New Yacht ArrivesMay 31, 1967
Ozaukee Press, Wisconsin
Editor's note: Ned Huwatschek and Lincoln D Smith (the unofficial "first mate") joined Oliver H. Smith in the maiden voyage of the Ollie. Lincoln tells of the sometimes harrowing trip bringing the Ollie home to Port Washington from New York City via the Erie Canal and the great lakes. This trip and the christening cerimony in Port Washington, Wisconsin by Victoria (Tori) Smith (now Klopp) was also well documented by a home movie!
Caption: A new yacht is gracing the Port Washington harbor. The 42-footer belonging to Capt. Oliver Smith, head of the Smith Bros. fisheries and restaurants, arrived in Port Washington Monday. The boat, built in Hong Kong was sailed from New York to Port by Capt. Smith. He will moor the boat in the harbor here for part of the summer but will cruise in it to the Smith fisheries on the Great Lakes, mainly at Keweenaw at Lake Superior.
Photo by Vern Arendt
By Lincoln D. Smith (unofficial first mate)
Written April 1st, 2008 (no fooling)
In his retirement years, my father, Captain Oliver H. Smith, ordered his first pleasure boat (all others that he skippered were commercial fishing boats) from a marine dealer in Milwaukee by the name of Schoendorf Bros. The boat was a 42 foot “Grand Banks”, a wooden hull, powered by twin diesel engines, cabin cruiser. It was modeled after the trawler-type fishing crafts. The interior featured a large master stateroom aft, with its own head, a large central cabin which served the passengers, a galley, steering and operating controls (the helm), and a smaller forward compartment with two “V” bunks and a second head. With all beds it could sleep six.
About the voyage
Dad invited two of his West Bend, Wisconsin, friends, Ned Huwatschek, and me (Lincoln D. Smith) to come along, as crew, to help him bring the yacht to Port Washington, Wisconsin, which was to be the home port. In April of 1967, we five flew to New York City (NYC) where the boat was delivered. It had been built in Hong Kong, China, and shipped to the U.S.A. on the deck of a freighter!
At the same time as we crew arrived in NYC, Lincoln’s then wife Maxine L. Smith (was Keller) and Ned’s mother Hope Huwatschek (was Smith) had driven a Ford Falcon station wagon (now owned and garaged in Lincoln’s son Kirby J. Smith's garage in Las Vegas, Nevada) filled with boating accessories and supplies, where they met the captain and his crew at a marina up the East River in New York.
After provisioning the yacht and installing some needed things, the yacht was dutifully christened “Ollie” and left its dock with the five crew on board followed by the “sag wagon” on land. We started the trip by going down the East River, around Battery Park on Manhattan’s south tip, and upward against the strong spring current on the Hudson River. We made our first stop later that day at a marina, where we refueled (diesel) and spent the night.
The next day we shoved off bright and early heading north on the Hudson up as far as Albany (New York’s state capital) where we found the entrance to the New York (Erie) Barge Canal which goes westward across the state. We made slow, but steady, progress, locking through several dams and locks, which were an interesting and different experience. At one such lock, the rise was at least sixty feet. The Captain asked me to climb the dock wall ladder to the top for some reason. That was scary! As we approached another set of locks (I think Twin Falls, New York) Dad asked me to take the wheel and guide the boat into the lock, while he went topside to photograph the very scenic view. Luckily, I managed to steer the new boat to a safe landing along the dock wall!
It took several days to traverse the old Erie Canal. At each dam and lock the ladies in the sag wagon met us and gave us social support. However, somewhere along the way they left and drove back home.
Eventually, we arrived at Buffalo, New York, which is at the east end of Lake Erie. At that place, we left the canal and entered the Niagara River, heading up stream only a short distance, when we realized that is was necessary to go through a couple more locks on a side canal. Soon, we came to the Buffalo Harbor and entered Lake Erie. A fresh SW wind was blowing and it was very rough going, so we turned back into the harbor and put into a marina at the Buffalo Yacht Club (one of the most prestigious on the Great Lakes). To secure a mooring for the night, I was sent ashore up to the Club house to get that permission. I was the only one of us five to have a yacht club card (Port Washington Yacht Club) which was recognized and given complementary dockage wherever we went!
