Ah, the allure of a fast boat

August 2021

By Randy Randall

Leapin’ Lena sure flew, but the adrenaline rush this provided didn’t last for very long. Photo courtesy Randy Randall

When Bill Marston (my wife Jean’s father) started our marina in the early ’50s he called it Riverside Anchorage. He was an interesting guy. He was industrious and creative and always wanted a Jaguar car; but three kids, a mortgage, a regular job, and a real estate subdivision did not leave space for such a frivolous expense. So instead, he built himself a fast boat.

For its day Leapin’ Lena was a terror on the water. Only 17 feet long, basically flat bottomed and powered with a huge Chrysler Hemi engine, Lena was impressive. Dad built the boat in the garage during the winter. It may have been a Glen-L design called Hot Rod from the ’50s.

The engine came out of a Chrysler Imperial. Dad converted it to marine use and married it up with a Velvet drive transmission. The hull was painted blue. For a few years on the Saco River and Sebago Lake and Long Lake, Leapin’ Lena dominated the fast boat scene. We boys were a little afraid of the boat. Sitting at idle the hull rocked side to side twisted by the torque of the steeply pitched propeller. When you pushed the throttle, it felt like an earthquake. Dad had created a fire breathing monster.

We could easily tow eight water skiers. In those days hot shot Mercury outboards were the ones to beat. Lena’s hole shot was death defying and scared the pants off us. The boat squatted, shook like a banshee and then leaped ahead skipping over the water like a low flying airplane. Leapin’ Lena owned the quarter mile.

Dad’s homemade boat surprised a lot of Donzi’s and Chris Crafts. When the four-barrel Holley carburetor kicked in the engine sounded like a bee buzzing up the lake. Dad was satisfied. For a few summers anyway he was king of the lake. Until one summer afternoon when the boat went airborne. We were at Long Lake near Bridgton and the surface of the lake was flat calm, just before dusk. We had been tuning the carburetor and Lena was running like an Indie car. Dad said, “I think I’ll just take a little boat ride.”

He went alone. Conditions were perfect. Leapin’ Lena skittered over the calm water. We knew where Dad was because we could hear the buzzing bee and see the rooster tail spew into the air. Then suddenly we lost the sound of the engine. Mother said, “I think Dad’s in trouble.”

The camp had a little power boat we used to race across Long Lake and find Dad. He was hanging onto a seat cushion treading water near the sinking boat. “Get a line on the bow,” he yelled. We rigged a rope and another cushion for a buoy so we’d be able to find the boat in the morning. By then we had hauled Dad up into our boat. He was exhausted but unhurt. He said, “She went airborne. The bow just flew up and the stern went under and I had to jump ship.”

Over the next few days we boys rescued the boat but that’s another story in itself. That was Dad’s last ride in his speedboat. Mother declared Leapin’ Lena was off limits and I guess Dad kind of agreed with her. I think the experience scared him somewhat because we never again heard him mention the boat or a Jaguar.

Randy Randall

Saco, Maine