Made in New York
Local Boatbuilders at the Antique Boat Show in Clayton proved that at least one sector of the economy is thriving
As we drove through the rural countryside surrounding Clayton, New York, the impact of our struggling economy was apparent. Many local businesses were shuttered, and nearby houses were so empty, you could see straight through them. My husband and I lamented the fact that so few things are made in the U.S. these days and the toll that lack of production has taken on the job market and communities. But our spirits lifted when we arrived in the thriving Clayton downtown, where the Antique Boat Museum has had a facelift and the spruced up main street offered trendy shops and appealing restaurants. The Saint Lawrence Seaway wound its way in and out of inlets and bays, its glistening blue water adding to the attraction.
Inside the Museum grounds, beautiful wooden boats lined the docks as people snapped photos and talked with owners and boat-builders. Suddenly it occurred to us that we were looking at American ingenuity and craftsmanship: Many of these reproduction boats are made in the U.S., and quite a few of them were made within 60 miles of Lake George.
Young Greg Turcotte stood proudly beside a newly minted 27-foot GarWood Gentleman’s Speedster as he told me about his family’s boat-building business, GarWood Custom Boats, run by Larry and Tom Turcotte. Greg (Larry’s son) said they used classic GarWood plans but added their own innovations and requested customizations. This particular boat’s bow had been customized with a hatch door that smoothly flipped up to reveal a hidden seat. The company’s Brant Lake shop employs four full-time and two part-time employees, mostly family members. Greg is one of the part-timers splitting his time as a student at SUNY Maritime College and a summer internship inspecting large ships in New York Harbor.
I was fortunate to grab a ride in Turcotte’s impressive 27-foot Speedster, the G37. With room for two in the stern, passengers gaze down a seemingly endless bow as the craft smoothly cuts through the water. With Tom Turcotte, Jr., as my driver, we raced through the Seaway at speeds approaching 60 mph. The G-force caused my lips and cheeks to jiggle, and I was thankful for the sunglasses that protected my eyes from the powerful force of the wind. A seatbelt and goggles would have been welcome! As Larry eased up on the throttle to make a turn, the boat glided over the water as if it were barely touching. This boat was pure thrill and all glamour for a price tag of $145,000.
Pete Fish of Fish Brothers Marine Service was at the show with his Knottahaacker, a 23-foot replica of a 1940 Chris-Craft Custom. He and his two brothers Bill and Dan (aided by a part-time winter employee) can produce five or six boats a year in their Queensbury shop. Pete says finding customers in the tight economy is a challenge, but they are still making boats, putting 1,000 to 1,500 hours into each one.
George Badcock, chief executive officer of the Hacker Boat Company in Silver Bay, was there with a 22-foot Racer and a 28-foot Triple Cockpit Runabout. His company in Silver Bay has 62 employees working year-round to produce about 25 boats per annum. This company is marketing globally and has begun to export its products.
Last and maybe least was a Hacker reproduction from the one-man Reets Boatworks in Mayfield, New York. Adam Retersdorf, called “Reets” by his pals, is a full-time mechanical engineer at GE who grew up enjoying the Great Sacandaga Lake. “There aren’t many wooden boats on Sacandaga, so if you see one, it’s usually me,” he said. Adam has been restoring wooden boats for the past 15 years with the help of his school-teacher wife Jessica. This past year they built their own boat, “Retirement Plan,” using Hacker prints from the 1920s Gold Cup racer “Miss APBA.” Adam lengthened the boat’s v-shaped hull to help it glide through the water and added modern conveniences such as electronic fuel injection and a bow thruster. “She’s stronger and lighter, too,” he said. It took about six months to build the boat, which will eventually be sold to make room for his next model, which will be completely his own design and likely named “401k.”
Even if 401ks are dashed and retirement plans seem a long way off for the many of us affected by the lagging economy, it was heartening to see the products of local workmanship at the Antique Boat Show.