Floating classics

By Wayne Bryan Published April 5, 2012 at 3:32 a.m.
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— Bruce Hurst of Sand Springs, Okla., revved the engine of his long, sleek mahogany boat the Pub Decision until water foamed behind the stern and the growl of the motor had everyone’s attention. And the boat had not even left its slip at the dock.

“It has a 4.3-liter, V-6 Chevrolet engine,” Hurst said. “It can do 54 miles an hour. That’s a lot of speed going along the water.”

Hurst’s boat was one of 10 boats on display during a boat show this past weekend at the Garvan Woodland Gardens boat dock on Lake Hamilton.

The show was held by the Heartland Classic Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boating Society.

“We have boat owners from six states showing 10 of their boats this year,” said Kathy Parker, chapter president. “They came from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas.”

This year’s show was smaller thanin 2011, when more than 20 boats were on display and seen cruising around the lake.

“This has been a smaller group this year,” Parker said. “I think with gasoline at about $4 a gallon, people were thinking twice about making the trip pulling their boats, plus the cost of taking it out on the water.”

Still, the show featured a variety of watercraft.

Hurst’s Gentleman’s Racer is a 1995 reproduction of a 1933 model that was popular in the northeastern United States before World War II.

Race boats like Hurst’s were popular with affluent men in the 1930s.

“I think men would get together over the weekend, and after some talk and maybe some drinks, they would all jump in their boats and rip across the lake,” Hurst said.

Calling boating “just one of his hobbies,” Hurst said he got the boat on impulse.

“I saw it and just had to have it. I’m still just a kid at heart,” he said.

Hurst said he joined the club as a reason to bring out his boat and to enjoy the members’ company.

“This group is a nice bunch of people, and I enjoy being with them,” he said.

Even as a reproduction, the racer, made from Philippine mahogany, is valued at $120,000, Hurst said. He keeps the boat in its own garage.

Voted the People’s Choice of the show was a 26-foot Italian-made boat named La Dolce Vita, a 1969 model Aquarama by Riva, owned by Clay Thompson of Altus, Okla., who has a home on Lake Hamilton.

The long, sleek boat of sap ele, a mahogany-typ e wood from Africa, carries two 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet engines, which helps with maintenance, Thompson said.

“It may be made in Italy, but Riva us ed Amer ican auto engines so mechanics here can work on them, and parts are not so expensive,” he said.

Thompson calls the Riva his family vessel, but he said he has seven other boats in his collection.

“We get them out a lot,” said Thompson, whose company builds swimming pools in Oklahoma.

He said his boat is valued between $250,000 and $300,000, but said an older model in perfect condition could bring more than $600,000 in an auction.

Not all the classic boats are wooden, Parker said. An example of a classic fiberglass boat is owned by John and Leesa Watkins, who own 32boats of various kinds.

The 1971 Chris Craft is burgundy and white with a wrap-around windshield.

“It’s nice and big with lots of room,” Leesa said. “The Chris Craft is a family boat. We have put a playpen behind the seats.”

Leesa’s father, Paul Hastings, was also there with a boat from his collection of Higgins boats.

Andrew Higgins was a boat builder in New Orleans, famous for producing the ramp-bowed landing craft used by the U.S. military in World War II.

“Dad was a Higgins dealer,” Hastings said, “and he and my mother moved to Lake Hamilton in 1931, just as it was filling up.”

Hastings said he owns 16 Higgins models made after the war. At the show, he had a 1963 Mandalay model, one of the last series made by the company.

A steady stream of boating enthusiasts were ferried to the Garvan Woodland Gardens dock on Lake Hamilton by golf carts throughout the two days of the event to see the boats from another time.

“All these boats have stories,” Hastings said.

The boat owners were eager to show off their crafts and tell their stories.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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