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Tony Mollica’s Boats

Editor’s Note:  In our April 2010 Bonnie Wilkinson Marks presented Joseph Leyare, The Great St. Lawrence Boat Builder.  Bonnie is the great grand-daughter of Bert Hutchinson of Hutchinson Boat Works in Alexandria Bay, NY.  Her article was part of a longer narrative that chronicles the Boat Builders of the Thousand Islands and introduced Joseph Leyare’s Number Boats.  In June we asked Anthony Mollica Jr. if he would tell his story of how he came to build the half hulls of the famous Number Boats.  TI Life is honored to have this builder, historian and writer join our team this month.  It is only fitting that we learn as much as possible about these craft – as the “whole” Number Boat played an important role in the history of our River and the “Half-Hull” Number Boats continue this tradition – thanks to Tony.

Model building has been a hobby of mine since before World War II. During the War years I'm sure that I built a model of every airplane that was flown by the allies along with a multitude of tanks, trucks. and navy ships I don't know what triggered my interest in model building, because it was not an activity that interested anyone else in my family. After the War ended my model-building friends and I would ride our bikes after school to the runways of a former military air base in North Syracuse to fly our model planes in the great open spaces.

As my interest in boats developed, I shifted my attention to airplanes to building model boats. There were so few commercial boat kits available that I learned to prepare boat plans on my own. I would study the design features of a boat that interested me and was able capture the essential details of the boat by observation and sketching. One day when I was in Alexandria Bay with a friend, I stopped at Glen Furness' Office at the foot of Bethune Street. I was studying sets of boat plans displayed on a large table when he came over and inquired about my interest in the plans. After we talked a bit, he rolled up a plan for a twenty-foot utility boat and to my surprise he said I could have it. This would my first set of real boat plans. It was an important step in refining my model boat designing and building skills.

Years would pass, family and professional responsibilities would consume so much of my time that my model building time was re-directed to the constant maintenance work associated with owning a summer cottage and a vintage boat. These are treasurers that bring joy and require constant time and labor. About the time that I thought I might never return to my favorite hobbies, I retired after forty years of professional service . We still had our summer cottage on Cherry Island and a few vintage boats, but retirement provided a small pocket of time during the winter that I could devote to model boat building once more.

The incentive to begin model building again occurred when the Trustees of the Antique Boat Museum were invited to hold their mid-summer meeting aboard the magnificent houseboat, LaDuchesse as guests of Trustee, Andrew McNally. Shortly before the meeting began, I was admiring a large half hull model of the famous “Numbers Boat” that was displayed on the oak paneled wall in houseboat's parlor. Trustee Robert Cox came over to me and explained that the model I was admiring had a very interesting story connected to it. He said that the story he heard was that this half hull model was displayed in the Mens' Bar at the Thousand Islands Yacht Club to encourage their members to join others in the Club who were ordering new race boats. The boat builder built the half hull model as a way to encourage greater participation in gentlemen's racing.

I was fascinated by the story and said that I would love to build an identical model. Mr. Cox responded by saying that he thought that he had a set of the original boat plans somewhere that I could use if he could locate them. To convince him that I was serious about building a replica, I said that if he could find the plans, I would build a complimentary model for him as well to show my appreciation. Motivated by my offer, Mr. Cox quickly found the plans and I was back into model building after several years of inactivity.

The popular term, “Numbers Boat”, has become the local way to identify the Thousand Islands Yacht Club One-Design launch and race boat. It has become an important piece of the Thousand Island boating culture and will be celebrating the centennial of its racing introduction in August 2010.

A century ago the excitement of fast race boats and racing itself became the topic of interest for many Thousand Islanders. Members of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club were so caught up in the fervor of power boat racing that they thought it would be great fun to hold their own weekly races right along the Alexandria Bay waterfront. After all, the Thousand Islands was rapidly becoming the national center of successful boat racing. Racing was the exciting new passion on the River for summer residents and local boat builders. By 1912, members of different yacht clubs in the Thousand Islands had won an incredible nine consecutive Gold Cup Championships.

Several naval architects were invited to submit their proposals for a craft of “moderate length and reasonable speed that could also serve as a useful family boat when not involved in racing”. The Committee selected a design offered by Charles D. Mower for a handsome 28-foot displacement launch. The power selected would provide a craft of this size with speed estimated around 20 mph. Each boat and engine would be identical except for the large gold number outlined in red located near the stem on either side of their gleaming white hulls. The final design was an extremely attractive launch, suitable for racing and general River transportation. It was a fast, comfortable, family launch with seating for six people.

The Committee also chose a well-respected boat builder, Joseph Leyare of Ogdensburg, New York to produce the twenty identical boats. The Committee suggested that the number on each boat should be so prominent that spectators could easily be aware of the position of their favorite driver during the races. When the boats were delivered, the gold numbers were such a large feature that everyone referred to them as “Numbers Boats”.


