1909 Cathlamet Regatta
Willamette River, Cathlamet WA, September 4, 1909

Cathlamet Regatta
by Frank M. Foulser

Motorboats Race Monday
Launch Pacer Swamped
Big Crowd Sees Motorboat Races
Cathlamet Regatta

It was hotter than—well, it was very, very warm. "Ninety degrees in the shade," estimated Mike Gorman, commander-in-chief of the entertaining forces, as he slipped home to reappear shortly in a new gorgeous pair of white duck pantaloons. The Queen of the Carnival, in her robes of velvet and satin gazed wistfully from her throne of state at the small boys who catapulted themselves at regular intervals from the end of the dock. The tide in the Columbia was heading upstream, but the tide of humanity on shore revolved in recurring eddies to its thirst-quenching source. On the dust-choked streets stood the teams of the visitors from the interior—the sweat-stained flanks of the horses drooped in patient resignation, while along the waterfront a still greater assemblage of marine vehicles swung at their cables or lacerated both water and air with their energetic engines. Showers there were, it is true—but of confetti, not rain. Still everyone seemed happy. It takes more than heat and dust and noise and glare to detract from the charm of a characteristic Columbia River regatta and such the celebration which took place on September 4th at Cathlamet, Wash., certainly was.

For years the regatta at Astoria has drawn to that city a large throng of interested spectators. Originally dedicated to the maritime achievements of the unique port, it has gradually come to assume more and more the characteristics of the ordinary street carnival, until this year the merchants of Astoria decided that the game was not worth the candle, and retired in favor of the little town of Cathlamet thirty miles above on the Washington side of the river. For the past two years Cathlamet has been the site of a regatta which has been run without detriment to the Astoria event. In fact the co-operation of the larger city has helped to make successes of the two preceding regattas in the smaller town. Cathlamet proper has a population of something like 500, but it is the trading point of a rich farming country. Two large mills also contribute to its welfare. From Cathlamet and the adjacent landing places a big fleet of fishing boats put out to join the squadron that hovers around the dangerous reefs of the Columbia River bar.

But it was in quest of gasoline engine lore that the representative of The Pacific Motor Boat charted his course for the lower Columbia, a quest which had been inspired by the news that the Motor Boat Club of Astoria is the inevitable outgrowth of latter-day conditions combined with one of the best locations for motor boat purposes on the coast. Although plans for its formation were instituted some time ago it has been in actual existence for only a few months and this was virtually its first official appearance abroad. In their new uniforms with cap device correctly designating the rank of the wearer, the members were easily distinguishable on the crowded streets and wharves. The button which forms the center of their cap device is quartered red, white, blue and white and has the letter A in the upper left hand quarter.

Preceding the regatta, there were some events not mentioned on the program that were fully as exciting as any of those which had been arranged for. The first was the burning of the flagship of the Astoria Motor Boat Club and the second was the wreck of the Pacer.

The burning of the flagship took place on the evening preceding the regatta. Commodore Vaughan and Secretary Fox, joint owners of the boat, were completing by candle light the final arrangements for the squadron cruise. A leakage of gasoline into the bilge, the untimely introduction of the candle flame, a puff of air, an explosion of sudden violence and then the call for volunteers to quench the flames—the usual diagnosis, symptoms and results of the majority of gasoline accidents were faithfully reproduced. It was an effective byt expensive lesson. For two years or more Secretary Fox, who is a practical engine designer, has been working on the details of this particular engine. The hull is of the open, semi-speed type, about 35 feet over all. It has cockpits both forward and aft. All details of construction had been most carefully thought out and executed. Fortunately the damage was not irreparable, but the disappointment of the owners at not being able to figure the day’s sport was naturally very keen.

The accident to the Pacer was less comprehensible. The writer was one of the party which accompanied Mr. Robert Cox, one of the Pacer’s owners, from Portland southward on that never-to-be-forgotten occasion. Everyone who reads motor boat news or takes the slightest interest in power boat events knows the wonderful performance of the A-Y-P exposition on which the owner of the Pacer bases his claim to the world’s record for motorboats not exceeding 10 meters in over all length. It was for the purpose of affording the enthusiasts of the lower Columbia an opportunity of seeing this well-know craft and helping the Astoria boys to stimulate an interest in their own particular territory, that Mr. Cox generously consented to chance the hazards of the 80-mile run to give an exhibition. At two o’clock, or thereabouts on the afternoon preceding the regatta, the Pacer in tow of the Coxey (another speed boat owned by Mr. Cox), left the Von der Worth boathouse. That the Coxey itself is no seven-day passenger coach was evidenced as we swung with the Pacer in tow into the Columbia—a distance of twelve miles below Portland in less than an hour. Shortly after rounding this point and laying our course for down the river, the Pacer was cast off, her owner and regular engineer in their respective places. The Coxey proceded on her way with captain Milton Smith of Rainier, owner of the well-known Portland flyer, Happy Heine, at the helm, while Chief Bently wielded the oil can. The rest of the crew were distributed evenly between the two boats.

