So Many Boats, So Little Time! by Jer Welch

A story of a strange boat collection

I am not quite sure when all this began really, but I recently realized that I have put together a rather unusual “fleet” of boats, that have given me tremendous enjoyment over many years. This is the story of how they all came together in recent years.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have loved all sorts of boats all my life and have been around them since I was a little kid, messing about with boats my father always had while I was growing up. He typically was into powerboats, and beautiful wood & canvas canoes, not into sailing and rowing and some of the other activities that I am involved with in my “nautical career”. I am quite sure my love of canoeing and appreciation for finely crafted canoes came directly from my father, who instilled that in me at a very young age.

The family canoe that I mostly remember is a beautiful 1913 B.N. Morris 17 foot model, which I inherited from my Dad upon his death in 1986. That canoe is a rare gem, a gentleman’s “courting canoe”, which my parents used to paddle on the Ohio & Erie Canal, Summit & Nesmith Lakes, and the other lakes in our home waters of the Portage Lakes. This canoe was owned by Donna Cooper, daughter of “Pop” Cooper who ran Cooper’s Boathouse on the Canal north of Summit Lake.

There were other canoes kicking around as I was living at home, a Peterborough model, an Old Town Guide model, a crappy Coleman fiberglass one, and an aluminum clunker that my brother and I used to play around with as well. I also bought a 1923 Old Town 18 foot Otca model from my Dad years ago, that had been a rental boat in use at Burch’s Landing on East Reservoir. I restored it some years back in preparation for a 120 mile wilderness canoe trip I took on the Spanish River with it, where it performed very well, even though a bit out of its “normal” element.

In May 2005 I acquired a very strange craft called a “Circraft”, a 7 foot round saucer boat, which takes an outboard motor, and which you steer by leaning as you would on snow skis. This boat was (and still is) built in the UK, as a sort of precursor to the now very popular Jet Ski type of personal watercraft. I entered this unique craft in the 2005 Portage Lakes Antique and Classis Boat Show (along with the Morris Canoe). This “boat” looks like some sort of a nautical cross between an amusement park ride and something from outer space! When I bought it for the whopping sum of $75, it has been in the guy’s backyard for around 20 years, never used, and it looked pretty rough to say the least. After working on that weird boat, painting and patching and attaching new wood ‘skis’ on the bottom, I got her in the water the evening before the Boat Show that year. The Circraft still gets a lot of attention due to her strange un-boat like shape!

In 2006 my “project boat” was one I had acquired a few years earlier from a neighbor, who was in a nursing home, and knew of my lifelong love of boats. I had started work on this 14 foot all mahogany boat, but it was a long way from completion in early June 2006, when I decided to try and get it ready for the 2006 31st Annual Boat Show. This would be a pretty challenging and ambitious project, as this boat had been out of the water, upside down on its trailer, for over 40 years at the point I got it. My daughter Chloe and I worked feverishly to get the boat ready, stripping and sanding long hours, and finally flipping the boat over to work on the inside cockpit / deck areas.

After righting the boat, I discovered this boat was built in Tampa, Florida, but I have yet to find out anything further about the boat or the manufacturer, or the actual age. To make a long story short, I did not allow enough time for the boat’s dried out mahogany bottom planks to swell, even after I had painstakingly applied a special seam compound to try and keep the water out until the planks had come back together after being in the water. She leaked so much the evening before the Show when we first launched her, I was afraid she was going to sink at the launching ramp dock, and hurriedly pulled her back onto her trailer after bailing large volumes of water from her bilge.

Colleagues from work jokingly called last year’s nautical project “Titanic 2”, for obvious reasons! I think people get a kick out of these unusual boats and the stories behind them. Makes for interesting conversations, anyway!

The latest addition to the “Jer Fleet” is even more unusual, a 31 foot long “folding schooner”, designed by famed Maine boat designer Phil Bolger, and built by his friend and fellow state of Maine boat builder Herb / Dynamite Payson. Supposedly the boat was one of 3 prototype folding schooners that Payson built in the mid-70’s. What is unusual about this boat, is that it is basically two-15-1/2 foot “sharpie” hulls hinged together at the transoms, one flips on top of the other for trailering, a rather odd spectacle! But it looks quite beautiful, two wood masts, teak blocks and much charm and character!

As of this writing in mid-May, I have not yet taken possession of this boat from the previous owner, who I have known for many years. We both used to dock other sailboats at South Shore Yacht Club on Turkeyfoot Lake in years past, and I wrote an article about his famous “Folding Schooner” in 1998. I am looking forward to getting this newest boat in the water and unfolding her and seeing how she sails. She is in pretty good shape from what I can tell, just needs some cosmetic repairs and re-painting to get her ready for the 32nd Annual Portage Lakes Antique and Classic Boat Show at the Harbor Inn in June 30th. Likely the biggest challenge with this boat will be finding a suitable place to tie her up, at 31 foot long (plus a 3 foot carved eagle bowsprit!), most docks on area lakes are not long enough for her!

I think this schooner now puts my boat total at an embarrassingly large number 12! In addition to the boats mentioned previously, I also have a Venture 17 sailboat, a Mirror Dinghy sailboat, an Old Town Tourer kayak, a Summersong solo canoe, a small Cape Cod rowing dory, a small kid’s kayak, and 17’ marathon style racing kayak. I am hopeful that the unique folding schooner will also afford many pleasurable hours of sailing and “messing about in boats”, and I look forward to finding the next unusual “project boat” in the years ahead! You just never know what strange boat you may encounter next! Fair winds!

( 5/11/07 jrwelch)