The next day we proceeded westward on Lake Erie, stopping at a couple of Ohio towns, Lorain and Vermillion, where Dad knew some of the commercial fisherman. At Vermillion, we took time to more properly calibrate our compass, which had not been done earlier. We continued northwestward, past Toledo and arrived at the Detroit River about night fall.
As we headed northward up the river there was a log of river traffic to watch out for, as well as many navigation and other lights, which confused us. Attempting to steer a course in the middle, we stopped suddenly, as we drove up onto a shallow sand or gravel bar, separating the two channels. I tried radioing for help from the Coast Guard, but, not receiving any response, because the radio had not been re-programmed with the proper crystals! We managed to back off the reef, and fearing that the boat might be leaking, we headed over to the closet marina at Dearborn, Michigan.
At the Dearborn Yacht Club we tied up to the fuel dock and I went ashore, once again, with my yacht club card, grubby clothes, and a two-week growth of beard. At the club house, there was a formal dinner party going on; as I talked with the Club Stewart, I felt out of place and foolish, but, got permission to stay where the boat was until morning. We "it the sacks” and early the next day moved our boat over to a travel lift which is a large mobile derrick, which raised the Ollie out of the water, so we could check the bottom. Good news – the hull had no cracks, only scratches! After lowering the boat back into the water, we got on our way again, heading north, past Detroit and into Lake St. Clair.
Coming out of Lake St. Clair and into Lake Huron, it was blowing hard from the northwest. The Captain wanted to head for Au Sable and Oscoda, Michigan, on the Lake Huron shore. This was the site of an old fishing camp of Smith Bros. But, the Captain changed his mind, as we would have to buck the high seas by going northwest. So, we steered due north, following the shipping channel. As we passed the Coast Guard station at Port Huron, I saw that they were flying two red pennants from their flag mast, a gale warning! I told this to the Captain, who just gritted his teeth and clung to the wheel even tighter.
Night fell as we made slow progress to the north. About 2300 hours (11:00 PM) I tried the radio to contact passing freighters to try to get our location, etc. But, I was repeatedly unsuccessful, due to the radio still not having the proper crystals! It seemed to me then that the only things of our boat still working well, was the compass, the engines, and our windshield wipers! The latter was necessary, too, as every wave that we hit washed over the front deck and cabin. And, while the Ollie was outfitted with a radar unit... either it was not hooked up yet or, more likely, nobody knew how to use it!
About midnight, Captain Oliver, who had been at the helm all day and evening, announced that he had to go aft to his stateroom to lay down for a rest. He asked me to take over, which I did for about one hour. I was very scared as I had the boat and crew in my inexperienced hands! With each wave I had to throttle back on the twin diesels to lessen the impact and then throttle back up to maintain steerage. When my Dad awoke and came back to take over, he asked me “where are we?” I replied “I don’t have the faintest idea, but the lights of large ships are passing on both our sides.” He watched us plow through the 10 foot waves for a moment and then decided that we had better run for cover.
We turned and headed westward toward land, and by day break arrived at the mouth of Thunder Bay, at the head of which is the port city of Alpena, Michigan. We went up the bay and put into a public marina, tied up, and arranged dockage with the dock master for a few days as the storm was expected to last for awhile.
We five then caught a bus going over the Mackinac Bridge, across the Michigan Upper Peninsula and down Wisconsin to home. We were all glad to be back. But, the boat was not, so the next week, Captain Oliver and my brother Bert Smith and another crewman went back to Alpena and brought the Ollie the rest of the way to Port Washington, Wisconsin, without any trouble.
About two months later, in July, I think, all of the Smith Bros. employees and we family members were enjoying a summer picnic at the Port Washington upper lake park. The Ollie was tied up to the dock in the west slip of the harbor. We heard the fire sirens and learned, too late, that the fire was on board the yacht! By the time the firemen had put out the fire, the boat had burned down to its gunwales! Arson was suspected as the cause, but investigations never proved anything.
Later the burned out hull of the Ollie I was sold to a salvage marina dealer, who hoped to re-build it and use in Illinois.
Captain Oliver was devastated, of course, and it took about a year to recover. He then ordered another, identical Grand Banks through a different dealer in Milwaukee. It was delivered to him in Milwaukee, where we had another christening, naming it “Ollie II”. This boat became a lot more fun to own and travel in, and Captain Oliver H. Smith enjoyed many cruises with it and friends, until one day in May of 1973, when he was found dead aboard his beloved yacht. He apparently died of a massive heart attack with his “boots on!”