Sat Sep 24, 2022 7:00 AM

Story and photo by Alice Gerard

A broken bottle of Sparking Bouverie was enough for the Starling IV, a skiff in the colors of the sea, to be renamed at the Niagara Frontier Antique and Classic Boats Inc.’s 43rd annual vintage and classic boat show on September 17 at the Buffalo Launch Club.

The boat’s current owners, Phil and Liz Sullivan, wanted to recreate the original baptism that took place 70 years ago when the same type of sparkling French wine was crushed against the bow of the boat. Her grandfather, Philip Sullivan, commissioned prominent yacht designer and builder Fred Lawley of Quincy, Massachusetts, to design and build this boat, the fourth in a series of boats, all named Starling. The boat was built in a family shipyard in Braintree in 1952. The boat was christened in 1953.

“It was actually the fifth boat designed and built for my grandfather,” Sullivan said during a presentation at the show. “I guess you could say he’s my namesake. He was born in 1874, died in 1952. Unfortunately, he never saw the boat built to completion. His wife was Rose Marie. I never met these grandparents. They died long before I was born (in 1959).

Although Sullivan never met his grandfather, he heard the stories about him. “He was a colorful character, the eldest of four boys, a wild donkey, who drove his mother crazy. He was also a genius.”

All but one of the previous ships, the Rose Marie, bore the name “Starling”. The first three Starlings were designed and built by boatbuilder George Loring in Braintree.

“Starling II was a 45-foot motor yacht,” Sullivan said. “It was powered by a Sterling engine made right here in Buffalo. They’ve always been proud to have a Sterling engine. It’s the boat my dad grew up on. The Sullivan burgee (flag on boat) flapping on the mast before. They spent their summers at Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. So here we are in 1942. World War II had just begun, and my grandfather’s large yacht, the Starling III, a 50-foot motor yacht which he had designed and built by George Loring in East Braintree. It had two Chrysler Royal engines. My dad did a lot of work with engines and all that.

But, with World War II, “the Navy and Coast Guard had an urgent need for patrol boats,” Sullivan said. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the War Shipping Administration on February 7, 1942.

“Anything that was floating, anything you could mount a machine gun on and stuff like that, they were taking eminent domain,” Sullivan said. “They came in and said, ‘You have a nice boat. We can use that. Here is money for it. Thank you very much.” And they took it away.”

After the war ended, the government offered to return the boats, but by then Sullivan’s grandfather no longer wanted the boats. In June 1945, the Starling II and the Starling III were offered for sale.

Unfortunately, in the 1970s, the Sterling IV fell into disrepair and “left its family for a while, but they got it back,” said event chair Sharon Dickinson.

For the past five years, Sullivan and her two brothers, Tom and Rich (who died in May after a battle with pancreatic cancer), have worked together to rebuild the boat.

It was a huge project, and after five years it’s still going strong, Sullivan said. “I worked on this boat when I was a kid. But, anyway, the boat was in a lot worse shape than I thought. Take your initial estimates for the weather. I had predicted that I was going to be finished in three years. If you’ve seen the boat, it’s a work in progress, and I think it’s pretty cool. I will use it in the summer and work on it in the winter. I still have a lot to do.

“I think you’re only good for one big makeover in life. I started a little late. I think you are done with these restorations when you sell the boat or die.

Sullivan said, “The best thing we did was when we partnered with the Buffalo Maritime Center. Had we not done this, I could not have undertaken this restoration without the resources of the Buffalo Maritime Center (on Arthur Street in Buffalo).

Many other boats were on display at the show, including Custom Craft boats, built in Buffalo; the Cayugas, which were built in Cheektowaga; and Chris-Craft boats, which were first built 100 years ago, Dickinson said, noting she enjoyed the show. “I think we have good exposures. The boats are beautiful and pretty, on land and in the water. The weather is superb. We couldn’t ask for anything more and there is no wind.

Board member Rocky Nagel said: “We bring all types of boats together. These boats come from western New York, southern Ontario and the Finger Lakes region. Sometimes they come from New England, Pennsylvania, Ohio. We get boats from all over, and it’s fun.

Nagel was exhibiting his boat, a 1956 Coronado called the Miss-LED.

“That boat belonged to the family that originally owned the Iroquois Brewing Co. in Buffalo,” he said. “They bought it new in 1956. I learned to water ski on this boat. The name, Miss-LED, is named after their three daughters, Lynn, Elaine and Donna. Hence the Miss-LED. So I bought this boat in 1982. I’ve owned it for 40 years.

“We worked on it. We redid it in the original color scheme of turquoise and teal. We use it all the time. We keep it in the water. We keep it at Rich Marina (Austin Street, Buffalo) and release it as often as possible. It’s a great boat. Coming to shows like this is fun because you get to see everyone who has the same hobby.

During the winter, he attends boat restoration workshops at the Buffalo Maritime Center. Workshop topics include engine maintenance, varnishing and wood care.

“It’s a great winter activity. We go every Tuesday evening. We are having a great time,” he said.

One of the boats on display ashore was a skiff, designed and built by the Buffalo Maritime Center.

Carol Alt, kayaker for 20 years, said: “I voted yes. I would feel very safe in there.

Alt, who owns a hand-built wooden kayak, said he has kayaked in many places, including the Niagara River, the Florida Everglades “with the alligators and under the mangroves of Sarasota Bay.”

“I have a cabin in Muskoka, Ontario, and I kayak there. My favorite place to kayak is the calm bay under the mangroves, where I can meditate,” Alt said. “Padling through a mangrove is so peaceful.”

Some of the boats on display were too small for a human crew.

John Marck of Thorold, Ontario came to display his model boats at a Buffalo Model Boat Club exhibit. He said that as a boy he built model cars, boats and planes from kits.

“I had an experience with wooden boats that I took care of when I was a teenager up north for an American, who had a bunch of boats,” Marck said. “I was the boat boy. He had a few Chris-Crafts. It was my job to keep them fueled and pumped and polished and cleaned and whatever. It kind of interested me, and then life went on.

“Many, many, many years later I saw you could get a kit. It was the most beautiful runabout I had ever seen in my life. I didn’t buy that first. I bought a simpler wooden model kit, which I made. It was a racing runabout. I started there just to get used to managing what it takes to make a model From there I never looked back I build as many for others as I do for myself I have probably built 25-30 boats like this I have 13 or 14 home now, and I’m constantly working on either one for myself or one for someone else.

Marck said building model ships was a fulfilling hobby for him. What makes him happiest, he says, is “to see the end result, I guess. There’s a challenge in how you’re going to do something, especially if it’s custom stuff. You have to figure out how you are going to do it. It’s very rewarding when all of a sudden you get that light bulb. ‘Oh! I could do that!’ It’s good, especially when it works. And you think, ‘I know what I can do to fix this!’ I had to fix stuff too. I have had disasters. Just suck it in and don’t get discouraged.

In addition to the boats on display, there was a car show, with around 85 classic and vintage cars.