When the Pacer’s engines were started, lubricated and opened up, it was apparent that the changes made in her since the races at Seattle had improved her running qualities if not actually increasing her speed. Her engines ran much more smoothly and her stern wave had been considerably diminished. Ever since the A-Y-P races, she has been worked on. The lack of tuning which was noticeable then has been remedied, the hull has been considerably stiffened and altogether she is a much different boat. Her owners are confident that she can better her previous record. Judging from the way she left the Coxey behind, she must be running well up around thirty miles. Time after time Captain Cox would allow the Coxey, which is conceded better than twenty miles an hour, to get two or three miles ahead. The rapidity with which such a lead was gobbled up caused looks of amazement to spread over the countenance of the steamboat and dredger crews that were startled to the rails of their boats by the roar of the unmuffled exhaust.

At St. Helens, on the Oregon side, we made our first stop, to replenish our water supply. The entire populace assembled and passed comments.

"Say, Bill," observed one bewhiskered individual to a neighbor in weather-beaten overalls, "where was you when the lightning struck?’

At Rainier we halted again while Captain Smith reported home and got a fresh set of clearance papers. Engineer Bently of the Coxey took advantage of the opportunity to purchase a set of bright yellow Buffalo Bill gauntlets to protect his lily white mitts. A little below Rainier we overhauled the Astoria and "Billy" McAllister of the Oregon State Fish and Game Commission. An unusual air of distinction seemed to hover about the launch, which is devoted to the service of the department. Its cause we discovered later, when we boarded the ship of state and were introduced to the son of Governor Benson of Oregon and his newly-made bride. From the party on the Astoria we borrowed Captain Lincoln Burton to act as pilot for the Pacer.

It must have been shortly after seven o’clock that we passed the little town of Stella on the Washington side of the river. The Coxey had been delayed with a broken lubricator belt; the Astoria had put in to Stella for supper; Pacer was leading with Captain Burton at the helm; Mr. Cox, mistaking Oak Point for Cathlamet, nodded to Crowley, the engineer. With a rush like a frightened deer, the mahogany racer responded to his touch on the advance. Just what happened then, no one knows, but an abrupt rise of the bow followed by a sudden downward lunge was the general impression. Mr. Cox had just time enough to reach instinctively and pull out the spark plug. His next sensation was that of being buried under Niagara Falls as the Pacer turned completely over with her crew underneath. Crowley grabbed life preserver on which he had been sitting; the rest kicked themselves free and rose to the surface to find the bow of the boat sticking straight up in the air supported by the compression in the gasoline tank, the Pacer being equipped with the force feed type. It was slippery work clinging to the tapering, polished sides of the upended bow. So suddenly had the accident happened that the people on shore who had been eye-witnesses to the whole thing, could not realize what had occurred. "Those blamed fools must think this is part of the blooming show," shivered Cox. Finally the spectators, recognizing a note of distress in the hails from the men in the water, awoke from their lethargy and put out to their assistance. The crew were loaded into one boat and taken ashore to the shack of some fishermen on Gull Island, where they were toasted before a roaring fire. Meanwhile, the Coxey had caught up and both crews jammed into the tiny home of the fisherman. By the time the party from the Astoria had reported, the house was packed tighter than any first night on Broadway.

It was Captain Smith that first awoke to the needs of the occasion. "Everybody overboard to float the Pacer," he commanded. Not a man balked. A line was made fast to the stem and all hands hover with a will until she grounded. Then tackle was bent on and while half the crew gave way on the shore line, the rest splashed in up to their necks to clear the stern. For over an hour in the dark we tugged and baled, clad principally in those habiliments with which we first made our debut in this mundane sphere. Doc Whiting, he of the avoirdupois and the generous belt line, cheered us on with gentle words of encouragement. But before we quit, the Pacer floated on her own bottom, with no sign of damage save the short circuiting of the electrical connections and more or less sand in her bilges and exhausts. It was a tired and hungry, but grateful bunch that climbed on board the Astoria for the balance of the run to Cathlamet. The Pacer was left securely tied to the fish trap at Oak Point.

