Anchored to the Past

Antique wooden boats take to the lake in 2021 

LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP
Ed Longino with his vintage boat Lisa Ann.
Portrait by Brendan Hunt

Sailors are a superstitious bunch. Eating bananas, whistling, and greeting a redhead are among the more eccentric actions 18th-century mariners thought would evoke the wrath of Neptune. But even modern-day sailors still subscribe to the belief that changing a ship’s name is bad luck. That’s why Ed Longino’s boat, the Lisa Ann, is named after another man’s wife. 

The Lisa Ann is a 1930 Chris-Craft Model 100 originally sold by E.J. Mertaugh Boat Works in Hessel, Michigan. In the 1990s, the wooden vessel was found abandoned in the woods by none other than E.J. Mertaugh’s grandson, Dan Mertaugh, who restored it to its original condition and listed it for sale. A decade later, in 2003, a man from Detroit set eyes on the boat. 

“He called his wife to tell her about it, but she was out of town and he was having a hard time getting in touch with her,” says Longino. “He bought it anyway.”

To save face, the man named the Chris-Craft after his wife, Lisa Ann. He even had a calligraphist inscribe the moniker in gold leaf for $1,000. So, when Longino assumed ownership in 2011, it only felt right to keep the name. His own wife, Judy, agreed. “She insisted on not renaming it,” says Longino. “It’s bad luck, after all.” 

The Lisa Ann will be one of 24 antique vessels featured in the Lake Lure Spring Classic Boat and Auto Show, a free event slated for May 14 and 15. First hosted in 2019 and cancelled in 2020 because of COVID-19, the show grew out of a partnership with the 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa and the Blue Ridge Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society (ACBS), a collection of watercraft enthusiasts from North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.  

“The Blue Ridge Chapter was founded in the lobby of the Lake Lure Inn over 32 years ago,” says event organizer Patrick Bryant. “The show is a way of circling back to the boat society’s point of origination.” 

A member of the ACBS, Longino was instrumental in planning the first show in 2019. Though rain put a damper on attendance that year, he still had the chance to show off the Lisa Ann and tell her rich, winding history. 

“She’s a crowd pleaser,” he says. “If you stop at a gas station while towing it, you better plan on being there for 30 minutes or more, because the Lisa Ann will draw a handful of people. I don’t mind; a lot of the enjoyment I get out of my boat is being able to talk about it.” 

And there’s a lot to say about the antique Chris-Craft. For starters, Longino’s boat was featured in Live by Night, a 2016 movie starring Ben Affleck. Based on the underground network of gangster-run speakeasies in the 1920s, the film demanded a slew of antique boats, and the Lisa Ann fit the bill. Though Longino worked on set in coastal Georgia just feet away from Affleck, the two scarcely interacted. “During the filming, they told us not to talk to the A-list actors. But Ben Affleck did say something to me about how bad the horseflies were,” Longino remembers with a laugh.

Of course, the Lisa Ann also speaks volumes on the history of boating. Chris-Craft Boats was founded by Christopher Columbus Smith, an American manufacturer with a vision similar to Henry Ford’s: Smith wanted to make boats affordable for the everyday American. In the late 1920s, the company began assembly-line production in their Michigan factory, manufacturing wooden vessels that sold for as little as $795. The Lisa Ann listed for $1,395 plus freight.

But even with the adoption of the assembly line, boats of yesteryear were still manufactured in small batches. John Heiderich’s 1956 Century Coronado, for instance, was one of 240 produced that year. Today, it is one of only 25 still in existence.   

“When that new stuff called fiberglass came out in the 1950s, people moved away from wood boats. They just sat in backyards and deteriorated,” Heiderich says between bites of omelet at Angel’s Diner in Palatka, Florida. Based in Anderson, South Carolina, Heiderich travels south to run his boat, the Pegasus, on the St. Johns River each spring, and he’ll travel north this month to participate in the Lake Lure event. He sees himself not as his vessel’s owner, but as its caretaker, going to great lengths to preserve its structural integrity. 

“There is history in these boats,” he says. “My hobby is to keep that alive and pass it down to future generations.”

The Lake Lure Spring Classic Boat and Auto Show is scheduled for Friday, May 14 and Saturday, May 15 at Lake Lure Beach (2724 Memorial Hwy., Lake Lure). The free public event kicks off with a boat parade on Friday from 2-5pm. On Saturday, the boat showcase runs from 9am-4pm. Masks are required. For more information, visit blueridgechapter-acbs.org. To enter a boat in the competition, contact Lake Lure Tours (828-625-1373) or Ed Longino (704-871-7747).

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