by Whit Conrad member of the Toronto chapter
I’ve always loved boats-wooden boats. They take me back: sailing on Orchard Lake, waterskiing on Pine Lake, watching movies of my father winning races in his hydroplanes he built of wood himself and watching the Silver Cup unlimited hydroplane races on the Detroit River in the 1950’s. All wooden boats; beautiful, polished and sleek.
I grew up in Michigan and live in New York City but since 1971 I have summered on Ahmic Lake in Ontario. The Wooden boat affliction didn’t pass so at my first opportunity I bought and restored a 1947 Duke Playmate, then an old Northland canoe, commissioned the building of a lapstrake double paddle kayak (I had seen one at an ACBS boat show in Gravenhurst), bought and restored a 1936 Port Carling SeaBird. For everyone else in the family, we acquired a fiberglass Grew runabout which was really ugly but seemed practical. When the “stringers” in the hull rotted (after only 12 years) it was time for a new boat “for the family use”. My wife and three children, and now their three spouses, have loved our cruises in the wooden boats but only as passengers.
Here is the fun part. I had always admired the Giesler boats on Ahmic Lake. There are a lot of them. Handmade cedar strip boats crafted by the same family for a hundred years in Powassan, Ontario, just South of North Bay. Most of the Giesler’s on the lake are smaller utility boats with, say, 20 to 40hp on the stern. But Giesler also makes a Georgian Bay 18’ model that takes up to a 90hp and is a beauty. And the list price for this handmade gem is about one-third the price of a cheap, down market fiberglass boat. When I suggested buying another wooden boat, my family at first demurred. They wanted a ski boat with bucket seats and the like: a boat they could bang up without Daddy getting angry. My wife, Ellen, and I visited the Giesler “factory” in May 2017 and loved seeing the strip boats being made by hand. We put in our order with some special interior changes and the boat was delivered that July. A hand-made wooden boat in under two months!
Christened “Damsel”, it weighs probably half that of an 18’ fiberglass boat so it goes like a rocket. Handles beautifully, seats 8. Gets on a plane instantly. And our children, when given an opportunity to use other fiberglass boats, always want the Damsel. It even has cup holders! A great acquisition.