Mike McLellan and The Lake Monster

A 'Monster' plan for Okanagan Lake
Kelowna-based Canadian Unlimited Hydroplane group wants to follow in roostertail of Miss Supertest II and III
Mike Beamish/The Vancouver Sun

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Based in Kelowna, Mike McLellan is the driver of The Lake Monster, Canada's only unlimited hydroplane entered in competion this year.
(Photo: Ian Lindsay/Vancouver Sun. Used by permission)

When a mythically brave chicken farmer from Embro, Ontario, was killed driving Miss Supertest II in 1961 no one could have predicted then that Bob Hayward's death would cast a pall over unlimited hydroplane racing in Canada for the next four decades.

No one knows for sure what happened that day when Hayward, a man who could make his thunderboat skip like a stone across the water, inexplicably lost control going into a tight turn on the Detroit River and flipped the boat during a heat of the Silver Cup Regatta.

When the wreckage came to rest, Hayward was dead, and unlimited hydroplane racing in Canada went to a watery grave along with him.

Devastated by the experience, the Thompson family of London, Ont., the men who provided the money and drive that made the boat go, no longer had any stomach for the sport. And Canada never again challenged America for supremacy in unlimited hydros.

Until now, that is.

Jay Logie can look out over Okanagan Lake and picture a roostertail shooting to the sky from an all-Canadian boat, The Lake Monster, that he hopes will create a celestial counterpart to Miss Supertest II and III for the new millenium.

Just as the Miss Supertest project started out as a guppy swimming among whales, so, too, is the Kelowna-based Canadian Unlimited Hydroplane Association in a contest with Gargantua.

In a shop in the north end industrial area of Kelowna, CUHA is getting into high gear to launch a challenger in the Unlimited Hydroplane Thunder Tour against total US. domination. This circuit includes 11 races in North America, nine in the States and two in Canada—the Budweiser Thunderfest West in Kelowna and the Budweiser Thunderfest East in Barrie, Ont.

It is almost overwhelming, if we lift our heads and look around, to see the charenge ahead of us," admits Logie, CUHAs president and technical chief. "Luckily, most of us have our heads in the trenches or we might feel overwhelmed. It's got to the point where we're just trying to bunch together some little goals, then pile them together to achieve our main goal."

What makes CUHA so breathtakingly audacious is their inexpenence, and the scope of what they're trying to accomplish. CUHA is a nonprofit group of aircraft workers and hydroplane enthusiasts who set out three years ago with the idea of building an all Canadian hull that would enter the North American circuit with a Canadian driver, Mike McLellan.

That idea became possible last year when McLellan, a Kelowna native, drove Miss Vnode.com, an 800-horsepower, U.S.-owned entry in the Unlimited Lites Racing Series, the final stepping stone to unlimited hydros. McLellan, the series' rookie of the year in '98, drove monster trucks, motocross, stock cars and motorcycles before he began racing on water six years ago, working his way up through different classifications.

"I'm stepping up by about 2,000 horsepower," says McLellan, who finished second in the Lites race at the annual Texaco Cup at Seafair on Seattle's Lake Washington last summer. "Our unlimited boat will have 2,800 at the prop and it weighs three times as much (a minimum 6,500 pounds). Things happen a little faster, but it's the same parallel in motor racing, going from an Indy Lights to an Indy car."

For the past two summers, the Kelowna group leased the acclaimed U-8 hydroplane, owned by Bill Wurster of Seattle, and ran the renamed Miss Molson Dry in the Thunderfest at Kelowna. Mixing with Wurster's mechanics and crew, they received a snap lesson in hydroplane operations, mechanics and strategy.

Still, CUHA has taken the equivalent of a night course in taking aim at men like Bernie Little, the Roger Penske of hydros.  Little's sleek Miss Budweiser thunderboats have been the soul of the sport for 37 years. When race promoters were in financial jeopardy, Little, and Anheuser-Busch's money, stepped in and saved them.

In fact, Miss Budweiser has eclipsed other rivals over the years to the point where the sport has suffered because of it. With little chance of winning, major sponsorship has dried up for the remaining boats, resulting in limited entries, dwindling interest and the absence of a TV package.

Wurster is the only American owner who's paid much attention to what's going on in CUHA's Kelowna shop.

To the ol' boys of hydros, boat racing is an art that takes years to perfect. Now along comes a group of wide-eyed Canadians, embracing this kind of wracking uncertainty and hatching tinkerers' dreams, becomg poster boys for backyard mechanics everywhere.

