History of Racing on Display At Vintage Raceboat Regatta

Wheeling Intelligencer
31 August 2016
Ian Hicks, City Editor

The Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta will turn back the clock even further than normal when it returns to Heritage Port for the 11th time this weekend.

Along with the dozens of restored hydroplanes which thrill drivers and spectators alike at the regatta — which runs Friday through Sunday and benefits Easter Seals — the event will welcome for the first time three replicas of “Gold Cup” boats that were the forerunners of the modern hydroplane class of watercraft. One, the “Meri J’s,” belongs to Wellsburg resident Jon Meriwether, while the other two, “Compulsion” and “Illusion,” will come all the way from New Hampshire courtesy of owner Donnie McLean.

“It’s a 13-hour drive from them to get here, so it’s a really big deal for them to bring these boats down. … We hope that everybody really enjoys them,” said Debbie Joseph, who co-founded the regatta with her husband, Dr. Dan Joseph, in 2006. “They’re all relatively modern boats, but they’re built in the spirit of vintage.”

Dan Joseph said Gold Cup boats are more traditional in appearance than their vintage hydroplane cousins, which some visitors have commented more resemble airplanes than watercraft. They function a bit differently, too — their V-shaped hulls actually cut through the water as opposed to typical hydroplanes which feature sponsons that allow them basically to skim on the water’s surface.

In their heyday, most Gold Cup boats, which were popular until hydroplanes began to take hold in the late 1940s, belonged to industrial barons who were just as competitive in their leisure activities as they were in business.

“In those days, what would happen is … some guy would build a boat faster than your boat, and throngs of people would be out there to watch a match race between the two boats,” Dan Joseph said, noting those competitions gave rise to competitive powerboat racing in America.

The Gold Cup boats will give regatta fans something different to look forward to this year, but for Dan Joseph the connection is a little more personal. He’s been told his great-great-grandfather, who owned a lumber mill in Pittsburgh, once owned the fastest boat on the water in the Pittsburgh area.

“For me it’s kind of fascinating to bring that part of history back to the area,” he said.

The Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta, presented by title sponsor WesBanco, begins Friday with the pits at the waterfront open to spectators throughout the day, giving visitors a chance to mingle with the drivers as they arrive in town and get an up-close look at the boats.

The real action begins Saturday morning with opening ceremonies at 9:45 a.m., followed by heats from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with a break for lunch. The regatta concludes Sunday with 9:45 a.m. opening ceremonies followed by heats from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

This year’s regatta also will include special activities for children, and live entertainment during the event will be provided by performers including the Joe Zelek Band and New Age Adenas.