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50th annual Hanmer races

June 22, 2012
By Chris Woodward, race director, and Chris Covert, race chairman , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

July 1 will mark the 50th annual Willard Hanmer Guideboat races. These races have been held every year since 1963 to commerate and honor Willard Hanmer, the preeminent builder of Adirondack guideboats of his era. This year, to celebrate the 50th annual race, we are asking all people who have raced in previous races to come out and celebrate the event.

This race was, at one time, one of the areas biggest events, second only to the Winter Carnival. It was the yearly Fourth of July celebration for the village, with the two-person races held on Lake Flower, followed by the showcase one-person guideboat race.

The two-person race followed the shore line around the perimeter of Lake Flower. Contained within the course were two areas where the rowers had to change positions in the boat. The person at the oars would lay down on the bottom of the boat, whereupon the person in the stern seat would spring forward over them, settling into the bow seat and taking up the oars. The first person would clamber to the stern seat and turn around into position at the paddle. When executed smartly the boat would not lose any headway and continued through the race with a fresh set of arms at the oars. If done inexpertly, the boat would stop dead in the water and would take a fair amount of energy and time to get underway again. And of course, when attempted by amateurs, or those whom had started the days festivities a wee bit early, or the last nights carousing a wee bit late, the result would most likely be a swamping with an early morning swim, much to the delight and amusement of the onlookers crowded on the shores.

The one-person race started with a sprint on Lake Flower, a carry around the dam to the river, then a sprint down the river, through downtown, down the drop at the Pine Street trestle, and on to finish at the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club grounds on state Route 3. Thousands of excited fans would line the river banks, cheering on their personal favorite racer exhorting them to greater efforts. More often than not, the race would be won or lost at the carry, as the participants struggled with the 800-pound load of boat and oars over uneven ground.

Races were won by mere seconds, in some cases fractions thereof. After the last contestant was over the finish line, there would be a barbeque picnic and fair at the Fish and Game site, with much merriment and revelry ensuing, as everyone relived the days events.

From the Duprey boys to Glen Corl to Howard Semans, Natalie Bombard Leduc, the Day brothers, the Frenette contingent, Carol Kennedy, to Derek Doty, Steve Wilcox, Barry Cantwell; from Lake Clear to Tupper Lake, Long Lake to Lake Placid, every town and every age was well represented by the best rowers that the Adirondacks ever produced. These were men and women, born bent to the oar; that grew up in these boats, comfortable with the hard work, strength, calloused hands and rhythms needed to ply the surrounding waters. They worked hard, they raced hard, and then they played hard. This was our celebration of our Independence Day.

Those days are fast receding into the mists of old memories and remembered past glories, as we all grow older and our aches and pains grow sharper. The boats themselves, which were old 50 years ago, are now consigned to back sheds, and boat houses, collecting dust and drying out more with each passing year.

On Sunday, July 1, we are going to commemorate this 50th anniversary by going back to the traditional courses on Lake Flower and down the river to the Fish and Game Club. There will be two-person guideboats, ladies guideboats, junior guideboats (U16), Junior canoes (U16), and junior kayak (U16) on Lake Flower, followed by one-to-two-person canoes, war canoes, rub-a-dub, one-to-two-person kayaks, and one person guideboats going down the river. Lake races start at 11 a.m. Down river races will start at noon. Festivities at the Fish and Game Club will be on going during the afternoon.

We will be starting the day festivities at 10 a.m. with a grand parade of guideboats around Lake Flower. Our goal is to have the world's greatest gathering of Adirondack guideboats, with 50 boats for the 50th Hanmer race.

So, this is a call to all the old timers, younger old timers, part timers and one timers. Haul out your old boats, soak up the planks, grease your pins, and oil your oar handles. Anyone with a guideboat is invited to join us on July 1 for a grand parade of boats around Lake Flower as we celebrate the 50th Memorial Willard Hanmer Guideboat Races.

Any one interested in racing can download registration forms online at or pick one up at the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce office.

We are looking for volunteers to help out with the races. We have a need for help with timing, spotters, registration people, clean up and various other tasks especially timing and on water safety craft. Any one who is interested in helping, contact Chris W. at 518-891-3961 or Chris C. at 518-891-1144.

We are having a meeting at 5:15 p.m. Monday at the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce office located in the North Elba Town House on River Street.

We hope to see you out here.



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