Owing to the dense smoke that had come up our progress down the river was necessarily slow. With the exception of some fruit none of us had tasted food since a hasty lunch at noon. One o’clock was striking as the Astoria drew up alongside the Cathlamet dock and we tumbled sleepily ashore in search of food and lodging. "Every bed in town is taken," was the cheerful news that greeted the landing of the survivors, "and there are no restaurants open." Finally with threats of violence we intimidated the proprietors of an eating house to arise and save us from starvation. I was engaged in a surreptitious attack on the pickles, when I noticed Doc Whiting executing an onslaught against a battery of cakes which the Ladies’ Aid Society had prepared for the festivities of the morrow.

"Self-preservation is the first law of life," mumbled Doc from behind his quarter section, while his eyes roamed covetously over where the cook was slicing off and frying thick succulent steaks that sizzled deliciously as they struck the hot pan.

Finally the ravenous appetites were satisfied and then a council of war was held as to where we should bunk. An unexpected relief expedition headed by Captain McAllister appeared at this moment and announced that beds were to be had for three of us at the home of a worthy fisherman, while another good Samaritan in the guise of a village celebrity guaranteed to accommodate the balance. It did not require any soporifics to put me to sleep with the exception of the gentle purr from the exhaust pipes of Captain Cox and Engineer Bentley, who occupied the same room with me, I heard not a sound until I was awakened by the sun streaming into the window.

By the time I had soused my head under the pump in the back yard, and dressed myself for a stroll down on the dock, I found the rest of the party in the Coxey estimating their individual losses. Some were shy an overcoat, others hats and shirts. Tobacco, watches and money were at a premium, while one of the crew had lost from that portion of his nether garments where its absence cost him considerable embarrassment, a generous-sized patch. However non had received any physical injury of serious consequences from their involuntary bath.

Although it was barely eight, the committee in charge of the events were hustling the last details of preparation. President Burke of the regatta association was directing the laying out of the course for the motor boat races. This course was an unusually good one for an impromptu affair, being a triangle formed by three fish traps approximating four miles. At the suggestion of one of the party the fish trap surveys were hunted up and with an allowance for the setting of stake boats, the course was triangulated by the man who did the original survey. Thus a known course was established for future events. The launch Nola, another boat belonging to the Fisheries department, was the first to appear in holiday attire. She was in command of Capt. Clarence White, and did the lion’s share of the work of preparation. Before long the fish boats and cannery tenders commenced to come in.

It was considerably after ten o’clock on the morning of the 4th that the strains of music wafted faintly over the water heralded the approach of the Astoria contingent. Led by the big tug Melville, they made an inspiring spectacle on the sun-lit river. Each boat was almost hidden by a mass of colors. The brilliant serpentine trail approached closer and closer. On the decks of the various steamers and launches the white-ducked sailors and their sweethearts sang and cheered. The people on shore cheered back. One couldn’t help it. Only a human stone could have resisted the appeal of that flag-bedecked fleet. On the pilot house of the Melville a trio of "old boys" kicked up their heels and hornpiped with the band. Gracefully they drew up along side of the crowded wharves. From the deck of his ship Admiral Callender descended with his staff, crossed the gang plank and bowed in obeisance before the throne of the waiting queen. A moment later the floats were in motion and through the crowded streets of the little town wound the gay procession.

It was nearly noon before the motor boat races were started. The interim was spent by the motor boat men from Portland and Astoria in visiting and chatting. Much admiration was expressed for the lines of the sea-going cruiser Sea Otter, the property of Roderick MacLea of Portland, which stopped in at Cathlamet en route to Seattle.

But to return to the races. These were started from a pile driver, J. A. Munro, which was moored about 100 yards out from the dock. "Dell" Scully, formerly of Astoria, acted as starter and judge, Assisted by Messrs. Halderman and White, armed with a megaphone and the consciousness of right.

"By the way, Mr. Scully," I inquired after the races were completed, "where can I get the official time?" He waved me away loftily, then beckoned and whispered behind his hand: "The timer got so worked up over the high batting averages which were being made that he was taken with a chill and had to be taken home to bed." Hence I am unable to present a detailed account of the finish.

