who got special waterski instructions from Warren, in 2016 after Chris Van Buskirk unearthed Warren’s original waterski, he gave it to me and in the ensuing years I have taken some fun runs on it. The old school flat bottom with small fin makes the skis squirrelly.
One of the fun things Warren would do was to see how many kids he could get waterskiing behind his boat at one time, the record with us was 11 kids. Other tricks included Warren single skiing with Eddie Frohning on his shoulders, also two skiers skied behind the boat with different lengths of rope so they could cross in front and back of each other.
At around age 13 many of the neighborhood boys began to get small boats with 5-10 hp outboards and later hydros. In the days leading up to the 4th Bibbins would leave his hydro on the raft and go out for practice runs. One summer he was showing two future hydro drivers Chris Van Buskirk and Drew Carr how to corner properly. He came close by the raft, did his turn and flipped the boat, he struggled to swim, even with a life jacket on because he was wearing hip waders and they had filled with water, when he got to the raft he gave a hearty laugh and one of his favorite phrases, “such a deal.”
The Round-the-Island-Run went on generally under the radar until the early 1970’s when Stanley, Bibbins and Compton were joined by a new generation of hydro enthusiasts. Warren Bibbins was the “Grandfather” to the new generation of younger drivers, starting with neighborhood kid Chris Van Buskirk in the early 1970’s. Bibbins would help the young guys any way he could, fixing boats and motors, training drivers, and giving spare parts. Bibbins mentorship, mechanical skills and sharing of equipment with other drivers set the ethos of camaraderie among drivers that endures today. With his hearty laugh and awe shucks demeanor he enthused a younger generation to join in the run. With the addition of new hydros, the “official” race start /finish was set up at the Jensen Point boat launch ramp beginning in 1971.
In 1972 a bunch of us Quartermaster Drive neighborhood teenagers camped out on Warren Bibbins’ beach on July third in preparation for the next mornings hydro run. The beach fire, party and fireworks lasted till dawn, just when the hydros took off and hydro stalwart, Paul Stoddard showed up with the classic stoggie behind the ear and tall Olympia beer in hand, while unknowingly standing in vomit left from the previous night, laughing as he realized how green in the gills we all looked. It was that morning that Stoddard passed on his version of the beginnings of the Fourth of July Round-the-Island Run to the neighborhood kids, he told us:
Warren and Roger liked to start off the New Years and July 4th mornings with a big bang setting off a stick of dynamite from a raft in Inner Quartermaster Harbor. Some new “immigrants” from Seattle complained and the guys relented to pressure and stopped their dynamite tradition. The next year, 1958, on New Years Day morning instead of dynamite they went on a run around the harbor in their hydros creating a racket as loud as the dynamite had been. The next year they decided to do it around the Island on the morning of July 4thto celebrate Independence Day and create some noise.
That night begins a not so glorious part of the Fourth of July hydro run, after that year word of the hydros and the all night party spread. Beginning in 1974 large crowds, of mainly young people, began to come to the Jensen Point start/finish to watch, after partying all night.
In 2009 the Beachcomber reported:
This years run, it’s not an “official” race, was designated the Paul Stoddard Memorial in honor of the former driver and longtime record keeper and timer who died last winter. Stoddard’s daughter Jenny Berdice, manned the official Mickey Mouse clock and a working stop watch. ‘ It’s the last year for Mickey,” said Berdice, then confessed that the clock didn’t run anyway.
In 2010 Berdice passed the “unofficial timekeeper” duties to me.
Round-the-Island Run 1973-1990
By 1973 Mary Marzano did the first reporting of the Round-the-Island Run run for the Beachcomber,
July 4 dawned with the promise of becoming a classic Vashon Island summer day. The outline of every mountain in the Cascade range was etched by the rising sun behind them, and the glow was reflected in the clam waters of Quartermaster Harbor. In the bedrooms of the beach-side residences around the Harbor, only the buzzing of a mosquito on the loose disturbed the early morning sleepers. At least they thought it was a mosquito, at first. But then the buzzing grew louder and more persistent, and the Quartermaster residents were awakened, crying, “the hydroplanes are out!”
For some it was a joyous reveille, and they charged to the beach in their pajamas, waving at the raucous little boats which circled the Harbor before making a round-the-Island run. For other it seemed an unreasonable interruption of their early morning peace, and they either put their heads under their pillows in a futile attempt to drown out the noise, or reached for the phone to call the county police. One woman reported that when her call finally made it through to the police switchboard, all she had to say was, “I’m calling from Vashon Island” and the weary voice on the other end replied, “lady I know why your calling”. For 13 years Vashon’s hydroplaners had made an informal tradition of circling the Island early in the morning, with flags fluttering, as their way of starting the Independence Day celebration. But this year, with five hydros and three accompanying ski boats ready to make the run on July 4, the celebrants were flabbergasted to find both the Coast Guard and county police waiting for them with the advice that their boats had better stay out of the water. The problems were two-fold. First the boats weren’t properly registered for operation on federal waters, and second the tuned boats were not considered a proper system of muffling the boats, thus creating a disturbance of the peace. For 13 years Vashon’s unofficial celebration of the Fourth of July began in the wee morning hours with the roar of hydroplanes circling the Island. Some residents thought that was a splendid way to begin a day set aside nationally for the expression of noise; others thought it a helluva way to wake up. This year the dissenting seekers of quiet won out, and the only noise to break the calm at Quartermaster Harbor came came from the 82-foot Coast Guard cutter, Point Glass, which set up an early morning patrol for any noisy outbursts. But although the hydro enthusiasts were left high and dry on the Fourth, they are proclaiming they have not yet begun to fight. In fact they are hoping to obtain the blessings of the county police and the Coast Guard in order to make the run this Saturday, and they are starting now to plan a bigger, and probably noisier event for July 4, 1974.The hydroplane salute to Independence Day began 14 years ago when Roger Stanley and Warren Bibbins fired up their small ski boats, attached Old Glory to the sterns and circled the Island in the early morning. Since that time the event has grown so that this year Stanley and Bibbins were to be joined by three other boats driven by Bill and Wayne Jones and Roger Compton. In addition three ski boats were going to accompany the hydros to provide aid in case of breakdowns. The 47 mile trip must begin early in the a.m., explained the drivers, because they need the early morning clam in order to make it through open Puget Sound waters. Last Wednesday they said, was a “perfect morning.” But the evening before one of the drivers had been out in Quartermaster making a test run, which prompted one of the peace loving citizens to complain to the county police about the noisy disturbance occurring at that time and the even noisier one which would begin the next morning. So when the hydros arrived at the Jensen Point launching ramp Wednesday morning, the drivers were greeted by a county police deputy who advised them not to put their boats in the water because they had no registration numbers nor proper mufflers on the engines. In addition county police had advised the Coast Guard of the complaints. According to the Coast Guard, the Point Glass from Gig Harbor, with a county deputy on board, traveled to Quartermaster at 4:30 a.m. and remained in the area the entire morning. Although the Coast Guard did board a few boats and issued three citations, none went to hydroplanes who never even got their fins wet. The hydro enthusiasts are calling the Coast Guard and police actions “harassment.” Not so, responded the two law enforcement agencies.”There have been complaints about the boats every year,” said the Island’s Sgt. Mel Woods. He explained that this was the first year that a complaint had been received prior to the hydro outing, and it was the first time the police had had enough men available to answer the complaint in time. Lt. Barrett of the Coast Guard noted that their main concern was that a number of the hydros were not registered, a federal requirement on Puget Sound. ” Our objective is not to prevent people from having a good time” Barrett remarked. “We do not want to work against people.”The problem is determining where the public interest lies, he added. The drivers are convinced the majority of the public interest is aligned on their side. “There is more sentiment for us than against us,” claimed Bibbins. “It’s different from what anybody else does any place else,” and he said all the boats were being registered to take care of that particular difference with the law. But the noise is another matter. The outboard engines with tuned exhaust “make a lot of racket,” admitted Bibbins, “but that’s the whole idea,”he protested, “if we did this every day, or every month, I could see their (the complainers) point, but this is just one day a year.
