Custom boat building

By JASON SUBIK

The Leader-Herald

MAYFIELD – Few people can say they’ve turned their passion into a profession, Adam Retersdorf is one of them.

Retersdorf, a class of 2000 Gloversville High School graduate, built his first wooden boat with the help of grandfather in 1998, using a design he created in CAD class. This was the beginning of hobby that would ultimately turn into a small business.

At age 19, Retersdorf, using $4,000 he saved up mowing lawns, purchased his first Chris-Craft wood boat, which he called a grey weathered pattern boat.

To restore the boat he had to replace every wooden plank, and rebuild the motor. He said he had already worked on restoring several other vintage wood boats, but he needed a boat he owned to show off to potential restoration customers.

“I would go to all the boat shows and say ‘wow look at the money’ and it’s like, ‘how do you get these people to take you seriously?’ It was hard to get people to take you seriously, because we were restoring other people’s work and when you’re done with the restoration, you give it back and you don’t have anything to show,” he said. “After I had my own boat, that’s when people started taking me seriously. People were like, ‘yeah, you know what you’re doing.'”

In 2004, while attending Union College pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering, Retersdorf incorporated his business Reets Boatworks. After graduation, he worked for Taylor Made in Gloversville and then General Electric, while doing classic wood boat restorations part-time.

“You can have a restoration go for anything from $3,000 to $10,000, but we’ve done a few that were very expensive,” he said.

Between 2004 and 2014, Reets Boatworks did about three to four wood boat restorations per year serving customers from throughout the Northeast. The boats are runabouts or pontoon boats, including classic brands like Chris-Craft, Hacker-Craft, Gar-Wood, Century, Dodge and Lyman, many of them featuring mahogany wood on the sides and deck, pinstripe lines and inboard engines.

Retersdorf said many of his restoration customers had old worn out boats they’d kept ast heirloom items in their families but had not maintained, due to amount of work revarnishing the wooden boats requires.

“The level of detail is very high, that’s why people get away from it. It’s not easy. Everybody wants a pontoon boat they can just turn the key in and go,” he said.

After restoring many wooden boats, Retersdorf began to realize he could build a better wood boat using classic designs upgraded using modern materials and building methods.

“There aren’t a whole lot of wood boats out there; and then, people who are actually looking to spend money to restore them, there aren’t a whole lot of those people either, but when people do have the boats, they want to take care of them as family heirlooms,” he said. “It’s a very niche market. It’s like collecting cars. So, until you get into cars, you don’t realize there are millions of dollars in cars in the Gloversville area. So until you get into the antique and classic boat society, you don’t really realize it. There are so many people who own five or six wood boats, because they truly love them.”

Since 2010, Reets Boatworks has built about five custom wooden boats, ranging in size from 20 to 40 feet long and ranging in cost from $75,000 to $300,000.

Retersdorf said he’s quit his day jobs and only focuses on building new custom wood boats.

“It’s nicer work to be building something brand new. Something that is your design, something that is modern that you can build perfectly. If you’re taking something that someone else put together 80 years ago. Everything was done by hand, so it wasn’t exact. You kind of have to recreate what they did and it might not be what’s right to today’s standards, but it’s what the boat was back then, so you have to put it back to its original condition,” he said. “Modern materials and modern building methods are so much better that you actually. My composite background from college, dealing with carbon fiber, kevlar and fiber glass. That helped me to realize what I can do to build boats better. Taking my knowledge of modern materials and my knowledge of how older boats were built, I was able to blend the two together and build a better boat today with 1/10 of the maintenance of old boats.”

Tom Jewell, a former Union College professor who lives in Galway, bought the first custom wood boat from Reets Boats for his wife Gretchen. He said he’s been very satisfied with Retersdorf’s design.

“My wife was interested in getting an old boat and fixing it up because her grandparents had had two Chris-Crafts when she was growing up on the St. Lawrence. She looked all over for those boats but could never find one,” he said. “Adam suggested we try a new boat, instead of trying to fix-up an old one, so that’s how we got started.”

Jewell said Retersdorf used a 1939 Chris-Craft design combined with his modern techniques to build the custom boat.

“It’s much more durable. It’s also much stronger with the carbon fiber,” he said. “It looks just like a wooden boat, but you put it in the water in the spring and you don’t have to worry about it. Our boat is really dry, not a speck of water in it unless it happens to rain.”