1904 Fay & Bowen 26' Torpedo Launch
Fay & Bowen
Considered by many to be the pinnacle of classic boat styling, Fay & Bowens have a distinctive, refined shape with beautiful classic lines that flow along its waterline. Walter Fay & Earnest Bowen started the Fay & Bowen Engine Company in Geneva, NY in 1904 building both industrial engines and boats to put them in. The company built a total of ~900 boats before closing in 1929 as the stock market crashed. Fay & Bowen built launches of open and long deck configurations and some very special boats with torpedo sterns. Their seaworthiness combined with their classic styling and beautiful lines have made Fay & Bowens highly sought after today.
A Hidden Gem
This 26’ Torpedo Stern Launch is believed to be an early example of a Fay & Bowen classic, with an impressive history exclusively with the same family on Lake George. It has always been registered with the state of New York as 1900, but there is no way to verify this as this boat predated when Fay & Bowen started stamping hull serial numbers on their boats. However, there are several factory-numbered stampings on each floor frame. Research has confirmed that this practice was consistent with other Fay & Bowens from the same era. None of this matters when riding along in this silent dream of a vessel.
This Fay & Bowen was a true barn find, or more accurately, a boathouse find. Our stewardship began in 2018 when we discovered the boat in its lifelong home in Bolton Landing, NY. The building was a classic boathouse of its day, erected onshore but inches from the water’s edge, with a rail and cradle system which ran several feet from below the water, up onto the shore, and into the boathouse. The boat has been berthed at this single location for the duration of its existence, which has greatly contributed to its impressive preservation and outstanding original condition.
The boat was owned by George Barber and his family for its entire life, as verified by his 70+yr old nephew Jeffrey Beaton (who incidentally waterskied off the boat when he was 7yrs old!). George and his brothers Henry and Ellis Barber (pictured, 1872-1951) were well known on the lake for building several Lake George Rowing skiffs, of the same construction and configuration as the renowned Smith Lake George Rowers. Much of their boat-building legacy is recorded in the Town of Bolton Museum, and there are still some Barber rowing skiffs out on Lake George’s waters today. No wonder these boat builders would have a Fay & Bowen as their choice of boat for their family to enjoy on the lake.
The family informed us that this Fay & Bowen had not been in the water since 1970 when its 2nd motor (a 4-cylinder Universal) had failed them. When it came time for us to move the boat out of the boathouse for preservation, there were a few important challenges that needed to be overcome: First, the lakeside doors of the boathouse were boarded shut many years prior and needed to be busted open. Secondly, the boat could only come out one way, down the railway and into the water! Consequently, the boat hadn’t touched the water (or seen daylight) in nearly 50 years!
The Restoration Process
Our original plan to wrap the boat entirely in plastic and quickly tow it to a next-door launch failed miserably. The plastic purchased was not long enough to cover the boat from stem to stern (facepalm), and our next-door neighbor was not so neighborly and would not allow us to use their launch ramp.
Plan B was extremely risky, but ultimately highly successful. The boat was previously soaked in place for a few days and towed ~4 miles to Norowal Marina on the other side of town. Amazingly, the boat’s original bottom was extremely tight and took in very little water during the 45-minute tow. This was our first inkling of what a special boat this was, how well preserved it was, and most importantly, how fortunate that it has lived its entire life only inches from the water, effectively keeping a consistent humidity content for nearly 120 years.
The Process Begins
When we got the boat back to our boatyard, more revealing discoveries were made: every single frame was original to the boat and even more surprising was that none of them were registered, as was commonly done in the day. We could not even find a single cracked frame in the hull. Equally surprising is that there were no cedar planks that had been replaced. The decks and the oak trim were all original, as were the cedar floors. The only non-original items we found were its 1940’s Universal motor, the motor box, and the front bulkhead. Even all the original hardware was intact, save for a missing bow light. Ultimately the only wood replacement needed on the boat was a 14” piece of oak coaming on the deck, and some oak corner bead trim pieces. A new smaller motor box was fabricated to cover the very special new powerplant. A new rear bench seat was fabricated as were port and starboard front seats and a forward bulkhead. The boat was refastened where needed and then entirely refinished. The powerplant: rather than rebuild a non-original motor and considering the slim chances of finding an original Fay & Bowen motor, we decided to go in a different direction. As the original Fay & Bowen motors were low horsepower but high torque units, we thought it would be best to try to match these characteristics as accurate as possible. Add to this that the boats were designed with a semi-displacement hull with a top speed of 8-10 knots, and our choice became clear: ELECTRIC POWER! A modern Elco EP-12 electric motor was fitted, along with 4 AGM 12 Volt batteries evenly positioned in the boat, with two in the bow and two in the stern. The motor produces 8.8 Peak kW at a maximum of 106 amps at 1500 RPMs and has a cruising speed of 6-8 knots with ~1.5-2hrs of runtime. Its onboard NOCO charger returns a full charge in 2-3hrs. A computer display shows all the motor’s vital functions, including amperage, RPMs, and battery life remaining. Operation is as simple as any other boat, with a Livorsi forward, neutral, and reverse gear shift, although there is no need for a transmission. Life was simple in 1900, and even simpler today.
This is truly the most special and uniquely preserved boat from any era. The sleek designed hull allows it to slice through the water with minimal drag, making it already an incredibly quiet ride. Now with a virtually silent electric motor to propel it, the experience of riding through the water in this historic vessel is like no other. Who wants a ride?!