"Mariner Too" – A Vintage Unlimited Hydroplane from the 1960's

After seeing our Vintage Hydroplane Palooza report from Lake Chelan last Friday, Woody Boater received an e-mail from Clif Ames inquiring about “Mariner Too” a Vintage Unlimited Hydroplane from the 1960’s. (Above photo of “Mariner Too” from July 12, 1963 – Courtesy of the Detroit News)

The e-mail read….


In 1965 I crewed on an unlimited hydro in the races at Willard Bay, Utah. It was an exciting week. The crew were my NCO’s from Hill AFB. We changed engines five times. The boat was named Mariner Two. The driver was a retired pilot, an Air Force Colonel, can’t recall his name. I believe the number was U-22. All the biggies were there. Have you seen the boat in your travels? Thanks,
Clif Ames

So after experiencing the awesome sights and sounds of the Vintage Unlimited Hydroplanes at Lake Chelan, we decided to investigate to learn more about the history of “Mariner Too” and Warner Gardner for Clif Ames.

“Mariner Too” U-99 (Above photo courtesy of Fred Alter Vintage Hydroplane Scrapbook) was one of the last Unlimited Hyrdoplanes to be designed by Ted Jones and was campained in 1964 & 1965. Ted Jones was considered by many to be America’s Top Designer of Hydroplanes in the 1950’s and 60’s, with many winning boats to his credit. Boats designed by Ted won 14 Gold Cups between 1950 and 1965 and 10 consecutive National High Point Championships between 1956 and 1965. Jones Unlimiteds raised the world mile straightaway record from 141 to 192 miles per hour between 1950 and 1960.


You can read the entire story of his remarkable career here – Remembering Ted Jones

“Mariner Too” U-99 was owned by Jim Harrington from LaPeer, Michigan and was powered by a V-12 Rolls-Royce Merlin.

In 1964 “Mariner Too” U-99 was piloted by Colonal Warner Gardner who took her to victory in the 1964 San Diego Cup on Mission Bay. According to the Hydroplane & Raceboat MuseumThe winner of the inaugural San Diego Cup was Jim Herrington’s MARINER TOO, driven by Warner Gardner. The victory came as a surprise to most participants and fans. Herrington and Gardner had never before won a race. And throughout her brief racing career, MARINER TOO had been a problem boat.

“That crazy MARINER,” as Gardner described her, had always been a roughriding craft. Moreover, she had never even placed in the top three at any of her eight previous race appearances.

But on race day, October 4, 1964, MARINER TOO had her act together. The favored MISS BARDAHL and Ron Musson won two preliminary heats but experienced mechanical difficulty in the finale. Gardner and MARINER TOO were there to pick up the marbles. They finished first, second, and first to outscore MISS BARDAHL, 1100 points to 927, this being in the days when race winners were determined on the basis of total points.

In the Final Heat, Gardner scored a decisive win over Bill Brow and MISS EXIDE, 111.156 miles per hour to 104.732.

Unfortunately for MARINER TOO, the San Diego Cup proved to be her first and last day of triumph. In 1965, the Herrington team acquired the MISS LAPEER, the former MISS SPOKANE. It wasn’t long before MARINER TOO was shunted to the background in favor of MISS LAPEER, which was preferred by Gardner because of that boat’s superior handling characteristics.

MARINER TOO, the 1964 San Diego Cup champion, ended her days in obscurity. After being retired from competition, she served as a test bed for a turbine engine program that reached its conclusion in 1973 with Herrington’s unsuccessful turbine-powered MISS LAPEER–a 34-foot behemoth that never reached competitive speeds and was quickly retired.

Warner Gardner Remembered (Courtesy of the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum)

By Fred Farley – ABRA Unlimited Historian

Warner Gardner was Unlimited racing’s OTHER “Flying Colonel” (together with Colonel Russ Schleeh, who raced from 1955 to 1963).

Colonel Gardner didn’t start driving Thunderboats until rather late in life. (He was 46 years old when he qualified as an Unlimited driver at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 1962.) Warner was a competitive presence until his death at Detroit in 1968.

He raced Limiteds and test drove boats built by Les Staudacher. When Shirley Mendelson McDonald bought her first NOTRE DAME from Staudacher in 1962, Les recommended his friend Gardner for the driving job.

Warner drove for NOTRE DAME for two seasons and finished fourth and fifth in National High Points in 1962 and 1963. His highest race finish was a second-place in the 1962 Spirit Of Detroit Trophy.

Gardner was discharged by the NOTRE DAME team after 1963 when Bill Muncey became available to drive following the retirement of the MISS THRIFTWAY. But Warner was hired almost immediately to drive Jim Herrington’s MARINER TOO in 1964.

MARINER TOO, truth to tell, was a very ill-handling boat. Gardner, in fact, referred to it as “that crazy MARINER.” Nevertheless, it was with this craft that Warner won a decisive–and surprising–victory in the 1964 San Diego Cup on Mission Bay.

In 1965, owner Herrington purchased a second boat, the MISS LAPEER, as a teammmate for MARINER TOO. MISS LAPEER was the former MISS SPOKANE. Gardner took an instant liking to it.

It wasn’t long before MISS LAPEER became the primary Herrington hull, while MARINER TOO was shunted to the background.

The Colonel piloted MISS LAPEER to victory in the 1966 Sacramento Cup on Lake Folsom. He finished second in the 1966 Indiana Governor’s Cup at Madison and the 1967 APBA Gold Cup at Seattle.

The Herrington team was not a big-budget operation. At some races, the entire crew consisted of Gardner and his teenage son, Warner, Jr.