After the 1973 incident the run was sponsored by the Vashon Jaycees’ as part of the Vashon Strawberry Festival, with a county permit to run the race and insurance. But after 1995, the Vashon Chamber of Commerce took over Strawberry Festival and with no complaints and no one pressing them to have a permit the race has continued on without sponsorship, permits, and insurance.
A perpetual trophy for the winner, created by Roger Compton, was introduced in 1977, and fittingly Roger Stanley was the winner. The trophy was designated for outboard hydroplane classes. Tunnel boats and off shore style boats had been showing up for a few years but with a nod toward tradition and local racers, the trophy has gone to a tunnel boat only three times. Stanley recalled:
The word got out and it got over to the mainland during the heyday of it, which was probably the 70’s. We got guys coming over from off Island to run in this. I remember this one guy who had this twin engine cat, he had a motor home that he towed the boat with. He came in the evening before, and the morning of the race he got out there in impeccably white creased coveralls, and everything was push button and launched the boat automatically almost. He launched it and stepped into it and went around the island, took it out of the water the same way and we never saw him again, laughing.
In 1974 the Beachcomber reported:
That brief run of summer madness more commonly known as the Vashon Island Festival, will get off to a roaring start at 5 a.m. on the Fourth of July. The controversial July 4 “Round the Island” boat race has been legitimized and perhaps toned down a bit by the Vashon Jaycees, who have listed it among the first of the festival events. Last year’s early morning race was peremptorily halted by the presence of a Coast Guard cutter. Another try at the traditional event one week later ended with citations for boaters who were charged with disturbing the peace. Under Jaycee sponsorship, the race has been redesignated as an “outboard rally” and the Jaycees are warning the boaters to adhere to all county peace-keeping ordinances.
Despite being “designated as an outboard rally, with warnings about adherence to county noise regulations,” nothing changed in the way the racers ran their boats, with Jaycee sponsorship, including the use of the loud “stack” exhaust system.
In 1977 the Beachcomber reported:
Roger Stanley set a new record as he won the 40 mile around the Island Festival Boat Race July 4. In the same boat he bought in 1959 and racing an alcohol burning engine, with tuned stacks, he went around clockwise in a record 35:15, five minutes lower than his record last year. This is the second year in a row Stanley’s name goes on the new perpetual trophy since the race has been more formally organized with permits and other things. the clockwise route was at the request of the Coast guard, for example.
Ricky Oliver, Youngest Winner
In 1980, 13 year old Ricky Oliver, with Tom DeFaccio as co pilot, raced Warren Bibbins’ hydro in the race and won. Out of the seven other boats running that day only Oliver/Defaccio and fellow teenager Rob Andrews finished.
Ricky’s mom Sue Oliver wrote the following account of the race:
The sun barley filtered through the haze at Jensen Point on Vashon Island where we stood with DeFaccio’s waiting for the race to begin. Aside from the helmeted racers revving up their hydros, I expected to see few other spectators on this lonely point at 5 a.m. But, already sleepy eyed crowd was beginning to form with thermos’ of coffee while cans of beer served others, more hardy, for eye openers. I glanced at Tom DeFaccio’s mother nervously. Sheri’s hands were clenched like mine, as they had been the night before discussing this event. “Men!” She said, glancing at our husbands with a half indulgent smile. “they’ve never discouraged our boys since they got this crazy notion to enter the race in the first place”.
I nodded in agreement. “But if you really want to put a finger on someone, you can blame Warren Bibbins.” I said grinning. Warren who was our age and a bachelor, and had always been what I called the Pied Piper of Quartermaster Harbor. As the children’s idol , I had even written a poem about him concerning this. Every summer for the past twenty years, he had a following of some 15 neighborhood including my eldest two. Who under his guidance, were taught to waterski (by the age of 8) and also learned the mechanics of boating and engines. Things parents never seemed to find time for. Though he was easy going, he was always firm concerning water safety as a result, the kids not only learned to respect the water, they respected him. In fact they adored him. Out of this group of followers, Warren usually selected one of the most promising to be trained for driving his boat. Thus more had opportunity to water ski, including Warren himself. These very same children, now grown, recall with sentiment those sun filled days on the beach with Warren but, with the passing of time, they have drifted apart. Now and only occasionally, they return to talk briefly as he works on his boats. However there are children, and always will be children in the neighborhood. And with this younger generation, Warren has a new following including my youngest son Rick, which is no surprise. However, it was a surprise when he selected Rick, some years later, to be trained to drive his runabout “Rick has a natural feel for boats,” said Warren as we stood talking on the beach. “Something you are either born with or aren’t. I’ve never seen a kid who could handle a boat as well as he. In fact I’ve known a lot of men, who’ve driven all their lives, who don’t do it as well.”
But Warren, “I said tagging after him as he retrieved a wrench from the beach. Don’t you think 13 is a little young for the hydro races?” Warren concentrated on the engine he’d been working on. He’ll all right,” he said. And closing the subject, he locked down the hood, revved up the engine and took off across the harbor. Sheri twisted her hands as her son Tom put on his helmet and knelt behind Rick in the hydro. I was glad Tom would be riding with, but the awesome suddenly shook me. How could Rick and I face Sheri if something happened to her son? I’d seen hydro races on T.V. where the driver lost control and was flipped in mid-air only to be carried away by an ambulance with a broken spine. Both boys wore helmets and racer life jackets but that was little comfort. The boys had been close friends for over a year and spent many an hour, these past two summers, with Warren. Tom was a modest soft spoken boy of 13 yet extremely agile in every sport. But he lived some distance from us, on Vashon, making it difficult to spend as much time with Warren as Rick and thus had little opportunity to learn to drive hydros. In this race, he’d go as passenger only. Rick returned Bill’s grin and gave a modest salute as he donned his helmet. His hair, covering half his face, whipped in the wind. He and Tom the youngest contestants in the race. In fact the only children to ever race around this Island since the tradition began 20 years ago. Since then, the event had become more organized with rescue boats communicating with a plane which would keep an eye on the race. “I’m trying to remember how I got talked into to this anyway,” I said watching the hydros begin to rev up. Sheri tore her eyes from the scene to answer. “I never remember saying Tom could go in the first place. It just sort of happened. I was watching a really good show on T.V. one night when Tom announced he was entering the race. I said something like, Oh, the Fourth of July seemed so far away at the time,” I reflected. “Guess I was in hopes it’d fall through .” A voice somewhere in the crowd exclaimed, “Is that Rick? ya gotta be kidding.” Another responded, “Who’s he with Jimmy”? “No. It’s Tom DeFaccio”! The starter flag was raised and the boats seemed skittish like horses before a race. I looked at Sheri who’d returned her gaze at the racers. “Warren’s been priming Rick for months,”I said trying to give her the reassurance I didn’t feel. Besides he’s giving them the best of his two boats. If Warren hadn’t promised to stick by the boy’s in this race, I’d have never let Tom go,” said Sheri. The rescue plane was now flying in restless circling over-head like a child anxious for the race to start. Warren shouted last minute instructions to Rick. “Remember, stay on my left side and keep pace.” Another hydro flanked his right in the starting line. Suddenly the flag was dropped and the scream of revved up hydros was deafening, like billions of misquotes amplified by load speakers. Rick and the other two hydros shot off three abreast, followed by the others, each extending their arms with a thumbs up signaling GO! The race was on. Within seconds the disappeared around the bend going 65 mph.. Tom’s father broke the eerie after-silence. “Let’s go,” he said, opening the car door with a big grin on his face. “Maybe we can catch a glimpse of them on the other side of the Island.” Minutes later we were found ourselves peering at the water on the west side and within ten minutes later saw 2 specks cutting through the sound, spraying rooster tails in the wake. It was hard to see who was who, but of the two hydros, one began to sputter, cough and finally cot out leaving it dead in the water. contained a man and a motor or 2 small boys. The other shot forth like an unleashed cat, followed by a light weight plane which the hydro diminished to a dot as it sped around the bend. It was hard to tell if it hovered over it like a mother hen. In the expanse of water turning rough at dawn, The crowd was growing restless under the sun which had finally broken through the haze, spotting the beach with shafts of light. A man opened a can of beer and settled under the shade of a tree, his back against the trunk. In awesome silence, we returned to Jensen Point and the waiting crowd which had now increased from a small gathering to several hundred people. It had been 45 minutes since the start of the 43 mile race. In the distance came a faint humming noise, It grew louder. The crowd of people started moving toward the beach shielding their eyes against the sun. Finally a small hydro shot around the bend carrying two lone figures. The a mighty roar from the cheering crowd drowned out the high pitched scream of the hydro as it sped to shore.