"Almost half our members have backgrounds in motor racing and racing is an obsession." Logie says. "Being able to carry on the legacy of Miss Supertest for our country really has everybody up.

"Actually, the more we learned about the history of Miss Supertest, the more we've understood the link between us. They came from mostly an aircraft background as well."

Logie was seized by an Andy Hardy moment in 1996 when the world's biggest, fastest and most powerfull racing boats returned to Lake Okanagan after a 30-year absence and a light when on, "Hey, let's build our own thunderboat!"

A civilian aircraft maintenance engineer who worked on CF-18 fighter planes, Logie has cherry-picked veterans and tradespeople who span the breadth of the aircraft industry in Kelowna, about 50 in all. Most have backgrounds in fabrication, engineering and mechanics and dabble in snowmobiling, car and power boat racing in their spare time.

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Photo courtesy Kirk Pagel

The idea behind the Lake Monster is small-scale rocket science, a learning curve pointed in a steep trajectory. The Lake Monster, with its radical Ogopogo-like paint job, resembles its famous forebear, the mahagony-hulled Miss Supertest about the way a Lamborghini Diablo mimics a big-finned Cadillac. Still, the Kelowna boys are cognizant of their heritage.

The beast, thundering along at 200-mph on two-mile watery ovals, will bear the designation "CA-4", in an attempt to make a direct link with CA-3, Miss Supertest III, the most famous Canadian watercraft next to the racing schooner Bluenose.

Like Miss Supertest, the team in Kelowna is providing labour and expertise for free, keeping the cost under control. They're in it for the challenge and the thrill. There is never a possibility of making any money at going fast.

Equipment costs associated with modern racing weren't a problem for Miss Supertest III. She was powered by a surplus Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, used in Spitfire fighters during World War Two. Worth about $25,000 new, you could pick up a used engine in the '50s for about $200, shipping crate included.

But today's thunderboats borrow more from tomorrow than the propeller-driven tradition. Powered by Lycoming turbine engines used in Chinook helicopters, virtually all of them have sleek, integrated designs and cockpits that make the drivers look like Stealth jet fighter pilots.

"Our boat will actually he the first with an aircraft superstructure in it, with aircraft grade aluminum, whereas the other guys are building them with industrial grade aluminum and composites. Although we're staying within the general specifications of the boat, we feel we're taking it to the next step," Logie says.

For now, CUHA is aiming at getting a boat in the water to race in a minimum five events - Kelowna, Seattle, Barrie, Detroit and Tri-Cities, Washington, all within close proximity of the Canadian border, to catch the attention of advertisers.

While a host of secondary sponsors are on board, the group is focussed on eliminating the one thing that could leave them dead in the water: the lack of a title sponsor.

(Reprinted courtesy the Vancouver Sun, March 13, 1999. Used by permission)

Some comments to the Powerboat List from Mike McLellan

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Dale Rhynas was kind enough to send in these photos of the Lake Monster model made by  Brian Anderson.

I have been refraining from really saying anything about CUHA or what they are up to, as in this case talking drivers tend to get themselves in trouble. I was at the Toronto International Boat Show and at the Vancouver Boat show with the display hull. It was certainly a hit. Media coverage was extensive interest was keen from fans/nonfans/ and potential sponsors alike.

However in Saturday's [March 20, 1999] Okanagan the entire cover of the sports section was devoted to an interview with CUHA's marketing manager Jack Eakins in which it's been reported/announced that indeed there are delays in production of the race hull.

... "The sponsorship we had been counting on disintegrated, much to our disappointment. We we're confident to the point of slapping each other on the back. We were certain we had (sponsorship) but it went south on us." Eakins said that the reasons the prospective sponsor pulled out where unclear.

"There has been no satisfactory explanation," he said. "We felt that we had a commitment"...

As far as I know there are still plans to try to have the Unlimited ready for Kelowna . I am too far out of the loop to comment on how that looks or not. (Originally it was scheduled to race at Barrie, Detroit, Tri-Cities, Seattle, and of course Kelowna)

As was the plan I will still drive the UL3 for John Hogan while the unlimited comes together. How the alliance between CUHA and Hogan Racing will come together is being worked on right now from what I understand.

There are a few personal issues that I need to work out as far as racing is concerned but the next few weeks should iron that all out.

(Reprinted from the Powerboat List, March 21, 1999. Used by permission. You can contact Mike McLellan at gofast@mars.ark.com)

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Leslie Field, 1999