It’s A Yacht, It’s A Runabout, It’s A Seagull!

Stunning, fast, and sexy. Just like Gladys Walton. Obscure reference ? Yes!

To be specific, it’s a 36 foot V bottom Robinson Seagull, not to be confused with the Swiss Family Robinson Seagull. Which is an entirely different story.In this story the boat is still around, and Friday is the day before Saturday. OK, maybe an obscure reference. Those of you that get it are laughing.. or not, the others of you are lost and wondering what I had for breakfast this morning. Soooooo, hold on, need to take some Ritalin…. OK… Where was I? Oh yea, Flying Cloud! This Seagull is not only cool as all get out, but for sale. We cruise the web like you guys do for cool stuff to dream about. Head in the cloud stuff. Yes a bad pun, sorry. Anyway..again, this boat is on one of our sponsors page, the good folks up at St Lawrence Restoration. And we called up the good folks there and asked for more info. Can you say AL Capone! The more history we got the cooler this boat became, and its a very cool boat regardless of its history. So, we thought we would share that history with you. Now if one of you buys this thing, I call shotgun! Here is the history St Lawrence sent.

The 1920’s was an era of economic prosperity for many Americans. Prosperity was accompanied by pro-business attitudes and unparalleled consumerism. Society was changing rapidly as Americans were finding expression through new clothing styles, hairstyles and symbols of economic gain. Boating was becoming more of a leisurely activity rather than just a way to transport goods and materials.
In 1926 Glen Robinson, owner of Roberson Marine located in Michigan, proceeded to build a motorboat that would combine the elegance of a yacht with the sleekness and speed of a runabout. Naval architect John Hacker was chosen to design the hull, resulting in the invention of the “Robinson Seagull.”

The 36ft Seagull is a V-bottom boat with a broad underbottom design that cushions the boat against any abrupt water shocks. The hull is scientifically designed with the center of balance so accurately placed that all pounding has been skillfully eliminated.

See if you can get the boat for the original price? ya never know? OK you do know.. Maybe with inflation?

The sleek lines of the hull and the black leather-covered hardtop cabin roof give the look of a limousine. The spacious cabin boasts of Pullman berths, galley, ice box, clothes lockers, separate toilet room with fold –down lavatory. The boat was built to carry up to twenty passengers in comfort and style.

The first Seagull was produced for major auto manufacturer Ransom E. Olds in 1928. The boat was named “Flying Cloud” and was used by the Olds family for two years before it was sold to the infamous “Scarface” himself, Al Capone in 1930. Capone used the boat for recreation in Florida, where he once owned a mansion near Miami. Widely known for his criminal empire, Capone was convicted of income tax evasion and was sentenced to prison. The “Flying Cloud” was later sold to help satisfy his outstanding debts.

The boat was then bought by Clarence Welch of Michigan. The Welch family took the boat from Michigan to Florida every year for the winter and then back to spend the summers in Michigan. Welch’s daughter recalls the boat attracting a lot of attention at the yacht club since most cruisers at that time were painted white. The “Flying Cloud” was a long, dark, low and sleek and very beautiful.
After many years of enjoying and maintaining the boat, Mr. Welch sold the boat to Emmett Roche in 1949. Roche, who was the inventor of the Emrola Radio, used the boat for many fishing excursions on Lake Michigan. For several years, he took the boat back and forth from Michigan to New Port Richey, Florida. However, the condition of the boat had begun to deteriorate since Roche did not want to invest money into maintaining its beauty.

Flying Cloud in Clayton at the big show.

