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The Shanty II – Our Unique Hydroplane

In 1956 the race team of William T. Waggoner won the prestigious APBA National Championship with the Shanty I. Waggoner would later go on to earn the 1959 National Championship with the famed Maverick. But the years between were wrought with disappointment, beginning with the disintegration of Shanty I on the Potomac River at the 1957 President’s Cup.

At the urging of engine builder Howard Gidovelenko, Waggoner retained aircraft designer H.E. Brooks to design the revolutionary two-point hydroplane, Shanty II. She was built by Avia-Union (Gidovelenko’s shop), and the workmanship was unequaled! The all-aluminum aircraft construction made the Shanty II light but very strong.

Russ Schleeh at the wheel of William Waggoner’s Shanty I
Photo by Bob Carver

Construction of the boat was completed in the summer of 1958, and she took her first test run on Lake Meade at 9:50 am, July 22nd. Col. Russ Schleeh was at the wheel, and his meticulously-kept log book details many discoveries of testing: a battery switch was reversed; a boost coil breaker needed replacing; spark plugs needed changing. Surprisingly, there is almost no detail on the boat’s performance. Through the many entries documenting weeks of testing the only comment about the boat’s handling is a terse six word entry on August 1, 1958: “Very difficult to get on step.”

Newspaper reports described Shanty II as very fast on the straight-away, but almost impossible to turn, as was anticipated by the design’s many critics. During testing there was one instance iin which the boat caught a chine and rolled, tearing off the tail fin. Witnesses believed there was at least on additional roll-over; some said there were more.

An unconfirmed but oft repeated account leaves Howard Gidovelenko behind, tinkering, while the rest of the crew went to lunch. Anxious to test his modifications, he took the craft for a test run in their absence. When they returned to find the boat up-side-down in the water, they were so angry with Howard that they rescued the hull and left him to swin ashore. (This expressly “unconfirmed rumor” was provided by APBA Unlimited Historian, Fred Farley.)

Testing continued through November 1958, when the project was finally shelved. A few years later Shanty II was sold to Ken Murphy of Sacramento, CA who removed the forward ski and outfitted her with twin auto engines for use as a pleasure boat. Murphy eventually sold the Shanty II.

The boat remained stored and abandoned in a barn for many years, as Murphy had moved to Mexico and pretty much disowned the boat and had quit paying storage fees owed.

Eventually, Shanty II was purchased by Jay’s Towing in Walnut Grove, California, at a lien sale. “Jay” didn’t know anything about the boat or its history, and really didn’t care. He had acquired the boat with plans to cut it up and sell the aluminum as recycle scrap. Fortunately, he never got around to doing so. One day Mr. Mike Pavao and Mr. Steve Wilkie saw the boat parked in the bushes behind Jay’s Towing. Paveo negotiated with “Jay”, and purchased the boat for $1,200.00. He and Steve towed it back to their hanger at Clarksburg Air Repair, Borges Field, Clarksburg, California where Steve washed all the leaves and dirt out of it. After washing it, Steve noticed a faintly etched name on the side: U-29 Shanty II. This discovery led him to do an internet search where he learned what she was, or had been.

Shanty II found in the bushes

The boat remained in storage at the hanger for about two years. Then, Mr. George McIntyre and his daughter Kelly Wilkie, wife of Steve, purchased the boat from Pavao and converted it to a pleasure boat. The deep forward ski had already been cut down to make it a non-propriding stepped hull. So, McIntyre cleaned it up, and installed a big block Oldsmobile 455 V-8 marine engine for power.

This was certainly not the end for the boat as had been envisioned by Ernest Stout and Hubert Brooke, and certainly not what was hoped for by Bill Waggoner. But, at least she retained an element of dignity.

Today, Shanty II resides in Sacramento at Precision Cleaning Systems, Inc. (Kelly’s business) and is occasionally sited in local waters.

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The Shanty II received a trophy for the "Most Unique Boat of the Show" at the 2012 South Tahoe Wooden Boat show
For a more detailed history, read Doug Ford’s book “What Were They Thinking” where he dedicates a chapter on the Shanty II.

You can purchase Doug Ford’s book at the museum or online.

Shanty II runs in Bridge to Bridge Fest