Volume 16, Issue 4 ...................... ..........Newsletter of the Finger Lakes Chapter, ACBS.................................... December 2006

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Shortly after World War II, a gentleman by the name of H. Tracy Balcom, Jr. enlisted Glen E. Furness, the naval architect at Hutchinson Boat Works in Alexandria Bay, NY, to design a boat for him. It was to be a custom power boat for Balcom to use for fishing and recreation in the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence. Furness went to work and drew up plans for a 25-ft. 6-in. utility with a 7-ft. 8-in. beam, double-planked bottom and lap strake sides that blended beautifully into a full barrel-stern - an extremely rare combination. An ice-box and several lockers were provided for stowage of fish and fishing gear, and an unusual convertible canvas top on wood bows was designed to collapse forward into a concealed compartment located just behind the windshield. Power was provided by a Six-125 Gray Marine engine. The design was designated #142, and as far as is known, only one boat was ever built from that design. That build was executed in 1949 by Grew Boats, Ltd. of Pentanguishene, ONT, Canada as hull #3412. The boat's name, Royal Amber, was found during restoration, barely visible on the transom. The boat spent the next 25 years in the Thousand Islands and during that time it was regularly maintained by Hutchinson. In 1974, the boat was acquired by a Paul Schumacher of Rochester, NY with the intention of restoring it. He had it shipped from Hutchinsons to his home in Rochester where it sat in his garage. Later, he had it hauled to Sill's Marina on Sodus Bay where he kept his sailboats with the idea of having FLC member Stew Sill restore it. But that process never got underway, and by 1981, he had lost interest in the project and simply gave the boat to Stew! In 1998, Stew sold the marina, built himself a shop at his home on the west side of the bay, moved the boat from storage into the shop and undertook its restoration as a major retirement project. Stew's objectives were to restore the boat to the highest standards while retaining originality, but using modern technologies for increased reliability, safety and performance. That project began in 2000, and over the next six years he worked steadily on the boat doing a first-class, bottom-up restoration. The keel, ten web frames and 35 intermediate frames were replaced -- all in white oak. A new 3M 5200 bottom was installed, but surprisingly, the �" mahogany topsides were still in excellent condition. They were saved and refastened with silicon bronze rivets. Decks are all original mahogany and were reinstalled with 3M 5200 seams. Through the years, the boat retained all of its original hardware (most of which was replated), including an Iva-Lite and a deck-mounted Perko siren. The original Stewart-Warner instrument panel was retained, but all new S-W "wing" gauges were installed. In a nod to practicality and reliability over authenticity, the boat's Gray Marine engine was replaced with a new 300hp Crusader which Stew found on e-Bay at a bargain price. The power train was fleshed out with 1:1 Velvet Drive transmission, and new stainless shaft, prop and strut bearing. And as part of the concession to modern power, the boat's original floor-mounted shift lever was replaced with a Morse single-lever control. The new engine also required a twelve-volt electrical system including bilge blower, bilge pump and new wiring throughout. To round out the restoration, new "tuck & roll" upholstery was installed and battleship linoleum covered the cockpit soles. The result was "A sweet running boat," according to Stew. "That new Crusader really made a perfect engine for this boat!" Stew now had himself what he called the Ultimate Picnic Boat for casual use and pleasant afternoons on Sodus Bay and Lake Ontario. But that's not the end of the story. Enter Ed Leroux! For 30 years, Ed Leroux had been active in boating, mostly sailing. Much of that time was spent on Sodus Bay, but through reassignments and relocations with Xerox, he sailed in San Francisco Bay, Southern California and Long Island Sound. As children and grandchildren became sailors (or at least enjoyed the water), it became clear that he and his wife, Anne, needed a water-side cottage to handle the crew. In 1996, they bought their place on Le Roy Island which gave them the opportunity to have more space for the kids than just the sailboat at Sodus Bay Yacht Club where they had been and still are members. It also gave Ed a place for smaller wooden boats -- an interest that he had held for some time. His first wooden boat was (and still is) a 12-ft. Penn Yan Swift replica built in 1997 by Victory Boats of Victory, NY. "As a kid, it was the first boat I remember my dad owning on the St. Lawrence." Ed's second wooden boat acquisition was a 12-ft. 6-in. Herreshoff Catspaw sailing dinghy, also a replica built by Carl Pickhardt, in Halcottsville, NY. Ed's son-in-law also has a wooden boat, Skaneateles Lightning #3372, which he keeps at the cottage. It was restored in 1998, after having suffered major damage during a storm. In the fall of 2006, Ed dropped in to see his friend Stew Sill just as restoration of Royal Amber was wrapping up. One conversation led to another and before long, Ed allowed as how he thought Stew's newly-restored boat was really quite a wonderful thing. The conversation continued and before long Ed made an offer to purchase the boat that Stew couldn't refuse! But driving the conversation was Ed's appreciation of things like: - The natural / wooden beauty and workmanship of antique boats�"I know I'm preaching to the choir, but there just isn't anything quite so aesthetically pleasing as the combination of natural wood, quality hardware, fine workmanship all packaged in an elegant design. As many people are, I was attracted for years to the idea of owning one." - The fact that Stew Sill was the restorer�"I have known Stew for many years and have admired his other restorations. Besides the fact that he does superb work, the trust and confidence of knowing that it was Stew that did the work is an invaluable element." - The particular design uniqueness -- utility / runabout� "For years, I have had thoughts about owning a classic, but did not pursue it aggressively. Single cockpit seemed too small; multiple cockpits seemed too large and required an additional boathouse. But, the unique combination of multiple cockpits and the feature of walk-through access made it very appealing and sufficiently attractive to overcome the hesitation to build a new boathouse." - Using it�"I am in love with this boat, not only for its show quality, but probably more for the ability to use it and enjoy it on the bay. The completeness of the restoration makes that possible. To not use it, would just not seem right." - Keeping it in Sodus� "Since most of her life has been spent in Sodus, and her second life through Stew's restoration began in Sodus, it just seemed poetically necessary that she stay here. We'll start work next spring on a new boathouse at the cottage." Ed sums it up well: "In the brief time that I have had the opportunity to operate her (break-in hours), she has performed superbly. Both Stew and I have been extremely pleased with the performance, ride and handling. I'm sure in his private thoughts he does, but Stew has every right to feel the highest level of satisfaction and pride in the work he has done to bring Royal Amber back to life. I know I'm biased, but she is a gem!" Ed has ordered a new custom cover and custom trailer for the 4000-4500 lb. boat, and in the meantime he and Anne have joined ACBS and FLC. And although he didn't think he wanted to get involved in antique boat shows, Ed has promised to take his new acquisition to Skaneateles next July. Royal Amber will be a fine addition to the Chapter's Annual Boat Show.

Congratulations to Stew Sill for an outstanding restoration project and to Ed & Anne Leroux on the acquisition of a unique and beautiful boat. Many thanks to Stew Sill and Ed Leroux for their interest in this article and the material needed to put it together. -Ed


Research into the source of the name Royal Amber has uncovered the fact that H. Tracy Balcom, Jr., the original owner, was from Newport, KY. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Newport's George Wiedemann Brewing Co. (founded in 1870) reopened with Mr. Balcom as its CEO and third-generation president. Although now defunct, the brewery had been prominent in the Newport community and their flagship beer had been named "Royal Amber."