Written by Anthony Mollica Jr.
posted on April 13, 2012 07:31
Her name is Zipper and she's one of the most active classic commuters in North America. During the past twenty-seven years hundreds of delighted guests have had the pleasure of cruising aboard this marvelous express cruiser. Her distinctive profile and pleasing lines are quickly recognized because her image frequently appears in boating publications.
Zipper was the gift of Louise Stroh and her family. Their family name is well known for brewing popular beers in Detroit. In 1985 the Stroh family decided to offer Zipper to the Antique Boat Museum that included an important stipulation. It was the family's desire that Zipper should be available to provide guests of the Museum with the experience of riding on a commuter-style vessel rather than in a building as a static display. The Museum was intrigued by the request and agreed to keep Zipper fully operational as long as the plan was practical. Zipper seemed to be an ideal boat to support their special request.
With the special condition accepted, the Zipper came to the Antique Boat Museum and Thousand Islands to see if the donor's consideration might be workable for the Museum. Now, twenty-seven summer seasons later, Zipper has covered thousands of miles including cruises to Montreal, Ottawa and Lake Champlain. Year after year Zipper continues to be one of the most active boats on the St. Lawrence River. She has earned the reputation as the Museum's “good will ambassador” by participating in boat shows, wedding celebrations, island tours and scheduled for special charters. Wherever she travels on the St. Lawrence River, she is quickly recognized and is cheered by boaters who wave to her as they would to an old friend.
Zipper also has an interesting history. She was originally scheduled to be built during the late 1920's. It was a time when high speed commuters became the rage among business executives living near waterways that connected to their city offices. Frequently, it was faster and much more enjoyable for their hired captains to drive them to their office by boat rather than drive in their own automobiles. Traveling to their office in a speedy commuter offered commuter owners a measure of comfort as well as the image of success in their exciting world of business.
During the summer of 1929 the Strohs contacted commuter specialist and builder, Ned Purdy, to design a distinctive express commuter. Purdy was pleased with their order and designed a fine 42-foot express cruiser that he believed would suit their plans perfectly. However, months before construction on the boat would begin, the New York Stock Market suddenly crashed in late October. The impact on the national economy delayed the Stroh's decision to begin building the new boat. Their total attention was devoted to keeping the brewery solvent. Construction of the boat was suspended. The marine industry suffered more than most business enterprises during the depression that followed and by 1933, Ned Purdy's boatyard permanently closed down.
Nearly four decades would pass before members of the Stroh family rediscovered Ned Purdy's original set of plans for a commuter that was to be named, Zipper. The young members of the family loved the design and thought that they should try to fulfill their grandfather's original dream by building the commuter just as it had been designed by Ned Purdy. In 1973 they delivered the plans to the prestigious Staudacher Boat Building firm in Kawkawlin, Michigan. The builders were skilled and experienced in the latest technology of wooden hull construction. Staudacher assured them that they could build the boat exactly as she appeared in the original Purdy plans and incorporate the advantages of the cold molded technology for the all-mahogany hull. This technique would result in a traditionally appearing hull of varnished mahogany that would remain tight and strong with extended longevity. The Stroh's liked the proposal and wanted the new boat to be powered with twin V-8 Mercruiser engines that would provide excellent performance. Staudacher's proposal became a thoughtful combination of modern construction and traditional features. The result was a handsome commuter that is swift, level-riding, smooth and comfortable.
After several seasons of enjoying Zipper, the Stroh family decided that she would be a great asset for the Antique Boat Museum's collection of classic boats. Although her styling reflected the pre-Depression Era, she was a virtually a new boat with years of life ahead of her. It was the Stroh's desire that the boat should remain in service during the summer months providing the opportunity for guests of the Museum to enjoy riding in a traditional commuter-style craft. The Museum supported their desire and the Zipper has provided thousands of visitors with the joy of riding in this grand commuter. The result of their generosity and their vision, has provided the Museum with a unique program. Today the in-water fleet has expanded to include a Hacker runabout for speedboat rides, a sedan for touring, a vintage motor yacht for sunset cruises and a Gar Wood replica. This active fleet of classic boats provides a wide range of fascinating boating experiences throughout the summer.
A pleasant experience for passengers aboard Zipper is riding in her forward cockpit. This special location offers passengers special location that of great visibility and virtually eliminates the sound of the engines while underway. Traveling smoothly and silently in the forward cockpit is a treat so special that those who have experienced it always remember how special it was.
In many ways, Zipper is a delightful blending of classic vintage design, smooth modern power and technically advanced wooden construction. It is a special boat that is a joy to experience.
By Anthony Mollica
This article was originally prepared for the winter Quarterly published by the New England Chapter of the Antique & Classic Boat Society.