Passion and artistry come together in the beautiful roar of Lake George’s antique boats.
By Joshua Calhoun
Artistically, Lake George is known for landscape paintings by the likes of Thomas Cole and Georgia O’Keeffe. Historically, it’s known for Revolutionary War battles and nineteenth-century steamboat travel. So it seems fitting that water transportation has become an artistic medium that competes with anything on the walls of lakeside galleries. Today, the art buzz is about the fluid lines of mahogany sculptures that cruise Lake George at 35 miles per hour: GarWoods, Hacker-Crafts, and Chris-Crafts.
John L. Hacker, a pioneer of the V-shaped hull design, is famous among boaters for his lines – both for aesthetics, as well as technical performance. “Hacker was an artist,” says Bill Morgan, founder and original owner of Hacker Boat Company. He and others are so keen on restoring and reproducing these vessels, it’s hard to tell the difference between a vintage boat and a reproduction. Above the water, a new Hacker-Craft is nearly identical to a classic; below the waterline, Morgan’s innovative design modifications accommodated newer, more powerful engines.
While these reproductions look like vintage boats, they require much less maintenance. They might not have all the allure of a classic like The Jug – a 1928 GarWood that has been on Lake George since it was built – but they also don’t have all the ailments of an 80-year-old boat. Using state-of-the-art materials, like epoxy resins reducing wood swelling and shrinkage, the new GarWood and Hacker-Craft reproductions are more durable and hassle-free than their predecessors. And yet it’s easy to mistake a new reproduction for a restored classic.
It’s due to a labor of love. Inside the Hacker Boat Company workshop, boats materialize first as an upside-down skeleton on a jig, the keel and chine meticulously inspected. Then, flipped upright and planked, each piece of mahogany is inspected for grain defects before joining the inner hull. Three layers of scrupulously selected planking, 60 to 75 hours of sanding, and 15 to 20 coats of varnish later, the boat hull reflects its builder’s admiring gaze. The custom upholstery is impeccably hand-stitched. Each boat requires more than 2,000 hours of hand-crafting.
Craftsmen want to preserve these creatures and talk about their history and quirks. The boat itself becomes as much a hobby as the boating itself. It’s why these local boaters began to worry when Hall’s Boat Corporation, a century-old full-service marina at the south end of Lake George, went up for sale in October 2006. Then Stephen Lamando, owner of a 1947 Chris-Craft Sportsman, bought the business, kept the name, and stated his goal of establishing Hall’s as a widely recognized resource for enthusiasts of wooden boats.
If Hacker and GarWood are making new art based on a classic aesthetic, Hall’s, which offers refinishing, maintenance, and storage for wooden boats, is preserving historic art. Inside, it is a museum of living history, with a diverse collection of about 50 vintage wooden boats on site at any point during the summer. The artisans at Hall’s tend to talk about the “historical fabric of the boat” and the “original construction method.” If a single hull plank of a vintage boat is damaged, the builders at Hall’s search the globe for matching wood. The goal is an invisible repair – albeit, an invisible repair that plies the lake’s waves since, at the end of the day, these boats go back in the water, not up on a wall.
Getting out on the lake is the best way to see these classics across Lake George. Like atop The Morgan. It’s the Sagamore resort’s 85-foot sightseeing boat, which, yes, was built by and named for Bill Morgan of Hacker-Craft. It’s not so much that the world of wooden-boat building is small – it’s that the artistic energy is centered here in upstate New York. It’s worth a trip to Green Island to check it out.
Where to Stay The Sagamore Resort