Classic Minnesota Part 8: A Memorable Visit With Kermit Sutton Last Wednesday


MN 4

Kermit & Jenny Sutton’s beautiful 1932 28′ Gar Wood Triple “Wren”

After spending the entire day touring Lake Minnetonka with Dave Bortner last Tuesday, Dave had a full schedule of Freedom Boat Service related business the following day, and when he told me what was on the schedule I decided to tag along with Dave for the day – and what a fun day it was. (And for our new viewers, don’t forget that you can always click on the images in the story to enlarge them, and today they blow up real good!)

The day began at 7:30 AM and we were on our way to the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria, MN – about 2 hours west of Lake Minnetonka. The plan was to pick up Kermit & Jenny Sutton’s 1932 28′ Gar Wood Triple “Wren” which has been on loan to the Museum since last fall, and deliver it up to the Sutton’s lake home on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes near Brainard – about two hours north-east of Alexandria.

MN 1
As always, we were greeted with a warm smile and some kind words from Bruce Olson,  museum Director, who gave us a quick tour of the new additions to the museum and surrounding Maritime Gardens. The museum is constantly making improvements to the facility and exhibits which is great to see.

MN 2

The always impressive Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria.

We then hitched up the big Gar Wood to Dave’s truck for her two hour trip over the Kermit & Jenny’s.

MN 5

Preparing to leave the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria with “Wren” in tow.

We delivered “Wren” to Kermit’s hanger next door and made our way over to their lake house for a visit and to get a glimpse of their boat collection. When we arrived, Kermit had just arrived home from a fishing trip in Canada – and he rolled out the “red carpet” for us which made for a fantastic afternoon of fun.

Our tour of Kermit & Jenny’s boat collection began with a ride in their freshly restored 1953 Chris-Craft 26′ Express Cruiser that they use as a fun day cruiser and grocery getter on the Whitefish Cain of Lakes. A great boat for when friends come to visit.

MN 6

“Bette Noir” is a very cool 1953 Chris-Craft 26′ Express Cruiser which was restored by Freedom Boat Service during the winter of 2012-13. The boat has some nice custom touches throughout both the exterior and interior which works well. A total of 131 26′ Express Cruisers were produced by Chris-Craft in the 1953-54 model years.

MN 9

The Express Cruiser is powered by a 300 HP 350 Crusader V-8 and performs great as a fun day cruiser on the Whitefish Chain of Lakes in Minnesota.

Then Kermit said “If you like we can put “Daniela” in the water and go for a ride.” Well for those of you who don’t know me, I will never turn down an offer to go for a ride in any classic boat, especially a Riva. Before we knew it the big Riva has moving down the rail system from the boat house and ten minutes later we were cruising across the bay in the Minnesota sunshine. And then Kermit said “Texx – You drive” and it just kept getting better…

MN 14

Kermit & Jenny’s beautiful 1969 Riva Super Aquarama “Daniela” was restored by Freedom Boat Service in 2011 and is immaculate inside and out. There is nothing quite like cruising in a big Aquarama.

MN 16

Kermit exercising the elegant Riva Super Aquarama 28′ with it’s twin 350 HP Chevrolet big blocks. (Sorry folks about the docks in the background, but things were happening fast as Kermit sped past us)

MN 17
When we arrived back to the dock, we made our way over to the other boat house where the Belle Isle Super Bear Cat lives, which is normally shared with “Wren” the 28′ Gar Wood Triple and also some perfectly restored marine engines, including a huge Sterling-Petrol six and a Hispano-Suiza V-8.

MN 10

A perfectly restored Hispano-Suiza V-8 engine.

MN 11

MN 13

The impressive dash board of the Super Bear Cat inside her boat house.

Then to my amazement Kermit offered to put “Ondine” the Belle Isle Super Bear Cat in the lake to take me for a ride! Minutes later “Ondine” was rolling down the rails and in the water. The 1929 650 HP V-12 Hispano-Suiza Model 12 Nbr fired right up which was spectacular to hear – with it’s 2,000 cubic inch, 2,000 Ft. Lbs. of torque @ 1,700 RPM… away we went using the Riva Aquarama as a “shoot boat”…

MN 18

The sleek lines and crowned decks of the 1926 30′ Belle Isle Super Bear Cat are magnificent from any angle.

