By Pat Piper
The Boat At The Table
Romance Across Three Generations, Ten Boats, and a Bunch of Engines
When Brian Maloney realized the lady he had been dating was "the one," he took her aside one evening and decided the time had come to lay his cards on the table.
"You're going to have to deal with boats," he began, "and if you can do that, we're going to be all right." Now, 11 years later, Mr. and Mrs. Maloney are doing just fine. So are the boats, all 10 of them. Maloneys and boats go back three generations. Brian's father, Steve, grew up in Key West and remembers watching his father work on Evinrude outboards. Steve's wife quickly understood that her husband and boats were a package deal. His father, before him, was no different.
Today, however, boats have taken a larger seat at the Maloney table.
"We have some hydroplanes in a shop about 35 minutes from our home in Tallahassee," Brian says matter-of-factly. "Half of them are restored and the other half, well, they're a work in progress." The Maloneys have traveled to New York City, Kentucky, Ohio, and throughout Florida buying boats, three of which were built by the renowned Henry Lauterbach, including a 28-footer he built in 1969 named Go Go Girl that sits on its original Lauterbach single-axle bunk trailer.
Hydroplanes are the NASCAR of the water. They are built for speed and literally skip across the surface when the throttle is pushed forward.
Steve Maloney explains it this way: "When I'm driving a hydroplane, all of my senses are working at the same time. You feel the heat of the engine because it's in front of the helm, you smell the odor of the fuel, you are reacting to the speed aspect since Go Go Girl clears the water at 70 miles an hour and I've had it running at 130 mph flying just six inches above the surface." One other thing to know about hydroplanes: When the hull has reached a speed lifting it out of the water and the touchpoints (the prop and the back of each sponson, a wing-like attachment on the hull) are the only parts of the boat below the surface, the top half of the propeller is actually out of the water. In hydroplane lingo, this is called "prop riding."
"It has a feel of no other kind of craft on the water," adds Brian. "As you are driving and you take a turn, the boat takes a slide. You feel the back end coming around and you slide around the turn. There's no other boat that can do that. It's an exciting feeling."
"I can remember sitting in class as a kid and thinking about a boat race," says Steve. "Boats have always been a part of our family and my dad, who is 85 now and has a collection of more than 70 antique outboards, had built a runabout that we'd race in Key West. I know I should have been paying attention to the teacher but my mind was always on boats." In 1970, Steve and his brother bought an inboard hydroplane and started winning races throughout south Florida. "I got exposed to all the old-timers," Steve remembers, "and these were folks racing boats during the days of Gar Wood." For the reader not familiar with Gar Wood, he built classic boats throughout the '20s and 30s, including a number of hydroplanes named Miss America. In 1921, he raced the Havana Special train along the Atlantic coastline from Miami to New York in a boat he built. Gar Wood beat the train by 12 minutes.
Steve and Brian Maloney with Go Go Girl, one of their Lauterbach hydroplanes on its original trailer. Above, Go Go Girl at work with Brian at the helm on Lake Dora, Florida during the "Spring Fling" Classic Raceboat Association event
Both Steve and his son Brian met Henry Lauterbach a decade ago when word got around the 85-year-old boatbuilder was going to take a final spin in one of the boats he designed in Hampton, Virginia. Their reason to make the trip to see Henry was twofold: They wanted him to know they owned Roadrunner, which he built around 1954-55, and they wanted to shake the hand of the person who had built these classic and beautifully designed boats. "I watched him get strapped up in the boat, put his life jacket on and his helmet, and do three laps on the course," Steve remembers. "He brought the boat back to the dock and while folks helped him out and I asked him, 'How did that feel?' He looked at me and said, ‘It just confirms I'm too old for this stuff.’"
Among the 10 boats in the shop are also 22 Crosley engines of assorted sizes that were used by Lauterbach on the smaller boats he built. This isn't something you find on eBay. Larger model hydroplanes use Chevrolet engines and, yes, they have a few of those, too.
"I still have the boat I raced when I was 20 years old," Steve says. "It was built in the early ’60s and has a Crosley 48-cubic-inch engine. It’s about 80-percent restored. That’s the boat Brian used to sit in when he was 5 or 6 years old and have his dreams ..." Steve's voice trails off and, after a pause, "just like I did when I was that age. My dad started racing these boats in 1956. A boat has allowed me to always know where Brian is in his head, and my dad would tell you the same thing about me. It comes about when we're in the boat or working on the boat or, heck, just being with the boat."
When Brian isn't rebuilding hydroplanes, he's restoring bathrooms and kitchens. He sees a parallel between the two. "You’d be surprised what you can take to the job with the mainframe that you use to restore these boats. You can transfer that over, and if you can produce 50 percent of the quality on the job that you get from these boats, you are going to stand above the rest.
"From the time that I could walk, I've been floating on the water," Brian says. It's a safe bet every future Mrs. Maloney in the family will be sharing her husband with the boat(s) of his dreams.
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