The amazing story of the raised and restored 1920s racing boat Wa Chee We

Wa Chee We was deliberately sunk by her owner back in the 1960s and was only found in 2009

When Canadian John Unsworth saw his dream boat being deliberately sunk by its owner back in the late 1960s, he vowed one day, when he was able, to raise her and restore her.

In 2009, his dream came true after spending the best part of a decade searching the bed of Lake Muskoka in Ontario for the 1923 mahogany racing boat.

Three years later, the boat, B’Isle, one of only five of its kind ever built – derivatives of the famous Rainbow 1 racer built by Ontario’s Ditchburn Company – was fully restored, and took to the lake with a roar.

You can see a fantastic photo series of the finding of the boat and her restoration, or spend a very worthwhile 20 minutes watching the video, below.

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The boat was sunk deliberately by her then owner, Wib Archer, back in the 60s as a form of storage, the cold waters of the lake acting as a safeguard against rot and decay.

It was only supposed to be a temporary measure, until Archer found the time needed to properly restore the craft, which required some serious hull work.

But things didn’t go to plan, and instead of sinking in roughly 30ft of water, the wind kicked up during the sinking and pushed it into a deeper part of the lake, where it sank in 100ft of water.

Unsworth described his hunt for the boat, now given her original name Wa Chee We, to Woody Boater: “I then set out to recover the boat and execute the plan Wib had made so many years before. But finding her turned out to be much more difficult than I imagined.

“Beginning in 2003 sidescan sonar skipped over the top of the bowl and saw nothing below. Cameras were drawn along the bottom, but missed the boat. Months turned into years of searching.

“I began to wonder if the boat had simply floated away. Everyone thought I was crazy. At Muskoka gatherings I came to dread the inevitable question: ‘How’s the boat search coming?’ A wry smile might follow, a knowing glance at others listening.

“Finally, on that wonderful day, Wednesday, August 19, 2009, at one o’clock in the morning, the underwater camera revealed a ghostly apparition that, upon closer and repeated inspection, turned out to be the bow of the Wa Chee We.”

Last summer saw the newly restored Wa Chee We take to the water for the first time in nearly 50 years, her new 700hp Ilmor engine pushing her to 43 knots.

John reported: “This summer it was the summer of the enchanting Wa Chee We. Suddenly it all came back: the boat, like my spirit, resurrected and renewed, lives again.

“There is just no experience like a wood boat coursing through the water at speed – impossible not to smile and love life.”

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