Friday, July 3, 2015

Gentleman Racers

The Jeffrey - 1939 custom-built Greavette "gentleman's racer"
There are usually a few “gentleman’s racers” among the many sleek craft on display at the annual Vintage Boat Show in Gravenhurst (July 11 this year) – like The Jeffrey, pictured above.  They are the thoroughbreds of their era, a time when motorboats were constantly evolving to satisfy the quest for speed, and racing was immensely popular as a spectator sport as well.

Harry Greening's Rainbow IV
One of the most renowned and respected gentlemen in the international racing fraternity was the genteel Harry Greening, who summered in Muskoka and is seen here in his Ditchburn-built Rainbow IV being paced by a seaplane at 60 mph. Harry twice set the world speed and endurance record on Lake Rosseau, the second one, in 1925, at an average of 50 mph over two 12-hour-long runs, which he and his team did in Rainbow IV.

One of my characters is a friendly rival of Harry’s, but his racing experiences are also loosely based on Greening’s.

Muskoka would see more world-class racers when Harold and Lorna Wilson took to the lakes in the 1930s. The husband-wife team won three world championships and two speed records. For more info about their incredible story, see this website.

Muskoka’s connection to boat racing would not be complete without mention of eccentric British heiress Marion “Joe” Carstairs, “the fastest woman on the water” in the 1920s. In 1928, Herb Ditchburn, the boat builder, helped to modify her newest boat in Gravenhurst. In preparation for the Harmsworth Trophy race in Detroit, Carstairs zoomed noisily around Lake Muskoka at up to 94 mph.  Flamboyant as well as fast, I expect she made quite an impression.

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