Inland Northwest Homes & Lifestyles (July/August 2003)
27 January 2009
By: Margueriette Travaillé
Photos by: Joel Riner/Quicksilver
Classic mahogany speedboats have come a long way since they surged in popularity in the 1930s and ‘40s. Their once-knocking ride has been smoothed out to an effortless skim across the water–silken, fluid, and elegant. Newer marine varnishes eliminate the need for refinishing of the wood. Brass and bronze fittings stretch the design spectrum.Post Falls boat builder Syd Young deserves much of the credit for the transformation in such boats here.
In the boats he builds, Young, owner of Stan-Craft Boats, Inc., has retained the classic look of the speedsters of yesteryear, but has applied an entirely new design to the underside of the boats’ hulls.
In the ‘80s, Young realized that boat owners were disgruntled with the ride of the classic old speedsters. The boats bounced off every wake, delivering a bone-pounding ride.
"People loved the look of the old classic boats, but once they bought one and rode in it a few times, the boat would end up spending an inordinate amount of time at the dock. People weren’t interested in smacking rides, especially the older crowd," says Young.
So, Young worked on a hull design, deepening the forward V that flattens to an aft undercarriage, making for a softer ride through rough waters. His speedboats now slice through the water, giving an incredibly smooth ride, even at a top speed of 55 mph, he claims. The boats are sure footed and turn in a remarkably tight radius at 45 to 50 mph, "like they’re attached to a railroad track," says Young.
Stan-Craft is named after its founder, Stan Young, Sid Young’s father. The company was launched in 1933 at Flathead Lake, Montana, near Kalispell.
Stan-Craft struggled along in Flathead Lake until World War II broke out. During the war years, supplies were limited, which forced Stan Young to move to Seattle and work in the boatyards to support his family. In his spare time, he worked on the design of the Stan-Crafts there, picking up new ideas for his own company. After the war, Stan returned to Flathead Lake and started up Stan-Craft again.
Wooden boats fell out of favor in after the mid-‘60s. Customers preferred Fiberglas to sleek mahogany. Stan-Craft adapted and changed to the more modern material.By 1981, the economy became so bad that Stan-Craft moved from Montana to Coeur d’Alene, hoping to find a better business climate.
Coincidentally, in the 1981 movie "On Golden Pond," Henry Fonda prowled the waters near his family’s Adirondack cabin in a gorgeous wooden boat. The movie, which starred Katharine Hepburn, won three Academy Awards–and invigorated the wooden-boat industry.
"I think the Fonda movie had a lot to do with getting the boats off the dime," remembers Young. Overnight, interest in wooden boats rekindled, and business picked up.
In 1990, Stan-Craft moved to Post Falls.
During the boom times of the ‘90s, Stan-Craft took off like one of the decade’s dotcoms, expanding and perfecting its designs. The company makes about six to eight boats a year now, and has no plans for any significant expansion.
The handmade boats have an air of quality. "These boats are like building a Rolls-Royce," Young says. "They can take anywhere from 1,000 to over 2,500 man-hours to build; it just depends on the complexity and design of the boat."
They could, indeed, be compared with a Rolls-Royce–both in quality and price. These smooth rides start at around $150,000 for a 25 foot runabout.
"It’s an expensive venture to buy one of these boats," says Young.
Stan-Craft boats are made exclusively from African mahogany. The boat company imports the wood from Ghana, on the west coast of Africa. Right now it’s stockpiling the exotic wood in case there’s a shortage sometime in the future.
"The woods have lots of ‘figure,’" a boat builder’s term for the pattern in wood, says Young. "We have some boards that resemble the stripes on a tiger."
Customers call from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Europe, South Africa, and Australia, as well as from distant points in the United States to order their one-of-a-kind boats.
Some order tenders for their mega-yachts. A tender is a smaller boat on a yacht that’s used to go ashore. Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone and his wife, Lola, have equipped their 205-foot yacht with a 28-foot Stan-Craft tender, says Young.
Each Stan-Craft boat is hand-brushed with 15 coats of Epifanes, a specialized marine varnish made in Holland. The last coat is hard enough to buff out and shines with a glass-like brilliance.
Only one coat a day can be applied and sanded. The varnish will last two to three decades, if the boat is properly cared for. Its only enemy is the sun and freezing temperatures.
In the Inland Northwest, Stan-Crafts must be pulled from the water in mid- to late October so the wood can dry before freezing temperatures arrive. Otherwise, if the boat is left in the water or is still damp, the varnish will blister when the moisture in the wood freezes.
Most of the boat’s parts are made in the Inland Northwest, Young says. Post Falls upholsterer John Anderson, of Anderson’s Upholstery, constructs the seats.
"We use Naugahyde instead of leather for the upholstery," explains Young. "Occasionally, someone will ask for leather, but leather doesn’t stand up well. The sun cracks it and it needs constant attention. Naugahyde is much easier to care for and wears much longer. We use a high-grade Naugahyde that looks and feels like real leather, but doesn’t require the maintenance. We want people to enjoy their boats and not have the constant upkeep."
Since 1983, Stan Kaminski, of Kaminski Brass & Aluminum Foundry, in Coeur d’Alene, has fabricated the brass and bronze castings for Stan-Craft.
Six key Stan-Craft employees work on the boats, although other workers help out in the production at different times during the year.
Boat builders David Kaschmitter, Jim Brown, and Tom Baldwin are responsible for much of the building of and finish work on the boats are among those six key people; Randy Davis, the chief mechanic, and Monty Hauk and Mitch DeVore, both finishers, are the other three.
Stan-Craft offers a number of boat designs to choose from, from a boat-tail style with a 620-horse engine to water taxis, such as those that whisk golfers to and from the floating green at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course. Other models include a traditional speedster with a barrel-back stern; a utility or water-ski boat; a double-cockpit, with seats forward of the engine; and a triple-cockpit, with two seats forward of the engine and one behind.
Young has slightly graying hair, which belies his nearly 60 years. His youthful spirit and willingness to change keeps his boat designs ever changing.
"People make me be a better boat builder," he says. "They force me to make a better product. I’m willing to listen, and work, and improve the product that makes the client happy. I accommodate and will deviate and change the design. So often, designers get stuck in one mode and refuse to change their design to adapt to new ideas.
"For instance, a client came to us wanting a different brass design for the exhaust outlet. Instead of a plain brass plate, he wanted something heavier and sculptured. We had never thought about changing the design, but listened to him and talked to Kaminski about casting a new exhaust port.
"Out of this suggestion came a work of art for the exhaust. The body of the exhaust fitting has more contour and shape, and body thickness–highly sculptured, more art deco. It’s a casting now, not just a plate."
These luxurious, hand-built boats are made to be passed down to future generations. Their comfort level is on a par with their maneuverability. Stan-Crafts don’t set speed records, but do set records for beauty and comfort.