Grand Craft Burnham

The Burnham is a new wooden boat that blends classic lines with modern building techniques and propulsion.

Burnham running on the lake
The lines are authentic and the construction is handcrafted, but the ownership experience is thoroughly modern. Steve Lampkin

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Our former colleague Peter Egan once wrote in Cycle World, our former sister publication, that his favorite motorcycles “give good garage,” meaning they are so aesthetically pleasing that he is satisfied to just sit in his shop and look at them during the long Wisconsin winter.

We get it. Our favorite boats combine competent function with graceful lines—they give good dock. And so, we were drawn to the Burnham, a new handcrafted wooden runabout from Grand Craft. From the curve of its prow to its tumblehome aft, the look is Great Lakes classic. This boat was not shaped to pop out of a mold. And any boat made of wood is unique simply because the tone and grain of each piece of planking is unique.

Grand Craft President Patrick Gallagher
Grand Craft President Patrick Gallagher at the company’s new 25,000-square-foot manufacturing space in Genoa City, Wisconsin. Courtesy Grand Craft

The beauty of classic wood boats always sparked childhood memories for Patrick Gallagher, who spent his youth boating in his family’s Streblow runabout. In 2020, at age 49, Gallagher was a third-generation co-owner of Gallagher Asphalt in suburban Chicago. After 20 years and needing a change, he cashed out and in 2021, with his wife, Rose, as a partner, acquired Grand Craft, a struggling wooden boatbuilder in Holland, Michigan. He moved the company to Genoa City, Wisconsin, and began building boats using modern techniques “that don’t look like the same white fiberglass minivan.” 

He acquired plans for four existing Grand Craft models, but the Burnham is a new design that he considers the flagship—and the future—of the company. The 26-foot-4-inch runabout is 8 feet, 2 inches wide, weighs about 4,500 pounds, and is powered by a 430 hp 6.2-liter Ilmor V-8 engine through a ZF V-drive. With the engine aft, the Burnham offers a sun pad over the hatch and U-shaped central cockpit seating that better lends itself to socializing than a straight inboard with its intruding doghouse. The forward cockpit has a bench seat split by a walk-through. The helm features a Livorsi digital control and digital instruments with classic analog faces for a vintage look. Since a joystick would look out of place, a standard bow thruster is controlled by two chrome push buttons. The boat also features a step-down transom to a swim platform, a teak sole and a premium audio system, with custom features available on request. Grand Craft says top speed is in the low 50 mph range. Base price for the Burnham model is $449,000.

Framing and battens for the Burnham
Framing and battens are pre-cut with CNC accuracy before assembly. Courtesy Grand Craft

Seeking to create the most efficient construction process possible, Gallagher hired industrial engineer Jeff Podhajsky as VP of operations. With past marine experience at BRP, Podhajsky digitized design drawings for the Burnham in Rhino CAD and arranged to have the clear vertical-grain Douglas fir stringers and Sapele mahogany frames CNC-cut by The Wooden Runabout Co. in Holland, Michigan. The boat’s skeleton is comprised of more than 200 pieces, which arrive at Grand Craft pre-coded for assembly. The CNC process ensures a high level of accuracy and repeatability in each piece and also simplifies assembly of the framework. Using a classic strongback process, one skilled employee and a trainee can assemble the entire frame in about five weeks. The staves are formed of quarter-inch Meranti marine plywood, with three layers on the bottom and two on the hullsides glued with West System epoxy. Final planking on the hullsides is hand-fit and faired Sapele mahogany. The boat is finished using a 19-step Epifanes process of incremental wet sanding and buffing. Unlike traditional tung oil varnish, Grand Craft claims this finish will not shrink for five years, and most minor dock-rash scuffs can be buffed out.

The result is a runabout that has the authentic lines and feel of a mid-20th century classic but is as easy to own as a modern composite boat, and that’s exactly the point.

Read Next: The Value of Classic Wooden Boats

430 hp Ilmor engine
A 430 hp Ilmor engine features modern digital control and a catalyzed exhaust. Courtesy Grand Craft

“We are not building boats to appeal to a vintage-boat hobbyist,” Gallagher says. “We are appealing to an owner who is attracted to timeless styling, who wants a beautiful boat that’s different from the Cobalts and Chris-Crafts their neighbors own, yet also wants a hassle-free experience and some modern technology and amenities.”

Gallagher says build time for each boat has been reduced from eight to four months. Grand Craft plans to build 10 boats in 2023 and 20 in 2024, with a 32-foot version of the Burnham on the digital drawing board. More good dock is on the way.

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