SI Vault
Hugh D. Whall
May 07, 1973
Landlubbing collectors of Duesies and Bugattis have their counterparts in boatmen who cherish the grace and character of a spit-and-polish age
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May 07, 1973

It's Full Speed Astern

Landlubbing collectors of Duesies and Bugattis have their counterparts in boatmen who cherish the grace and character of a spit-and-polish age

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Built to cruise Canadian lakes, the mahogany "commuter" above cost $12,000 new in 1917, $12,000 to restore. "Fawn" (right) is an 1887-vintage 19-footer designed to run on naphtha.

Seattle-based now, the 85-foot "Bonanza" was Boston-built in 1910. The 32-foot speedster below, "Suwanee," was launched in 1909 to cut a 20-knot swath.

Turn-of-the-century craftsmanship shines in "Bonanza's" saloon, at left. Above, wheels and binnacles, power and planking of a past age gleam with the luster of restoration.


Sometimes it seems that modern boats hate the water. They slam into waves, plunge into troughs, leap from crest to crest and throw spray sky high. Their glass and metal hulls boom and ping in response to the sea's punches. After a run the hardest work to be done is cleating the mooring lines. Out of date are boats that were kin to the water. Instead of punishing the waves they slit them with grace and subtlety. Their hulls were planked of mahogany and covered with coat after glistening coat of varnish. Fittings were of burnished brass, and it took a paid hand rising with the dew and bedding with the sun to keep everything shiny.

Those good old days are not altogether gone. To preserve what remains of a time when boating meant "yachting," a few hundred diehards around the country have poured love and care and time, to say nothing of lashings of money, into hulls that are overdue at the boneyard.

One such that still has many siblings is Kuskinook, the Canadian commuter shown on the preceding spread of pictures. Squadrons of these 32-footers dashed between the islands on Lake Muskoka in the days when the Mel-Ions summered there with the Pittsburgh rich. The Mellons are gone from the lake, but today 30 to 40 of the launches they knew so well are still in condition to crisscross it.

When Paul Snyder of Los Angeles discovered Kuskinook she looked as rotten as her bottom planking felt after years of neglect. Snyder found her in a boat-house where she had lain for a decade. She had been clumsily refurbished. The damage was not so severe, however, that Duke's boatyard in Port Carling, Ont. could not smooth things out.

By the time her bottom had been re-planked, the ripples ironed out of her topside planking, numerous coats of varnish laid and hand-rubbed and her fittings refinished, Kuskinook was just about as good as new and Paul Snyder as happy as if he owned, say, a Chinese scroll from the 10th century.

But Snyder glums up at mention of the 1969 Chrysler iron Kuskinook conceals beneath the engine hatches like a family skeleton. "I'm very embarrassed about it," he says. "I do have a 1921 Series E Scripps, but what I really need for authenticity is a 1915-1917 Series D."

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