Charles Mistele, owner and curator of legendary Miss America IX racing boat, dies at 76

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Charles Mistele, a member of the Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame and owner-curator of Miss America IX, one of the most famous powerboats in history, died on March 9 in Bluffton, South Carolina. He was 76.

Raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, Mistele was an avid sailor who compete in the 1964 U.S. Olympic Trials. His mother, Elisabeth “Libby” Mistele, was one of the first women in the world to race 22-square-meter sailboats.

Charles Mistele was the Commodore of the Spirit of Detroit in 1976–77, and in 1978 he co-founded the Michigan Chapter of the Antique Classic Boat Society. He was a passionate collector of classic cars and boats, and he had a keen interest in anything relating to famed boatbuilder Garfield Wood, creator of the Garwood brand of wooden boats. That included the purchase and restoration of the legendary 1930 Garwood speedboat, Miss America IX.

Charles Mistele - Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame - Miss America IX headshot
Charles Mistele family

Mistele frequently compared the boat’s historical significance to the airplane that Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, a feat that marked the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight.

“This boat is to water what the Spirit of St. Louis is to aviation,” Mistele said, “and fate picked me to protect it.”

Miss America IX, built by legendary Wood to defend the prestigious Harmsworth Trophy, became the first boat to exceed 100 mph when it reached 102.256 mph on March 20, 1931 in Miami. But when Mistele and his father first saw it in Algonac, Michigan, in the late 1960s, it was a shell of its former self. “There were only three things left on that boat: the steering wheel, bow rudder, and propeller struts,” Mistele said in 2014.

That didn’t stop him from buying it.

“In 1930, racing boats were made to last only two years, and then they’d be stripped for the parts,” Mistele said. “Of the 10 Miss America boats, only three are left—VIII, IX and X. Rough shape or not, we knew No. 9 was a treasure, and someone had to save it.”

Charles Mistele - Hagerty Marine Hall of Fame aboard Miss America IX
Charles Mistele family

Countless hours of meticulous repair and refurbishing followed. “It was a preservation, not a restoration,” Mistele said. “We had to replace the (triple-planked) bottom, but it still has the original mahogany and gold leaf lettering on the side, and I left all the dings and the dents. Think about it—Gar Wood put those there. Gar Wood!

Of the five Harmsworth Trophy boats that still exist, only Miss America IX regularly returned to the water.

Always the protector, six years ago he was already thinking about who might care for the boat after he was gone. “One thing I’ve learned is you don’t ever really own one of these boats,” Mistele said. “You’re just a custodian for a period of time.”

A memorial service was held on March 13. Mistele is survived by his wife, Diane DeZembler Mistele; daughters Michelle Long (Norris), Hollis Condon (David), and Brittany Tarleton (Huntley); and seven grandchildren.

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