A Legacy Restored

Owning a Lyman boat means owning a piece of the past. But, thanks to a new collaboration, the classic wooden boats are getting more love — and expert care — than they’ve seen in decades. 
The varnished mahogany cabin and chrome deck hardware of the 1970 Islander Flybridge gleam under the fluorescent lights at Moes Marine Service in Vermilion, Ohio. The 30-foot, twin-engine inboard is a good example of the wooden boats produced by the defunct Lyman Boat Works — first in Cleveland, then in Sandusky, Ohio — from 1875 to 1973. 

Boaters prize the thousands still in existence for their classic hull design and lapstrake construction. The siding-like feature enhances the wood’s shock-absorbing properties, a much-desired quality when navigating the choppy waters of Lake Erie.

“You’ve got every one of those planks that lap over each other,” explains Lyman boat expert Tom “Doc Lyman” Koroknay. “So, every time that boat comes down, you’ve got that cushion of that lap.” 
The Moes Marine crew has replaced the Islander Flybridge’s entire hull bottom, from water line to keel. Eighteen new planks of Douglas fir marine plywood, expertly cut and mounted to the hull’s new ribs, look as original to the boat as the six vintage counterparts above.

“Fifty percent of the bottom was rotting away,” Moes Marine president Mike Moes says. “And, after removing the planks, we found 90 percent of the ribs needed replacement.”

The job is the first Moes Marine has completed using original Lyman tooling and techniques — in fact, one of the relatively few to be completed using original Lyman tooling and techniques since the company forsook building wooden boats for manufacturing fiberglass ones in 1973. He grabs his phone to show a photo of a full-length planking template resting atop a rough-cut plank, then a photo of Koroknay beveling another plank held in place by an old beveling jig.

“Before, we would have to take off each individual plank and use it as a template,” Moes explains. “But in this case, all we had to do was just rip the bottom off.”

The work is the result of a per-use agreement struck by Moes and Koroknay, owner of Koroknay’s Marine in the central Ohio town of Lexington. In 1988 Koroknay acquired all the tooling used to produce Lyman wooden boats, along with an associated treasure trove of blueprints, promotional materials and other archival records, directly from Lyman. Some of the documents were approaching 100 years old. He subsequently applied for and secured rights to the Lyman name and trademark after the company ceased production in early 1995.

Asked why it took so long for two men who have known of each other for decades to hammer out an agreement that provides one with additional funds to maintain his prized tooling and archives, the other with the means necessary to repair aging Lymans efficiently and cost-effectively, and both give almost exactly the same answer.

“It was the perfect storm,” as Koroknay puts it.

That storm began brewing by Lake Erie six decades ago, while Koroknay was a child. The 66-year-old remembers admiring the Lymans he saw on the water while spending summer weekends at his family’s place in the Huron, Ohio, area. He restored his first Lyman in 1980, the beginning of a passion and sideline that eventually lured him away from the family homebuilding business.

Koroknay became so good at it that Lyman Boat Works actually offered him a job running the mill still making wooden-boat replacement parts, a position he declined. The next year, in late 1988, the company’s current owner — the business had changed hands multiple times since the Lyman family sold it — called Koroknay and asked if he’d be interested in buying all the wooden-boat tooling and records. The man was planning to trash the tooling if he couldn’t sell it.

“I couldn’t go through and cherry-pick,” Koroknay recalls. “He basically wanted me to clean out the factory of all this stuff.”

Koroknay spent the next few months moving load after load of items with the help of friends driving everything from station wagons to dump trucks. “Some of the tooling will overlap on different models,” he says. “But there’s a pattern for every part in every boat. There were just dozens of stations that were set up to machine different parts for the particular model they were making.” He preserved and organized archival materials in a 100-by-40-foot building on his property, cleaned, repaired and sorted tooling by model. He then used the tooling to produce parts for his own business as well as difficult-to-make parts for other yards and for boat-owners who did their own repairs.

