Boating: An Unfathomable History

  • Fluto Shinzawa

Although Wes Selvidge has owned Sunken Treasure for a decade and has shown it at Lake Tahoe’s annual Wooden Boat Week for each of the last five years—winning the People’s Choice Award in 2003—he knows little about its history. Selvidge acquired Sunken Treasure in 1995, after the Placer County sheriff’s dive team fished the 14-footer out of Lake Tahoe, but he has yet to learn the identity of its previous owner or any details concerning how it came to rest on the bottom of the 22-mile-long lake.

Sunken Treasure will be one of more than 100 craft displayed at Wooden Boat Week, a convergence of vintage Chris-Crafts, Gar Woods, and other marques that will take place this year from August 4 through 11 in Carnelian Bay on the lake’s northwest shore. The event’s centerpiece is the Concours d’Elegance, the two-day affair at the beginning of the week that promises to feature scores of celebrated vessels, including Thunderbird, the boat built for real estate magnate George Whittell, and Eleventh Hour, the 26-foot Hacker-Craft that won Best of Show in 2004. Most of these boats have pedigrees that are as rich and as deep as the red and brown hues of their hulls. Others have backgrounds that are a bit sketchy, but none is more so than that of Selvidge’s runabout.

In the fall of 1994, a Tahoe City family was enjoying an afternoon of boating when their outboard engine slipped off the back of their vessel and into the lake. While searching for the engine, some 100 feet beneath the water’s surface, the dive team discovered amid the silt the antique boat that would eventually be rechristened Sunken Treasure. The team failed to raise the boat that year, but returned to the site in September of the following year and brought it to the surface. When they did, the divers found the key still in the ignition and the throttle on idle. They also found no significant holes in the hull and no signs of Fredo Corleone or any other human remains. But, as Selvidge’s research would later indicate, the boat probably had sunk some 40 years previously.

“It’s too small for Lake Tahoe,” Selvidge says of the boat. “It’s probably why it sank—it got caught in big water and maybe got under a wave.” The sheriff’s department assumes that the pilot probably swam to shore, but as Selvidge notes, “Nobody on the west shore knew anything about the boat sinking. Nobody came forward to say this was their boat.”

Shortly after the boat was raised, Selvidge was in the area to attend the annual National Championship Air Races in nearby Reno, Nev., and was driving through Tahoe City when the town was still abuzz with rumors and speculations. Two weeks later, he offered a $1,000 donation to the dive team and brought the boat back to his home near Bakersfield, Calif., to begin restoring and researching it.

Selvidge discovered that it was built by Baycraft, an obscure manufacturer once based in Oakland. He tracked down what he believes is the only other Baycraft in existence, and through conversations with its owner, a Washington state resident and craftsmen at Sierra Boat Co., the Lake Tahoe marina that restores wooden vessels and hosts Wooden Boat Week at its docks, Selvidge learned that it was launched in 1949, was powered by a 60 hp Ford V-8 engine, and probably sank in the mid-1950s

With help from the Sierra Boat Co., Selvidge completed Sunken Treasure’s restoration in four years, investing about 3,500 man-hours to rebuild the engine and replace the entire hull and deck. Selvidge was able to preserve only a few pieces from the boat’s original transom. Alas, the mystery surrounding its sinking remains completely intact.

Wooden Boat Week
www.tahoeyc.com

Photo by James Lipman
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