Man Who Grew Up In New Martinsville Takes Vintage Raceboat for Inaugural Run

Man Who Grew Up In New Martinsville Takes Vintage Raceboat for Inaugural Run

WHEELING — David Bridgeman said he was excited about taking his recently purchased vintage hydroplane raceboat for a few exhibition laps.

The man who grew up in New Martinsville and now lives in Hannibal said his interest in boats came naturally while he was raised along the eastern shore of Ohio River. Saturday, he got a chance to test his own boat for the first time during the annual Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta.

While dozens gathered at Wheeling’s Heritage Port, Bridgeman watched in anticipation as a large crane lowered his A-711 Gemini into the water.

“It was a little bit bumpy, but it’s pretty exciting,” he said with a smile after taking several laps. “I’m just trying to get the feel of the boat.”

Bridgeman said he has been watching the regatta in New Martinsville for many years. Last year, he finally got a chance to drive one of the vintage boats when Wheeling resident Brian Joseph let him use his.

“I grew up in New Martinsville, so the New Martinsville Regatta was in my back yard where we lived on the river,” Bridgeman said. “Danny (Joseph) and Brian Joseph and I are friends, and we have been friends since childhood, and they would come down to our house to watch the regatta, and that’s what got them interested in it.”

Bridgeman said he and the Josephs have been following Ohio Valley regattas since the 1960s. After years of interest, he said he finally decided to purchase his own boat from an owner in New York state.

“This will be my inaugural run in this boat,” he said Saturday just before taking it for a ride.

Several of the raceboats are owned by Ohio Valley residents, including Dan Joseph and Debbie Joseph, of Wheeling, who founded the event and continue to manage it.

Debbie Joseph, regatta co-director, said they were expecting an exciting weekend as nearly four-dozen boats were already loaded in the pit area at the river’s edge by Saturday morning. She said they have participants from across the county, and even from Canada and Australia. She said national anthems from the United States, Canadian and Australian were performed at the opening ceremony by David Gaudio.

Regatta co-director Dan Joseph said the Wheeling/New Martinsville area is home to at least 13 vintage hydroplanes. Hydroplanes in Wheeling differ from those on the American Power Boat Association racing circuit. All once were APBA-sanctioned racers, but they cannot compete today because they are not as safe as modern craft. While the APBA now mandates safety features such as driver seats in enclosed safety cells, the vintage boats are open-cockpit craft — with nothing securing the drivers inside.

The regatta continues today with The Marshall University Fife and Drum Corps, dressed in colonial period uniforms, scheduled to perform “Amazing Grace” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” A car show is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Water Street. There is no admission charge. Details on the regatta are available at wheelingvintageregatta.com and on the regatta’s Facebook page.

Those who attend will have the opportunity to stroll through the pit area and meet raceboat drivers, and even get their autographs. There also will be face-painting, games with prizes and appearances by “the balloon lady,” “the bubble guy,” and a movie princess, organizers said.

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