One of Koroknay’s customers was Moes Marine.

Moes, now 40, had known about Koroknay’s purchase ever since he was a kid growing up at the boatyard his grandfather founded in 1938. When he took over Moes Marine in 2010, he already was contemplating the possibility of developing a business relationship with Koroknay. He saw more and more Lymans reaching an age when they required extensive plank replacements.

“Doing it as a one-off, custom, take-a-long-time-to-do-type mentality was not going to be the way that was economically viable either for a yard or for the customer,” he says.

The negotiations actually began with a Moes Marine client. In early 2016 Michelle Burke and her husband, Joe, were at the yard to check on repairs to their Lyman when the suburban Clevelander mentioned that she was negotiating a licensing agreement with Koroknay to produce Lyman-branded apparel and other goods. (See “Lyman Life” following this story.)

“His jaw just dropped,” she recalls. “He’s like, ‘You what?’”

The reaction was based on Koroknay’s history in the wooden-boat community. “Somewhere down the line I’ve gained a reputation of being hard to do business with,” he admits. But a phone call from Burke to Koroknay set the stage for Moes to contact Koroknay in the fall of 2017, after he determined the aforementioned Islander needed a whole new bottom.

 “I’m like, ‘We gotta figure this out,’” Moes recalls. Koroknay’s reply: “Of course.” As part of the deal, he came to Moes Marine and showed Moes and his family how to use the tooling.

 “I’ve always worked by myself,” Koroknay says. “And to take on a project that big — to put full-length, 30-foot planks on — that’s at least a three-man job. Mike’s got a crew. So it worked out. And I had known his dad for years.”

Moes says the tooling has cut the time to finish work on the Islander from a year to four months. He’s already talking to other Lyman owners about doing similar work. “We’re looking to help owners that have taken care of their Lymans and keep them on for the next generation,” he says. As a man looking to retire, Koroknay is happy to see skilled professionals help preserve the boats he loves.

“Probably two-thirds of these boats that have been worked on below the water line have just been completely butchered,” he says candidly. “So it’s refreshing to have somebody come in and put that bottom back to factory original. Anybody can paint and varnish. But it takes a high degree of skill to do the structural repairs on these things — and do them right.”

Lyman Life

 In late 2015 Michelle Burke was searching the internet for Lyman gear for her lawyer husband, Joe. He was passionate about the brand — he’d insisted the boat they planned to buy would be a Lyman wooden model. She ended up on Koroknay’s Marine’s web site.

“He had a white Hanes T-shirt with ‘Lyman’ on it, which wasn’t very appealing to me for something that…was such a cool brand,” recalls the suburban Clevelander, director of international education programs in Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s bioethics department.

Lexington-Ohio-based Lyman restorer Tom Koroknay was trying to capitalize on his rights to the Lyman name and trademark by selling a limited selection of shirts and the like. But, as he discovered, “It wasn’t my thing.”

It was Burke’s thing.

In early 2016 she e-mailed Koroknay with an idea to create a lifestyle brand. She and her husband subsequently founded Lyman Life and entered into a licensing agreement with Koroknay to produce apparel, accessories and home/boat goods. They found few original items to copy – the floating keychain that came with their boat, burgees seen in pictures of various Lyman models.

But, by August 2016, Burke had developed with a line of T-shirts, along with can cozies and boat mats. She even worked with a graphic designer to come up with a Lyman Life logo, a stylized Lyman boat.

The items are available on lymanlife.com as well as at Buyer’s Fair in Vermilion; Newport Clothing & Gear in Port Clinton, Ohio; Chicklet’s Closet on Kelleys Island; Country House Gifts in Put-in-Bay; and Cleveland-area Geiger’s. The line is doing so well that the company is launching a campaign to put it in retailers throughout the Northeast.

“I really hope it will inspire younger people to want to get a Lyman,” Burke says of the wares. “These boats are special because of what they represent — family, quality and tradition.”