Cruisers of Tomorrow

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In the early 1960s, when some boatbuilders still worked with wooden plank-on-frame builds, others began experimenting with everything from cold-molded plywood to fiberglass. The Richardson Boat Co. was among the innovators, teaming up with a Canadian aircraft company to try something really different: building boats with aluminum planks.

George Reid Richardson founded Richardson Boat Co. in 1909 and built wooden motoryachts and military craft during World War II on the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda, New York, near Buffalo. By the late 1950s, everyone wanted to explore the possibilities of fiberglass, but he wanted to build in aluminum. Richardson combined forces with the cabin cruiser builder Colonial Boat Works of Millville, New Jersey, to form United Marine and made his case for why aluminum was the superior construction material. “Maintenance is negligible. Hulls do not spring leaks, are lightweight, tough and durable,” a company advertisement claimed.

Working with Avro Aircraft, United Marine borrowed from aircraft construction to develop a kind of plank-on-frame system using metal instead of wood. The carvel-planked hull used a batten-seam construction. There were 13-inch battens of 3-inch-wide, corrosion-resistant aluminum plate and planks that were an eighth of an inch thick, fastened with stainless steel self-tapping fasteners. Frames, stringers and floor members were aluminum plate, while keel and garboard were corrosion-resistant aluminum plate. The superstructure and flybridge were constructed from wood and fiberglass.

The resulting 40-foot Phantom motor-yachts were billed, in 1961, as the “cruisers of tomorrow,” with twin 225-hp inboard engines. Richardson and Avro offered models from 28 to 46 feet length overall in sedan, flybridge and double-stateroom layouts. And yet, while the aluminum planking method worked, it wasn’t enough to save the Richardson Boat Co., which declared bankruptcy in June 1962. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.