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Mountain Home Magazine

This Will Float Your Boat

by Mike Cutillo

In addition to educational opportunities, an important mission of the Finger Lakes Boating Museum is to preserve and share the rich history of the boating industry in upstate New York. Two fascinating projects currently underway at the museum are right in line with that philosophy: a rebuild of a historic mail and tour boat named the Pat II, and a refurbishing of a sixty-five-year-old Morehouse Boat Company runabout named the Heigh-Ho.

“Both the Pat II and the Heigh-Ho have created a lot of buzz around the museum,” notes FLBM Executive Director Andrew Tompkins. “They are both unique boats with interesting histories and are easy to talk about—the Pat II because of her size and postal delivery and touring history, and the Heigh-Ho because she is the only twenty-two-foot, triple cockpit the Morehouse Boat Company ever built. Both boats are slated to play big roles as ambassadors for the museum in the coming years.”

Thanks to these projects and more—including the fact that its membership just climbed over the 500 mark—it’s an exciting time for this museum on the southern tip of Keuka Lake.

“It’s really fun, it’s exciting,” says Ed Wightman, a former president of the museum board and one of the driving forces behind its very creation. “It just feels like there’s a lot of momentum and a lot of traction.”

The Pat II, a thirty-nine-foot wooden Comstock-built boat, is a project that’s been in the works for about five years, so an argument could be made that it helped jump-start the current positive vibes.

It was originally built in 1924 to succeed the Pat I, which serviced the St. Lawrence River in the Alexandria Bay area of New York but burned in about 1920. Both Pats were built by George M. “Pat” Comstock and his boat company.

“As far as I know, these were the only two tour boats he built,” says Ed, a treasure trove of information who is in charge of collections at the FLBM these days. “She served on the river until 1950-’51 and was put out of service because she was replaced by steel-hulled boats. Wooden boats are a bit to maintain.”

She was sold to the Stinson Boat Line and operated as a mail boat on Skaneateles Lake—Star Route 13, to be exact—until 1991, and later as a tour boat on the same lake under the ownership of Mid-Lakes Navigation. As the tour business grew, though, she was replaced by a larger boat that could handle more passengers, and then eventually ended up in storage in Geneva at the north end of Seneca Lake.

“She was brought to our attention back in the days when we were trying to built the museum in Geneva,” Ed recalls. “So, another fellow and I went over and took a look at her and said, ‘This could really be great for us.’ We proposed it to the museum’s board and they were all for it, so we went over and got it, dragged it down here, and took it to our physical plant.”

That was the fall of 2013, and, by then, the FLBM was established in Hammondsport and had a building and fourteen acres there that had been donated by Mercury Aircraft. Work commenced on the Pat II in the summer of 2014—primarily by a team of volunteers who work on Tuesdays and Thursdays under the guidance of renowned Boatwright Geoff Heath, with inspections by the U.S. Coast Guard out of Buffalo.

Since then the Pat II has undergone a barrage of rebuilding. The short list includes: new planking on the hull, reinforcing the original keel, constructing a new passenger compartment with newly upholstered seat bottoms and backs, replacing the twenty-foot propeller shaft, installing new windows, and replacing the diesel engine with an electric one.

“This is a rebuild,” Ed emphasizes. “In the boat world we make distinctions between restorations and rebuilds. Restorations, you take it back to what it was; rebuilds you do what you have to do to make it serviceable and safe while trying to maintain the character as best you can because it does have history.” Passenger comfort has been a major consideration in the process, Ed notes.

“We’re trying to decide the most optimum seating,” he says. “We’re leaning toward creature comfort rather than sardines. It’s going to be a luxurious ride, not a meat wagon.”

There had been no real schedule to get the Pat II ready for the water until recently when—because some major project donors wanted to witness the launch before leaving to travel later this year—a launch date of August 24 was established. She’ll be put into commercial use as a tour boat next season and will also be available for private charter.

The Heigh-Ho—“Like heigh-ho, it’s off to work the seven dwarfs go,” as Ed says merrily—was not nearly as extensive a project. Though it needed some tender loving care and some upgrades, it basically was turnkey (or maybe turnwheel?), and was given to the museum last spring as part of an estate from the family of a Seneca Falls man. Built by the Morehouse Boat Company on Cayuga Lake in 1953, it features the bead-and-cove planking for which Morehouse was known.

“We’re using that boat as a museum VIP kind of boat, an opportunity to take real supporters of the museum out on the lake, to try to do something special for them,” Ed says.

Both the Pat II and the Heigh-Ho will have trailers so that they can be transported to various antique boat shows around the area. “Once the Pat II and the Heigh-Ho are spotted out on the lakes, that should help with the momentum as well,” Andrew Tompkins says, noting the FLBM also runs workshops that teach building skills, and offer free monthly lectures and a host of other programs to help “educate the community on a variety of topics. “And our restoration projects build camaraderie among the volunteers who take ownership of the boats they are working on on behalf of the museum. Everyone wins.”

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