After sitting unfinished for 60 years in a barn near Erie, Pennsylvania, a 14½-foot runabout was launched and christened on the St. Lawrence River this summer. The hull, built in 1950 of marine plywood over oak frames and stem, has been finally finished to become a gentleman’s launch. Her gleaming brightwork, mahogany seats, and windshield with teak and holly foredeck are in sharp contrast to the weathered gray hull I found when I first saw her. The plywood had turned dark in color from age and dust in the late builder’s barn. Her bones seemed strong, and the spoon bow and hard chines had nice lines. The purchase price was only $500, but I was not sure if I was getting a good buy or not!
After transporting the hull back to Maryland, the overturned boat sat in my carriage house garage for about a year. I sanded the hull and found it to be sound and well-constructed. Since the boat had been purchased from an antique dealer in Erie, I had no information on the builder or the design. Yet the graceful shear and notched oak transom were
sweet to my eyes.
As I lacked the time and experience to finish the 1950-era hull, I approached two boat builders in Maine, who were without much work during the winter of 2008. So, Harry Farmer and his son Greg Farmer, who owned Seaway Boats, picked up the hull, and took it back to their shop in Gray, Maine. The interior frame, stem, and transom were also coated with epoxy and painted. The original curved framing of the foredeck was covered with teak and holly plywood decking and then trimmed in mahogany. A low-profile safety glass windshield framed in mahogany set off the bow. Seating for four was constructed in solid mahogany, while the cockpit sole was also finished in teak and holly.
A vintage red boat steering wheel on a polished aluminum hub was found on eBay. This wheel, located in the aft seat, provided for a better ride in a chop. Spray rails were bolted to the bow to deflect water away from the occupants. A stainless steel striker guard was attached to the bow to protect the fine entry. What about running lights and a flag pennant? Yes, they were also located and installed. And finally, chrome cleats and chocks with an antique design finished the detailing.
Greg and Harry Farmer sent photos of the progress made to the runabout. Each new image chronicled how lovely the ugly little duckling was becoming. The boat was launched on a Maine lake so that the water lines could be properly set, and then bottom paint was applied. The Farmers were proud of their work, plus it was a way to get through a quiet winter in the boat building business.
When the finished boat was delivered back to Annapolis, no one could believe that this was the same old, gray plywood hull that had looked so dark and forgotten. Her gleaming brightwork had seven coats of Epifanes varnish. Her white hull was shiny in new paint, and all of the hull screws and plywood seams were now hidden from view. The Farmers preserved the oak transom and dashboard with coats of varnish. It was a job well done, and the original builder must have been smiling from his heavenly berth – seeing that his boat was nearing completion.
I considered installing a vintage 2-stroke outboard. Reid Bandy, who builds lovely boats, also restores vintage outboards, provided a 1950’s 25-horsepower motor for a sea trial. While the boat moved nicely, albeit with a high bow angle, the two-stroke motor seemed to lack the performance and a quiet operation that I sought. So after some starts and stops, Fairwinds Marina was hired to install a new Yamaha 25 four-stroke. The short-shaft engine is quiet, economical, clean, and most of all, reliable. To trim-out, the running angle, Dolfin trim tabs were added to bring the bow lower at cruising speeds.
Initial sea trials on the St. Lawrence show good manners. She is on plane quickly with minimum wake and throttle. The spray rails keep most River water away from the passengers. The ride is quite soft for a 14½-footer, and much better than the 1967 Boston Whaler 16 that we ran some years ago. The new engine, while still in its break-in period, briefly showed a top speed of 23 mph. Cruise speed is in the 17 to 19 mph range. Pretty good numbers for only 25 horsepower!
During sea trials around Heart Island, Summerland Island, and Alexandria Bay, the new runabout has received lots of thumbs up and admiring waves from other boaters and tourists. Her classic looks and smart show of speed has drawn attention.
A christening was held at our dock on Tennis Island North on Wellesley Island. The ABM burgee and US yacht ensign complete the runabout’s snappy look. The “new” runabout is called “Rumba”—which is a spirited, sensuous and lovely dance—like the look of the runabout. My wife, Anne, and I met about 19 years ago at a Big Band dance. So our love of ballroom dancing has led to naming our boats: “Foxtrot,” “Tango,” and now “Rumba.”
When you see “Rumba” on the River, please give her a warm wave. After 60 years of being seemingly forgotten and unfinished, the “new” boat has come to life. Let the water dance begin!
[Seaway Boats: 31 Industrial Way, NH, 03851]
By Rick Casali
Rick Casali is a resident of Wellesley Island. During his youth, his parents had a cottage from 1947 to 1965 named The Orchards on Grindstone Island. Rick now splits his time between Stuart, Florida and the River. He was with Columbia Gas System for 29 years, and ran their Washington, DC office. Then in 2000, he started brokering boats and yachts, and continues as a broker with North Point Yacht Sales. Rick and his wife Anne cruise the River in a 26’ Lyman “Turtles”, and a Seaway 21 center console as well as a catboat named “Tango”. They live on Tennis Island North on Wellesley Island.