On the way to our hotel, I caught the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum out of the corner of my eye. Serendipity. This little vacation of ours has been a walk down memory lane. Here we are at the end of the summer. What a great bit of nostalgia. At the hotel, I looked the museum up on the Internet. It was what I thought it was.
Growing up in Seattle, as a kid, we always looked forward to Seafair at the end of summer. During Seafair THUNDER BOAT races were held on Lake Washington. These boats were so loud that we could hear (as well as everyone else in Seattle) the boats roaring around the lake race course from our house, no where near the lake.
From six to twelve years old, there were few things that really caught my attention. Hydroplane racing was one of those things. First off, when racing, the big hydroplanes shot huge spouts of water up in the air behind them. Other hydroplanes on the race course passing through the “rooster tail” of another boat would stall as their engine filled up with water. The boats were unstable at speed and on the corners, they would bounce from pontoon to pontoon as they crabbed sideways through the turns. Sometimes the boats would flip or even better, crash into one another. It was a dangerous sport. Drivers sometimes died in the accidents. All of us boys crowded around the one small black and white TV to watch the races.
At the finish in one particularly close race, I can recall the exact words of the sports announcer as he called the finish. The announcer, screaming in excitement, yelled into the microphone, “They’re coming around the corner with rooster tails all the way and its MUNCEY, MUNCEY, MUNCEY!” Bill Muncey was the undisputed best hydroplane driver in the world until his unfortunate death in a 1981 racing accident.
On Wednesday, we stopped by. Linda, who has no connection to THUNDER BOATS elected to stay in the car. Alone, I went into the museum. There was no one in the lobby/gift shop. I could hear two men talking in the back. I walked toward the voices. Inside around the corner, I found two men roughly my age. I asked them who I needed to pay for admission. They were amused and lightly teased me about who and what to pay. After paying the admission, I told them what I remember about the Seafair hydroplane races. Then I asked about Bill Muncey.
At this point, I think they decided to like me. They told me everything and answered every question. I wanted to see the boats Muncey drove.
This was the only boat they have that Muncey drove. This boat, driven by Muncey in the late seventies, represents hydroplane design changes occurring in the seventies. In this design, the driver is ahead of the engine. In previous designs, the driver was behind the engine. The propeller drive shaft in previous designs went between the driver’s legs.
After noticing the engine was missing, I asked to see the engine.
This V-12 aircraft engine generates nearly 1,500 horsepower and red lines between 3,000 and 4,000 RPM. The engine was made by Allison. To put this in perspective, My 2017 Ford F-450 Diesel engine is rated around 450 horsepower. The Allison generates over 3 times that horsepower.
They were in the process of building a hydroplane replica from original plans. The hull is made from 5/8 inch marine plywood clad in aluminum. The aluminum is screwed and bolted onto the plywood and framing. They are preparing to turn this hull over so they can begin work on the decking.
Just to the right of the hull under construction, my eyes kept being drawn to Miss Wahoo.
Miss Wahoo reminds me of the standard classic hydroplane design from the nineteen sixties.
The decking was done in a wood veneer over marine grade plywood. A coating of fiberglass keeps it all shiny.
I clearly remember Miss Bardahl. Bardahl, back in the day a Seattle company, made oil additives that extended engine life.
Miss Bardahl is another one of the fifties/sixties class hydroplane designs.
It took me a while to notice that none of the hydroplanes had engines in them except Pepperoni Powered Beef Jerky. I wonder if some of the engines have lubrication issues when turned on their sides for extended periods of time. I’ll have to ask next time I’m in there.
I asked about funding. Unlimited hydroplane racing is an incredibly expensive sport, possibly even more expensive than Indy car racing. One doesn’t just drive down to the local boat ramp and back the trailer with the hydroplane into the water. Because the boats are so wide, they are transported tilted at an angle so that boat and trailer only take up 8 feet of width. Boats are tilted by hydraulics that don’t appear to be water immersion friendly. Cranes are used to lift and move the boats from the trailers to the water.
Many of the boats, on loan to the museum, are owned by individual collectors. Corporate sponsors no longer provide funding for boats bearing their old corporate logos. Budweiser, Bardahl and Atlas Van Lines are examples. Other former corporate sponsors like Pay-N-Pak, no longer exist.
I heard lots about where money wasn’t coming from. Not very much on where it did come from. I did hear was about the passionate volunteers and boat owners who get and/or feel an enormous emotional connection to the THUNDER BOATS. I can certainly relate to that. After all, that is why I came.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!
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