For the Love of Woodies

by Susan Hamilton & r & If you've ridden the water taxi to play golf at the Coeur d'Alene Resort's famous course, you've had the pleasure of riding in one of Syd Young's classy wooden boats. You may have a friend who owns one of Young's masterfully built watercraft. Or, like me, you may just drool every time you see one of his elegant wooden speedboats.

When the warm August sun glints off their rich mahogany decks and reflects brightly off their polished chrome fittings and the throaty rumble of exhaust pipes signals that these classic boats are ready to fly over the cobalt waters of Lake Coeur d'Alene, it's time to head to the docks of the Lake City. This weekend, as many as 50 of these wooden beauties from around the Northwest and California will line the docks of the Coeur d'Alene Resort. Festival-goers can get close-up views of the craftsmanship that goes into each vessel. And there's a bonus: Many of the boat owners offer free rides, which makes this wooden boat festival unique.

"It used to be about judging and trophies," Young says. "Now it's just about fun. We like to take people out in our boats and let them splash through the water."

Young started the wooden boat festival in Coeur d'Alene in 1984 to promote the craft of wooden boat building. Although he never sold a boat at the festival, Young never intended to. Now in its 21st year, the festival attracts 30,000 people to the north shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene.

"It's a festive, colorful event," Young explains. "We have the expansive boardwalk, a good variety of boats, food, vendors and beautiful scenery."

Wooden boat festivals take place at shorelines around the world. It seems their popularity has grown, even though some of these boats hearken back to the 1920s.

"It's all about nostalgia," muses Young. "We all have a love of yesterday. Old wooden boats have a lot of charisma and character that people appreciate."

Boat Builder & r & Young didn't have to find his vocation -- he was born into it. His father Stanley began building wooden boats in 1933 at Flathead Lake, Mont., near Kalispell, and started Stan-Craft Boats.

"I loved being in my father's boat shop," Young remembers. "Whether I intended to or not, I was learning the craft of boat building."

Young graduated from high school, served a stint in the Air Force, then married his wife Julie and bought the family business. But the 1970s brought dramatic changes to Stan-Craft Boats. When fiberglass became the preferred material for constructing boats, the company switched from wood to fiberglass. With the fuel crisis, the demand for gas-guzzling toys decreased, and Stan-Craft closed its doors. Young's knowledge of Fiberglas served him well, and he went to work for a company in Post Falls that was building shipping compartments for the solid-fuel rockets on NASA's space shuttles.

Little did Young know that Hollywood would help him get back into the wooden boat-building business. When Henry Fonda roved about a New England lake in a classic wooden boat in the 1981 movie On Golden Pond, he reinvigorated the wooden-boat industry. The movie's popularity brought back interest in wooden boats.

Young opened a shop in Coeur d'Alene in the early '80s with the intent to resurrect them. But it was a new boat that brought Young notoriety -- the 25-foot, triple-cockpit wooden runabout.

"That boat was a calling card for us," Young says. "It waved a big flag that said, 'Here's a guy who can work on wooden boats.'"

Before he knew it, Young was swamped with renovations on wooden boats. In 1989, Duane Hagadone ordered two custom-built mahogany water taxis for the Coeur d'Alene Resort's golf course. The 30-foot boats, with their distinctive cockpits, have brought plenty of business Young's way.

In 1990, Stan-Craft moved to a larger location in Post Falls to accommodate its growing business. But building wooden boats is no conveyor-belt operation: Stan-Craft builds only six to eight boats a year. Young will move his business to a new factory on Post Falls' Seltice Way just before this year's Wooden Boat Festival. The larger space will allow Stan-Craft to produce from eight to 10 boats a year -- leading Young to quip, "As my old man would say, 'A couple more and you'll get the hang of it.'"

Crafted by Hand & r & Young has not only continued his father's legacy of building classic wooden boats, but he has also refined the craft. Young is known in the business as a master boat builder and innovator who not only refurbishes wooden boats but also applies his skills and knowledge to build state-of-the-art originals.

"Young is one of the most credible wooden boat builders in the country," says Jim Wangard, editor of Classic Boating magazine. "He's an innovator whose replications have far surpassed the originals."

Stan-Craft wooden boats combine decades-old artistry with contemporary practicality. They are heavy enough to knife through rough water effortlessly without the bone-pounding rides that wooden boats were notorious for in the past. That's because Young's hull design deepened the forward V and added a soft forward entry and flat stern.

Stan-Crafts are made exclusively from mahogany imported from Ghana. "We hand pick the wood," Young explains. "We look for extremely colorful wood with bands of color, called ribbon grain."

The wood is sealed with 15 coats of Epifanes, a special marine varnish made in the Netherlands. After the varnish cures for a week, it shines like a mirror.

The wooden boat builder also utilizes new technology, like performance exhaust systems and custom GPS devices. Powerful fuel-injected Viper and Mercruiser engines allow the boats to reach speeds of 55 mph.

"These boats are like building a Rolls-Royce," Young says. "They take from 1,000 to 3,000 man-hours -- or five to six months -- to build, depending on the design of the boat."

And if you want a Stan-Craft, there are plenty of original models to choose from. The Torpedo has a uniquely pointed stern (or rear). The Speedsters' controls are located in the back half of the boat and have another aft cockpit. The Ski Woodies are smaller boats, with front controls and a back platform for skiers. The Taxis and Tenders are used for commuting to and from larger boats and docks. Young's new favorites are his Sport Utility runabouts (SUBs), all-purpose boats with high styling. Stan-Craft boats range from 21 feet to 36 feet in length and cost upwards of $90,000.

When asked what he likes about wooden boats, Young is not short on words. "I appreciate that the boats are hand-built," he says. "They're aesthetically beautiful. When you're inside them, they have a real warmth to them. And the hulls are quieter because of the wood."

But mostly, it's about design and beauty, Young says. "When I see a beautifully designed wooden boat, I know that somebody cared enough to shed some blood and sweat over her."

The Coeur d'Alene Wooden Boat Festival at the Coeur d'Alene Resort's boardwalk is on Saturday, Aug. 20, from 9 am-6 pm, and on Sunday, Aug. 21, from 9 am-3 pm. Call (208) 664-3194.

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