Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Wood boats cruise to Abbey
International Antique Classic Boat Show this weekend

by Rob Ireland

September 22, 2011

Larry Larkin grips the wheel of the Hathor.
FONTANA — About 113 years ago, the Hathor first navigated the currents of Geneva Lake after it was built for Chicago philanthropist Martin A. Ryerson.

When Ryerson owned the boat, he used the 73-foot vessel to entertain guests, including opera singers and John D. Rockefeller when they visited his home on the north shore of Geneva Lake.

Over the years, the boat ownership has changed numerous times, and, in 2004 it came into the hands of Larry Larkin, a wooden boat enthusiast. Larkin spent the next seven years painstakingly refurbishing the historic vessel, which he launched this August.

On Sept. 23, 24 and 25, the Hathor and more than 100 other wooden boats will be on display during the 12th Annual International Antique and Classic Boat Show.

Annually, the Blackhawk Chapter of the Antique Boat Society holds an event at the Abbey Resort. However, this year's event is expected to draw a significantly larger crowd, and more boats, than it has in the previous years because it will be held in conjunction with the Antique and Classic Boat Society's annual meeting, which will also be the international show. The ACBS consists of 55 chapters and about 8,000 members, many of whom will dock their wooden boats at the Abbey Harbor this weekend.

Larkin, who is the organizer of this year's event, is expecting the show to have three times as many visitors than usual. He also is expecting about 150 wooden boats.

The hype around the event is starting to grow.

"The Lake Geneva area has long appealed to visitors as a vibrant, waterfront destination," Geneva Lake Area Chamber of Commerce President George Hennerley said. "Those who dream of one day owning a boat or just have an appreciation for craftsmanship, will enjoy this spectator event."

"The momentum is building as we put in place the final preparations for our International Boat Show and Annual Meeting at Lake Geneva," said John Bergstrom, president of the Antique and Classic Boat Show. "With more than 154 boats and 600 plus registered attendees, we look forward to our time there celebrating our legacy of vintage boating."

Why wooden boats?

In the 1960s, fiberglass took the boating world by storm and wooden boats became less desirable and were often scrapped.

Like anything old and hard to find, wooden boats grew in popularity and collectors are willing to spend small fortunes on these vessels.

"Today, almost any wooden boat is collectable," Larkin said.

Larkin said he enjoys wooden boats because he rode on them as a child and they bring him back to that time.

He also said wooden boats have a sensual experience, from the smoothness and curves of the wood to the leather upholstery, that can't be found in plastic watercrafts.

"Wood boats have a way of riding through the waves that is solid," he said. "The plastic boats tend to slap the waves."

Larkin said wooden boats are becoming more popular on Geneva Lake. He said an inventory was done last year and about 250 wooden boats were counted.

"You see it around Lake Geneva. When people buy their first boat it is plastic, when they buy their second boat it is wooden," he said.

When it comes to wooden boats that are featured at the show, they typically fall under three categories.

Historic boats include anything built before 1918, antique boats were built between 1919 and 1942 and classic boats were constructed between 1943 and 1975.

Larkin said the majority of the boats that will be on display are considered antiques.

At the event, the public will have a chance to view the boats that are docked in the Abbey Harbor.

"If you are looking to buy a boat, it is a good chance to get educated about different boats," Larkin said.

Larkin said visitors can also question boat owners about their crafts and ask about maintenance requirements.

Speakers are also lined up throughout the event. On Friday, Sept. 23 at 10 a.m. Olympic Gold medal winner Buddy Melges will speak. At 11 a.m., a speaker will discuss engine restoration.