A Star is Born

When Sam Smith’s mother returned to her Otsego Lake house unexpectedly early from an extended vacation and found her son refinishing a 23’ Star boat in her dining room, she decided that he needed to build himself a boatyard and offered him 12 acres of her Lakefront property. Thus was born, in 1956, Sam Smith’s Boatyard.

The founder, W.T. Sampson "Sam" Smith, was a revered and internationally acclaimed yachtsman thoroughly entrenched in the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association. From a long line of sailors and Navy men (his great-grandfather and namesake was Admiral William T. Sampson, who commanded US naval operations in the Spanish-American War), Sam had learned to sail as a small child and was winning major Star boat competitions by the time he reached his teens.

The Boatyard began as a sailing operation, and Sam's desire to share his knowledge and expertise with his fellow would-be competitors gave way to the Otsego Lake Star Fleet, which subsequently grew quite large. Much of their intensely contested weekend races were held either to the south or to the north of the boatyard, where the courses could cover the necessary triangular area. However, the graceful, strong sailboats needed a place to rest when the Lake began to cool off each fall, heralding the impending arrival of snow.

In his plans, Sam foresaw the addition of a motor shop, an antique automobile restoration shop, a woodworking shop, a sail loft and, though never realized, a seaplane port with flight service between Otsego Lake and New York’s East River. At the beginning, the Boatyard was not open to the public and, due to weekend Star regattas, would not be open for full weekends until over 30 years later.

Smith didn't forget the younger generations either, providing budding under- and over-10-year-old skippers with Turnabouts, stubby 9-foot long (and just about as wide) bathtubs with a safe little mainsail, a tiny spinnaker, and an ample rudder with which to ply the windy waters of the Lake. At their peak, these little wooden boats numbered close to 20, tearing back and forth across the Lake, the shrieks of their joyful small crews reverberating up and down the hillsides and bouncing across the water. The Stars, too, numbered upwards of 15, but they raced with a lot more speed and agility, and their post-race Protest Meetings were always more hotly – and over-zealously -- contested. After all, there were regattas to qualify for and big, shiny silver trophies to haul in, brag about, and keep watch from their skippers' mantelpieces through the long cold winters.

As these boats invited other sailing vessels to their midst, the fishermen and sight-seers also joined in, and pretty soon there were excursion boats mingling with the casters and spinners and the canoes and kayaks that had been exploring the Lake since the beginning of time. Everyone gave wide berth to the Stars, and most everyone tried not to split the Turnabout fleet in the middle of their endless races. 

And then, along came the lowly Pontoon, a not-so-gentle reminder that a barge of uncannily square proportions, questionable grace and beauty, but nevertheless blessed with a few nautical accoutrements, among them the ability to float, can share these waters with a flock of fishing boats, a few majestic century-old electric boats, the silent, quick Stars and the brave, nosy little Turnabouts.

Within a few years of the Boatyard's establishment the only other full-service boat operation on the Lake decided to cease operations and sold Sam -- for a very small sum -- its considerable inventories, yard equipment, employee base and customer accounts. And so Sam Smith's Boatyard thrived, becoming today the only full-service marine facility on the Lake, still nurturing water enthusiasts and energetic skippers, sending them out to explore the shores in safe boats and unabashed excitement.





Monday - Friday

8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Contact us: 607 - 547 - 2543

Please call the Boatyard Office ½ hour before closing time for after-hours use.

 Please call the Boatyard Office to make arrangements for any planned outing that does not conform to the published schedule.