Wood boats put on a show | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Wood boats put on a show

Brendan Riley, Associated Press

CARNELIAN BAY — History, the handiwork of craftsmen and more than 120 carefully restored and meticulously maintained classic wood boats will be on display at the Tahoe Yacht Club’s annual “woodie” show.

The main event of the 30th annual “Concours d’Elegance” will be the public show today and Saturday at the Sierra Boat Co., where boats — some pricey and all classic — will again take to the waters of Lake Tahoe.

The show, dedicated to preservation of boats that have plied the lake since the 1920s, is expected to draw several thousand people, ranging from the curious to wooden boat devotees who attend all the major shows around the country.

The event also will include a weeklong series of picnics, dinners, a boat parade and other get-togethers for the wooden boat crowd at various locations around Tahoe.

This year, the show’s focus is on Hacker-designed craft, including the one-of-a-kind, 55-foot-long “Thunderbird” — floating proof of the old line that boats are holes in the water into which lots of dollars are poured.

John Hacker died in 1961 after more than half a century of designing and building what became known as the “Steinways” of the runabouts.

Other show-stoppers will include “Rainbow III,” a 26-foot, custom-made Gold Cup racer; “Columbia,” a 35-foot Hutchinson; and “Gigi,” a 27-foot Fay & Bowen. Plenty of GarWood runabouts, Chris Crafts and other examples of the art of wooden boat construction also will be on display.

Many of the boats date to the early 1900s and are valued from $50,000 to $1 million. Many were priced at a few thousand dollars when new — and were in such rough shape when restorers found them decades later that they were sold for a few hundred dollars or even given to their current owners.

Phillip Ballantyne, who owns a boat restoration business and is chairing the show’s “Wooden Boat Week,” says the big draw for classic boat owners who participate in the show is to restore “a little piece of history.”

“There is so much more to these antiques than meets the eye,” Ballantyne said. “These boats aren’t just beautiful — they are also nostalgic. And we are their caretakers.”

Pat Bagan, general manager at Sierra Boat Co., one of the top boat restoration firms on the West Coast, has been overseeing 38 workers repairing, rebuilding, revarnishing and detailing boats for the show.

“We’re all running around here like bees in a beehive,” said Bagan, Sierra Boat’s general manager. “We’ve got everyone working, just going every which way trying to get these boats ready for the show.”

A few of the boats were full restoration projects that cost owners tens of thousands of dollars. Other craft were in previous boat shows but their owners wanted more detail work, hoping to get higher scores from this year’s show judges.

“We’re trying to pick up points they lost,” Bagan said. “Some might have been marked down because the battery cables were wrong or the oil lines or the wiring wasn’t right, or the bilges were dirty.”

For his crew, Bagan says it’s an opportunity “to bring an old boat back to complete life again. It’s like taking a derelict in a field and maybe making it better than when it came off the showroom floor.”

“They love the boats,” he adds. “The refinishers love the wood, the mechanics love the old engines.”

“A lot of these boats are rare, and it’s a chance to bring back something that’s a basket case, that may look completely unsalvageable,” said Todd Jeffery, refinishing foreman at Sierra Boat.

“It’s not that it’s rocket science, but we have enough expertise to rebuild a boat from scratch. The project is almost more fun than going boating. You find out what’s wrong and make it right — beautiful, functional and fun.”

For the owners, Bagan says there’s the same love of something “that’s not your average fiberglass boat.”

And for some, “the boats are from the 1930s and 1940s and have come up through the same families for generations,” he says. “Generations of kids learned to water-ski and fish and learn about Lake Tahoe on these boats.”

“They want to keep their relic in restored condition and pass it onto the next generation.”

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