Luck was not with Joe Van Bergen and his brother Bill on July 22, 1956.
The siblings were racing their 136 hydro “Hoodoo” on Sproat Lake in the second race of the day when they hit a submerged obstacle, ripping an 18-inch hole in their hull.
Although they were able to patch it and race again, they were out of the competition.
While the Van Bergens weren’t winners in 1956, the community of Sproat Lake was: more than 5,000 spectators turned out to watch the regatta, which Vancouver’s Jim Hutchinson won.
Joe Van Bergen is hoping to recreate that ambience on July 20 when the Sproat Lake Regatta returns to the lake.
Van Bergen raced hydroplanes on the lake from 1953–62: Sproat Lake was one of five stops on Vancouver Island on a racing circuit back in the day, said Van Bergen, one of a group of 20 racers who travelled the circuit.
“I’ve been trying to bring it back for years, but us old guys couldn’t seem to get it together.”
The Alberni Valley Regatta Association formed more than a year ago, and finally Van Bergen will get his wish.
While Van Bergen will be a spectator this year (“at 89 years old, the challenge is too much for me,” he says), he is still a racing champion. In 1959 he set a record of 69 miles per hour in a 13-foot boat, with a small v8 engine that he and his brother built out of one-eighth-inch plywood.
“They were a popular class at the time,” he said. “The record still stands.”