Prelude to Greatness- The Tupper 8 Mile Race

My friend Jon and his friend Kevin are dedicated guideboat racers.  Gudieboat racing has waned since it’s heyday back in the 1960’s or so when Howard Seaman and his son John made it popular.  Howard recruited a cadre of young and old to take up guideboat racing.  On race day the shore around the Long Lake town beach would be lined three or four deep with spectators.

I only participated in one guideboat race.  There were two other contestants in that race, Mary Beth and another fellow.  Now Mary Beth was a former protege of Howards so I knew I was up against stiff competition.   The course was rather straight forward.  The start was at the town beach.  We were then to head north for about a mile or so and round a buoy and head back to the beach.

We lined up in our boats and awaited the shouted command to Go!.  At the start and very unusual thing happened.  We all strained mightily on our oars to get underway as quickly as possible.  The fellow on my right put a little too much into his first stroke.  Crack! One of his oars broke in two! So now I was assured of second place.

Mary Beth was off like a shot.  That was the last I saw of her except maybe after she rounded the buoy and was heading home.  I soon learned an ingrained truth about solo guideboat racing.  You can only see what is behind you.  I kept thinking ” Where is the buoy?”  You can try to turn your head to see what’s coming.  That only gives minimal results.  I eventually reached the buoy but yards away from it.  Ideally you want to be as close to the buoy as you round it to save precious time.  I finally made the turn and headed back to the beach.  Mary Beth had long since arrived at the finish line when I pulled up.  I had gained an enormous appreciation for guideboat racing and those who choose to do so.

So back to Jon and Kevin.  They were in a rigorous training program to prepare for the Adirondack 90 Mile Canoe Race.  Now the 90 mile race consists mainly of canoes but there some hardy souls who race guideboats.  As a part of their training, Kevin and Jon signed up for the Tupper Lake 8 Miler.  The 8 Miler starts at the town beach on Simon Pond, proceeds under the Route 30 bridge and up the Raquette River to the Oxbow and back to the beach.

On he day of the race the heavens opened and it poured rain.  Fran and I were undecided as to whether we would go to see the send off.  At the lost minute we opted to go.  It was a good decision because, just as we arrived at the beach, the rain stopped.  Here I am at the Tupper 8 Mile Race Banner.

The Tupper 8 Mile Race Banner


Here are some photos and a narrative of the day’s happenings.

First, Jon and his vessel, ThankfulThankful was the third guideboat I built.  She was built from the lines taken off the Queen Anne, a favorite guideboat of the Pruyn family. The  Pruyn family built Great Camp Santononi in Newcomb in the 1890’s.  They were great lovers of all sorts of small craft.

The Queen Anne was built by Caleb Chase of Newcomb.  Caleb’s wife was named Thankful, hence the name given to this boat to honor a master guideboat builder.  As you will see, Thankful  is not only a beautiful girl but tough as nails.  She is constructed of Spanish Cedar planking. Now Spanish Cedar is not really a cedar but is more like a light-weight mahogany   What makes her a tough girl are her ribs. They are laminated from thin strips of wood held together with resorcinol glue.  On a weight/strength basis her ribs are stronger that steel.



Jon and Thankful

Guideboats are usually raced by two individuals, a rower in the forward station, and a paddler in the stern seat.  Jon and his partner Kevin, make an excellent team.

Kevin, partner with Jon is a winning combination.

When a guideboat racing pair are at peak performance they are unbeatable.  The rower can watch for their competition as it attempts to overtake them.  The team then adjusts their position to thwart the threat.  The paddler looks ahead and steers the craft to avoid obstacles and gains advantage by slip streaming in other boat’s wakes.  The paddler acts as a cocksun by setting the pace.  He can call for a sprint to overtake another craft or a dash to the finish line.

As each member of the team becomes exhausted during a race they can switch positions.  This is easily done during a carry (portage) but not so easy when underway.  When underway the rower lets go of the oars, stands up and moves towards the stern with feet wide apart.  The paddler stows the paddle and ducks under the rower.   If all goes as planned they are underway without losing momentum,

Here are Howard Seaman and his son John performing that maneuver.

The Seamans change positions during a guideboat race,

Now it is time to head for the starting line.

Off to the starting line.

Taking position.

Taking position.

Thankful took position on the outside of the starting line hoping to ride the wakes of other boats.  The course went from the beach at Simon Pond to under the bridge at Route 30 and up the Raquette River to the Oxbow and back home.

Trouble arose at the Route 30 bridge.  Because of the high water this year, it was everybody down as the Thankful passed under the bridge.  Jon, paddling, was concentrating on making sure Kevin’s head was down when they went under the bridge.  Thankful drifted to the side of the bridge abutment.   An oar tip got caught on a submerged wood crib.  The pinned oars are mandatory for guideboats in races.  That means there is no “give” when the oar rams against something solid like a river bank or pier  In this case Thankful  absorbed a tremendous lateral shock.  This would have caused significant damage to traditional guideboats with ribs made from roots.  Such a ram could capsize the boat, split the gunnel, and crack ribs.

As I said earlier, Thankful is a tough lady.  Jon and Kevin pulled over to assess the damage.  Fortunately all they found was a broken screw behind the oar plate.  They jumped back into the race and kept up the pace despite not changing positions,  They wanted to make up for the lost time at the bridge.  As they re-entered Lake Simon nearing the finish line, Jon checked in with Kevin who was still rowing.  “Are you good for a sprint?  Let’s take that guy in a solo canoe 50 yards ahead”.  “Sure” and off they went.

Jon always looks for his family at the finish line.  Here they are, patiently waiting.

Jon’s family waiting for the return of Thankful

Next time, the 90 miler and fame for Jon and Kevin.

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