In 1982 Paul Stoddard won the Beachcomber reported:
Stoddard’s “Nothing,” a brown hull with blue top hardly longer than Paul and his inevitable cigar, came around 44:21. Stoddard credited the win to Warren Bibbins engine. The boat which came in after him, David Long’s no name boat also was powered by a rebuilt Bibbin’s engine. Long made it in 51:35 according to timer Kathy Ringer. “It takes no talent to win with a Bibbin’s engine” Stoddard said, “He’s fantastic, most of the engines used for the race are rebuilt fishing motors,” he said. One observer noted Stoddard won without his ever present cigar in his mouth. Another remarked that he was very dry from the knees up. Most drivers get soaked on the approximately 40 mile race. “I know what I’m doing,” Stoddard growled, then grinned. Then he fished a dry cigar from his boat and stuck it into his face. After 20 or more years of trying Stoddard finally got all the way around the Island last year.
Two other long time racers had their first wins in the 1980s, Chris Van Buskirk had his first win in 1985 and again in 1989.
The 1986 race was canceled due to rain on July 4th, the following day the race was run as reported in the Beachcomber:
Larry Fuller came in first in the Round the Island Race Saturday, July 5 in his Ted Jones designed 10 foot tunnel hull speedster. He did it in 1:1:40 said Paul Stoddard, official timekeeper only was Fuller first, he had a passenger, Ron Hills. Fuller was the only racer to make it around the Island in a “race” canceled on Friday for rough water. two other racers set out with him, but turned back because of rough water, Stoddard said. Fuller had no trouble, but encountered three foot waves and returned in worse shape than his boat, Standard said. The race is usually at dawn, but was postponed as drivers discussed the merits of racing without a permit from King County. The permit was good for only July 4th.
In the late 1980’s legendary hydroplane designer Ted Jones moved to Vashon and had an impact on the local race. It had been rumored among the Island’s hydro community that the Ted Jones had moved to Vashon. Todd Gateman bought a Jones designed inboard hydro, while testing it off Dockton, he was not getting the speeds he wanted and came to shore at the boat launch, where there was a man with a big cigar in a Cadillac parked near the launch, the man said, “I designed that for a guy twenty pounds lighter than you, move the prop back two inches and that thing will fly, I’m Ted Jones,” Jones who lived above Dockton had seen Gateman from his house and recognized the hydro as one his company had designed. After Jones passed away Roger Stanley reminisced:
When he first moved over here, I didn’t know it. I don’t know how long he had been here before I heard guys talking saying that Ted Jones lived over here, that was news to me, in idle conversation it was mentioned. I didn’t know Ted until he moved to Vashon even though I bought one of his boats around 1959, I never met him a the time. It was unimaginable to me in the early days that I would ever know Ted Jones, not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get to know the guy, funny how that goes.
The following Beachcomber report from 1989 illustrates the precarious conditions for the small hydros:
Erik Wolf was rescued by fisherman Bob Linrothe and Greg Fowler as he clung to his boat off Heyer Point after hitting something. His prop was torn up and Wolf suffered bruises and a possible broken arm. “There was just a lot of spray and we saw his boat flip on its side”. Linrothe said. There was no one else about he recalled, so he and Fowler went over and fished Wolf out of the water. He grabbed the gunwale and pulled himself aboard, he reported, then rode to the finish.
Steve Payne drove his 10 foot Ted Jones tunnel design boat back to the Jensen Point finish line after his brush with disaster. “I really didn’t see that tug,” Payne said. “The boat went up on the wake, wobbled, and I was thrown out to starboard.” But his boat circled; the motor hadn’t shut off. It came around to where Payne was in the water. Payne showed where his goggles must have hit the side of his boat as he went over. He was using Bobbin’s Mercury engine. “I’m glad I had a life jacket on,” he added. He didn’t see anyone else around in a boat. The chartered tug was going away. The incident occurred at the mouth of Quartermaster harbor toward the end of the race.
Round the Island Run 1990 – 2002
Warren Bibbins finally won in 1990 the Beachcomber reported:
Warren Bibbins, 56, who’s been racing hydros as long as he can remember, powered into first place in the 1990 annual Fourth of July Hydroplane Race around the Island. The 39 mile circuit begin at Jensen Point Park on the Burton Peninsula, continues north on the East Passage then south down the West Passage. Bibbins finished in 38 minutes compared to his 1989 time of 40:31 for third place. With sleep still in his eyes, he beamed, “last year we got twice in a lifetime weather, this year it was rough on the east side and calm on the west”. He completed the race at about 62 mph.. in Baby Bootlegger, a 70 horse, six cylinder Karelsen Class F boat. Bibbins, described by racer Chris Van Buskirk as the “grandfather of the event”, patted his boat and grinned, “this boat almost as old as I am.” Scorekeeper Paul Stoddard said, “everyone who’s won has won with Warren’s equipment. This is the first year he’s serious enough to win himself, instead of firing up someone else’s boat.”
In 1991 Jim Sherman told a familiar racers story of break down and repair to the Beachcomber:
Jim Sherman, a first time racer shot in one second ahead of Chris Van Buskirk, a seasoned racer, who said the water was rough and he as glad he finished the race at all. Sherman’s time was 50:03; Van Buskirk’s was 50:54. Sherman’s boat Misc Parts burned up two pistons Tuesday night after a practice run. “I stayed up all night Tuesday and most of Wednesday and fixed her up,” said the exhausted racer. His factory built Ed Karelsen boat was originally owned by Roger Compton. Sherman and Van Buskirk went half throttle most of the way, then let it out near Tahlequah. “I just wanted to finish, this year I just raced for the fun of it, I’m going to push it next year, but I don’t think anybody can beat Roger Stanley,” said Sherman.
In 1992 the Beachcomber reported:
Pete Anderson may have set a hydroplane record July 4 but not by choice. He was the only hydroplane to finish in the Around-the-Island Boat Race with a time of 39 minutes flat. “Where is everyone?” he shouted as he leaped from his boat.
In 1994 the Beachcomber reported:
Rob Andrews estimated at least a couple hundred people gathered to watch the race kick off. No record setting pace was set, however, “The water was rough going up the whole east side,” Andrews said. The Puget Sound wasn’t the only rough water for these racers this year, A week before the race, they had to find an insurance carrier to satisfy the county police department’s requirements for a permit. “After 35 phone calls and six people working on it, we finally found (an insurance) carrier,” said Andrews. The day of the county’s deadline, he dug deep and paid over $500 for a premium. The Vashon 4 of July Hydroplane Committee is seeking donations to reimburse Andrews. Extra money will be used for next year’s insurance. Donations may be sent in the name of the committee to 135 4 Ave. Ste. 1402, Seattle, Wa, 98101. The annual race has raised the ire of some Islanders who say the boats are too loud, but the police department said the race was perfectly legal. An exemption in the county’s noise ordinance allows the police department to issue a permit-the one this year’s racers almost didn’t get- to participants in organized motorboat events. The permit temporarily waives the noise ordinance.
