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Where Has “Vamoose” Gone?


In the summer of 1947, 78-year-old Charlie Lyon patiently waited for the launch of his custom Hutchinson runabout, Pardon Me. 48-feet long, and anticipating speeds of sixty miles per hour, this would be Charlie’s third collaboration with John L. Hacker, and his last mahogany monster. This massive runabout was built to celebrate America’s triumph over the Axis powers, and to replace Lyon’s Art Deco Commuter Vamoose.

VAmouse Griff 1

Vamoose on the St. Lawrence River in 1936 with Chauncey Burtch at the helm. Charles Lyon is on the right, and his wife, Helen Lyon, is seated on the engine compartment.

Photo credit: “Wooden Boats of the St. Lawrence River”

Vamoose was, arguably, one of the finest wooden boats to ever grace the St. Lawrence River. She was a masterpiece of marine design, constructed in 1936 by Fitzgerald & Lee, and was a more than suitable replacement for Lyon’s previous commuter, Finesse, which burned in 1935. Following the disastrous fire, Charlie was determined to replace the 38-foot Finesse with a boat that would enthrall the 1000 islands community. In the spring of 1936, Vamoose would bring national attention to both Fitzgerald & Lee, and an already famous John L. Hacker. Charlie Lyon would earn the nickname “King of the St. Lawrence”, due to the reputation that came with having a fast and captivating boat.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, the custom commuter was immediately offered to the United States Navy for defense services. She was leased for $1, for the duration of the War, and was used as a high-speed coastal patrol boat, and later as a shuttle, for a decorated admiral. Never again was she seen in the 1000 Islands.

Vamoose Pic 2

Following Pearl Harbor, Charles Lyon immediately donated Vamoose to the War effort. She was leased to the Navy for $1 for the duration of the War.

Photo credit: “Wooden Boats of the St. Lawrence River”

At the close of World War II, Charlie Lyon was offered back Vamoose. He claimed she was in disrepair, covered in grey paint, and not worth the money to restore. That is the story that was passed down for generations, in my family. Once I started researching Uncle Charlie’s boats Finesse, Vamoose and Pardon Me, I realized it is entirely possible that the King of the St. Lawrence exaggerated this, because he had had his eyes on his next big project for quite some time. Pardon Me was meant to be the All-American statement, and work began early in 1946.

In my research, I was amazed to find photographs of Vamoose in Florida, after WWII had come to an end. After piecing a timeline together, it seems that before the keel of the one of a kind Hutchinson had been laid, Vamoose was photographed on the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida, at Gibbs Shipyard. This 1000 Islands beauty and former War vessel was in the process of being replaced by Charlie Lyon, but nonetheless effortlessly commanded attention wherever she went.

I am confident Vamoose continued to impress even after her valiant service to the United States Navy. In the photographs, from the Florida State Archives, you can clearly see a toll taken from years of service, but she was still a magnificent boat. The custom commuter weathered the storm, and emerged every bit as impressive as when she was first launched at the Fitzgerald & Lee shop, in Alexandria Bay, a decade earlier.

A group of Suzanne Saunders models were on board Vamoose, for a photo shoot, at Gibbs Shipyard in 1946. Ecstatic fans waited on the John T. Alsop Jr. Bridge to see the Fitzgerald & Lee commuter speed by. It seems she had the same reception in Jacksonville as she did many years before in the 1000 Islands, or at least I like to think so.

 

 

 

Vamoose Pic 3

A group of Suzanne Saunders models on board Vamoose, for a photo shoot in 1946, at the Gibbs Shipyard in Jacksonville, FL.

Photo courtesy Florida State Archives

Vamoose Pic 4

Notice in this photo that there appears to be a repair, right above the waterline, on the starboard side.

Photo courtesy Florida State Archives

 

 

 

 

Vamoose Pic 5

In this photo, one can clearly see the step pad is slightly worn, and the flagpole has been replaced with a smaller post.

Photo courtesy Florida State Archives

 

Vamoose Pic 6

This photo shoot proves that Vamoose survived her service during World War II.

Photo courtesy Florida State Archives

The real question is, what happened after that? Is she locked away in an old barn? Rotting in a field?

I have heard countless stories in my research of this question. Anywhere from, she was burned in a scrap effort, to, she sank in 100 feet of water off the coast of Florida. I always believed that Vamoose never survived the War. Now that I know that’s not true, I hope someone will find the next piece to the puzzle.

Vamoose Pic 7

Vamoose on the St. John’s River in 1947. The custom Fitzgerald & Lee is unmistakable in this photograph.

Photo courtesy Florida State Archives

Vamoose Pic 8

Vamoose at high speed in 1947. This boat was one of the greatest built in the 1000 Islands. Her whereabouts are unknown today.

Photo courtesy Florida State Archives

By David Kunz

David Kunz is the great-great nephew of Charles and Helen Lyon. He lives on Oak Island in Chippewa Bay, and he is the author, with Bill Simpson, of the new book, “Wooden Boats of the St. Lawrence River.” This book is now available and will be on sale at the Antique Boat Museum and at the Cornwall Brothers Museum in Alexandria Bay.  It can be also be ordered at Amazon.com.

See Book Review: Wooden Boats of the St. Lawrence River, a Review, May 2017.  (Buy it, read it, and keep it on your book shelf!)

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Comments

Mike Joyce
Comment by: Mike Joyce
Left at: 7:10 PM Friday, February 16, 2018
Mike Bresnahan's grandfather was the captain of this boat and Mike has great pictures of it on the wall of his restaurant in Alexandria Bay called admiral's Inn.
Paul Heberling
Comment by: Paul Heberling
Left at: 9:09 AM Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Very interesting article. A couple of years ago, I spent some time searching the web for information on Vamoose without finding anything useful. Starting with your lead to Jacksonville I did some further searching. You probably are aware that there are more photographs in the Florida Archives of the Vamoose taken in 1946 and 1947, including the helm and the engine compartment. I notice that the boat is still called the Vamoose in those photographs. That led me to this article on the web. http://pontevedrarecorder.com/stories/ponte-vedra-woman-claims-greater-jacksonville-kingfish-tournament-lady-angler-victory,4042 Two boats named Vamoose are mentioned in the article. It's a long shot, but maybe the older Vamoose is the one we are looking for. Contacting Monica, the lady angler, might be worthwhile.
Dave Parker
Comment by: Dave Parker
Left at: 9:04 AM Wednesday, March 7, 2018
The person to track down may be Chip Crabtree [in Jacksonville] rather than Monica Stam. In the article, Chip named his boat 'Vamoose,' ["after my brother's boat who used to fish in the tournament for years,"].

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