When the Lights Came on Again All Over the World, Part II Page 2

Spectator - September 2001

Spectator — September 2001

By Tom Fexas

When the Lights Came on Again All Over the World, Part II
Part 2: Drop Dead Gorgeos
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Truly revolutionary (and drop-dead gorgeous) boats came from Elco. Prewar Elcos were round-bottom semidisplacement hulls--classic designs with plumb bows, upswept sheers, and upright superstructures. For the war Elco designed and built hundreds of the now-legendary 80-foot PT boats which chalked up impressive records in the Pacific and captured the imagination of boat owners all over the world. After the war Elco introduced a complete line of miniature PT boats in 27-, 30-, 35-, 40-, and 47-foot lengths. They had monohedron hulls and V-drive engines sequestered in the stern, allowing very low deckhouses and eliminating the problems of engine access and heat and noise below the saloon. They had graceful, laminated clipper bows with high chines and lovely S-shape sheers. Superstructures were low and rakish, with strongly cambered foredecks and dramatic drooping windshields that mimicked the camber.

Fast, beautiful, and seaworthy, these were, in my opinion, the standout post-war designs, with those of Harco a close second. Elco built these boats using government mil-spec materials. All the woodwork was African mahogany--"unobtainium" wood today. When the mil-spec materials left over from the war ran out, Elco had to decide whether to discontinue production or, in its eyes, cheapen the boats. Sadly, it decided to fold in 1949, ending one of the greatest chapters of pleasureboat history.

I remember when I saw my first Elco. I was six years old, and it was 1947. The 35-footer was tied to the town dock in Northport, New York. She was the most stunning thing my brain had ever comprehended, and I stood there, transfixed, going over all the details. Impressions on young brains are strong. Sixteen years later I owned a 35-foot Elco, and a while after that I traded up to a 40-foot Elco and was making serious overtures to acquire one of the seven or eight 47-footers produced until sanity and the prototype Midnight Lace intervened.

Despite the predominantly dowdy post-war designs, World War II provided a significant boost to pleasureboat technology, which, otherwise, probably would have taken 10 or 15 years to develop. Use of waterproof glues, plastics, plywood, and thin, welded steel were direct outgrowths of the war. And there were rumblings about some funny new stuff called fiberglass.

Some boats from the era directly after the war still survive. There are Chris-Crafts, a few Elcos, and some Matthews, Richardsons, and Huckins. Some, like the "steel sinkers" and "bathtubs," are best forgotten, but others merit careful study by yacht designers today.

Tom Fexas is a naval architect and designer of powerboats. His Web site is www.tomfexas.com.

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This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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