Todd Gateman, in his inboard hydro was a three-peat winner 1997, 98, 99. It is no coincidence that all time win leaders Stanley and Gateman had Jones designed hydros.
Roger Stanley retired from racing after the 1998 race as the all time win leader with 10 recorded wins and the fastest time record for an outboard hydro with a time of 33:15. (beaten in 2019 by Tony Bianchi, he still holds most wins). All of Stanley’s wins came in his 1958 Ted Jones designed Class E cabover hydro, Mayday.
In January 2000 Ted Jones passed away, and that year’s race was dedicated to him. The race was won by Chris and Earl Van Buskirk’s Ted Jones designed tunnel boat, powered by a 454 Chevrolet engine, with Kelly Van Buskirk driving. Ted Jones left his mark not only on the national stage but the local scene too. I rode in the Jones designed tunnel boat several times, one time we left my parents house on Quartermaster Drive and made it to the opening of Fosses Waterway in Commencement Bay in 8:38 minutes!
Todd Gateman retired from racing in 2002 as the second all time win leader with 5 wins and the fastest time record for an inboard hydro with a time of, 31:32, in his Jones designed Ford Pinto engine powered, hydroplane.
Seattle PI report July 4, 2002:
VASHON ISLAND — As dawn broke yesterday, the community here erupted into a noisy, chaotic celebration. And just to be sure everyone was awake, locals zipped around the island in vintage hydroplanes, creating a deafening roar. Now in its 47th year, the island’s annual Fourth of July hydro race — unofficially, the Ted Jones Memorial Race — has evolved into a boat-a-thon, attracting hundreds of spectators and at times more than 100 boats, most of them non-hydros. “The whole idea of the thing is to have a lot of fun with it and make a whole lot of noise,” said Dave Lemery, a longtime participant who grew up on the island.
The noise has been compared to a swarm of angry bees, hundreds of mosquitoes, a car without a muffler, a cannon or the static on television. And every islander’s description is followed with “multiplied by 10.” “It’s like a low-budget Seafair,” said spectator Mike Stroble, who stayed up all night partying.
The tradition began on a quiet morning in 1955 with two teenagers and their 10-foot hydroplanes. Roger Stanley and his friend Warren Bibbens thought it would be funny to race around the island and wake everybody up. “We thought it was a good time to do it because it was a holiday and the Fourth of July is known for fireworks and noise,” Stanley said. “In the old days, going 70 mph was outrageous.”
Now that the prank has evolved into an islandwide event, it seems everyone in this community of 10,300 has gotten involved. “It used to wake us up until we figured out what they were, then we started coming down here,” said Dave Reed, who grew up on the island and raced yesterday.
Todd Larson won yesterday in his 10-foot-long tunnel boat, finishing in 53 minutes, 25 seconds. His name will be added to the trophy, along with his finish time and a brief description of the weather conditions. Some inscriptions say “cold and gusty,” “only finisher” and “stiff northerly.” None of the hydros completed the 50-mile race because the waters were too rough.
But for most people, it’s not who wins that’s important. The night before the race, alarm clocks are set in homes across the island. Children sleep in back yards or on docks, so as not to miss a thing. And at Jenson Point Park, kids party through the night until the races start. “It’s a ritual,” said Brian Dublin, 20. “We try to stay up and drink all night.” By 4:30 a.m. yesterday, the boat launch at Jenson Point swarmed with people, and families gathered on the porches of waterfront homes. Everyone looked groggy except the racers. They’d been up all night preparing.
At 5:15 a.m., the hydroplanes started their engines and did a quick show lap around the bay. Then the race around the island began, startling awake anyone who may have still been in bed. “As the years moved on, we got noisier and faster,” Stanley said. Chris Van Buskirk, a racer since 1977 and known for his red tunnel boat, said people have reported hearing the hydros as far away as Des Moines, Normandy Park and the Lummi Peninsula. But island residents are prepared. “I know it’s gonna happen, so I just wake up and go out there,” 89-year-old Ruth McLeod said. “Usually I have something that I wave, and we put up a flag.” Two years ago, Kelly Van Buskirk, Chris’ wife, became the first woman to win the race. “People are camped out on the beach waving as you go by,” she said. Many of the boats raced here were built in the 1950s by the late hydroplane designer Ted Jones, for whom the race is unofficially named.
Today finding vintage parts can be a chore, if not impossible. Local boater Roger Compton works on the hydros and hand-makes some parts. “I’ve worked on just about every motor here,” Compton said. “It’s a mad rush the last month before the race.”The annual race has evolved to include a variety of boats, ranging from racing to pleasure craft. “We had one boat that was held together with duct tape,” Stanley recalled. “It’s a run-what-you-brung race,” Chris Van Buskirk said, adding that some have competed on Jet Skis. “You don’t have to have the fastest boat to come.”
Most hydroplanes aren’t built for long-distance racing, so even completing the course is a feat. “It’s really a marathon race,” Van Buskirk said. “Anyone who can finish is a winner.”
Dave Long didn’t; rough waters prevented him from completing the race. Now he’s preparing his 13-year-old daughter Christina to participate in next year’s event. “The wind’s in your face and everything seems really blurry,” Christina said. When the waters cleared and the boats were towed home yesterday, the Fourth of July celebration had just begun. Soon residents were decorating mailboxes and storefronts with American flags.”Your day just starts from there if you live on the waterfront,” longtime resident Mark Matson said.
July 3rd All Night Party
By the 1990s the third of July all night party had ramped up to a large flotilla of boat loads of kids, in anything from from kayaks to speed boats, dingy’s, logs, yachts, anything that floated. The noise would go on all night long and complaints came from harbor residents about the party and hydro noise. The all night party tradition continued and by 2004 it was out of hand, as the Beachcomber reported,
It would seem that visitors who want to experience a Vashon Fourth of July would put up with a the noise as part of that experience. Worse was the all-night party this year, and the trash left at Jensen Point. While the party has been going on probably as long as the hydro run, this year it was out of hand. The siren on a boat may have been fun the first time it was used to greet a friend on another boat during day-light hours, but at 2:30 a.m. a siren should be for an emergency, not a form of entertainment at the expense of sleep for everyone on, and around the harbor. Even emergency responders are judicious with legitimate sirens during the night when there is little traffic to warn out of the way. On the morning of the Fourth, before the daylight start of the run, it was impossible to walk in the parking lot at Jensen Point without stepping on beer cans and spent fireworks, both of which were illegal. Since it is almost impossible to police violations on the Island, the users could at least clean up after themselves. It is not the hydroplane owners and drivers who will end this tradition. And it shouldn’t be a few people, probably non-Islanders, who want to selectively choose which Island traditions to experience.What will kill the tradition is unacceptable behavior of the partiers who have no consideration for the rest of the population or the hydroplane run they are allegedly out there to enjoy.
After a nearly 40 year tradition the all night flotilla party disappeared soon after the Beachcomber report. The change reflects the demographic changes on the Island and region as a whole. Island kids from the 1950s to the late 1990s were more likely to have families that had been on the Island for multiple generations, they had ties to local traditions like the Seafair Unlimited Hydroplane races and the Fourth of July Run and most likely knew at least one person involved with the run. After the 1990s kids were less likely to have connections to regional and Island traditions.
