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Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance

The Concours d'Elegance wooden boat show on Lake Tahoe is one of the best.

May 13, 2009
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After just one day of walking the docks at last year’s Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance show, I got the very strong impression that everyone in Lake Tahoe has a “woody.”

More than a hundred antique wooden boats are on display here each year. Most of these classics are immaculately refurbished and lovingly restored runabouts in the 20- to 30-foot range.

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The festivities begin with the Concours “VIP Preview Day,” which is open to sponsors, exhibitors, press, and the first 500 guests. After last year’s opening ceremony, a fly-in of eleven amphibious planes from the Experimental Aircraft Association splashed into the indigo waters just outside the Sierra Boat Show Marina, at Carnelian Bay on Tahoe’s upscale North Shore.

The champagne flows and visitors are entertained by live jazz music every year, and if you’re lucky, local resident Randy Walker will offer his insightful and entertaining commentar y on the history of the lake’s wooden boats. Walker is the oldest living Commodore of the Tahoe Yacht Club (1955-56). Both his father (1939-’40) and grandfather (1922- ’23) were club commodores, so his voluminous knowledge and passion for these boats must be in the blood.

After three days of salivating over impeccably refinished Rivas, classic Chris-Craft Barrelbacks, Philbrick Double Cockpit Runabouts, and a 1915 Hutchinson Brothers Launch, not to mention Gar Woods and Hackers that are nearly a century old, I get the impression every Lake Tahoe resident owns more than one of these beauties.

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Roaming the docks does little to dispel this impression. First, I meet Kirk Pumphrey, Chairman of the Tahoe Yacht Club Foundation. In conversation, I learn that he has five antique wooden boats. Later, speaking with the show’s Chief Judge Barry Ludwig, as he inspects a glistening, varnished Grand Craft triple cockpit runabout, he admits to owning seven woodies, including a Riva and a workshop full of Chris-Crafts.

My conversations with Pumphrey and Ludwig remind me of the first Tahoe Concours I attended, back in the mid ’90s. I met Alan Furth there, who’d retired to Lake Tahoe after many years as vice chairman of the Santa Fe Southern Pacific Railroad. Furth may have been the quintessential collector, and was so obsessed with antique classic wooden boats that he owned an incredible 61 at one point.

The Tahoe entries all have colorful biographies and, of course, owners that love to recount them. The older the boat, the more ornate and involved the history, and their names tend to add to the mystery: Back in Time, a 1965 Philbrick Utility; So Rare, a 1936 Chris-Craft Runabout; Miss Puddleduck, a 1939 Chris-Craft Custom Barrelstern; and Dork, a 1948 Chris-Craft Racing Runabout, were just a few whose stories I lingered to hear.

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A 1948 Chris-Craft Runabout that originally cost $750 might be refit at upwards of $50,000 today. Then again, these classics are worth up to $150,000 and more. Rivas routinely garner in the $400,000 range.

This year’s Tahoe Concours d’Elegance, which has traditionally been held in August, will take place June 19 to 21, and the featured “Marque” class will be Blonde Deck Runabouts-classic, two-toned, bleached mahogany beauties.

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If you love classic wooden boats, start planning next year’s trip to Tahoe now.

www.laketahoeconcourse.com

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