From Making Wine to… Building a Boat?

I have been making wine in my cellar for the past half dozen years or so, but this year I found myself getting tired of it. Why am I getting tired of it, you might ask? I guess there is no single reason, but several things combined. First, the grapes I am working with, which are growing in my yard, just aren’t that good. They don’t get ripe enough, and the pH tends to be too high. This makes it tough for an amateur like me to make wine that is good enough for me to want to drink it. Second thing is, even when the wine is pretty good, it is tough to get rid of. My vineyard would usually yield ten to twenty cases, which is a LOT of wine. Finally, I guess I just get bored doing the same exact thing year after year, trying to make incremental improvements each year. I just don’t have the patience for it.

I like to have “projects” though, something outside of work to apply myself to, use my brain and my hands a bit. And to keep myself from getting bored, particularly during the winter.

I have wanted to build a boat for many, many years, so I decided to switch gears and give that a go. Temperamentally, I am a big-picture guy who is terrible at detail work, so I figure boat building would force me to correct this flaw. I have never been that attracted to mechanical work, so I figure it is better for me than, say, restoring cars. Finally, I want something at the the end of the project that I can enjoy and be proud of.

And, I have always loved boats. So here we go.

A bit of background… I grew up going to Lake George in the Adirondacks every summer. My grandfather, Bob Henry, was into boats, and had some pretty spectacular hydroplanes – gentleman racers from the Gold Cup races that were held on Lake George in the 1930’s.  Chloe, originally and currently named Ethyl Ruth IV, was a 1934 Gold Cup racer by Hackercraft. Juno was a Ventnor, one of the first racing boats with sponsons, originally (and incredibly) built as a suicide torpedo boat for the Chinese Navy. Sadly, both were sold for a pittance when my grandfather died in the early 1970’s to settle the estate; breaks my heart to think about it! And, as you can see, both have subsequently been beautifully restored, and are one-of-a-kind million dollar boats.

Ethyl-Ruth-IV OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bob’s younger brother Jack was into outboards, and was actually the Mercury dealer in Ticonderoga in the 1950’s for a while. He raced a Raveau DU 16-foot racing runabout  named Gingerly; my cousin Ginger still has her in a garage somewhere I think!

Gingerly

When I was eleven or so, inspired by my grandfather and my uncle, I decided to build an eight foot hydroplane called Minimax (image below) that I saw in Popular Science magazine. I bought the plans and a bunch of lumber, but sadly never got very far. So, forty years later, I am finally getting back to it!

Minimax

Once I decided for sure that I wanted to build a boat, I had to figure out what to build, and where to build it. And this turned out to be harder than I thought. While our house and our yard is more than adequate in size, there is no great place to build a boat. It is too cold outside in winter, and the garage is full of cars, of all things. So, I decided to repurpose my wine cellar to be my boatbuilding shop,

This cellar, however, is very small. It is about thirteen feet square, with a smaller adjacent storage room that is about seven feet by twelve feet. It is also directly adjacent to a small outdoor pad where I used to crush grapes. As a workspace, this would just have to do. I lugged my winemaking equipment – press, 200 liter tanks, bottler, corker, fermenting vessels –  into the storage room. Then, I set about looking for a small boat to build that I would be happy with.

After poring through loads of web sites and Wooden Boat magazines, I decided to go back to my roots and build a little hydroplane. Really little, since that is all the space I have! I am building a little tunnel-hull boat called the Tunnel Mite, hopefully it will end up looking something half as good as the picture below. I have been having fun learning about lumber, tools, fasteners, epoxy, and how to use them, and am officially under way! I will provide an update or two once I have something worth showing.

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9 thoughts on “From Making Wine to… Building a Boat?

  1. Ginger

    This is great, Johnny! If you want, I can give you some links from my site where people can read more about the Hague outboard racing marathons in the 50s and early 60s and see photos. Maybe you already know about those links (since you have a photo from there). Actually, Gingerly is in Eddie’s garage in Wyoming, waiting to be restored (and has been for decades). I have the A utility class boat under my deck. It never had a name. Stefan, when he was a boatbuilder, took it to Maine to restore. He brought it back. Unrestored. So boat restoration doesn’t seem to run in the family, even though good intentions do! I love the photos of Chloe and Juno. I hadn’t seen them. They are beautiful. I remember well growing up with those boats and being scared to death to ride in them. But of course, I never let on that I was scared! Can’t wait to read more of this blog!

    Reply
  2. John Beekley Post author

    Ginger, links from the Hague marathons would be great! Just add them as a response here, so everyone can see them! FYI, I think restoring a boat is probably harder than building one!

    Reply
    1. Ginger

      Here’s a link to an article I wrote about the stock utility marathons on Lake George (held in the 50s and 60s): http://www.utopianstate.com/uploads/August2011-marathon2.pdf
      And here’s a ppt with audio (it’s very large, so it requires some patience while opening). But I think that anyone interested in the details and photos of the marathons will find this interesting. http://www.utopianstate.com/uploads/Regatta_presentation-final_with_audio.pptx

      Reply
  3. Lisa

    Very cool, Johnny! Hopefully you’ll post photos of your progress. I love the photos of Chloe and Juno, and Uncle Jack, too.

    Reply
  4. Rick McPartlin

    John – Great to see this runs in the family and that I am not the only one fascinated with the idea of building a boat. I have wasted many an hour combing the web for information about Juno, Chloe and boat plans. One of these days I intend to bite the bullet and actually give it a try!

    Rick

    Reply
  5. Lisa

    Where did you find the photo of Uncle Jack in the Gingerly? Tim really likes that picture and thought it would be fun to have a copy to hang above his old metal Speedboat Races sign. He also likes the looks of that boat you’re planning to build and will probably try to con you into building him one. 🙂

    Reply
    1. John Beekley Post author

      I just found it on Google actually. But it came from the presentation that Ginger linked to in her comment. Endless cool pics in there! She might have the original…

      Sent from my iPad

      >

      Reply
    2. Ginger

      Yes, Johnny is right. I do have the original. In fact, I have an entire collection of 8 x 10 glossy press photos from back in the day. I used the best ones in my presentation. A few years ago, Darcy and Stefan had a smaller version of it framed for me, with the caption underneath: Third place winner John T. Henry, government analyst of FallsChurch, Va. and Hague, NY, one of the reorganizers of the marathon, loosening life jacket while drifting to pier following 86 mile race. Henry, beaten by 1-1/2 minutes, performed outstanding act of sportsmanship, losing nearly three minutes, when on first 22 mile lap and in contending position he stopped to pick up Walt Werner Jr. of Valley Stream, L.I. and returned him to his own racing boat which had continued to circle slowly after tossing Werner into the rough water. Passed by about 10 boats during the rescue operation, Henry returned to the grind and gradually regained much of his lost time although the race race out on him before he could seriously menace the first two finishers.

      Reply

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