Round the Island Run 2002-2014
A new generation of racers began wining in the early 2000’s. Kit Selig had three wins 2006, 07, 08 and Gary Rice two, 2005, 09. Karl Olsen won in 2010 then had a hat trick of three wins 2014, 2015, and 2016 and Evan Mattingly won in 2012, and 2013.
In 2004 there were no finishers as reported in the Beachcomber:
Even though all three vintage hydroplanes broke during this year’s July 4 hydroplane run around the Island, drivers and pit crews are not ready to give up the tradition that will be 50 years old on July 4, 2005. The “pit crews” mostly former owners and drivers of the few boats still running, work with all the boats and drivers to keep the tradition alive. Most of the boats are close to 50 years old too, as evidenced by only three trying the full run around the Island and three more that came out to escort the others at the start. Garry Rice was going about 75 mph. about 1000 feet past the start when his hydroplane hit a wake and flipped nose first sending him skipping across the water. Rice was brought to shore by another boat and taken to the hospital by Vashon Island Fire bans Rescue. Even while Rice was being taken to the hospital were loading his boat on the trailer and dismantling his engine to drain the salt water and minimize damage.”I hope this gets over soon because this hurts a lot,” was what Rice said he was thinking as he bounced across the water. The next day as he was picking his boat and motor from the shop it was taken by friends he said, “I have 364 days to decide whether to run next year.” Kit Selig got as far as Point Robinson when a sponson tore off the boat, he managed to limp back to Jensen Point where he said he would have to think about whether on not he was going to rebuild his boat over the winter in preparation for the 50th anniversary run. Ryan Mattingly, running for the first time, got as far as Piner Point when his motor threw the propeller and his boat started taking water. He was towed to shore by one of the many pleasure boaters out to watch the run.
In 2005 Gary Rice won his first time as reported in the Beachcomber:
It took six tries, interrupted by a hitch flying Navy jets, but Garry Rice finally made it all the way around the Island and won the 50th running of the Fourth of July hydroplane race. Rice made the run in a relatively slow 43:52, by official “Dockton mean time” Mickey Mouse clock, the traditional timing device for the 50-year old Vashon Island traditional start to the Independence Day celebration. “I didn’t want to put it away,” Rice said of his boat just before calling his wife Toni to tell her the good news. Rice tried to run two times while he was attending Vashon High School, and this year was his fourth try since returning from flying jet fighters in the U.S. Navy. “This is one of the closest things I’ve ever done to flying jets. “It’s like flying jets on water,” said Rice. At least I didn’t have to wait 28 years like Paul Stoddard. Stoddard ran 27 times before making it all the way around on his 28th try.
In 2006 Kit Selig wont first of three in a row, the Beachcomber reported:
Wind rain and a thunder squall made the annual run an even bigger challenge than usual. Selig who has made it all the way around twice in 19 tries, said it was one of the worst years for the run. “It was rough, really rough , all the way from Summerhearst to the north end. The ferry dock was horrible,” Selig said. Colvos Passage was relatively clam but Tahlequah back to Jensen Point was rough, he added. Commenting on his rare finish, Selig said, “It was nice to see the finish line for once.”
In 2010 Karl Olsen got his first win, the Beachcomber reeported:
The eight year was the charm for Karl Olsen in the traditional July 4 hydroplane run around the Island. While preparing his vintage hydroplane Sunday morning, Olsen said he’d practiced seven times but only made it twice. This time his was the only hydro to finish.
In 2011 Ty Christophersen was the only finisher and won on his second try as reported in the Beachcomber:
Four vintage outboard hydroplanes started out at Jensen Point the morning of the fourth but only Ty Christophersen made it past the start line and around the Island.All four boats returned to the shore with engine problems after warming up just after sunrise. After an hour of tinkering, Christophersen finally got his boat”Sexy One” running smoothly and headed out at about 6:30 a.m., completing the circuit in 45;24 to claim the perpetual trophy.
In 2012 Evan Mattingly got his first win, he told the Beachcomber:
the water was a little bumpy heading north up the east side, but the west side was “like glass.” He said the finish was the first for him in three tries. Between him and his brother Ryan, who was in his supporting crew, it was about six tries for the family before a finish.
In 2013 Mattingly repeated with a second win. The 2013 race saw three hydros knocked out before the finish, showing how hard the marathon course is on the tiny hydros. Ty Christophersen had an exciting start, coming from behind and flying by Jensen Point, but a piece of wood got stuck in his cooling system and he had to be towed back in from outer Quartermaster Harbor. Paul Hoffmann, after blowing his engine the previous week and then rebuilding it, had more engine problems and also had to be towed in from the outer harbor saying, “I died going out this year where I died coming in last year. I guess I’ve made it around now.” The real story of the morning was Mitch Van Buskirk, who after many years racing in his tunnel boat, got his first chance to drive the hydro he and his dad, veteran racer Chris Van Buskirk, worked on together. After crossing the finish line, Mitch slowed as he hit a wake from a spectator’s boat. One of the waves caught on his hydro’s bow and threw him from the boat. Chase boats quickly pulled him from the water unharmed. The hydro partially sank while being towed in and the senior Van Buskirk was heard joking, “That’s another $1,000 dollars honey,” happy to see his son safe, as they headed home, Van Buskirk said, “Now we’ve got a project for the next year.”
The 2014 race was won by Karl Olsen, but the story of the race was Paul Hoffmann’s hydro flipping just off the Heights ferry dock, causing a ferry to send a rescue boat (it was not needed) and a response from the U.S. Coast Guard and King County Police Marine Unit. Hoffmann was cited for using an un Coast Guard certified life jacket.
Round the Island Run 2015-2019
In 2015 three hydros started, Ty Christophersen, Evan Mattingly, Mitch Van Buskirk and Karl Olsen. Olsen won with a time of 41:23 with Van Buskirk and Christopherson close behind. Olsen won again in 2016 with a time of 41:12, his hydro may not have been the fastest but it always was a dependable ride earning Olsen 4 wins as of 2019.
In 2017 Evan Mattingly and Karl Olsen were the only hydros to run with Mattingly beating Olsen with a 42:02 time compared to Olsen’s 54:38
2018 was a beautiful sunny morning with a hard north wind blowing. All hydros turned back at the mouth of Quartermaster Harbor as the water outside the Harbor was too rough. Two new racers entered the field in 2018, Ben Nelson and Evan Hills, whose other Ron Hills raced in the 1980s.
2019 Beachcomber report:
Sixty years after his original early morning New Years day hydroplane run, Roger Stanley was on hand for this year’s traditional Fourth of July hydro run around Vashon. Before the race, veteran racer and past winner, Evan Mattingley, expecting the birth of twins any minute, and not racing this year quipped, “this is perfect water the record is going to be broken today”. Indeed Stanley, now retired from racing, saw his record time 35:15 go down as first time racer Tony Bianchi made the around the island trip in 33:25. Four hydros started the marathon race veterans Karl Olsen and Mitch VanBuskirk along with newcomers Evan Hills and Tony Bianchi. VanBuskirk hit the start line first at 5:25 am, minutes later the crowd of around two hundred could hear the hydros pass Portage on their way to the north end. At about 32 minutes the hydros could be heard enteringQuartermaster Harbor, as they came around the point Hills was in hot pursuit of Bianchi, who crossed the finish line a mere boat length ahead of Hills, who was followed by Olsen then VanBuskirk a few minutes later, all hydros essentially beating Stanleys old record. A tradition of sharing and swapping parts for the mostly antique engines continued this year as VanBuskirk congratulated Bianchi he laughed and said “you won because of my prop” as Bianchi was using a special racing prop borrowed from VanBuskirk. Second generation racer Evan Hills who first raced last year in a borrowed hydro ran his own this year with a modern outboard racing engine nearly won, leading someone to comment “lose a few pounds and you’ll beat him next time.” Hills ran with a special memorial on his hydro to Justin Hagerty, a close friend of many of the racers, who died in a boating accident this year. While the tradition is admittedly “annoying and a nuisance” the hydros require calm water to run, witch generally is found in early morning hours. The event has endured for nearly 60 years and has become a Vashon tradition, as one generation gets too old to kneel down in a tiny boat for nearly an hour, hydros and equipment is passed from one generation to another and the tradition continues.