The order of finish, however, in the fisherman’s free-for-all race was as follows:

  1. Olaf Breck, 5-horsepower, Fay&Bowen, torpedo stern
  2. Sidney Swenson, 5-horsepower, Fay&Bowen, torpedo stern.
  3. L. A. Ullfers, 5-horsepower, Fay&Bowen, torpedo stern.
  4. Jas. MacDonough, 5-horsepower, Doman, double ender.
  5. Wm. Elliot, 6-horsepower, Lacawanna, double ender.
  6. Victor Linquist, 5-horsepower, S. F. Standard, double ender.

Nine entries turned out for the cannery tender’s race and local enthusiasm ran high. The start was one of the prettiest of the day. In their effort to get away with the gun, the big heavy-duty engines churned the river until it boiled. Pretty well around the course they kept bunched but on the last leg the Lexington, owned by Capt. Megler, managed to clear out of the raft. Caroline, owned by the Wilson bros. Of Astoria, crossed next, with Pilot II, which had not been officially entered and started behind the others, in third position. Adeline, Alvina, Bernice, Huldah and Ruby followed in the order named, while the Munro played a paean of victory up and down the shrill octave of her siren.

The race of the day which attracted most attention, however, was run between the Greenhorn of Astoria and the Ethel of Cathlamet. Greenhorn is well known to readers of Pacific Motor Boat, but to refresh your minds let me say that she is a long, slender hull, about 39 feet, I should judge, with a 30-horsepower Doman and a stern that is the torpedo variety spoken of above. She is owned by Driscoll, Trullinger and Judd. One of the Driscoll boys presided at the engine, the other at the helm.

Ethel is a new product of the Driscoll shops—the Driscolls, by the way, having taken over the old Letherbee business. She resembles a very, light-weight, double-ended fish boat, narrow of beam for her length by 30 feet and having her bilges cut down to join the dead rise at a very slight angle. This gives her a very small water line when on an even keel, but she seems stiff enough as soon as she bears down on either side. Her power plant is a 25-30, 4-cylinder Scripps, and taken all together she looks like a very speedy practical sort of boat, just what her owner, Mike Gorman of the Cathlamet Fish Co., declares he needs for combination purposes. Captain Milton Smith held the helm.

The races were necessary to convince the owner of the Ethel that his rival was the faster. On the first race, which was run twice around the course, it was thought that the newness of Ethel’s engine might have something to do with the easy victory of the Greenhorn. But this idea was abandoned after the second race, when Driscoll, having barely kept ahead of the other boat over nearly the entire course, opened up in the last half of the last lap and left his opponent easily. It might be that with the stiffness of her new engine disposed of, the Ethel could improve upon her performance. At all events Mr. Gorman certainly deserves credit for his pioneering efforts in a speedier type of motor boat for Cathlamet and the vicinity. His action will undoubtedly result in the building of several new and faster boats.

Following the races everyone went home to recuperate for the dance which was to be the feature of the evening. Despite the extreme heat, the crowd retained its holiday humor. By the time the orchestra had stripped off its coat, rolled up its sleeves and sounded the first note, the big hall on the main street was filled. Costumes were a matter of secondary consideration. Shirt waists and negligee shirts were popular. One young man wore a sailor suit of canvas very soiled as to that portion of its structure which first comes in contact upon sitting down, but those were worn with such a blissful smile, that none could begrudge him his enjoyment. Capt. MacAllister excited the envy of all present by revealing, upon taking off his coat, a beautiful pair of blue, silk, embroidered suspenders. And let no one imagine for a moment that because Cathlamet is not a metropolis it is not up to date in its enjoyment and appreciation of the gentle art of dancing. The "Prize" barn dance brought out more varieties of that fascinating measure than one might hope to see at New York’s most exclusive function. Imagine a big and husky son of Norway, whose hands revealed the calluses of trawls and seine, not only doing the barn dance but doing it with the poise and grace of an habitué. And so we stayed on and on—the younger from pure enjoyment in the dancing, the older and more staid of us, from mere pleasure of watching them, until daylight commenced to make its presence felt in the morning blackness. As I crawled to my bed beneath the eaves, tired, but happy, I remember registering a vow with myself that if there were ever another regatta at Cathlamet and circumstance permitted, I certainly would be there.

(Excerpts transcribed from Pacific Motor Boat, November 1909, pp. 10-15.)

[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page --LF]

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