By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, WINSTED, MN In an unassuming building on the edge of Lester Prairie, valuable wooden boats from the 20th century are undergoing a transformation.
Meanwhile, several more classic boats are in storage in Winsted, just a few miles away.
They’re all part of Mahogany Bay, a unique Mound-based company that buys, sells, services, and restores fine vintage watercraft.
“We’ve had boats from all over the world,” said Mahogany Bay woodworking expert Steve Jacobson.
Owner F. Todd Warner of Mound has had a fascination for floating treasure since he was a child. At one point, his personal collection included more than 120 boats, built from 1909 to 1996. During an auction in Winsted in 2010, the collection sold for nearly $4 million.
In an Oct. 4, 2010 Herald Journal article, Warner said his quest to find and preserve historic boats has taken him throughout the US, and to Italy, France, England, Holland, Canada, Germany, and Australia.
“It has been quite a ride,” he stated. “I think I have owned, worked on, and restored over 1,000 boats.”
Mahogany Bay is equipped to restore boats from top to bottom everything from upholstery to instrumentation to engines and more.
“It’s something different every day,” Jacobson said. “It could be mechanical, electrical, woodworking, or staining.”
Spring is typically the busiest season at the Lester Prairie site, because boats are being prepped for use. The shop offers 24/7 repair service for its customers all summer, and when cold weather arrives, boats are winterized, repaired, and stored.
Before getting into boat-restoration, Jacobson made a living as the owner/craftsman of Victory Builders, a residential construction business.
“I transitioned my love of woodworking to a love of wood boats,” he said, adding that he’s always enjoyed boating as a hobby.
Mahogany Bay’s current intern is Dan Richard, who is pursuing a boat-building degree in Maine.
Employee John Scully, a shipwright native to downtown Chicago, has been restoring boats for many years.
“We have a total of eight people who work for Mahogany Bay including a long-standing group of some of the best shipwrights in the country,” Warner said.
Scully once worked on the USS Sequoia presidential yacht, which was used by presidents since Herbert Hoover. Designed in 1925 by well-known shipbuilder John Trumpy Sr., the 104-foot yacht was decommissioned under Roosevelt, and Jimmy Carter sold it in 1977.
According to the Sequoia Presidential Yacht Group, the Sequoia is currently under private ownership, and is docked one mile south of the US Capitol building.
Although Mahogany Bay is equipped to restore high-end classic boats, the company enjoys working with wooden boats of all types.
“Classic boating is a hobby that attracts many income classes it’s not just for the rich,” Warner said. “We support people of all levels. Canoes, rowboats no matter what their curiosity is, we want to help them get involved.”
In addition to being more affordable than people may think, wooden boats from the mid-1920s to 1968 can also be an investment, according to Warner.
“They celebrate one of the greatest American craftsmanship talents,” he said. “It’s a very unique period of history that will never happen again.”
Some people believe maintenance is higher on wooden boats, but Warner said that is not necessarily the case.
“Every boat needs attention,” he said. “If you take care of them, they’re not any more work than any other boat.”
Posh, Tempo, and Thunderbird
One of Warner’s boats that’s currently stored in Winsted is “almost priceless,” according to Jacobson. The 44-foot commuter yacht, called “Tempo,” was one of three sister ships (along with “Posh” and “Thunderbird”) designed by naval architect John Hacker in the 1930s.
Warner also owns Posh, which he enjoys taking out on Lake Minnetonka.
The Posh design is being used as a starting point for a new 55-foot yacht that’s expected to top out at 50 knots (about 58 mph).
In a ShowBoats International article, Warner described his vision for the new Posh as “bigger and faster with stronger performance and cutting-edge technology.”