At Wawasee Boat Company, what was old is new again.
The company recently became the nation’s first authorized dealer for Hacker-Craft wooden boats, individually crafted white oak and mahogany vessels that are sure to soon make their resurgence all across Lake Wawasee.
“Wawasee has had a huge wooden boat tradition since the 1920s,” said Doug Anderson, who with his wife, Carolyn, have owned Wawasee Boat Company for 40 years.
“A lot of the original wooden boat manufacturers would actually test their boats on Wawasee.”
The lake, he said, was “renowned through the nation” as the go-to place for wooden watercraft.
Anderson compared wood boat pioneers like John L. Hacker, who founded Hacker-Craft in 1908, and Garfield “Gar” Wood, an inventor, boat builder and racer who was the first person to travel more than 100 mph on water, to automotive legends Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler, Ransom Olds and the Dodge brothers.
After a 40-year run, however, wooden boats fell out of favor when fiberglass watercraft hit the market.
“In the late 1960s fiberglass boats came out” and enraptured the general populace, according to Anderson.“They were less expensive, more durable and easier to maintain,” he said.
“Wooden boats went the way of buggy whips” and demand for the formerly popular vessels dwindled to “people who started moving into an emotional attachment to wooden boats. They were maintained or collected out of memories.”
Wawasee Boat Company still takes care of “about two dozen legacy boats that are special to families,” Anderson said.
“They are part of the generational connection with the family cottage.”
Old habits — especially the good ones — die hard.
“In the 1990s we started seeing a few people building new boats for people who appreciated the wood but didn’t want to mess with restoration,” said Anderson. Besides, he said, “the existent ones were not reliable.”
Several companies emerged to fill the small but growing consumer niche, but “Hacker is unique,” said Anderson, because the company acquired intact the old drawings and specifications “so they are built just as John Hacker originally designed them.”
The reborn wooden boats combine the nostalgic look with 21st century technology.
“The two major features are the modern engines, complete with electronic fuel injection and easy starting, and the epoxy sealed bottom, which is like fiberglass and requires less maintenance.”
Wawasee Boat Company first contacted Hacker-Craft “because some of our customers had them and in taking care of the boats we talked to the factory,” Anderson explained.
Before long, Hacker-Craft recognized the opportunity for a mutually beneficial alliance and struck a deal to make Wawasee Boat Company its first dealer.
“We want people to enjoy wooden boats coming back to Wawasee in a professionally organized way,” said Anderson.
Hacker-Craft is based in Ticonderoga, N.Y., and employs master craftsmen with more than 100 years of combined experience.
Their wooden boat fleet includes runabouts, racers, sport boats, sportabouts, sterlings and custom crafted yacht tenders.
“If you can dream it, we can build it,” boasts the company’s product brochure.
Available options include premium stereo with four speakers, bluetooth module, GPS, auto pilot, tonneau cover, docking convenience package, refrigerator, air conditioning and custom cabinetry and upholstery.
For more information, call (574) 457-4404 or (800) 950-9292 or visit www.wawaseeboatcompany.com.