Adirondack Guideboats-Racing legend Howard Seaman

There are many larger than life Adirondack legends from the 1800’s; Northwood’s man Ruben Carey, guide Honest John Plumley, and the eccentric preacher man Adirondack Murray to name just a few.  But there were also some Adirondackers in the 20th Century who distinguished themselves and became legends in their own right.

Howard Seaman was one of those.  Howard was a pretty ordinary guy.  He served in the Navy during World War II, came home, married his sweetheart Frances, and ran a successful construction business.  But turn him loose in a guideboat and suddenly he became a totally different person.

Howard  Howard Seaman and his son John racing their guideboats.  Notice the flex on John's oar.
Howard Seaman and his son John racing their guideboats. Notice the flex on John’s oar.

I thought I would lift a section on Howard Seaman from my friend Hallie Bond’s book “Boats and Boating in the Adirondacks”.  It is on page 260 of her book.  It is a wonderful description of Howard’s accomplishments.

“Long Lake native, Howard Seaman (1916-1986), was a great promoter of guideboat racing.  He encouraged and taught young racers and entered scores of races himself, winning most of them.  In 1977, at the age of 61, he won the grueling 44-mile solo marathon from Long Lake down the Raquette River to Tupper Lake.

Seaman had a short, sharp stroke.  He was once measured in a sprint at fifty six strokes per minute.  A passenger remarked, ‘every time Howard pulled on the oars he would snatch the boat out from under me, and the stern deck would fetch up on the knobs of my spine and the small of my back, and take off a little hide there.’

Seaman’s winning record was probably due to his strength, build, stroke and knowledge of racing strategy.  Adirondack guides adopted an easy stroke they could keep up for days on end.  They sat up straight, and rowed primarily with their arms, their feet braced for comfort against one of the ribs.  Racers like Seaman, however, used their backs.  He added the broomstick foot stretcher for better leverage.  He also reduced friction on the oarlocks by inserting a neoprene sleeve into the strap and by greasing the pins before each race.  He replaced the original brass oar pins with stainless steel pins for strength.  His boat was probably not built specifically for racing, but its narrow bottom board contributed to its speed; 6 7/8″wide contrasted to the 8″ or wider ones of H.D. Grant.

Seaman’s oars were made by Lyman Beers for him about 1950.  They were used only for long distance races and are lighter and more delicate than Seaman’s sprint oars.  Made of soft maple, they have a great deal of spring in them.  They are also well balanced because of their long overlap of fifteen inches.  The boat pictured below is as if prepared for a racing carry, with the oars shipped with their blades towards the bow, held in place with rubber straps and by the padded yoke.

Howard Seaman raced this boat in one-man competition from the 1940’s until his death.”

Howard Seaman's racing guideboat on exhibit at the Adirondack Museum.
Howard Seaman’s racing guideboat on exhibit at the Adirondack Museum.
Oarlocks and straps on Howard's boat.
Oarlocks and straps on Howard’s boat.
The seat in Howard's racing guideboat.
The seat in Howard’s racing guideboat.

One of these days I will tell the tale of how I won the last running of the Howard Seaman Memorial Guide Boat Race in Long Lake.  The outcome was decidedly due to divine intervention and is a hilarious story.

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