MN 20

Kermit tickles the throttle from idle and the big Belle Isle Super Bear Cat is immediately up on plane, with the sweet sound of big V-12 like no other.

MN 25

The big Super Bear Cat glides effortlessly across the water with the 650 HP V-12 Hispano-Suiza at 1,500 RPM.

After we snapped a few shots of “Ondine” I joined Kermit on board the Super Bear Cat for the ride of a lifetime. And then Kermit moved over, handed me the wheel and said “Texx – you take over.” Driving the big Belle Isle was fantastic. I was amazed how nimble the boat handled and how quiet it was from the forward cockpit. An experience I will always remember. At one point (not wanting to over stay my welcome) I began to steer the boat towards Kermit’s dock and he said “Let’s make another lap of the lake” and that was like music to my ears.

Kermit in Ondine

The elegant 1926 Belle Isle Super Bear Cat performed as good as she looked, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to drive this magnificent piece of history – Thanks Kermit.

MN 26

Looking out from the forward cockpit, the crown of the forward deck is very noticeable.

When we returned to the dock, I handed the controls back to Kermit and watched as he masterfully pulled the big Belle Isle into the slip and on to the submerged boat cradle.

The automated rail system works great. When we returned to the dock, Kermit approached the dock with enough speed to steer the big 30′ Super Bear Cat into the submerged cradle with the protected guide posts. Once the engine is shut off and the passengers are on the dock, with his wireless key fob, Kermit actuates the winch and the cradle moves up the rails into the boat house. I am guessing the entire procedure takes less than 5 minutes and the boat is back in the boat house for a quick wipe down.

MN 30

MN 31

MN 32

MN 34

MN 35

MN 36

MN 37

MN 38

And “Ondine” is safely back in her boat house within minutes of arriving back to the dock. The Super Bear Cat shares this boat house with “Wren” their 1932 28′ Gar Wood triple.

After we wiped the boat down, Kermit said “Before you leave, come on over to my hanger and see our Ditchburn Viking.” What a nice surprise that was.

MN 40

Tucked away in the hanger is “Eleanor” a 1929 Ditchburn.

“Eleanor” is a rare 1929 29′ Ditchburn Viking which utilizes a step hull design, which was found by Peter Breen Antique & Classic Boats in Ontario, Canada.

As described by Peter Breen on his website – Constructed in 1929 for a wealthy widow, “Eleanor” was designed so that it could be used in the spring and fall, and varying weather conditions (in Muskoka, Ontario) with six roll-up windows, a folding front windscreen and retractable navy top. This was the only boat of its kind ever produced as the intricacy of the hardware so close to the cockpit proved to be quite expensive.

“Eleanor” was one of the last boats delivered before the stock market crash of 1929 and she is still powered by her original Sterling Petrel 200 hp engine.  After spending her first 50 years in Muskoka, Ontario – “Eleanor” was housed at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club in British Columbia for 20 years. She was brought back to Ontario by Peter Breen in the mid 1990s.

MN 41

“Eleanor” a rare 1929 29′ Ditchburn Viking incorporating the step hull design.

MN 42

The unique design elements of the 1929 Ditchburn Viking.

MN 43

The immaculate 200 HP Sterling Petrol 6 power plant.

MN 45

Possibly the only Ditchburn Viking built in 1929 with roll up windows for the cool spring and fall weather conditions in Muskoka, Ontario.

MN 46

The Canadian built Ditchburn leaves little to the imagination.

MN 47

Modern transportation sharing space with vintage transportation.

After a full day on the road and an amazing day of boating with Kermit Sutton, Dave and I hit the road for the two hour trip back to Lake Minnetonka.

MN 49

MN 50
During our recent trip to Minnesota, we had the opprortunity to see four different Belle Isle Bearcats, including Kermit’s Super today and Lee Anderson’s two Supers at his facility and during the boat show, as well as a very cool Bear Cat that John Allen owns.