With minimal complaints from the community the race has carried on without sponsorship, permits, and insurance since 1995. In 2012 the county sheriff threatened to stop the race unless a permit from the county was obtained by the racers, with no action taken by the racers the race continued as of 2019 without permits or insurance. Unlike the Sammamish Slough marathon sponsored by the Seattle Outboard Association for 58 years, which ended after a spectator was struck and injured by a hydro that lost control and sued the Association who then could not afford to continue the race with the liability, insurance, and permit issues.
The round-the -Island run has endured because it has always been, as Roger Stanley put it:
Just a few of us who want to have a good time by running around the Island, that’s just the way it started. We weren’t organized in the least, it was just a fun thing a few of us wanted to do and there was nothing official about it. It was never sanctioned by any boating association. The people who competed on the sanctioned circuit always did it in fresh water, there may have been some salt water races but most that I’ve ever talked to, they didn’t like running in salt water because its corrosive. Sanctioned? When it was sanctioned it was sanctioned by us, he said laughing, others tried to make us legitimate, we were just having a good time, it was others that wanted us to organize.
The Beachcomber has covered the event nearly every year, starting with a Mary Marzano article in 1973. Gerrit Koepping, Gaylen Gregorie, Chris Orange covered the races up to 1996 when Rik Forschmiedt took over coverage until 2013, after which I have covered the event for the Beachcomber.
A Conversation With Roger Stanley
As a kid watching those things run was quite an experience, there was a boat called Quicksilver in those days, it was one of the older step racers it didn’t have sponsons, there were two guys in the boat, a mechanic and a driver, that’s how they did it in those days. Some of those early Gold Cup races had a few of those boats in them, in fact Miss Pepsi which was a twin engine was one of them, and the Gales II III VI, there were a fleet of them. It was high competition to come out from Detroit to win back the cup they had lost and it was just a thrill for Seattle.
It captivated everybody, Seattle was a ghost town, everybody was at the Lake on race day. I was sitting right on the shore and Quicksilver was doing a little grandstanding a high speed run out of the normal running position, they hit some boat wakes and the boat disintegrated right in front of me, it absolutely disintegrated. The boat was there one second the next second it wasn’t, it was completely gone, a huge spray of water but he boat had disappeared. It killed both guys in the boat. I think I was out there too when the Bill Cantrell landed the Gale II in somebody’s rose garden, laughs.
All those from that era like, drivers Bill Taggart Louie Fageol, they were all very individual in those days, you had your favorite drivers, but you felt you new them all personally in those days. When Slo Mo Shun V did her infamous back flip, I didn’t see it in person, I saw it on TV and it was just fabulous, flipped right over and landed perfect and coasted to a stop. Incredible piece of film
As I say my dad used to take us over to sit on the the shores of Lake Washing when the unlimited’s first started running it. Ted Jones brought the Gold Cup back to Seattle after winning it back east and that was really thrilling. They had the starts in those days where the Slo Mo Shun IV and Slo Mo Shun V would go up underneath and on the other side of the Lake Washington floating bridge and make a big turn, come down back underneath the bridge and hit the start full bore. I made no association between that and going under the Quartermaster Harbor docks in my hydro, I went under the docks because they were there, laughs.
I thought back to those early races on Lake Washington and it was a thrill to sit on the shores there and watch Slo Mo Shun IV and Slo Mo Shun V come flying down on the start line, there was nothing like it, they outlawed that start later, they had such an advantage over those who did not go under the bridge they were at their peak speed when they hit the start line 160 mph, laughs, a little advantage.
They were all Roll’s, Merlin’s or Allison engines back then and I think the Marlin’s and a little more horsepower and were a more popular engine. Larry Fuller tells me the Merlin’s are harder to work on, more complicated than the Allison. I think the Merlin’s has a couple hundred more horsepower.
When Bill Muncey left to start with the Blue Blaster he left the Thriftway camp, the Blue Blaster boat was built it for him, I think he was in California racing when he died. They didn’t have canopy’s back then, the guys now have canopy’s they had no protection in case of flips. When they stared putting canopy’s on they were from fighter planes.
I’ve have one of my fathers boat’s that he built right up here under a tarp, he built that around 1920, just after they moved over here. My fathers 10 hp I’m not sure what make it is, is still up in the basement of the old house. The lower unit was unique on it. It had special prop that was hollow and the scoop for the cooling system was in the prop, there was no water pump, the prop did it. That engine is still here, it had a cast iron power-head and the early cast iron was terrible stuff, and the saltwater just ate it alive. The cast iron block is completely corroded you can look at it and see pieces have completely fallen off. You can see the piston in there through the corrosion.
When I was a little kid dad had that 10 hp down by the greenhouses and was trying to start it but he never got it stared. I don’t know what care he took of that engine. That’s an early engine he used and this picture of him in Billingsley’s SEEBEE II, I didn’t know about that, I knew about Duck Soup, the Billingsley’s had one side of Duck Soup mounted on their beach house wall.
My first boats
I had a white 8’ dingy I put the neighbors Tihatsu on it, which is in back of the house here, and I was running at the yacht club. I had my cat aboard, I went over to the Yacht club, when I was coming back, the cat had its own life jacket, some how or the other the cat went over the side, people on the boats there were laughing so hard. I came along side and the life jacket and a handle on it so I grabbed it as I went by and the cat was just disgusted.
I had an 8’ flat bottomed boat, no sponsons on it that’s what had the 71/2 Johnson on. It had no reverse, it had a button on top of it to put it in neutral, but no reverse, a crazy thing. I used to run around and I had a little dog who loved to ride around on that thing, he would hang ten off the bow, he fell off once, slipped and went right over the bow I flipped the engine to one side to avoid hitting him.
I had a little B stock hydro with a Mark 20 H when I first got that 20hp you could buy them right off the floor ready to race. Champion Hotrod made a competitor to that engine and that’s when Kiekhaefer had to come out with a modification to the Merc engine because the Hot Rod engines were slightly faster, so Merc put on what was the equivalent to tuned exhaust stacks. The new tower housing, you could buy a kit, which I ended up doing, it was bigger carb with this tuned exhaust housing and it really sounded weird but it gave you a few extra mph and still was considered a stock engine. That made them slightly faster than the Champion. I didn’t have that engine very long it was pretty apparent that I wasn’t going fast enough, laughs, so I traded it or sold it outright for a D stock
I only had a couple races in the B Stock, that’s the one I built myself, because it really wasn’t competitive, the engine was great but the boat didn’t really have it, it wasn’t a good design. I don’t really know where it came from, maybe Popular Mechanics. The B stock engine I only used for about one year so I had to have started in 1958 with the B stock and the Mark 20hp on it. That’s when I bought Ted’s boat.
So when I converted and got the cabover, I got that just about 1959, it was a D stock engine that I originally bought, it was a used one I bought from a guy in Bothell and then after that Warren and I converted that engine to stacks, but I never raced that engine in competition.
Warren Bibbins’ boats
Warren got his Karletson from a guy who lived in Newport, he was the first guy on the Island to race on the circuit. He had a C Stock engine on it, thirty cubic in 4 cylinder Quicksilver, he raced on the circuit a couple times I know because I went with him. He had an El Camino he carried the boat on the back of the El Camino, I’ve had my hydro on the back of my El Camino.
