Coeur d'Alene Magazine Master of Mahogany
27 January 2009
Syd Young Fuels the Wooden Boat Revival
Even as they first take form, Syd Young’s boats begin to beckon.
You can imagine the sun glowing on their mahogany decks and glimmering on their chrome fittings. You can hear the throaty rumble of their exhaust pipes. You can almost feel them fly.
But it’s not until the boats leave Young’s shop in the spring and the wood finally meets the water, that they prove they are paragons.
Young, the owner of Stan Craft/The Boat Shop in Post Falls, has not only revived the bygone beauty and grave of the wooden classics, he also has refined the craft. He has applied the skills and knowledge of a lifetime to create boats that set their own standards of performance.
Young is a rarity. While there are many who refurbish vintage woodies, there are only a few who start from scratch and build wooden boats from the bottom up.
He is also a master. Jim Wangard, editor of Classic Boating magazine in Wisconsin, said Young is one of the "most credible" wooden boat builders in the country. Young is an innovator whose replications have far surpassed the originals, Wangard said.
Young sees himself not so much a replicator, but as a torchbearer. The talkative, unassuming craftsman said he is maintaining a tradition that his father Stanley Young, established a half century ago as the founder of Stan-Craft.
It’s a role that the 53-year-old relishes. Forever covered in a powdery sprinkling of sawdust, Young emerges from his shop wearing baggy jeans, a flannel shirt and a broad smile.
Within his clean, well-lit workplace are a half dozen boats undergoing preseason maintenance or major restorations, as well as five new wooden beauties under construction off to one side. Young softly strokes the huge hulls of the partially built, 26-foot "gentleman racers," noting their bold, "gutsy lines" that will keep them stable.
The watertight hulls are double-planked and fastidiously sealed. Young’s boats are a bit overbuilt, which makes them both hefty and heavy and able to knife through rough water.
" If people are going to spend this kind of money on beautiful toys, they better be comfortable," Young says.
Their design is a combination of decades-old artistry and contemporary practicality. They have evolved subtly over the years to accommodate new technology and Young’s persistent quest for perfection.
Young grew up amid the operations of Stan-Craft’s original shop on Flathead Lake in Montana during the heyday of wooden pleasure boats. He inherited his father’s prowess through osmosis.
"Whether I intended to or not, I was learning it," he said. "I loved it. I loved being in that boat shop."
After graduating from high school and serving a stint in the Air Force, Young married his wife, Julie, and bought the family business. With the youthful Young at the helm, Stan-Craft encountered two dramatic impacts on the industry.
First came fiberglass, a change to which the company adapted well. By the mid-‘70s, Stan-Craft was shipping fiberglass boats to nine West Coast dealers as quickly as they could be built.
Then came the fuel crisis. Pump prices skyrocketed and demand for gas-guzzling playthings plummeted. By 1980, Stan-Craft was sinking fast.
"We were history. We just got taken out," Young said.
Young went to work for a fiberglass fabricator in Canada before being recruited by a similar company in Post Falls that had just won a NASA contract. Young helped the company design and build shipping compartments for the space shuttle’s solid fuel rockets.
Company layoffs in 1983 left Young unemployed again. Fortunately, he was living in a community blessed with lakes and on the brink of a boom in wooden boat nostalgia.
Young reluctantly opened a shop in Coeur d’Alene with the idea of resurrecting old wooden boats. But it was a new boat that brought in the business. While he was still working in Post Falls, Young built a 25-foot, triple-cockpit wooden runabout that proved to be an attention-getter.
"That boat was like a calling card for us," he said. "It waved a big flag that said, ‘Here’s a guy that can work on wooden boats.’"
Young soon was swamped with as many as 20 wooden boat renovations a year. He and a small crew also began servicing and storing boats, and moved from their confined quarters in Coeur d’Alene to property that Young bought in Post Falls.
Young’s biggest break came in 1989 when Duane Hagadone, owner of The Coeur d’Alene Resort, ordered two custom-built mahogany "water taxis" to ferry guests to and from the resort’s lakeside golf course. The 30-foot, 5-ton boats are highly visible head-turners that have sent more business Young’s way than he can handle.
The resort-referred customers have been looking for new boats, however, rather than restorations. Young has been happy to accommodate them, but at his own methodical pace. He prefers to fill only a few orders at a time over roughly a six-month timeframe. He has built about 25 of the new wooden Stan-Crafts so far.
Young’s creations fall into three design categories – his unique, pointed-stern "torpedo", a double-or triple-cockpit runabout and his personal favorite "speedster" with the controls in the rear. They are all between 21 and 30 feet long and weigh from 4,500 to 6,000 pounds. All are made entirely of African mahogany and most are powered by fuel-injected Mercruiser engines. They are priced at between $60,000 and $125,000.
Like Chris-Craft and Higgins in years past, Stan-Craft has become an exclusive club for status-conscious boat captains who share a passion with Syd Young for the amber hue of mahogany.
"There’s just nothing like the wood," Young said. "The subdued sound, the warmer feel, the soft ride."
"A lot of it is the way it affections the senses," he said. "When you’re surrounded by something really beautiful, it just makes you feel good."
Ironically, Young isn’t a member of the Stan-Craft club. He doesn’t own one of the new wooded boats because he’s been too busy building Stan-Crafts for others. But that will change, he said with an air of certainty."Someday, I’m going to keep a speedster," Young said. "I plan to build myself something really delirious."