What becomes of late-1960s offshore powerboat racing warriors once their racing days are over?

Well, writes Gerard Richards, the news is mostly bad, even for victorious stars of those halcyon days of offshore powerboat racing in the 1960s and 1970s. Most suffered the ultimate fate once their window of success had closed and were left to the ravages of time, allowed to fall derelict or chopped up.

This was the fate of many once-sleek racers. Sadly, few have been restored to their former glory and, of the few survivors from the epic offshore racing wars of the 1970s, most are in a derelict state. This is one of them, a major player of that era, which has languished for the last 20 years in an Auckland boat yard.

MYSTIC MISS
Mystic Miss made history in 1969 as the country’s first triple outboard rig, equipped with three inline six-cylinder 135hp Mercurys. This was a serious leap in a sport barely five years old that still frowned on purpose-built racing powerboats.

Bill Stevenson Jnr, son of iconic quarrying/construction titan Sir William Stevenson, owner of the Stevenson Group, was the driver and owner of this formidable boat. He had it built by Plylite Boats of Paraparaumu to a Renato Levi design from the famous Italian family boating design dynasty. It was 26-feet long (7.93m), 7-feet 9-inches (2.4m) in beam and constructed of reinforced plywood sheathed in fibreglass. It was a very narrow boat, which was classic Levi style, but suited the slim inline six-cylinder Mercury engines, which were the top outboards of the day.

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As an aside, Renato Levi visited New Zealand in the early 1970s, which was a celebrated event for top Kiwi powerboat designers like Rex Henry, Jim Mackay and others. Another three local offshore powerboats were built to Levi designs shortly afterwards, including Vanishing Point and The Graduate.


Stevenson already had a successful background racing hydroplanes (also carrying the name Mystic Miss) in the late 1950s and early 60s. In 1961 and ’62 he had won the prestigious Masport Cup at Manukau, Auckland. Another major achievement was setting a new Australian and New Zealand hydroplane record for the 266 cubic-inch and unlimited class of 124.62mph in June 1962.

RACING HISTORY
In 1969, offshore powerboat racing was about to break away from competing in production recreational runabouts. When Bill Stevenson debuted his sleek, futuristic multi-rig Mystic Miss at the Gisborne 80-mile race in February 1969, the offshore scene shifted up a gear. With barely run-in motors, he finished third, beaten by Tiger Hunter, a twin 135hp Mercury rig, and Kitten, a Chev V8 inboard, both boats also embracing the future.

Mystic Miss and Bill Stevenson were the team to beat in 1969-70. Some highlights of the combo, which included fellow crew members Drew Gordon and Gordon Holmes, were as follows.


In 1969, first in the Lexington 100-mile in Wellington, third in the Gisborne 80-mile. In 1970, Bill won the Atlantic Offshore Drivers Championship in the elite category A with a first in the Gisborne 80-mile, first in the New Plymouth 40-mile and second in the Atlantic 100, Auckland. These were among his best results.

The last year he raced Mystic Miss was 1971 and highlights included first in the Atlantic Six-hour Marathon, Auckland and second in the Taupo 80-mile race.

Stevenson hung on to Mystic Miss until 1973, keeping his options open for a return to the fray. He may have had occasional race starts in 1972, but this is unconfirmed. Possibly due to the ascendancy of the large Chev V8 inboards, he elected to retire and sold Mystic Miss to Ken Lusty of Ken Lusty Marine, who renamed her Peter Stuyvesant. Ken fitted triple six-cylinder inline 150hp Mercurys and the Levi-designed boat returned to do battle in 1973-74.

The highlight of Ken’s time at the wheel of Peter Stuyvesant was first in the outright speed section of the 1973 Atlantic Six-hour Marathon on Auckland Harbour. His only other mark on the 1974 scoreboard was a sixth outright in the speed section of that year’s Atlantic Six-hour Marathon. For outright speed in the heavyweight class, it was now apparent the aging Levi hull couldn’t foot it with the new Chev V8-powered Mackay hulls and others.

Following the 1974 season, Mystic Miss/Peter Stuyvesant was retired from active competition. There appears to be no further documentation of it being raced, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

RECREATIONAL SPEEDBOAT REVAMP
What happened next from here is where the waters get fairly muddied. The ex-racer was in limbo somewhere until the early 1980s, when she was pulled out of retirement by Errol Olthert who refurbished her as a high-powered recreational speedboat. Erroll, among other things, was a great mate of Sir Peter Blake’s and was with him on the Amazon expedition when he died. He converted Mystic Miss from outboards, installing a TR sterndrive hooked up to a big block Chevrolet V8. He also fitted an elevated cabin area for better weather protection.

The small headlights in the bow, which were retained, provide the seal of certainty that the rebuilt Mystic Miss was derived from the original boat. These lights line up exactly with the chines from early photos. Also, the original hip line of the topsides has been retained, along with some of the brightwork.


Following the initial restoration and the boat’s reappearance, the trail goes cold again until Mystic Miss re-emerged under the name of The Collection in the mid-1980s. Kevin Green, who raced the Jim Mackay-built 27-foot, Chev V8 Aurora in the mid-70s, was associated with this incarnation of the aging race legend, but it is unclear whether he was the new owner. He is reputed to have named it The Collection, referring to the ensemble of toys he had at the time, which included a Chev Corvette. This suggests he did own her for a time – there are a couple of photos with him at the wheel on Auckland Harbour from April 1986.

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Then, the trail of this early offshore racer went cold once more. That is, until she turned up in an Auckland boat yard in the early 2000s, returned to the original Mystic Miss yellow paint. The new owner intended to have some repairs and alterations carried out, but his personal circumstances changed and the old racer suddenly became a liability.

REVIVAL OR LAST RITES FOR MYSTIC MISS?
This classic Levi-designed, historically successful and important race boat has remained at this location now for 20 years. Being exposed to the elements for that length of time has not done her any favours, either.

It is hoped someone will recognise the historical significance of this old offshore racing warrior and restore her. A newly emerging historic offshore racing category catering for boats of this era might provide some further incentive.


Whoever takes her on will have to be quick, though. Time is running out for this old warhorse: with her storage location closing down soon, the fate of Mystic Miss is almost certainly sealed if she does not find a new home… Let’s not allow another major player from our early offshore power boat racing history to be lost.

The writer wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Nigel Rees and Dave Schafter in preparing this article.

If anyone is interested, Nigel is the man to talk to. He can be reached at 09 4466311 or 0274 960751 to discuss the proposition.

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