Following the retirement of Jim Herrington after the 1967 season, the Colonel signed with Dave Heerensperger’s MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC team. The “Screaming Eagle” was the former $ BILL. For six years, it had been the epitome of mediocrity and had never won a race.

But with the newly formed team of Heerensperger, Gardner, and crew chief Jack Cochrane, the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC came alive and was the scourge of the Unlimited Class in 1968. Gardner took first-place in the Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, the Atomic Cup at the Tri-Cities, Washington, and the President’s Cup at Washington, D.C. MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC also took second-place
at Madison, Indiana, and third at Seattle.

Some of the other top teams on the circuit that year included Billy Schumacher in MISS BARDAHL, Tommy Fults in MY GYPSY, Bill Sterett in MISS BUDWEISER, Jack Regas in NOTRE DAME, Bill Muncey in MISS U.S., Dean Chenoweth in SMIRNOFF, and Jim McCormick in HARRAH’S CLUB.

But all good things must come to an end. And the end for Warner Gardner came on September 8, 1968, on the Detroit River. While contending for high position during the Final Heat of the Gold Cup, the “Screaming Eagle” became airborne and cartwheeled itself to pieces. The Colonel was critically injured and never regained consciousness. He died the following day in a local hospital.
A veteran of 63 combat missions during World War II, Warner was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Gardner’s Unlimited career was comparatively short–only seven years. He is one of only a handful of drivers to win a race past the age of 50. Always a fan favorite, the Colonel is remembered as one of the better of the best in the water sport of kings.

Above photo showing Freddie Alter in “Blue Chip”, Warner Gardner in “Mariner Too” & Bill Cantrell in “Gale’s Roostertail” – Detroit 1965. (Photo courtesy of the Fred Alter Vintage Hydroplane Scrapbook) Fast Freddie Alter also piloted “Mariner Too” U-99 in 1964 for Jim Harrington.

In 1965 “Mariner Too” U-99 competed in a total of 11 Events.

June 27 Dixie Cup – Guntersville, AL.
July 11 Diamond Cup – Coeur d’ Alene, ID
July 18 Dakota Cup – New Town, N.D.
Aug 8 APBA Gold Cup – Seattle, WA
Aug 15 Utah Cup – Ogden, UT
Aug 29 Spirit of Detroit – Detroit, MI
Sept 5 Governor’s Cup – Madison, IN
Sept 25 U.I.M. World Championship – Stateline, NE
Sept 25 Ponderosa Trophy – Stateline, NE
Sept 25 South Shore Trophy – Stateline, NE
Oct 3 San Diego Cup – San Diego, CA (Win)

When I was researching photos for this story, I ran across this interesting photo of the Unlimited Hydroplanes at the 1959 Apple Cup in Lake Chelan, Washington. Back in the days when an actual APBA sanctioned race took place on beautiful Lake Chelan. In 1959 the Apple Cup was the first race on the APBA Unlimited Hydroplane schedule and was held on May 10th.

The race was won by U-47 “MISS PAY’N SAVE” piloted by Chuck Hickling.
Much of the information for this story was provided courtesy the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum. There are also some great original photos of “Mariner Too” that are worth checking out on the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum web site by clicking here.
6 replies
  1. Al Benton
    Al Benton says:

    Texx, what a wonderful tribute to one of the Great Drivers of these vintage Hydroplanes, Warner Gardner.

    Clif Ames, it must have been a thrill to have served on the crew with him on Mariner Too. Thanks for bringing it to Texx's attention. I think many of us learned a lot about the history of Hydroplane Racing, Mariner Too, Ted Jones and Warner Gardner.

    Thanks, Texx,


  2. Mindi Gardner-Osowski
    Mindi Gardner-Osowski says:

    Wow, what a nice article! I love reading about my dad and passing it on to my kids, who never got the chance to meet him.

    I had a great life growing up and truly enjoyed the boat races. The sounds of those engines would rattle your entire body.

    We were all family then too.

    Thanks again for bringing me back to those great memories.

  3. Greg Calkins
    Greg Calkins says:

    There was a fascinating series of circumstances that paralleled the careers and boats driven by Warner Gardner and my cousin Rex Manchester.

    1960 – 61 Rex drove the Miss Spokane, recking her in the 61 Gold Cup

    1962 – Rex was the first driver to pilot the new $ Bill, and Warner drove the duplicate hull, Notre Dame.

    1963 – Rex returned to the U*25, this time named the Eagle Electric

    1965 – 66 – Rex became the Notre Dame driver, and by
    66 Warner became the old Miss Spokane, now Miss Lapeer driver.

    1968 – Warner was behing the wheel of the ’62 $ Bill, now called Miss Eagle Electric

    It shows how close the “family” of unlimited boat racing really is.

  4. Rick Curtis
    Rick Curtis says:

    I was in the war during the seasons Col. Warner Gardner made his fame. Certainly he deserves to be in the Hydroplane Hall of Fame. It’s had to believe “flipper” ($ Bill) could be revised and become National Champion. Miss Spokane (Miss Lapeer), sister hull to SHANTY, and Wahoo was always a bride-maid until Gardner made her a winner. Great article.

  5. Frank Sousa
    Frank Sousa says:

    We used to live pretty close to Ted Jones, and we always loved walking by his house and seeing the hydroplanes in his yard. I think one of my highlights was actually working a seafair race in the Coast Guard and actually being out on the water during a race. I had the pleasure of giving the police boat a ticket for venturing out into the course when they should not have.

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