History of Spencer Boats
"The History" of Spencer Boats Ltd.
By Patricia Brandlmayr
The foundation for Spencer Boats was laid in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where John Brandlmayr grew up, went to University, and developed his interest and skills in the design and building of things such as boats and aircraft. It was here that lasting friendships were formed such as the one with Phil Hantke who, many years later after the war, became a partner in Spencer Boats Ltd.
The following is an excerpt from tapes and notes left by John and which outline the philosophy which he brought to his designs and to their fruition:
One of the first products built by Spencer Boats was a "Frame Kit" for various sizes of boats, both power and sail. The "Frame Kit" consisted of pre-fabricated components for frames, stem, transom, keelson and a ‘harpin’ which permitted the builder to setup the hull immediately and thus avoid the tiresome task of ‘lofting’ prior to construction. This was prior to mass production of molded boats and at a time when many people built their own boats in order to own one.
John devised a method of construction for producing laminated stems using hydraulic pressure and a tooling method for producing frame components using a standard jointer. Building instructions were provided for each size and eventually prefabricated parts and materials were also available. Several hundred units of this product were sold throughout the world.
Numbers of complete and partially complete boats were produced of these models, especially power boats from 14 ½ feet to 32/34 feet. The plywood planking was applied in full length sheets and covered with a "Cello" finish. In this process, fiberglass materials were applied to the plywood and then a resin was introduced under a tight layer of cellophane. When the cellophane was removed, there remained a glossy, durable and attractive finish on the plywood planking.
In 1958, the first model of fiberglass sailboat produced from a female mold was the 28 footer. Since molded fiberglass was in its infancy, only the hull was built in fiberglass. The deck of the 28 continued to be built in wooden construction.
The next model developed was the Spencer 35, followed by the 42 aft cockpit and 44 center cockpit, the 31, the 53 aft and forward cockpit; and the 1330 aft and forward cockpit. Methods and details of construction were adjusted to meet changes in technology. During all phases, only hand lay-up of the fiberglass materials was used in hulls and decks. Initially solid glass construction was the only option but, with care and consideration, polyvinylchloride with some balsa core was introduced to provide a rigid, solid hull and deck with integral insulation for creature comfort below decks. (Note: The basic construction specifications for Spencer Boats are attached. They may be of a source of help for current owners.) See Construction above.
Details of construction were always paramount in John’s mind in specifying the methods of construction throughout the vessel. His training as an Engineer and his early self-education in design and building model airplanes and a full scale glider, provided him with the ability and skill to engineer the structure as a whole unit.
While Phil Hantke managed the shop and production, John carried on another life under John Brandlmayr Ltd. which was the design office. As a consequence there are many boats, including rowboats, sailboats, powerboats, fishing vessels, commercial vessels, ferries and dredges, which were designed by the office, and which are still in operation. A wide range of materials including fiberglass, aluminum, steel, wood, and plywood and fiberglass was used in the methods of construction. In subsequent years, the design office has evolved to Brandlmayr Marine Ltd. headed by son, Grant Brandlmayr.
John’s involvement in the companies came to a sudden and untimely end with his death in 1974. A few months later Phil Hantke succumbed due to health complications. This left myself, Pat Brandlmayr, who had been involved in the business since day one, and son Grant, together with our first and last employee, Les McBurney, to carry on the business with the help of the skilled employees.
The company had started production of sailboats at a time when the market for sailboats was on the rise. This market carried on for quite a number of years and the company was able to avail itself of the momentum in the market. To fill out the product line, the Spencer 34 was introduced. This was the first model by a designer other than John. Production of the Sun 27 was undertaken for the account of the brokers, Specialty Yachts. This model was initially produced in the States and the brokers found it beneficial to have Canadian production.
Owners of Spencer boats will remember the close liaison with Les, Grant and the fellows in the shop. Each boat was built to order and customized to suit the owner. Most owners were very knowledgeable, experienced sailors particularly with regard to details of outfit and rig, for example, Hal and Margaret Roth with S-35 ‘Whisper’. Many of the sailboats built by Spencer Boats have been used for extensive offshore cruising due to the integrity of the hull/deck and to their good sailing and handling characteristics.
With the sudden downturn in the economy in 1982, the company was forced to change direction. The assets (all the molds) were sold to Shore Boat Builders who built boats in aluminum. Spencer was able to bring fiberglass technology to Shore to combine construction of fiberglass hull and deck with aluminum superstructure. Although the producing of this product remains tenable, molded fiber glassing and aluminum welding require two completely different shops. Eventually Spencer Boats had to be put to bed. However, the boats themselves seem to have taken on a life of their own thanks to the care and attention given them during their design and production and the continued enthusiastic interest of their owners.
Dated - April 2003
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