The Adirondack Mountains have a long and proud history of boat building. As early as the 1840s, hunters in the Long Lake area rowed small wooden boats to carry themselves, their gear and their kill around the region. Over time, and as interest from sportsmen and adventurers grew in the Adirondacks, there was increased demand for guides and their boats. To accommodate the interest, the hunting skiff developed into the highly refined Adirondack “guideboat.”
The boat had to be light enough to be carried over the shoulder for long periods of time for when traversing the trails between the waterways, it had to be stable enough in the wind to hunt and fish from, fleet enough to follow deer, and large enough for the guide, the guided, their equipment, the kill, and even a dog or two. Needless to say, uniting these varied abilities into one craft called for the skill of great boat builders. Throughout the years, these boat builders constantly innovated and kept refining their designs. From the germ of the guideboat centuries ago, a great culture of boat building developed in the region and it flourishes to this day.
Here are five companies in the Adirondack region that are carrying on the boat building tradition.
1. HORNBECK BOATS
Hornbeck Boats is a company located in Olmstedville, New York, specializing in ultralight custom pack canoes. The company takes pride in its Perfect Fit program. Unlike most other canoe companies, they offer a wide range of boat sizes to fit each individual user. Instead of one size fits all, they have trained staff and demo boats to help the buyer choose from over 40 different boats to find the one that suits them the best.
Boatmaker Peter Hornbeck standing over The Classic. Photo Credit: Hornbeck Boats
Hornbeck Boats have four main designs: The Classic, New Tricks, Nomad, and Blackjack. All come in a variety of sizes to accommodate the paddler, but all their hulls are constructed in a single time frame so that all the components are chemically bonded, making the boat stronger and resistant to delamination. The Blackjack is notable for being made entirely out of carbon fiber, without any wood. This cuts 3-4 lbs from its weight and makes it the lightest pack canoe around.
The Hacker Boat Company, Inc is the world’s largest builder of classic mahogany motorboats. Founded by naval architect and motorboat designer John L. Hacker in 1908, the company has over one hundred years of building and restoring handcrafted boats. While their boats may still look like the classic designs from the 1920s and 1930s, below the waterline they have been kept up-to-date with the modern technologies, materials and motors.
Hacker-Craft make a wide array of pleasure boats, from the sleek Sportabout, perfect for water sports, to the luxury yacht tenders, all of which can be custom-tailored to a client’s specific request. They even offer option of building an entirely custom boat according to any specifications.
2012 30' Sport by Hacker-Craft. Photo from: Hacker-Craft
3. ADIRONDACK GOODBOAT
Adirondack Goodboat, located in Long Lake, New York is a small boat building shop run by Mason Smith. Initially, Smith was a writer who wrote for Sports Illustrated and Esquire; he published his novel Everybody Knows and Nobody Cares in 1971. But since 1986, he has been building and restoring guideboats, canoes and custom boats.
Smith has also designed and now sells his own amalgam-type of boat, The Goodboat, which has a sail, a motor and can also be rowed. This is his modern innovation on the classic Adirondack guideboat. It’s a rowboat, that can also be sailed, with a body like a canoe. The whole design carries on the multipurpose spirit of the original guideboat.
The Goodboat. Photo Credit: Adirondack Goodboat
4. REUBEN SMITH’S TUMBLEHOME BOATSHOP
Reuben Smith’s Tumblehome Boatshop, located in the Southern Adirondacks close to Lake George, is a company focused on high-end restoration and the novel construction of historic and classic wooden boats. Reuben Smith is the son of Adirondack Goodboat’s Mason Smith. Throughout his high school and college years, he worked at his uncle’s boatbuilding shop, Everett Boatworks in Canton, New York, as well as his father’s shop. Needless to say, he was steeped in the world of boat building.
In 1997, Reuben started his Tumblehome Boatshop in the corner of his uncle’s shop. Some time later, he moved away from home for many years to restore boats and teach boatbuilding skills to others, including several years teaching a course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2008, he returned to New York to manage a boatshop on Lake George for Hall’s Boat Corporation. And then finally in 2012, after years of proving himself, he re-established his Tumblehome Boatshop, this time in a 6000-square foot building surrounded by craftsmen who take their boat restoration very seriously.
Small craft restoration: war canoe, Peterborough canoe, early Lake George row boat, wood canvas canoe and strip built canoe. Photo Credit: Reuben Smith’s Tumblehome Boatshop
5. ADIRONDACK CANOE COMPANY
The Adirondack Canoe Company, located in Minerva, New York, is owned by boat builders Chad Smith and Simon Gardner. Smith and Gardner both grew up in the Adirondacks, where they developed a passion for canoeing and building the vessels. Gardner’s third grade teacher was Peter Hornbeck of Hornbeck Boats. Hornbeck gifted Gardner a nine-foot canoe for his ninth birthday and he has been hooked ever since!
Together, they have over 25 years of combined boat building experience and make lightweight canoes perfectly designed for travelling around the lakes and streams of the Adirondacks. They make four different kinds of canoe, including the 16-foot Tamarack and the 14-foot Boreas, both of which are original designs by Smith and Gardner.
The canoes they make take great design inspiration from the history of Adirondack guideboats. For instance, their other two boat designs, the Skylight and Haystack, are made especially light with mind to being carried across land, as the guideboats were made. However, as canoes, which are paddled, they differ from the guideboat, which is rowed.
Interested in building your own (Wee Lassie) canoe? The Adirondack Folk School in Lake Luzerne, New York, offers a 10 day course, at an off-site location (18 Curran Street, Glens Falls) that will guide you through every step of the process. The next “semester” starts October 10th. And at the not-too-distant Adirondack Experience in Blue Mountain Lake, New York, permanent exhibition Boats and Boating displays more than 50 Adirondack guideboats and canoes, some more than 100 years old. Find out more about the Museum and purchase tickets here.
The Adirondack Folk School's Wee Lassie Canoe building course. Photo Credit: Adirondack Folk School