Ill-fated Lake George tour boat for sale

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The owner of a Hudson River paddle-wheeler is selling the Lake George, N.Y., tour boat Ethan Allen, the Dyer 40 that capsized in 2005, with the deaths of 20 passengers.

The 1964 Dyer has been a tough sell, and Panzella believes its history is to blame.

A self-described "boat nut," John Panzella bought the boat about a year ago after seeing it sit in storage for several years and then hearing it might be destroyed.

He first saw the boat at Scarano Boat Building in Albany, N.Y., about eight years ago, when his River Rose was docked there.

"I had looked at the boat many times, and I said, 'My God, what a boat,' " says Panzella, 69, who runs the River Rose cruise and tour boat in Newburgh, N.Y. "I asked people what is going to happen to the boat. One of the responses was they're going to burn it. So I saw this beauty and said, 'What a damn shame. I'm not going to let it happen.' So I put a barrel of money into the boat."

The 1964 Dyer served as a tour boat for Shoreline Cruises of Lake George. There were 47 mostly elderly passengers aboard when it capsized Oct. 2. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the boat was certified to carry more passengers than it should have been because its stability hadn't been retested after its canopy was modified. An NTSB stability test done after the accident showed that 14 was the maximum number of passengers it should have carried.

Panzella says he bought Ethan Allen from Shoreline Cruises. In early March he had it listed through Scruton Marine Services on www.usedboats.com and other used-boat websites for $40,950. He planned to raise the price to $69,000 to factor in recent mechanical improvements, including having the engine and transmission rebuilt and the exhaust system replaced. He also had the fuel tanks cleaned.

"The boat would be a beautiful launch on Lake George or anywhere," Panzella says. "She's seaworthy. She's strong, and brand-new mechanically."

But Panzella has received only a handful of inquiries despite no mention of the boat's name or history in the online listings. "The word gets out - you know how it is," says Panzella, who never intended to use the launch as a tour boat for his company. "Naturally, people are a little afraid ...

because of the history of the boat. And that's a shame. People can live in a house and die in the bedroom, and you don't burn the house down."

The Dyer still has a hard canopy, which Scarano built in 1989 to replace a canvas top. Scarano also did the recent engine overhaul work, Panzella says. With its 6-cylinder, 185-hp Cummins diesel, the boat has a top end of 10 knots, he says. It's constructed of marine plywood encapsulated in fiberglass, he says.

The Dyer is being sold as a classic launch, not as a tour boat, broker Peggy Scruton says. "I have not seen the boat, but John has put a lot of money into it," she says. "He loves the boat."

Panzella has been playing with boats all his life. "My dad was aboard the battleship Missouri," he says. "As a young boy, that's all I heard about - the ships, the boats."

Panzella has enjoyed buying, fixing and selling used boats for much of his life, he says. "I bought large corporate-owned boats that needed a lot of TLC," he says. "I would buy the boat for $400,000 to $600,000, work on it, charter it out for a while and then sell it and make a handsome profit."

Panzella has a 1950s mahogany Century Coronado with 309 hours on the original Cadillac engine. He has owned six Chris-Craft Constellations. "They were all 57 feet and wood," he says. "The 57 Connie was the finest, classiest yacht ever."

The Dyer is a gem, too, he says. "My pleasure would be to see that boat with a happy owner and me taking a ride on it."

This article originally appeared in the June 2011 issue.