Retriever II: the golden sequel

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The original boat, piled high with golden retrievers, was featured on Soundings covers

The original boat, piled high with golden retrievers, was featured on Soundings covers

For those Soundings readers who remember our 1980s covers with four, then five golden retrievers aboard a Lyman workboat named Retriever, we have good news.

While the dogs and workboat are gone, Stewart and Dawn Sill have three new goldens and a “new” boat — Retriever II — that they are restoring.

“She’s a 1949 triple-cockpit Hutchinson-designed 26-foot runabout, a little more elegant than that old Lyman,” says Stewart Sills. “She will be ready soon, I hope.”

The Sills also have sold their marina at Sodus Point, N.Y., on Lake Ontario’s Sodus Bay — where the cover photos were taken — after 43 years of working seven days a week, 12 months a year and making lots of friends but little money. The day after they took up full-time living at their home on Sodus Bay, Sill was drawing up plans for his shop on their property. (He built it with little help, and added a wing for his son, Bill, to have his own shop.) And he bought the runabout.

The Sills leave their house in the morning and walk across their property to the shop. Dawn makes the coffee, just as she did at the marina, and her husband’s friends still stop by to do the same thing they used to do: talk.

Terry Ingerson — a longtime friend, neighbor and boat restorer — is one of the regulars who stops by. “Stu is the best, whether it’s in power or sail or motor restoration,” says Ingerson. “A bunch of us call him ‘the great one.’ ”

But as much as Sill loves visiting, it appears to be cutting into his work time. “That’s probably why it’s taking me so long to get this boat into shape,” he says. “I took the old keel and stem off and the 60 ribs of the framework, and am replacing the planking on the bottom. I’ve taken out 3,000 screws, and I will be replacing them with 3,000 new ones.”

Retriever II is upside down in the shop, a task Sill says took some time as he had to build a framework to lift her up and turn her over. “She weighs 4,000 pounds,” he says.

Sill also restores old engines and ships them all over the country, which has contributed to the delay in getting Retriever II in the water. At least he has a restored 15-foot Century Palomino that he tools around the bay in.

“In fact, I had Roxy [one of the new dogs] with me and pulled up at the Sodus Bay Yacht Club Antique Boat Show, and came away with Best of Show,” he says.

But his restored boats have always won prizes. When he owned the marina, Sill worked on restorations over the winter, and they have all been winners at the Clayton (N.Y.) Antique Boat Show.

Now getting Retriever II up and running is his goal.

That Sill is so handy with boats and engines is no matter of happenstance. The Sill family came to Sodus Bay from West Virginia before the Revolutionary War, and homesteaded much of the land surrounding the bay. They built boats and sailed them. Sill’s father was in the marine construction business, and owned and operated a tugboat fleet. His attorney-boatbuilder grandfather was widely known as a “crackerjack” sailor.

One of Sill’s favorite stories is from when his grandfather was building and racing. “In those days there was a great deal of money involved in racing, and the Memorial Day race was the big event,” he says. “My grandfather built a 38-foot racing boat and just before the race began, when all the boats were milling about checking each other out, he launched her. And all remarked on how pretty his boat was. What theydidn’t know was he had secured a log all along the keel. Just before the whistle blew, the log came off and was stowed below. He took off like a shot and again lived up to his name as a crackerjack sailor. And he made enough money to more than pay for the boat.”

Sill also worked on the tugboats, and raced hydroplanes and sailboats. In fact, his 6 Meter, Kathea, won all sorts of awards, but she, too, is gone forever.

“She should have gone to a museum,” says Sill. “She was a great boat, and we did win everything but had to give up when the regulations involved getting a head on your racing boat.”

Bill Van Gee, head of Sill’s former shop at the marina, says he never knew when they were going to race. “Sometimes, he would just say the morning of the race, ‘Let’s take Kathea and go show them how to win,’ ” he says. “We really did always win. She was a legend.”

Sill says he never dreamed his golden retrievers would grace the cover of Soundings. “I remember the first Soundings and thinking that it was a down-to-earth good publication,” he says.

The first picture he hung in the shop was the 1987 cover with the four dogs. He says it always brings a smile and a lot of memories.

“Now we will see how Retriever II does,” he says. “I won’t enter her in any shows. She will go in the water, and we will have a good time with her.”

Fran Cruikshank is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y., and took the January 1987 and December 1988 cover photographs of Sill’s dogs.