THE EARLY 1920S SPARKED AMERICA’S FASCINATION WITH POWER BOATING, AS THE ELITE CRUISED AROUND IN NEWLY CUSTOM-BUILT WOODEN BEAUTIES.
Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, placed a custom order with Hacker-Craft in 1924 for a 33-foot wooden speedboat powered by a Liberty V-12 engine – making it faster than many race boats of its day, clocking in at 49 mph. Ford also owned a sleek mahogany Chris-Craft, as did William Randolph Hearst, founder of Hearst Communications. The list of wooden boats owned by celebrities and business titans continued to grow in the 1950s, with Dean Martin, Katharine Hepburn and Elvis Presley – not to mention the iconic Riva gifted to Brigitte Bardot by her former husband and film director, Roger Vadim.
The flashy and sophisticated style of wooden boats symbolized high economic and social status from the 1920s through the 1950s. The 1960s brought the introduction of fiberglass boats – many wooden boats were abandoned or destroyed in favor of the easy maintenance of their fiberglass counterparts.
In the 1981 film “On Golden Pond,” a Chris-Craft boat graced the big screen, prompting a renewed interest in wooden boats. Collectors today are likely to spend upwards of $500,000 for an antique 1920s/1930s wooden boat and the chance to own a piece of boating history. These wooden boat enthusiasts find the price tag is worth it for the nostalgia of the craft and the sense of history that lives in the wood – boats that exude the culture of their respective eras, be it the decadence of the
Roaring ’20s jazz clubs, Gatsby suits and flapper girls or the energy of rock and roll, corduroy suits and poodle skirts from the 1950s. The very essence of a vintage boat’s history comes to life the moment you step on board.
Even in the era of fiberglass, the modern wooden boat remains the embodiment of luxury and leisure; boasting exquisite craftsmanship throughout, with visually superior hulls that emphasize their warm and natural beauty. Manufacturers in today’s marketplace pay meticulous
Manufacturers in today’s marketplace pay meticulous attention to detail, taking between three to six months (and sometimes longer) to craft a custom built wooden boat. Now equipped with top of the line technologies, wooden boats provide owners an ultimate boating experience. Wood offers acoustic superiority, limiting noise transmitted throughout the boat, and the thermal characteristics of the material minimize condensation on the interior of the boat – offering passengers a quiet and comfortable ride.
Buyers of custom wooden boats can expect structural integrity and rigidity lasting the lifetime of the owner and beyond if properly maintained. Read on to learn more about the players still making these luxury watercraft today!
VAN DAM CUSTOM BOATS
When classic wooden boat designs are incorporated with highly evolved engineering, the finished product is strong, beautiful, and singular. Founder Steve Van Dam’s dream of sailing to far off places began with a small wooden boat on Lake Macatawa, not far from his family home in Grand Rapids, MI. Motivated by self-reliance and a passion to learn, Van Dam complemented these qualities with a love of wood and water – shaping the undercurrents of what Old World masters term “a calling.”
Learning from a master craftsman in Canada, Van Dam became skilled in wood boat building via new construction techniques and the use of modern adhesives. His lessons paid off as four years later, he returned to Michigan with his wife Jean to launch what is now known as Van Dam Custom Boats.
Van Dam completes one to three boats a year and each personifies the integrity of its craftsmen as well as the family name. “We make our own parts and pieces – everything from metal hardware to complex electrical systems,” says Van Dam. And if you ask what his favorite parts of boat building are now, versus when he began in 1977, he will speak of instant communication with clients, digitally designing the boats and of course, the ‘cool tools.’ The Van Dam crew of 10 to 12 skilled boat builders utilize the finest materials and technology available to build their amazing watercraft.
When asked if he can pick a favorite Van Dam boat, Van Dam is quick with an analogy. “This is like asking who your favorite child is. I love all my children! And because we build only one of each custom design, there is no way to have a favorite model. Each is a favorite because of its own uniqueness. To choose one would mean slighting the others. It’s impossible to do.”
Van Dam builders employ a variety of wood species including various Mahoganies, Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Alaskan Yellow Cedar and Teak. “We will use any species for interiors,” noted Van Dam. “Every wood is used in a manner that best represents its strength or visual requirements and every boat is different in its requirements.” The quality of the material and the workmanship creates a truly unique end product. “No man made products match the beauty and versatility of wood,” he continued. “Wood is timeless and fluid.”
Founded in Detroit, MI in 1908, the Hacker Boat Company is one of the oldest boat building companies in the world. Its founder, John Ludwig Hacker, born in 1877, was a visionary talent who has long been acknowledged as the greatest American speed boat and motorboat designer of the 20th century. He is widely considered The Father of the Modern American Runabout.
Today’s Hacker-Craft boats are hand-crafted with the finest select genuine mahoganies available, using the design plans of John Hacker. Many of their models look like classic 1920s and 1930s Hacker-Craft above the waterline, but with dramatic improvements throughout thanks to improved modern boat building techniques and materials. Utilizing these new technologies and materials, today’s boats are built with “dry” bottoms, where modern epoxies are layered between each of three planking layers of mahogany. Not only are the dry bottoms incredibly strong and resilient, their maintenance has been drastically reduced. No more replacing rope caulk, wetting and swelling, or yearly refinishing.
Today the company builds runabouts, sport boats, yacht tenders, launches and utilities from 24 to 35 feet in length. Hacker-Craft boats were named by “Forbes Magazine FYI” as being “50 of America’s Best” products.
