R.I. boatbuilder steaming right along

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Beckmann Boatshop of Slocum designs and builds fiberglass reproductions of classic steam vessels

Beckmann Boatshop of Slocum designs and builds fiberglass reproductions of classic steam vessels

When Gary Shulenburg isn’t busy building and operating small steam locomotives in his daughter’s backyard, this Yorktown, Va., native does the next best thing — he putts around local streams and rivers in his new steam launch. In April Shulenburg purchased a steam-powered Mase 22, Beckmann Boatshop’s most popular coastal model.

“I love steam engines. Loved them ever since I was a kid,” Shulenburg says.

According to Beckmann Boatshop co-owner Lloyd Beckmann, only certain people buy steam-powered boats. “I call them steam heads,” he says. “They’re people who like to tinker, who like to work with their hands. They’re obsessed with knowing how everything works and with doing everything themselves.”

That description fits Shulenburg to a T. As much as he enjoys being out on the water, the 66-year-old retired marine engineer also enjoys getting his hands dirty taking things apart and putting them together again.

“If you don’t have a real love for steam engines you probably won’t like this. It’s not for everyone,” he says. “You have to know about the engine, inside and out. You have to pay attention to the engine all the time and make continuous adjustments. It’s a challenge, but one that I like.”

Ever since he was a little boy, Shulenburg has been interested in all things historic. That’s another reason he purchased the Mase 22, he says.

“My mom always said I was born 100 years too late,” Shulenburg says with a laugh. “Unlike other boats, you don’t just put a key in this and — boom — you’re moving. You’re using fire and water to create power. It’s centuries-old technology. Sometimes I wonder about the engineering capability of the people who first built steam-powered engines. This is all fascinating to me. It’s unique.”

And something unique is exactly what Shulenburg got with his steam launch. The Mase 22 is named after Dr. Masen Saunders, who turned to the Beckmann shop after his steam launch was capsized by a wake on Upstate New York’s Lake George. Saunders wanted a more stable launch, and the boat they built him was used as a prototype for their 22-foot launches and subsequently named after Saunders.

Modeled after antique harbor tugs of the early 1900s, the 22-foot launch has a 7-foot, 10-inch beam and a 2-foot draft. The hull is solid fiberglass.

Rhode Island-based Beckmann Boatshop is a noted builder of steam and electric launches. They even build the wood-fired steam boilers through a division called Hobby Steam Boilers Limited. Their boats are equipped with SWAN compound Strath Steam Engines. Depending on the prop, the Mase 22 can reach speeds between 6 to 8 mph, Beckmann says.

As for seating, benches line each side of the boat as well as across the forward and aft ends of the cockpit, accommodating between six and eight passengers. The boat’s trim is mahogany, and its hardware is polished solid brass and bronze. A canopy is optional as are custom cushions and curtains.

“[The Mase 22] really is a charming, comfortable boat,” Shulenburg says. “The boat has more depth and beam to it than your standard canoe-shaped launch. It’s stable. I’m particularly impressed with the ease in which it moves through the water.”

But, as to be expected, it’s the steam engine that really gets Shulenburg going.

“It’s the crackle of the fire,” he says. “It’s the smell of the wood. It’s the chuff, chuff, chuff of the steam. I love it. There’s just nothing like it.”

For more information about Beckmann Boatshop’s Mase 22, log onto www.steamboating.net .