Written by Jen Finn
December 30, 2013
The deed to speed
New Jersey's garvey racers propel a wooden clam-boat tradition with fiberglass rockets
By Kirk Moore
Engines suddenly bark and roar into throttle as brothers Harry and Jeff Von Schmidt vault out onto Barnegat Bay, helmeted heads and life-jacketed bodies thrust back in the seats as direct-drive transmissions kick in.
Their 17-foot racing boats, Indian Summer and Rumblefish, are patterned on the garvey — the classic southern New Jersey bayman's snub-nosed work scow, with roots that go back to the earliest English settlers of the 1700s.
Within about a minute other racers finish their "hot run" warm-ups and are pacing the roughly oval course laid out with buoys, then pouring on the gas when they get the start flag. Leaning into their turns, trying to keep boats from skittering and losing ground, it's an intensely physical contest, bodies battered by the pounding of flat boat bottoms — and sometimes flipping over, bringing a scramble of rescue swimmers.
"Indian Summer, he's gettin' it!" race announcer Larry Palmer booms over the loudspeakers. "Harry did lots of work the last few weeks."
Past the checkered flag, Harry Von Schmidt coasts back up to the beach at the Parkertown, N.J., docks to congratulations and handshakes from fellow racers of the Jersey Outlaws Racing Association.
"It was the propeller. I kept trying different wheels. I went through six of them," Harry explains. "But with this one, it just gets up and goes. And I'll get them on the turns. Nothing turns like this boat. It's like a go-kart."
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