Last week Dane Anderson and I gathered together some great photos and information on the Belle Isle marque and will put together a special “Belle Isle Bear Cat story” later this week featuring some details and history. So stay tuned for that.

Special thanks to Kermit and Jenny Sutton for sharing their amazing collection of antique & classic boats with us and for their wonderful hospitality last week. The visit just capped of a perfect and memorable 10 days of Classic Minnesota along with some warm hospitality from everyone we met.

And thanks again to Dave Bortner from Freedom Boat Service for his assistance and hospitality over the last 10 days. It was a great time.


Special thanks

30 replies
  1. Chris B
    Chris B says:

    texx you may as well stay home as all the trips ahead may seem a little lack luster after this trip. what a huge range of fantastic boats.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Chris – I am so happy that we decided to make the trip to Minnesota recently and am still in shock in terms of what we discovered. The wide range of classic boats, the quality of the restorations, and the fact that so many of the boats continue to use restored, period correct power is simply amazing.

      The people in Minnesota were fantastic everywhere we went.

      My appreciation for the Belle Isle Bear Cats may seem exaggerated at times, but to see what that company was designing & building in the mid 1920’s is remarkable.

  2. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    No wonder Texx can’t find time to sleep. The collection of boats and engines to be enjoyed on that trip was quite amazing.

  3. Texx
    Texx says:

    It’s great to see the caretakers of these historically important boats in Minnesota taking such good care of them. And how passionate they are about their old boats.

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Hi Don – We should have our plans for the ACBS International show sorted out by the end of this week.

      And you?

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      My fun ride with fellow Woody Boater Norman Blackley in “jr” his early 15′ Chris-Craft Model 300 during the 2011 Sunnyland Wooden Boat Festival.

      • John Walton
        John Walton says:

        I had the pleasure of sitting at a dinner table with Norman at Guntersville, Ala at a show in the late 90’s. He talked about attending the world’s fair in Chicago (?) in 1932 or 34. I listened well and learned a lot. Neat stuff from him.

        • Texx
          Texx says:

          Today we learned that a few months ago Norman was seriously injured in car accident. We hope he is doing OK and if anyone has any information on Norman’s condition we would be interested to know.

  4. Chad
    Chad says:

    What an experience that must have been. I think the Bearcat just became my favorite triple.

    TEXX, thanks for sharing it with us!

  5. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Just had to open my electric bill to bring me back to reality. Who’s going to bring Texx back down to earth, fantastic day. Didn’t even know this stuff existed till now.

  6. Geoff Tyler
    Geoff Tyler says:

    I feel for you Texx, I know what a mongrel job that must be…. but mate, I guess someone has to do it ?
    you are such a lucky duck !! thank you for sharing.

  7. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush Captain Grumpy says:

    Wish there were more pictures of that express cruiser, looks so much like my kit boat.
    My carver circa 1966 in a lived in a garage/boat house with the same trolly track setup!

  8. John Walton
    John Walton says:

    The gold leaf on the stern of “Wren” may just be the best I’ve ever seen. Just perfect.

    The entire collection is terrific. Great boats.

  9. 72hornet
    72hornet says:

    Texx, Great shots from our neighbors to the North! I had the great opportunity to visit the Whitefish Chain a few years ago. Got to spend the day looking at old boats and cruise in and Hackercraft. Wish that you had time to visit northwest Iowa. Okoboji is calling your name! Hope to see you out in Couer D’ Lene in a few weeks!

  10. Troy
    Troy says:

    Texx what a wonderful trip you have shared with us all!

    If my memory serves me (from the rail system story) Kermit and Jenny also have a Beaver Float Plane next to their house. That of course is the ultimate Float Plane.

    It is great to see that there are people out there in this great country of ours who are able and willing to restore and maintain such fabulous pieces of history.

    Thanks Again!

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Thanks Coop – I wanted to credit Mike Mahoney for the restoration of “Eleanor” at the time of publication, but wasn’t 100% sure.


Comments are closed.