Conversations with Classic Boats

Published on November 15th, 2021

Conversations with Classic Boats is a podcast about classic boat designs and the stories behind them. Hosted by Tom Darling, his latest offering is a two-part series telling the story of the American Runabout, culminating in the appearance of the Boston Whaler in 1957. Here’s a tease from Darling:


Imagine this, I’m looking at a boating industry magazine, and see an article from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. It reads: “Powerboat sales are still booming in 2021. Retail unit sales of new powerboats in February 2021 were up 34% compared to the same period last year. ”

Everyone saw it, the Great Powerboat Drought of ’21. In the year of COVID, sales of small boats and engines were off the charts. But this past year could have been 1921 all over again. Post pandemic, Post war, Roaring 20s. Boating booms.

And yes, in those roaring 1920s, the Spanish Flu behind them, the new 1920s boat owner bought brands like Riva, Hickman, Hacker, Chris-Craft. Compact powerboats flew out of factories to new boating families.

It was not all about wood and planks. In the early 20th century, plywood made its entrance, foreshadowing the arrival of fiberglass. New materials sparked a revolution in design and construction.

It had only been 50 years earlier that a short intense MIT engineer joined his family company. With steam engine experience, he jumped in to help his blind brother meet the demands of the early Gilded Age customers for launches and tenders, for their larger and larger yachts. He was to become the most important designer at the tur n of the 20th century. He was Nat Herreshoff.

In July 2021, during the Herreshoff Marine Museum’s 50th Anniversary, I came back to tour the redesigned museum. The new footprint started with power. How many know the Wizard of Bristol had almost as many powerboat designs as sail?

To listen to the podcasts:

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