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Urbanna has rich boat race tradition

The late Walter Boyd Hurley (above) of Middlesex County regularly raced his boat “Shufflin Sam” in the Urbanna Labor Day Regatta held from 1938 to 1966. Hurley raced in regattas up and down the east coast. Richard Marshall of Urbanna, who traveled with Hurley to the races, recalls that at one race the announcer announced, “Here comes Shufflin Sam, shuffling right on by.” (Courtesy of Walt Hurley)

by Larry Chowning

The May 18 Urbanna Regatta featuring Cocktail Class boat races on Urbanna Creek has rekindled memories of past days when the annual Labor Day Boat Races were one of the biggest events in Middlesex County and included a variety of related activities and attracted thousands of spectators.

The local history of regatta-style powerboat and sailboat racing dates back to September 5, 1938 when the first Labor Day races, the Middlesex Historical Day Regatta, was held on the creek.

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It is unclear what organization sponsored the first regatta, but the second regatta held on September 4, 1939 was sponsored by the Middlesex County Woman’s Club and assisted by the newly-formed Urbanna Yacht Club, known today as Fishing Bay Yacht Club.

The feature race of the 1938 regatta was a sailing yacht race in the Rappahannock River between “Sea Toy II” and “Night Hawk.” Night Hawk was a 47-foot auxiliary sailing yacht that was schooner rigged. Sea Toy II was a yacht also schooner rigged and 51-feet long.

There was standing-room only on the banks of the Rappahannock River as spectators watched the race from shore as Sea Toy II edged Night Hawk at the finish line.

The 1938 powerboat races featured a workboat race “free for all”; runabouts under 100 hp; cruiser races, 35-feet and under; Class C hydroplanes; stock runabout for service motors not over 24 hp; and stock runabouts with service motors unlimited in hp.

The 1939 outboard classes were enlarged and included Class A, B and C hydroplanes, stock racing runabouts and standard racing runabouts. The sailboat races included Hampton One design sailboats, snipe sailboats, knockabouts under 25 feet, limited to two sails; and knockabouts under 18 feet, limited to two sails.

The September 4, 1939 Urbanna Day festival was eventful as the sailboat and inboard motor boat races were held in the morning.

The outboard boat races were in the afternoon past the wooden Urbanna Bridge. The bridge was closed to traffic and spectators crowded along the rails of the bridge to watch the races.

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In the morning there was a water carnival; a boat parade with all types of watercrafts and floats; a swimming meet; and the crowning of the Water Carnival Queen.

The 1938 races were the start of a tradition that lasted until 1966 when the last Labor Day boat races were held on the creek. Throughout those years, Urbanna natives fared well in the competition and, like the Cocktail boats that will race on May 18, some local boats were built by the racers themselves.

As years passed, the races received state-wide coverage in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and crowds of over 4,000 jammed the waterfront to watch the event. The Middlesex Lions Club and Urbanna Boosters Club took over sponsorship of the races.

The Labor Day races were a forerunner of today’s Urbanna Oyster Festival, which was established as Urbanna Days in 1957.

In 1966, the last Labor Day boat races were held on the creek. That year, there were only outboard races as the American Power Boat Association deemed the creek too small to accommodate inboard races. The next year the association deemed it was too small for outboard races.

The Cocktail Class boat races on Saturday, May 18, will be held on Urbanna Creek off the Urbanna Town Marina at Upton’s Point.

The above historical information was provided by Walt Hurley, whose father Walter was a premiere Urbanna racer. Walt’s grandmother, Virginia Hurley, kept a scrapbook on her son’s racing years. E.M. Peatross, a former president of the American Power Boat Association who also raced on Urbanna Creek, also provided information from a scrapbook that he kept.

Powerboat races were held on Urbanna Creek from 1939 until 1966 when the American Power Boat Association deemed the creek too narrow for high speed races. (Courtesy of Richard Marshall)

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 05.08.2013

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