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Pack the bridges for the Hanmer

June 30, 2012
By HOWARD RILEY ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

The 50th anniversary of what was once known as the annual William Hanmer Regatta will be going across Lake Flower tomorrow and down the river to a party at the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club. Who said nostalgia is not what it used to be?

I don't know how many people today realize that this event was the brainchild of William McLaughlin, iconic columnist and reporter for The Enterprise, who, by the way, was also the idea man behind the Saranac River Walk.

It is a delicate balancing act for the Mayor and Village Manger in the early hours before race day as they have to raise the water level in the river for the racers without leaving boats high and dry at there docks on Miller Pond and Kiwassa Lake. The DEC controls the water level in Lower Saranac at the Lower Locks.

Article Photos

In 1967, Roger Hesseltine, left, proudly holds the first place trophy from the Hanmer Guideboat Race, and his brother Ronnie is holding the second place trophy. Ronnie won the race in 1968.
(Photo and Enterprise stories courtesy of Patricia Hesseltine Finn)


Race history

The following story about the Hanmer carried in the Enterprise has no date and no byline but the writing is vintage McLaughlin - excerpts:

"A commemorative boat race honoring Willard Hanmer, a guideboat builder whose slender craft helped open the Adirondacks to settles and sportsmen, is making this community the Fourth of July fun city in the high peaks area.

"In the 13 years the Annual Willard Hanmer Regatta has grown from a single event featuring the one-man guideboat to a mushrooming aquatic holiday in which canoes, fol boats, racing canoes, war canoes and kayaks manned by competitors of both sexes and of all ages paddle-whip the lake and river waters in a frothy salute to nautical sportsmen everywhere." [Whew!]


Some of the winners

"Glenn Corl, the original gold medalist in the singles event, was followed by such rowing masters as Tony Duprey, Roger Hesseltine, Ronnie Hesseltine (who actually came in second 6 times before winning in 1968), Gary Duprey and Bill Frenette.

"There were strong challenges in those years from Bill Golden, Jim Bickford, Ray Bryant, Major Day, Jr., Barry Cantwell, Tom Taylor and Doug Corl.

"In the 1970 a new name appeared seeking guideboat laurels. John Seaman of Long Lake not only appeared but has since dominated the winner's circle capturing the Paul Smith's trophy four times in a row.

"While Seaman's times have averaged 28.32 over the three-mile lake and river course [the course has also claimed to be 3 and 1/2 miles] he has been unable to top the course record held by Roger Hesseltine who rowed his way to victory in 27.24 in 1967.

"Ronald Hesseltine challenged the course record the following year [1968] and won the race with a clocking of 27.34. The brothers are the only competitors to come in under 28 minutes since the race was inaugurated in the early 1960s.

"In 1967 the popular 2-man guideboat race was introduced and is held over a circular lake course. Gary and Tony Duprey were the first gold medalists. Superior teams have been the rule rather than the exception. Ron and Roger Hesseltine, Glenn Corl and Jim Bombard, Major Day and Dale Huyck, Bill Frenette and Dr. Edward A. Blackmar, Barry and Bill Cantwell, John and Howard Seaman, Ed Fletcher and Tony Mercurio, Eric Sailer and David Merkel all have either won or come close to the top money prize.

"The war canoe event is perhaps the most popular since it usually involves a great deal of comedy and horse play. War canoes have crews of several men and women, all paddling in unison. The most famous in the earlier races was the precision geared Calas Inn team of New Jersey, under Captain Gene Walsh, which was unbeatable at the distance.

"The war canoe event would also mushroom except the long crafts are fairly rare. Buster Crabbe of Tarzan movie fame supplied two of the vessels each year while his boy's camp was open at Onchiota."

I was honored to be in that first Hanmer race 50 years ago when I was Mayor of Saranac Lake, racing in the canoe divison with my partner, Mickey Luce.

Let's hope that all the work that has gone into this 50th Anniversary race will create the momentum to bring the Hanmer back to its glory days.



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