Our Dream Boat
Every summer when we look at our boat, we realize there is a bit of history sitting there. Our 36-foot cruiser is unique in the annals of boating. Built by the Richardson Boat Company of Tonawanda, New York, it was ready to market in the 1962 sales year. We should clarify that. The superstructure (manufactured from teak) and the flybridge (manufactured of heavy duty Fibreglas) were built in Tonawanda. The hull is a different story altogether.
It was manufactured in Malton, Ontario, by Avro Aircraft Limited, a part of the A.V. Roe Aeronautical Group, and in turn, the huge Hawker Siddley Conglomerate, the company of Avro Arrow aircraft fame. The hull is planked aluminum, nut and bolt construction, built like an airplane.
As Avro Arrow fans, we like to think there is a bit of aluminum in the boat that may have originally been destined for that famed Arrow. And the odd time, when we get her up on plane as we head down the waterway, we swear you can feel her "flying." And just to continue the aircraft theme, we have an electronic flush toilet, originally built for Hawker Siddley aircraft. But back to the history.
After the Avro Arrow cancellation, throughout 1958-59, the remaining employees scrambled to develop new products for other markets. In 1960, working in tandem with Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation, Avro announced a new concept in cruiser construction, the planked aluminum hull.
In the United States, the Richardson Boat Company had become part of United Marine and was introducing new plywood lapstrake and caravel planed models, part of a history of wooden boat construction that began in 1909. However, the alliance was not working. In 1960, an agreement was reached whereby Avro would produce the aluminum hulls for the Richardson division.
While aluminum had been used in boat building since the 1880s, electrolysis and the cost of welding meant most boats were constructed by riveting, not a practical use for larger cruisers. In advertising flyers produced for the 1960 market, the new aluminum-hulled boats were classed as Cruisers of Tomorrow made for Richardson's Phantom series. The hulls, permanently sealed for the life of the vessel, were advertised as not requiring recaulking. Thus the aluminum hull was impervious to rot, warping and water soakage. Maintenance costs would be minimal.
The frames, stringers and floor members of the hull were produced from one piece formed aluminum plate while the bulkheads were made from structural aluminum. The carvel-planked hull included batten seam construction using 13-inch battens of 3-inch, corrosion-resistant aluminum plate. The keel and garboard plans were produced from one piece of corrosion-resistant aluminum plate, 3/16 inches thick. The planing was 7-inch, corrosion-resistant aluminum plate. All joints were sealed with Thiokol, a synthetic rubber compound. Stainless steel bolts and nuts were used as fastenings at the frames, and stainless steel self-tapping fasteners adjoined the planks to the battens. The stern was one piece of cast aluminum. The finished hull was painted "yacht white" with paints specifically developed for aluminum protection and the interiors coated with a sound damping material.
After extensive testing, Avro began production of the first hulls for delivery to the Richardson plant in Tonawanda, where the wooden cabins were to be installed. Meanwhile all was not well in the United States. A majority of Richardson workers had been given one-hour layoff notices. Rumours of plant closings circulated. With the promise of delivery of the aluminum hulls, workers were assured of call-back notices. However, by February 1961, the plant was at a near stand still with only 20 workers on the floor. One month later, Avro President Harvey Smith took control of the Richardson division and became its president, promising the production of cabins for the aluminum hulls would continue at the Tonawanda site. Sea trials of the new hulls demonstrated the Richardson vessels would be "the most advanced pleasure cruiser available on the market," he said.
Richardson and Avro produced a 28-foot and a 32-foot Express model, a 36-foot Express and Sedan model, a 40-foot Double Cabin Fly Bridge, a 43-foot model and a 46-foot model. The Fibreglas flybridge could be purchased as an "extra" for the sedan models. About 150 hulls were produced in the early 1960s. Today there are around 60 Richardson Phantom Series boats left in the United States and Canada, including, rumour has it, a few pristine hulls locked away in a garage, place unknown. Some aluminum hulls remain in good condition, but in most cases, the wooden superstructures and mechanical aspects are in desperate need of repair. Then there are boats like ours, cared for and repaired over the years, that are comfortable, useable cruisers.
Our boat spent most of its life in southwestern Ontario. Now its fifth owners, we found it by accident after calling a marina in Port Dover to view some used boats. Invited to see some others, we made a trip to a nearby apple farm. There in a shed created from apple boxes and covered with a huge tarp, was the boat of our deams. After restoring a 30-foot wooden Chris Craft and having to hunt and beg for parts, fittings and original hardware, it was nice to see a classic boat with all the "bells and whistles" intact.
From the wonderful RBCO scroll work on the fluted bow to the plaques showing the three gold intertwined dolphins, the Richardson Company symbol, above the black-winged bird, the Avro Company symbol, it was all there. The hatch covering on the front deck was made of cast aluminum, and it too was engraved with the Avro symbol.We bought the boat in the summer of 1999. Since then we have investigated its history. We obtained a copy of The Richardson Story by William C. Lindquist, a limited-edition book, that includes a full chapter on the aluminum-planked "Phantom Cruisers of Tomorrow."
We joined the Richardson Boat Owner's Association and have enjoyed seeing wonderful wooden boats from as early as the 1930s and sharing information with other owners of aluminum-hulled vessels. (If anyone is interested in joining any of the group's activities that include spring and fall meetings and a summer rendezvous, alternating between Canada and the United States, get in touch with us and we'll pass along details.)
And when it came to naming our boat, we took another page from history. When we were both in school, we spelled airplane as follows, "aeroplane." So we decided with our boat's history, an appropriate name would be "Seaero." We have also learned something else. As we cruise the waterways each summer, we've learned a stock phrase when our boat attracts the attention that it does. "No, it's not a wooden boat."
The teak side decks of the boat were very weak and after several years of stop gap measures, we were able to get to work on repairing them. Due to our marina in Belleville closing in 2009 and no slips being immediately available, the boat was put on the hard in Bath, Ontario, at Loyalist Cove Marina. Bill proceeded to tear off the side decks, do repair work in various spots, refit plywood on the sides, and this spring will Fibreglas and reinstall the refurbished teak. Of course this has led to removal of some interior backboards, so it looks like some interior renovations planned for the future will get underway this summer. At least we will be in the water having obtained a new slip at Treasure Island Marina in the 1000 Thousand Islands..
At the Association's Rendezvous - August 2003