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Diminished boat race hopes to grow for next year’s 50th

July 4, 2011
By PETER CROWLEY - Managing Editor ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

SARANAC LAKE - There weren't many racers or boats, but there were plenty of stories Sunday at the Willard Hanmer Guide Boat Races and Ralph Morrow Canoe & Kayak Races on the shore of Lake Flower.

There was some drama as friends Curt Reynolds and Tim Reilly teamed up to win the two-man guideboat race, then battled each other in the one-man at the end. In that final heat, Reynolds passed Reilly on the carry, in front of the whole audience, and held on to win by about a minute.

The second heat was nowhere near as close as Roger Gocking made it look easy with his smooth form. His kayak covered the 2.1-mile course in less than 18 minutes, more than six minutes faster than anyone else.

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Curt Reynolds of Lake Clear launches in the solo guideboat competition of the 49th annual Willard Hanmer Guide Boat Race Sunday on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake. Gabe Woodward, 14, of Gabriels, helps by holding the boat.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

But many of the stories weren't about Sunday's racing action. They had to do with nostalgia for the glory days of the Willard Hanmer Guide Boat Race, now in its 49th year, and how it can be beefed up for next year's 50th.

In conversations on the shore, the small but veteran audience reminisced about what was once among Saranac Lake's biggest annual events. In those days, the racecourse wasn't a Lake Flower loop, as it is today, but a one-way straight shot. Racers started on Lake Flower where the tennis courts are now, carried around the Main Street dam and proceeded down the Saranac River to the fish and game club, where there were booths, children's games and food vendors.

Bruce McNamara, back visiting from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. area, remembered paddling in the very first Hanmer with Tony Munn. The two teenagers had borrowed their tandem canoe from the Duso family's Crescent Bay Marina - and what do you know? There on the shore Sunday were Jean Duso, now of Bradenton, Fla., and her daughter Theresa (Duso) LeBaron of Lake Placid.

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LeBaron also paddled in one of the early Hanmer races as a child.

"There was no kids class," she said. "We raced against everybody else."

McNamara and Joe Spadaro, also in the audience Sunday, grew up on Lake Street next to Hanmer's shop and remembered hanging out there as kids, watching the master build guideboats. Hanmer died shortly before the race began, which is why it was named for him.

They all remembered hundreds of spectators watching the race back then, lining parks and bridges and shorelines. Sunday's audience had, at most, three dozen people, including the 19 racers, most of whom were not terribly competitive. Once the king of Adirondack canoe races, the Hanmer has gradually paled in comparison with newer ones, especially the 90-mile Adirondack Canoe Classic from Old Forge to Saranac Lake.

Tim Holmes of Saranac Lake said there's a upside to the Hanmer being so low-key. He rounded up his son Oliver that morning and signed them up to race.

"It's fun because it's small," Holmes said. "Of course, I wish it was bigger, but the 90-Miler isn't really in our future."

There was much brainstorming Sunday about how to improve it for next year's 50th. Some talked about merging it with other boating events; others talked about drawing out more of the guideboats people have tucked away in boathouses on Placid, Big Tupper and Upper St. Regis lakes.

"With all the guideboats in the area, we're not really getting the guideboats we need," Grant Besio of Saranac Lake said. More boats, especially beautiful ones, would "make it a little more interesting for the tourists," he added. "A lot of people come here just to look at the boats."

But race announcer Chris Woodward, who builds guideboats not only in the same tradition as Hanmer and Morrow but in the very same shop, said most guideboat owners are hesitant to race these expensive watercraft because it takes a toll on them.

Scott Kirkley of Rochester learned that that hard way Sunday.

He and his brother Daniel, of Newmarket, Ontario, had the event's most remarkable guideboat. Hanmer himself made it to order in 1959 for their father, who paid $523.64. That translates into about $4,000 today with the increased cost of living, Scott said, but it would still be cheap by today's guideboat prices.

Unfortunately, an oarlock broke off that boat in the solo race, causing Scott Kirkley to spin in circles for a while near Fogarty's Marina.

"It broke right off along with the oar, so I was paddling around with one oar looking for my oar," Scott said just after he crossed the finish line. When he fished his oar out of the water, he had to turn around and put both oars in the other set of oarlocks. The incident put him deeply in last place, but he didn't give up and finished the race anyway.

To help next year's winners get a little more prize money, Reynolds and Reilly donated their combined $400 in winnings back to the race, ensuring purses of at least $500 for next year's one- and two-man guideboat races.

Meanwhile, race organizers Chris Covert and Woodward are looking for past Hanmer race alumni as well as competitors and volunteers. If you're interested, call Covert at 518-891-1144 or Woodward at 518-891-3961.


Willard Hanmer Guide Boat Races and Ralph Morrow Canoe & Kayak Races
Course length: 3 miles (includes paddlers’ position switch)
1. Curt Reynolds (Lake Clear) and Tim Reilly (Saranac Lake)32:29
2. brothers Scott Kirkley (Rochester) and Daniel Kirkley (Newmarket, Ontario)42:13
Course length: 2.1 miles
Women’s solo guideboat
1. Mary Brown (Saranac Lake)26:36
Junior guideboat
1. Gabe Woodward (14 years old, of Gabriels)24:53
Solo canoe
1. Tate Connor with 2-year-old son Tucker Connor (Essex)26:02
Tandem canoe
1. Tim and Oliver Holmes (father-son, Saranac Lake)25:18
2. Grant and Joab Besio (father-son, Saranac Lake)29:12
TACK team: Trey Fields, Abbi Reeder, Colm Newson, Katey Wilson (Cookeville, Tenn.)30:13
1. Roger Gocking (Saranac Lake)17:52
2. Bob Dedrick (Saranac Lake)24:01
3. John Volz (Princeton, N.J.)29:12
Course length: 3 miles (includes carry)
1. Curt Reynolds (Lake Clear)31:40
2. Tim Reilly (Saranac Lake)32:58
3. Dale Chayes (Valley Cottage)48:02
4. Scott Kirkley (Rochester)56:26



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