Charles “Chip” Bering considers himself a collector of art.
“Art that does stuff,” he elaborated.
At least, that’s how the saying goes for enthusiasts of Feather Craft, aluminum boats manufactured in Atlanta from 1948-69.
The admiration was clear as owners docked their craft at Bald Ridge Marina on Saturday, for the first formal meet-up on Lake Lanier.
Bering organized the gathering from his lake home in Forsyth County, attracting nearly a dozen classic models to cruise the water or shine on land, if they weren’t fixed up enough for a ride.
According to Bering, the aluminum material for the boats makes them unique, due to both their light weight and history.
Feather Craft were the first mass-produced boats for recreation, made at a factory in post-World War II Atlanta by former aircraft engineers who built bombers and fighters.
Those men used their skills and excess of aluminum to transfer production to a new market, said Jennings Kilgore, who added that the “uniqueness” of the boats got him interested in the hobby.
“It’s the same as people that collect ’57 Chevys,” he said. “It’s just something different, and these are boats from a classic period of time.”
Kilgore, who is well-versed on the boats’ history, said he spoke with the son of the Feather Craft founder, and learned that the men tested the models on Lanier to determine their weaknesses.
The original factory site downtown was next to railroad tracks, so the boats could be shipped out to buyers across the country, he said.
Over the years, boats have sat idle, like Kilgore’s Hawk II that was stored in a barn for 23 years, or worse — been crushed for the price of the aluminum. Still, about 700 have been registered in Georgia.
While the motors often need work or replacing, the aluminum body of the Feather Craft stays in good condition despite the years.
“Because they’re like airplanes,” Bering said, “they’re just as great now as they were when they were built.”
He found one of his Feather Craft intact in Lake Lanier when the level was down.
Like most other owners at the meet-up, Bering owns more than one. The group joked that they call themselves collectors because it sounds better than hoarding.
When the Feather Craft collectors get together, the talk of wanting a particular model surfaces.
The best part of the gathering, though, is just riding around and “showing off” the classic craft, said John Closs, who likened the meet to a Corvette club.
He added that the unique low-riding, lightweight Feather Craft provide an outing like no other boat.
“You get much more of an experience in the water,” Closs said. “You can literally reach over the side and touch the water.”