I remember once, Warren in his Karleston, he came flying out from underneath the docks and came by very close to this float and went for a hard left turn and the boat just rolled, only feet from Warren’s raft.
Racing on the Circuit
I probably raced on the circuit for three years. It seems to me I had to join the American Powerboat Association and the Seattle Outboard Association I raced on the circuit any where from Canada to Northern California, there’s a picture my boat on top of Chuck Stanick’s 56 Chevy with a hydro strapped down on the top of it, that’s the way we went to races we put the motor in the trunk and strapped the boat on the back, and Chuck Stannic had a little Chevy pickup and I used to have 2×4’s across the bed of the truck and we put it stern first then strapped in down and put the engine underneath it and I remember we up to Canada with that rig to race one of the Canadian races, we took the private ferry to Victoria. We’d drive all night to get to them and I think Chuck coming back from one of those Canadian races he was so tired he just rolled his sleeping bag right out on the car deck of the ferry, laughs. You know we were all working and we had to be back Monday morning because we all had jobs. We would leave Friday evening and drive all night.
We went to Redding California for a race, a weekend trip we just flew down in Smokey Spenser’s blue Buick convertible. We had the stern of they hydro resting on back of the front seat because he had the top down, then he had a 2×4 across the tail lights then the whole thing was tied down with the engine in the truck and we drove to Redding. We got to Redding and it was on a reservoir that was being filled, they had the race scheduled but the whole thing was covered with driftwood, nobody could have run on it. A new reservoir behind a new dam, we didn’t even put the boat in the water, just turned around and came back. We never even did unload the boat.
I had to lower the engine because when your racing there is a lot of chop and if your not in the lead you have to fight all this rough water behind the leader. If you got a good start and were one of the first three boats you got good water you had distinct advantage over those in the back of he pack. In some races we were running there were 12 boats in a heat and sometimes there were five laps in a heat, about a 3/4 mile course. I used to like the Canadian races because they were longer courses, some of the were a mile. I think there was even a race a mile and a quarter, and they were circular, but boy I used to like those long runs and the lakes up there were always clam and we had a little advantage in speed over the Canadian guys.
There was one incident, I was coming down to the start line and there were two guys just a few feet on each side of me and as we hit the start both of them blew over at once. That was something, I think it was air from my hull, we were all so close 3 or 4 feet, we were probably doing 70 mph and my hydro scooped so much air under it that the air would escape from the sponsons on each side and I think that’s what tripped them, just perfect in unison they went over, out of the corner of my eye I watched them go over. That was the most memorable event.
Fourth of July run
I can’t remember how it started early in the morning going around the Island maybe Warren and I had done it early and Glen McCormick started us. It was pretty controversial in the early days then as more people got onto it pretty soon we had big crowds down there in the morning, we had a couple hundred people, more so than what I think shows up today, there was a pretty good crowd there last fourth
It was never a sanctioned race, it became pretty well known on the mainland as well as here. It was an event here that was local. When we got people coming over in the big jet boats and all sorts of things. Others tried to make us legitimate, Strawberry Festival took it on as a sponsor so we could keep the thing going, then after several years everybody just forgot about it, like it should be. Everybody else tried to organize it, we were just having a good time, it was others that wanted us to organize. Roger Compton was the one that got the first trophy he’s the one that originated that trophy. We always went counter clockwise around the Island because the boats don’t like to turn right. It was never sanctioned by any
Association? Sanctioned? When it was sanctioned, we did our own sanctioning, laughs. It’s just a few of us who want to go out and have a good time by running around the Island, that’s just the way it was started. We weren’t organized in the least it was just a fun thing a few of us wanted to do and there was nothing official about it.
The people who competed on the circuit always did it in fresh water, there may have been some salt water races but most that I’ve ever talked to, they didn’t like running in salt water because its corrosive.
We kept pretty close to shore, point to point is pretty much the course. We had fog one morning that was pretty hairy, when you round Maury Island, you know you get pretty far from shore because your heading to Point Robinson, you couldn’t see Point Robinson you had to cut in till you got close enough to see the darkness of the trees but once you get past Point Robinson you are out there about a mile off shore going up to Dilworth. I had to cut in I didn’t have a clue where I was and had to back way down because I couldn’t see, that was not a fast race, your just picking your way around.
For a while I didn’t think we were getting any people interested getting started in this and that did get me concerned that there wasn’t any interest. I was concerned it would come to an end because there wasn’t any interest. Well I’m glad to see that new blood that came into it.
Todd Gateman had brought in that first inboard hydro and he was the only one that had an inboard, when he was running well he was a little faster than me. Roger Compton had an inboard hydro at one time, he took an outboard powerhead and installed it as an inboard with a drive shaft on it. really weird thing but he built the thing. The inboard that I drove was Todd’s it had a Pinto engine, a noisy thing sitting right behind the exhaust stacks.
The word got out and it got over to the mainland during the heyday of it, which was probably the 70’s. We got guys coming over from off Island to run in this. I remember this one guy who had this twin engine cat, he had a motor home that he towed the boat with. He came in the evening before, and the morning of the race he got out there in impeccably white creased coveralls, and everything was push button and launched the boat automatically almost. He launched it and stepped into it and went around the island, took it out of the water the same way and we never saw him again, laugh
Sometimes people left Jensen Point in their cars and went to the West side to catch us coming around. I think Joe Chambers did that once I don’t know if he got there before me or not I don’t remember.
One of the last races I ran there were people standing on all the points. I remember when Roger Compton and I in the last years we put our boat’s in the water and went out to the buoy and back and didn’t try to go around the Island.
Fourth of July Run Incidents
I remember a tug boat boiling out of the west pass once. I was just rounding the ferry dock and I hit all those wakes and I had to come off plane to get through the wakes. I rememberer the engine started running screwy and I looked back and the top was coming off the carburetor. I had to stop to fix it, I always had a small tool kit, screw driver crescent wrench and a few other tools. I pulled out the screw driver tightened it back up and off I went.
I sheared a drive shaft just north of Portage and I had to come off plane. I was running behind another boat we had a brisk Northerly. That’s one of the few things that ever happened to me, usually I ran just fine, that was an unpredictable thing there was a weak point. I had a short piece of 1×4 I used as a paddle and I was paddling for about an hour because after you pass Robinson Point, your way out there and there was a freighter coming down south and I was directly in front of it so I was getting very feverish on that paddle I wasn’t sure the guy could even see me. Nobody knew what happened to me. Some of the other hydros leaked pretty bad but mine wasn’t one of them. When I took the lower unit apart you could see that it just twisted the spline end off, it was rough and I backed way off I was actually just riding the rollers and you could see were it twisted right off.
I think it was on the start of one of the around the Island races I was running the cabover. I just crossed the start line all sudden everything was dead, the crankshaft was broken and it took the flywheel with it. I looked back there and I had to do a double take it was just gone, laughs. There’s Quicksilver lower units out in the harbor somewhere somebody lost it. It dropped right off the bottom, the early Quicksilver’s had 3/8 inch studs, well the studs broke and he lost his lower unit.
One of the last times I ever ran mine I was at Portage to get ready for the run to the staring line waiting for the other boats to congregate. I hit some rough water and I got thrown out of it and just hung onto the throttle and was able to climb back in. Not a good way to start. That’s why we have crash throttles to shut them down.
I think of all these incidents and the people on shore who would come to help. I think someone even got fed breakfast, laughs.
Hydro Gear Talk
There are Quicksilver lower units out in the harbor somewhere somebody lost one it dropped right off the bottom, the early Quicksilver’s had 3/8 inch studs, well the studs broke and he lost his lower unit. The lower unit I have on mine, Warren and I converted it over, we took out the old studs and retapped it for 1/2 studs that’s what is in mine now. When we converted those old 44 cubic inch powerhead’s those stock tower housings couldn’t take all that extra power so we welded straps to reenforce the housings. Something about the vibrations in those 44’s metal fatigued everything.