George Boldt was one of the first to sign up and selected hull thirteen, his favorite number. Boldt also decided to sign-up for a second boat, and this time selected number three. Boldt would name his two boats, This and That. Remarkably, both of Boldt’s boats have survived and are on exhibit at both the Boldt Yacht House and the Antique Boat Museum. Alfred Bourne, from the Singer Sewing Machine family would also sign up for two boats selecting numbers 2 and 20.

The original hulls of the Numbers Boats were 28 feet in length. The original half hull model is 28 inches in length or reproduced at a scale of one inch to the foot. This seemed ideal to me and that would be my plan. The original model was carved from a solid wood block. Since I had the original plans with each of the fourteen sections illustrated, I decided that it would be far more accurate to build the model by plank-on-frame construction. To do this I would need to use the same number of frames as on the original boat. The frames would need to be mounted on a rigid “backbone” that was the precise silhouette of the hull. After each thin plywood rib was cut and properly located, the hull would be planked over the ribs. This method would insure that each hull possessed the exact contours and shape of the original hull and each of the half hulls would be a precise miniature of the original hull. Starting at the shear, the scale hardwood planks are clamped in place and bonded with carpenter's glue to each rib. Each plank must be permanently fastened before the next plank is installed to insure an absolutely tight fit with no seam gap. 

The carvel-planked hulls are painted white with a blue waterline stripe and the bottom is a deep shade of red The shear plank has a red arrow cove stripe that runs the full length of the hull. The stem is finished with a bright brass cutwater. The decks have wide covering boards and are planked with narrow strips of mahogany. Each plank is separated by a narrow white seam. The deck, cockpit coaming and transom are varnished with several coats of gloss varnish. The hull's prominent large racing number is gold with a red outline.

The finished hull is mounted on a ten inch by thirty eight inch mahogany plaque with beveled edges and finished in satin varnish to provide a suitable backdrop to the completed hull. After the half hull is mounted on the plaque, the brass strut, rudder and propeller are permanently installed. A brass identification plate in the final touch to complete the plaque.

After building the first Numbers Boat plaque for Robert Cox, I built a similar one for myself as I initially intended. Soon I was asked to build another one for a friend, and that was followed by another request from a friend his. Soon I was building four or more every year as interest spread in the plaques was spreading. The Gift Shop at the Antique Boat Museum asked if I could build a few half hulls for their store to display and offer for sale. Soon I was building Lyman half hull plaques that were desired as permanent trophies for Vintage Boat Shows.

Two years ago I had the privilege of preparing a half hull design of the 1930s Fitzgerald & Lee runabout, Skoal, that has been cast in the pewter as the new Friends of the Museum plaque. The Central New York winter season has become my model building time with a short break to head south for a couple of weeks of sunshine. Several models have been built for collectors and as special trophies for classic boating events. During the winter season. I normally can build six half hull plaques for The Antique Boat Museum and individuals. The model building that I began nearly seventy years ago when I was a youngster has returned as a creative activity to help me enjoy a major portion of the winter season in Central New York.

Left, is a special commemorative plaque of a 26' Lyman prepared as a gift for the owner and on the right is a Lyman half hull plaque with its convertible top in place. Photo courtesy A. Mollica.

By Anthony Mollica Jr.

Anthony Mollica’s first wrote professionally in his teaching career in communications. Writing for pleasure evolved from his activities with the Antique and Classic Boat Society and the Antique Boat Museum as well as his life-long interest in the history of boat building in American. He has published articles in various marine periodicals including Classic Boating, ACBS Rudder, Gar Wood News, The Antique Boat Museum Gazette Annual, MotorBoating, Lakeland Boating and The Chris-Craft Brass Bell Quarterly. He is also the author of eleven published books, many of which are available in local book stores. (See Anthony Mollica on our Publications page)

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Jim Evans
Comment by: Jim Evans ( )
Left at: 3:00 PM Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I thaught you spent your winters writting great books about antique boats, cool cottages, and Island life? Say nothing about sanding and varnishing old wood boats, or fixing the motor you can't get parts for. Thanks Tony! You are truly multitalented.
Bob Kahn
Comment by: Bob Kahn ( )
Left at: 6:54 PM Monday, May 27, 2013
Tony - don't know if you remember me, but I came across your name when googling Gar Wood for some info lately. I bought your beautiful '47 Ford woody which my family and I drove from Syracuse to SF in 1977. It was a beach wagon on Lake George and you bought it from the State motor pool, as I recall. Regrettably I sold it about 10 years ago. But we sure enjoyed it for more than 20 years!
Anyway, whenever I think of that car, I think of the wonderful and skilled job you did restoring it, particularly the woodwork. Hope all is well with you and your family - Best regards,
- Bob Kahn