Women Who Build and Race Boats

By: Rick Casali

Volume 19, Issue 5, May 2024

Traditionally, the boating industry has been dominated by men.  Women in the past have played a minor role in boat building and boat racing. But this is not always the case. This article will focus on a few women who have been pioneers in boat building and racing. Trying to tie these women to the Thousand Islands is not an easy assignment, but I will do my best.

Clover Boldt  

The daughter of George and Louise Boldt, Clover Boldt, was quite a sportswoman. She was known to be a fine golfer and tennis player. But her competitive nature also applied to the water. Clover was known to be an excellent yachtsman and was especially proficient in boat racing. Of course, when your father owns over 80 boats of various sizes, and you live on an island, you have little choice but to become a River Rat. The Boldt family had a number of fast boats in their stable.  Competition in Gold Cup racing was high on the family’s priority list. They owned two of the so-called one-design Number Boats built by Leyare Boat Co. in Ogdensburg, NY. The boats were named This and That. Clover had a reputation for being very successful on the race course and took the checkered flag in a number of regattas. In fact, she was also known to defeat her husband, Alfred Graham Miles, who raced against Clover in competition.

Marjorie Bourne  

Marjorie Bourne loved boats, automobiles, rowing, and skiing. Her father, Frederick Bourne, built Singer Castle on Dark Island and was Commodore of the prestigious New York Yacht Club. On her 14th birthday, the Chairman of the Singer Sewing Machine Company gifted his daughter Marjorie a 37-foot power boat, which she named Moike. The boat was powered by a Sterling 150 horsepower engine, which was very large marine power for the day. Marjorie, whose family nick name was Hoolie, was known to be a fine helmsman and boat racer. In fact, in 1911 she won the first-place trophy in the race sponsored by the Thousand Island Yacht Club. That trophy and her boat Moike are both at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY. The boat no longer has an engine or any deck hardware; it had been sitting forgotten for years, in the boathouse on Dark Island, until it was donated to the Antique Boat Museum (ABM) in the mid 1960’s.

Delphine Dodge

The only daughter of Horace and Anna Dodge, of Dodge Motor Company fame, was named Delphine.  She grew up in Grosse Pointe, MI, and the 257-foot steam yacht “Delphine” bore her name, and still does to this day. The Dodge family not only built motor cars, but they also founded a boat building company. Delphine’s brother, Horace Jr., was the driving force behind the Dodge Boat Co., and during that time his sister Delphine became quite active in boat racing. In fact, in 1927 she became the first woman to win the prized President’s Cup sponsored by the American Power Boat Association (APBA). Delphine Dodge Baker also won the Gold Cup in 1933. Many of the Dodge race boats were named Delphine. Also of note is that the classic 257-foot yacht Delphine visited Cape Vincent, NY, on a number of occasions as her mother Anna had dear friends there and loved dining at the Carlton Hotel. (However, I have not found any word of her racing on the St. Lawrence River in Gold Cup action.)

Cindy Purcell  

Huckins Yacht Corporation is headed by Cindy Purcell, the granddaughter of founder Frank Pembroke Huckins.  Cindy started at Huckins in 1970 in the stockroom. That same year, her future husband, Buddy Purcell, started as a painter at Huckins. The company has designed and constructed motor yachts in the 38 to 65-foot range and they even built PT boats for the Navy during WWII. Cindy is said to share the same vision for Huckins that her grandfather displayed. Huckins is one of the oldest family-owned boat builders in the United States.

Working as a team, Cindy and Buddy have maintained the reputation that the company has enjoyed for building quality, fast, seaworthy yachts. They have retained the name “Fairform Flyer” for their boats. Just recently, they introduced a new 38 hybrid sportsman express, whose lines can be traced to other vintage Huckins designs. I have watched Cindy walking customers through her new yachts at boat shows. This lady knows her business and is most impressive. While I am not aware of any Huckins boats residing in the Thousand Islands, occasionally I see a Huckins boat transiting the St. Lawrence River. Perhaps one of our island residents will purchase the new 38 hybrid or a classic Huckins wood model.

Heidi Reid

Stur-Dee Boat Co. is located in Tiverton, RI. Heidi Reid owns and operates Stur-Dee Boats. They build several different designs, which were created by Ernie Gavin, her father.  The company builds the Amsbury Dory, which are 14 to 16 feet in length. They also build a Harbormaster Dinghy and a Rowing Skiff. Lastly, the company builds the 14-foot Stur-Dee Catboat, which has lovely lines. When Ernie passed away, Heidi took over the company, and has worked hard to maintain the reputation that her father had for making honest, seaworthy boats. Heidi’s daughter, McKenzie, has worked alongside Heidi for a number of years building Stur-Dee Boats. As far as I know, they are the only mother/daughter boat building team in the U.S.

Anne and I are lucky to have Heidi as a friend.  When you hold her calloused hands, you know how hard this lady works to turn out her lines of dories and catboats. She and McKenzie stayed at our home during Annapolis Boat Shows. And I purchased one of her Stur-Dee Catboats, which we have enjoyed for years.   Tango now lives on Wellesley Island, and we are planning to recommission her next spring after a two-year layup. Look for the catboat Tango in the waters off Boldt Castle next spring!

The Stur-Dee Catboat built by Heidi Reid 

Rebecca Hopfinger, Executive Director of the ABM, and I have discussed inviting Heidi Reid to a future ABM show to share her experiences about being a woman boatbuilder.

By Rick Casali

Rick Casali is a resident of Wellesley Island. During his youth, from 1947 to 1976, his parents had a cottage on Grindstone Island named The Orchards. Rick now splits his time between Stuart, FL and the River. He worked for 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 Seaway 24 Seafarer named "Miss Annie", and they live on Tennis Island.

Be sure to see more of Rick Casali's tributes and reviews. He has now written over 19 articles for TI Life, and they are not only interesting but also provides an important historical review of River life.

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 5, May 2024, History, People, Sports, Current

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