What makes a wooden boat, like a Hacker-Craft, so unique? According to Erin Badcock, Vice President Operations for Hacker-Craft, it’s the process. “The boats are truly handmade,” she said. “They literally start as a pile of wood at one end of the factory and end up at the end of the production line as what many consider a work of art.”
For owners of wooden watercraft, this means art that can take them places – art that can help them create memories and make an impression. “In a world almost entirely populated by plastic boats, wood stands out in the crowd,” noted Badcock, “Anybody who wants an exceedingly smooth ride, appreciates beauty and classic lines, and seeks quality will want a Hacker-Craft. Our company continues a historic tradition of building wood boats under the legacy of Hacker-Craft. Once you enjoy the feeling of riding in a wood boat, you’ll never forget it and nothing will compare.”
StanCraft has been turning heads in the wooden boat industry since 1933. They turned out one of the their most notable designs – 22 foot Torpedo in 1945. By the late 1990s, second generation owner Syd Young was changing the future of StanCraft through his redesign of boat bottoms, achieving better performance and providing a soft and level ride. Young, and his wife Julie, sold the majority of the business in 1997 with the exception of the name and brand StanCraft, keeping the family heritage in tact. They continued to build new, spec StanCraft on occasions, and accepted a few custom orders, until 2003 – when their daughter Amy and husband Robb Bloem returned to Idaho after a 12-year hiatus. “We came back with the intent to start a new era in the wooden boat building world,” said Robb Bloem, now a third-generation StanCraft owner.
From initial sketches and drawings to the Master Builder’s ability to make on the fly spec changes, StanCraft ensures each wooden beauty reflects the client’s vision. “We are custom builders with really good skills, among the most important; listening.” Bloem stated. “Strong backs and shoulders with a keen eye for detail are what build these works of art.” Their boats are 100% hand-made of African Mahogany, taking approximately nine months to complete. Build seasons run from August through May, June and July. “You never know what will inspire us. We are always pushing for new beautiful designs,” Bloem continued. “You may already have something in mind that we can incorporate into something wholly new.”
When asked about the StanCraft building method, Bloem explained, “We build using the ‘plank on frame’ method – the method we have used for over 80 years. It is a tried and true process that gives the hull an incredible amount of strength.” Many pre-war StanCraft boats are still gliding over water today because of the thoughtful craftsmanship used in their production.
StanCraft boats offer a “buttery soft level ride,” beauty and elegance. “Our pride in craftsmanship and pursuit of perfection will continue for another 82 years,” Bloem concluded. “Three distinct generations make up our history and the fourth generation is already working on new designs. We are very excited for the future of StanCraft!”
A LITTE BIT OF
CELEBRATING IT’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY IN 2017, THE ANTIQUE BOAT MUSEUM FOCUSES ON THE HISTORY OF RECREATIONAL BOATING IN NORTH AMERICA.
From humble beginnings as a riverside gathering of antique boat enthusiasts, the Antique Boat Museum has evolved into a national institution which makes substantial economic and cultural contributions to the preservation of North America’s maritime heritage.
In the 50 years since its founding, the Antique Boat Museum has constructed a substantial waterfront campus that encompasses 4.5 acres, 1,900 feet of dockage and 1,300 feet of St. Lawrence River shoreline. It’s ten campus buildings contain 29,000 square feet of exhibit space and 33,000 square feet of public program, collections storage, archives, library, and administration area. The exhibits and programs are supported by 20,000 square feet of boat collection storage located a short distance from the Museum’s main campus. In the last decade, the Museum has undertaken a substantial capital expansion program to consolidate its real estate holdings and construct buildings and infrastructure worthy of its collection and programs.
Looking to take in a little bit of wooden boat history? With over 300 boats in the Museum collection, a wide variety of wood species are represented including everything from birch bark canoes and cedar strip Penn Yans to a teak decked Chris Craft, and the most common species being mahogany. The Museum can provide a wealth of information for someone on the path to ownership of either a vintage or modern wooden boat of their own – the collection offers great inspiration for styling and model types. Those looking to be more hands on with their vessel can even participate in the Museum’s annual Symposium co-hosted with the ACBS (Antique & Classic Boat Society), where boat owners can learn restoration skills from bottom replacement to staining and varnishing.
Check out some favorite exhibits!
LA DUCHESSE | The largest artifact in the ABM collection. She is a 106’ houseboat built in 1903 for hotelier George Boldt, manager of New York City’s famed Waldorf-Astoria hotel. La Duchesse has been in continuous use as an elegant summer residence on the St. Lawrence River for over 110 years. The McNally Family donated La Duchesse to the ABM in 2005.
WILD GOOSE | Wild Goose is the ABM’s “logo boat,” with her silhouette appearing in the museum logo. “Goose,” as she is affectionately known, was built in 1915 at Hutchinson Boat Works – just 15 minutes down river from the Museum in Alexandria Bay, NY. Her original owner, Frederick Lovejoy, named her Onondaga III and used her to ferry passengers to and from his home in Westminster Park on Wellesley Island.
ZIPPER | The ABM’s commuter yacht, fondly referred to as the Museum ambassador. Every year from Memorial Day through the end of September, Zipper can be seen daily on the River taking passengers for a ride through the 1000 Islands. Although she was designed in the 1930s for the Purdy Boat Company, she was not built until the mid-1970s when brewery magnate John W. Stroh finally commissioned Staudacher Yachts to build her.