I remember when Warren and I got into exhaust stacks and we converted our engines. These exhaust stacks had been around for a while and the D stock guys were running them. The first ones were 4 tube stacks. I got a pair of them up in the garage, you take off the stock manifold then there is a filler block that went where the manifold cover went on. The stacks bolted onto the same bolts as the cover did. Little copper gaskets went over the ports, you pot them in with epoxy and you carefully get in there with a knife carve excess epoxy from the exhaust ports and the circular copper gaskets that went over each port coming out of the aluminum cover.
Then later they converted to two tube stacks; two cylinders going into one stack, that came some years down the line and that is what they use today to my knowledge, That is what I have on my engine, two tube stacks. I still have the four tube stacks in the garage but the filler block is not there. The guys on the circuit had them before we did.
Technically there probably is a formula for that, to get the optimum efficiency out of the stacks I don’t know, I’ve seen so many different shapes of stacks I don’t know what is best, I’m sure some mathematician could figure it out. I figured that when I bolted on a set of stacks it was an immediate 5 mph increase. That tells you they really did work.
Bibbins’ and I differed a bit on setting up a magneto. Warren came to the conclusion you needed a wider gap in the point setting, he had some idea, and I didn’t really buy into it. I never had mag problem like others, my mag was very reliable. When your running those engines at as high an rpm as we are you can’t have that wide of point gap because its going to float the points. That is when their opening that wide they never have a chance to close, that’s floating points. When your running the engine that high your point gap has to be minimum. The specs for that engine were 8 to 11 thousandths, which is really pretty narrow. I used to set mine at 9 thousandths. Because that’s the official designer specs for that mag and I just chose a middle ground and set them at 9. Many of the guys followed Warren’s recommendation of 15 thousandths and had mag problems. I attribute my reliability to using faculty specs on my mag set ups everybody else had mag problems.
The Quicksilver lower unit was a big advancement they used them for many years and they changed the skag. On the the early ones just had a triangular skag, then the later models there was a bigger skag and it stuck down deeper in the water. On my cabover when I was in smooth water you could jack the engine a little higher, but if you got into any kind of chop the rear end would fishtail out, you’d be running at speed and if the chop would break the rear end loose and it would get a little squirrelly so I had to lower the engine on the transom.
We had a three way fuel valve and we would wire two tanks together through that valve. I would put about 4 gallon in each tank. A full 6 gallon tank was too heavy for the back. I had one tank in the bow and one in the back connected by the three way valve. The point I would switch at would be Heights. I usually passed the ferry dock and got heading south and then switch the tanks. The tanks had all the air out and it was a seamless switch I never stopped.
When he first moved over here, I didn’t know it. I don’t know how long he had been here before I heard guys talking saying that Ted Jones lived over here, that was news to me, in idle conversation it was mentioned. I didn’t know Ted until he moved to Vashon even though I bought one of his boats around 1959, I never met him a the time.
Warren,Ted and I went to the boat show together once in his Cadillac. As soon as we walked into that place, the three of us, all the vendor’s there immediately recognized Ted and they all came up to shake his hand and chat and we faded into the back because he was in the spotlight. Ted was just mobbed by people over there, we didn’t go through the boat show together I think Ted got lost with all the other people so we just went out and saw the show on our own. There was an announcement and called us by name and we were to go to the show office it didn’t say why. When we got there they said our companion Ted had not been feeling well and they had taken him to the Hospital, I think we drove his car back to the Island.
It was unimaginable to me in the early days that I would ever know Ted Jones, not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d get to know the guy, funny how that goes. Once a group of us took Earl and Chris’s boat over to visit Ted after he moved off the Island, I used to do that after he moved off go visit him, once I rode my motorcycle over and he came out and was talking about his youth and and his wife took a motorcycle trip and he sat on mine for awhile and did some reminiscing
Surf Boarding and Waterskiing
Surf boarding behind powerboats that was our earliest, before waterskiing we had surf board. We would surfboard behind my fathers boat, right off the float, you could lean and go out of the wake and all that. You didn’t have handles to hold onto, you had a rope attached to the surf board you could hang onto and shift your weight to go to one side or the other and the boat was attached to the board. You just hung on for dear life by a rope attached to the board, that was early surf boarding, the board was a piece of plywood.
1958 – 1975 no records
1976 – Roger Stanley 40:22 – outboard hydro
1977 – Roger Stanley 35:15 – outboard hydro *record, held until 2019
1978 – Jim Selig 50:14 – outboard hydro
1979 -Roger Compton time record info lost
1980 – Rick Oliver 56:00 – outboard hydro
1981 – Bill Luton 43:15 – outboard hydro
1982 – Paul Stoddard 44;21 – outboard hydro
1983 – Roger Stanley 36:44 – outboard hydro
1984 – Roger Stanley 39:12 – outboard hydro
1985 – Chris Van Buskirk 39:59 – outboard hydro
1986 – Larry Fuller 1:1:40 – mini tunnel boat
1987 – Drew Carr 52:33 – outboard hydro
1988 – Roger Stanley 39:45 – outboard hydro
1989 – Chris Van Buskirk 40:03 – outboard hydro
1990 – Warren Bibbins 38:00 – outboard hydro
1991 – Roger Stanley 40:08 – outboard hydro
1992 – Pete Anderson 39:00 – outboard hydro
1993 – Roger Stanley 36:25 – outboard hydro
1994 – Roger Stanley 39:12 – outboard hydro
1995 – Roger Stanley/ Rob Andrews time record info lost
1996 – Roger Stanley 41:00 – outboard hydro
1997 – Todd Gateman 44:00 – inboard hydro
1998 – Todd Gateman 42:24 – inboard hydro
1999 – Todd Gateman 38:38 – inboard hydro
2000 – Kelly Van Buskirk 35:43 – inboard tunnel hull
2001 – Todd Gateman 31:32 – *all time inboard hydro record
2002 – Todd Larson 53:25 – inboard hydro
2003 – Bruce Smith time record info lost
2004 – no finisher
2005 – Garry Rice 43;52 – outboard hydro
2006 – Kit Selig 45:54 – outboard hydro
2007 – Kit Selig No Time – outboard hydro
2008 – Kit Selig 56:00 – outboard hydro
2009 – Garry Rice 44:07 – outboard hydro
2010 – Karl Olsen 51:00 – outboard hydro
2011 – Ty Christophersen 45:24 – outboard hydro
2012 – Evan Mattingly 40:36 – outboard hydro
2013 – Evan Mattingly 45:33 – outboard hydro
2014 – Karl Olsen 40:19 – outboard hydro
2015 – Karl Olsen 41:26
2016 – Karl Olsen 41:12
2017 – Evan Mattingly 42:02
2018 – no finishers
2019 – Tony Bianchi 33:25 **current record
Roger Stanley all time win leader, 10 recorded wins
Tony Bianchi all time speed record for outboard hydro, 33:25
Todd Gateman all time speed record for inboard hydro, 31:00
Roger Stanley Warren Bibbins Roger Compton
Paul Stoddard Wayne Jones Jim Selig
Chris Van Buskirk Bill Lutton Brett Bacchus
Scott Sengstock Dave Long Rob Andrews Ricky Oliver
Larry Fuller James Mehringer Drew Carr
Eric Wolf Ron Hills Pete Anderson Bruce Smith
Todd Gateman Todd Larsen Jim Sherman
Kit Selig Gary Rice Mike Biel Steve Payne
Karl Olsen Ryan Mattingly Evan Mattingly
Ty Christophersen Mitch Van Buskirk Paul Hoffmann
Ben Nelson Evan Hills Tony Bianchi