Mark your calendars! Downtown Port Huron welcomes the return of the annual Boat the Blue, Sept. 8-9, a free, family-friendly antique and classic boat show. This year, attendees can expect to see 70 to 100 boats swarm the James C. Acheson Marina where besides marveling over these stunning vessels, guests can find events for kids, live music, a dog frisbee contest, a snack-food contest, and beer tent. Free rides for the public on many of the classic boats displayed is a fun offering, too, especially for those boarding the Odyssea — a one-of-a-kind 1961 Chris-Craft Sea Skiff once owned by Chris Smith, the grandson of Christopher Columbus Smith, the founder of the iconic Michigan boating brand, Chris-Craft.
According to Boat the Blue committee member Mark Walker, Smith, who had held every position at the family business, was never able to build his own design, so after finding a disheveled Chris-Craft Sea Skiff, he set out to rebuild the boat for his personal use, creating his own unique design. Once completed, Smith took the Odyssea, as he called it, to antique shows across the country, and it became — and still is — known for its storied look and bold green hull.
Before passing this year, Smith sold the boat in 2018 to Port Huron native and Boat the Blue committee member Hale Walker, with hopes that this legendary boat would remain in the state. Here, Hale shares with Michigan BLUE his insights on this iconic piece of boating history.
Michigan Blue: Tell us about the Odyssea, how you came upon it and what makes it such a special piece of boating history?
Hale Walker: What makes the boat so special is that Chris was such an avid supporter of the boating community that the boat really was as well-known as Chris because he traveled all over the country with it … so people recognize that boat because of his history within antique boating and his lifelong relationship with Chris-Craft boats. So, for the international show in 2018, Mark (my brother) and I went over to Holland — to Chris’s home — and interviewed him for the show. Because he was getting older, Chris was having trouble moving around and he had put the boat up for sale because he wasn’t able to use it anymore. I knew that the opportunity to keep the boat in the state of Michigan was somewhat limited and that sparked my interest to purchase the boat.
MB: After purchasing the boat, you decided to leave the boat as is, why?
HW: We spent a half to three quarters of the day with Chris and we talked about the restoration and redesign of the boat. If somebody knows the design of Chris-Craft’s Sea Skiffs, they wouldn’t recognize this boat other than the hull … because this was his opportunity to take what he liked best of different Chris-Craft boats and put it in one boat … and after spending time with him, learning about all the work that he did, I walked away thinking, well, you can’t change this, I’m the caretaker! If I buy this, there’s no way I could make a change to it … so, the only thing I have done to the boat since then is simply to keep it up. It’s just been revarnished and those types of things. But there will be no changes to any design or color or anything, because everywhere you go, people know the boat. People who have met Chris or seen his videos or read stories in so many of the magazines, they recognize this boat.
MB: Outside of the upcoming show, do you have any other exciting adventures planned with the Odyssea?
HW: Yes, we do! We use the boat as a regular boat. It is not treated as, you know, a showpiece. We use the boat very often. I have taken the boat to Canada’s Muskoka Lakes. We’ve often taken the boat up north to Harbor Springs and the Charlevoix area. We have done the Presque Isle area and then we do a lot of boating on the St. Clair River, Lake Huron, and down to the flats in the Algonac area.
MB: Why should people come out to see the Odyssea and all the other classic boats at this year’s Boat the Blue?
HW: It’s a wonderful opportunity to see these works of art and at the same time, get a good feel for them. Very often there will be tours of some of the larger boats, like the cruisers. People have a chance to get inside them. And it’s always a lot of fun!
For more information on this year’s Boat the Blue, visit boattheblue.org