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My Wooden Boats - by Jer Welch

In recently thinking about my personal wooden boat heritage, and where this inborn love of beautiful boats began, I suppose I was just simply born into it. My father always loved boats and especially fine wood / canvas canoes, and I grew up with them all around me.

There were various Old Towns, a Peterborough canoe that we restored, and the family canoe that found its way into my heart when I was only 9 years old, and which I now own, a lovely and elegant 1913 B.N. Morris “gentleman’s canoe”. This canoe is pretty rare, and has mahogany decks and gunwales, and one caned seat in the back, and a mahogany fan shaped backrest, for your sweetheart to sit in the middle and serenade you while you paddle her about a romantic lake setting. My parents used to have a great old Victrola that my Dad would play Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra “78 lps” on, I wish we still had those in the family also!!

So my formative years as a boy were spent around boats, mostly wood boats, and the lakes where I spent much of my time (Portage Lakes, near Akron, and Lake Erie) were the playgrounds of lovely mahogany speedboats, mainly Chris Crafts, and beautiful lapstrake Ohio built Lyman boats as well. I guess I gained an appreciation of them without realizing it as a kid. My Dad had several wooden powerboats while I was at home, a rather barge-like plywood “cabin-cruiser”, and a nice “Lyman-like” Cruiser’s Inc 17 foot runabout model, with similar lines to the more famous lapstrake Lyman’s from Sandusky. In those simpler times, we would spend much of the summer boating, waterskiing, fishing, and swimming off the boats, and paddling, quite a delight!

As I grew older, at the ripe age of 16, I got into sailing, which was a bit treasonous to my motor boating father, I imagine, but he took it well. I think he was just happy that someone else in the family was enjoying boats as much as he did, my older brother was not really into boats like me, nor were my two sisters really. My first sailboat was a rather uninspired fiberglass sailing canoe I purchased at 16, the same summer I bought my first car! A year later I “graduated” to a rather rough looking wood scow (similar to a Butterfly scow), with a huge boxy mast and too much sail for its small 12 foot long hull……I went swimming with that boat on more than one occasion while learning a lot about how far you could push a particular boat in strong winds!

Later I bought a strange catamaran called an Aqua Cat, which sailed poorly, but was fast when everything came together and you could keep it upright. It was not wood though, nor was the biggest nautical purchase I made at 20, a Venture 17 mini “pocket cruiser”, which I still have after all these years. Satori was and is a fine sailboat, and I have been fortunate to sail her many hundreds / thousands of miles over more than 3 decades now!

Besides the Morris canoe, I also acquired a 1923 Old Town Otca 18 that I restored in the late 80’s, for a pleasant trip we took on the Spanish River in Ontario, 125 miles of wilderness travel in a beautiful and functional wood / canvas canoe. That canoe still occupies a spot in my wooden boat fleet, with a growing cadre of other delightful vessels made from wood.

I “inherited” a 14 foot long mahogany launch, built in Tampa, Florida by a builder that no one seems to ever have heard of before, called Akelewicz Boat Works. An elderly neighbor passed that lovely outboard model on to me a few years ago, and I restored it to enter in a local Antique and Classic Boat Show, where I always try and enter a few of my boats every year in June, lots of fun! That one has a small decked area up front, live wells in the middle, with seats on top, and is a beamy stable seam / batten wood boat, that has pleasing lines. The elderly neighbor who blessed me with this boat, used to take her up to Lake Erie in the “good old days” as he would tell me, and fish for blue pike, a genetic cousin of the more fabled walleye Lake Erie is now known for, before the blue pike became extinct due to over-fishing and phosphate pollution in the 50-60’s.

I also bought a small 9 foot long Cape Cod rowing dory, made also from plywood, which is a nice little pulling boat, and I thought would be good for my then young daughter to learn the fine art of rowing a boat properly. Now that Chloe is 17 and driving, boats do not hold her interest much these days, and I am thinking of rigging a small junk rigged or sprit sail rig on this dory, along with some simple leeboard arrangement for upwind sailing. Will make a nice mini-project until the boating season begins in earnest in a month or so……

Also many years ago, I acquired a Mirror Dinghy, the second Mirror I have owned, and I have enjoyed sailing / racing this fine little craft on many occasions on some of our inland lakes. The first one I had bought from a high school friend, and it had no trailer, and was a bit of a beast to lift up solo onto my cars roof rack to get out on the water. The second Mirror has a trailer thankfully, and we have sailed some pleasant hours and miles together over the years.

My most recent wooden boat purchase was a Phil Bolger designed 31 foot long Gaff rigged folding staysail schooner. This is one of Bolger’s more well known designs, probably because it is so strange, to have a boat this long which folds over onto itself! Supposedly mine is one of 3 which Herb / Dynamite Payson built as prototypes for Bolger in the early 1970’s…..my “Dark Star” was built in 1973, and it a lot of fun to sail, although you do need a bit more crew than I usually have around to sail her properly! The boat has five sails, and it quite a sight to behold when all rigged and Jolly Roger flying from the foremast! She looks very much like a pirate ship, complete with a carved dragon-like eagle figurehead up front, massive teak blocks, and rakish tilt to the 2 masts!

Somewhere in the early 1980’s, I also bought a very unique little sailing craft, which I wish I still had in my possession! She was a cold molded African mahogany boat called a “Norsk Nutshell”, built in Oslo, Norway, with a lug rigged sail and dipping line. She was not the best sailing boat I have ever owned, but she was very pretty and practical, for a small (I think she was like 10 feet long) open sailboat. When the wind would really kick up, she excelled, as her sail rig was small and low to the boat, and could handle the stronger winds much easier than a boat like the Mirror dinghy could!

So, my current wooden boat “fleet” numbers six different vessels, canoes, fishing launch, one design sailboat, rowing dory, and freaky folding schooner! I consider myself pretty fortunate that all these boats have “found” me, and hope to spend many more pleasant hours enjoying them and getting out on the water……….

May the winds blow fair and your passages be smooth……
Jerry Welch / Akron OH June 2009