A huge thanks to Kent O.Smith Jr for this wonderful holiday gift and a reminder that WoodyBoater is actually about boats. Ya? I know, who knew? What? No Mr B shots in here? Mmmmm.
Perhaps the most iconic Lake George (NY) boat is the infamous “El Lagarto,” the only boat to win three consecutive Gold Cup races (1933, 1934, 1935) and the triple crown of motorboat racing – the Gold Cup, President’s Cup and National Sweepstakes race in a single year (1933). And this year was her 100th anniversary.
First, a bit of background. The 26’ racer was built by John Hacker for Colonel Jesse Vincent, president of Packard Motor Company in 1922 as a second boat to campaign along side his “Packard Chris Craft” in the Gold Cup. Before he really got to try the boat out, he sold it to Edward Grimm, president of Peerless Marine Motor Company. Naturally Grimm repowered the boat with a Peerless engine and named it “Miss Mary” after his wife. In the 1924 Gold Cup, the boat had mechanical issues and didn’t finish. Disappointed, he sold the boat to George Reis in Lake George in 1925.
George renamed the boat “El Lagarto” (the lizard) and used it for local races on Lake George. A few years later, he became serious about boat racing and had the Purdy Boat Company build him a new racer which he named “El Lagartito” – the little lizard – since the boat was a tad smaller than “El Lagarto.” The “El Lagartito” broke a rudder in 1930 and didn’t win any races.
With stepped boat boats becoming more prevalent, George had the bottom of “El Lagarto” shingled and added chine stabilizers to make her better in the turns. His friend Dick Bowers would run the boat as a sparring partner to George in “El Largatito” as he practiced for upcoming national races. It became quite evident that the older “El Largarto” was faster and more nimble than the new boat. Before long, the new boat was retired and George campaigned the old Hacker hull on the race circuit. The real “El Lagarto” is on display at the Adirondack Museum in upstate New York.
In late 2021, Jon Bowers contacted me about doing something to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the El Lagarto. Jon’s grandfather, Dick Bowers, was George Reis’s friend and riding mechanic. Jon authored a great book, “The Legend of Lake George” all about his grandfather’s friendship with Reis and the history of the boat. We were able to feature race boats at the 2022 Lake George Rendezvous, but more importantly, we scheduled a secret photo shoot for the morning after the boat show.
Early that Sunday morning, my friend Tom Lincoln took me up into Norwest Bay – an area not far from George Reis’s home where he used do practice runs with the “El Largarto” – in his 29’ Sea Ray that would serve as the photo boat. The weather was perfect, nice light, no wind, and we had that section of the lake to ourselves.
A spectator boat pulled in with several dignitaries onboard. Jon Bowers was there, as was Lisa Reis, granddaughter of George Reis, and Matt Sherrill, who’s father Mo is one of the eight founders of the Antique & Classic Boat Society, and only one of two left still with us.
Shortly three other boats arrived. A rendition of “El Lagarto” built by the Fish Brothers and owned by Matt Emmens was the first on the scene. Next to arrive was Mark Mason’s “Delphine IV” piloted by young Edward Larter. Then a Hacker design Miss APBA named “Miss Mary” pulled in, owned by Steve and Mary Perkins of NH. Mark was riding with them. Interestingly, “El Largarto” was named Miss Mary when owned by Grimm and sported the same G-2 racing number.
I shouted out some directions to the three captains and we got started with the shoot. My good friend Bill Smith (no relation) was on a dock close by and flew his drone over to cover the action from above.
We shot the raceboats individually and did several attempts to get them lined up. That part is always difficult to orchestrate but by the third or fourth attempt, they got pretty good at it. It was amazing to see and hear these boats ripping by pretty much like they would have back in the day.
After the shoot, Edward hung around and gave rides to yours truly and the other spectators in “Impshi”. If you’ve never been in a racer, you are missing out on a great experience. It’s so good, it might make you open your wallet and purchase one. Seeing Lisa ride it a Gold Cup boat was really special.
After Edward departed, Tom and I hung out enjoying the late morning on the lake. I slowly packed up my photo gear knowing we’d head back soon. But then I spotted what looked like a wooden boat heading in our direction. I remounted the zoom lens thinking I might get a bonus action shot of some classic boat passing by.
As the boat neared, I could see it was a black sided Gar Wood. Not many of those around, and I know about most of them on our lake. Getting closer, I could make out the name in gold leaf on the side….”El Lacayo”. For a moment I locked up – it couldn’t be, could it?
The “El Lacayo” was George Reis’s personal runabout, a 28’ Gar Wood triple. I’d last seen in 12 years ago in sad shape and needing a restoration. Indeed, someone did that. It *was* the “El Lacayo”. I don’t know who owns it now. But what are the chances that we do a tribute photo shoot of the El Lagarto to recognize George Reis and his boat, then an hour later his runabout passes by? Destiny? A higher power? I’m not sure what to think, but it turned out to be an amazing experience.
Later that afternoon, I called Jon and Lisa and let them know what happened. Lisa broke down in tears, saying Grandpa George is out there and appreciated that we remembered. Race on, George Reis! And Happy 100th to the “El Laragto.”
If you are interested in the detailed history of that special boat, Jon Bowers says there that the Warren County Historical Society still has copies of his book available. Contract them direct at www.wcnyhs.org
Special thank you to Bill Smith / www.BSArtist.com for the aerial images.
Kent O. Smith, Jr. KAOS Imagery www.kaosimagery.com