After Roche’s death in the 1970’s the “Flying Cloud” changed hands several times. Each owner had major plans of restoring the boat to its original splendor but as the years went by the task became too enormous.
In February of 2001, the “Flying Cloud” made its way to Washington Island on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, NY. The boats new owners, Louis and Lee Smith, summer residents of Clayton and winter residents of Hawaii, co-owned the boat with their son Martin Smith added the “Flying Cloud” to their inventory of wooden boats.
The boat has been completely restored to its original beauty and calls the St. Lawrence River its home now. The “Flying Cloud” continues to be a big hit at local Vintage Boat Shows. Unfortunately, after Martin’s unexpected death recently the boat is now up for sale yet again and can be viewed at St. Lawrence Restoration in Clayton, NY.

There she is, sitting in Clayton, waiting for you.

Commuters represent a fascinating time in history and are quite rare as a class of boats, this boat has an outstanding history both influential and famous. Only a handful of boats have the limousine look and style like that of the “Flying Cloud” and the boat has plenty of documentation, in text and on film. To this day no other examples remain, making the “Flying Cloud” a true piece of history on the water.

36 replies
  1. matt
    matt says:

    Oh, you would ask the one question I did not get. I just posted the original spec sheet. Someone out there knows and will chime in. I know it has one, or two if that helps.

      • Brian Robinson
        Brian Robinson says:

        That spec sheet is not original, it is something Marty Smith made up to look old for display. For example, the Scripps V-12 was not introduced until 1933 and the Kermath 225 came out in March of 1930.

        Matt, no kudos to Clay Thompson for actually restoring this beauty?

  2. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    I am not a big fan of commuter styling, but that boat is beautiful. Did a little research of my own, as I did not think I was familiar with Robinson Boats, and found out they were designed by John Hacker and built in Benton Harbor Mi. from 1926 to 1948. Looking for other Robinson’s in the ACBS directory I realized that I have been seeing one at Algonac for several years. Von Hounslow’s beautiful 1933 36ft. Tri Cab Motor Yacht is a Robinson. It is the only one listed in the directory.

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    Matt, given Capone owned this boat, forget calling shotgun. Call “machine gun,” or you’ll be outgunned.

    Gorgeous boat!

      • don vogt
        don vogt says:

        I was wondering that myself. Apparently an early radio manufactured in grand rapids, michigan, some of which at least were battery operated, according to google.

  4. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Beautiful boat but not right for me. The body of water is the right ‘River’ for me, all the way downriver to Morristown and every place in between.

  5. Terry H.
    Terry H. says:

    Slightly OT it just me or was there a large number of expensive boats and motors sold in a fairly short time period from this collection? Anybody else notice that or have any insight on why they were so successful liquidating this collection?

  6. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Reminds me of another Hacker designed 36′ Hutchinson commuter “Express”, owned by Mike Matheson. With a 540 cubic inch GM motor, it is definitely a fast commuter (for sale as well).

    Wonder if it was Gladys that gave Big Al the “syph”. Probably need the resources of a gangster to house and maintain this beauty, well at least to “boathouse” it. If St Lawrence Restorations has restored it, then it should be good for quite a while longer if properly housed. The cold St Lawrence is real good for wood.

  7. brian t
    brian t says:

    “The Welch family took the boat from Michigan to Florida every year for the winter and then back to spend the summers in Michigan.”

    I am always amazed when I hear or read statements like this regarding the moving of our wood boats. Ours was built in 1929 in a warehouse in Portland and had to be moved 9 miles to be launched onto Oswego Lake in 1930. I seriously doubt that the “road” then looked anything like what it is today – AND they were not using a modern pickup truck and custom trailer to do the job.

    Imagine moving this beautiful boat to and from Michigan and Florida using the 1935 truck below.


  8. Jay Wagner
    Jay Wagner says:

    Remember the railroads, any money says they had it shipped via flatcar to dockage. Boy, I would love to see a picture of that rig pulled by a steam locomotive !!

  9. brian t
    brian t says:

    Jay – you’re most likely correct that the railways would have been used.

    I should have been more specific with my “amazement”. I find it interesting that we just have it so much easier nowadays – paved roads, custom trailers, perfect boat ramps etc. I wonder if we even bother to think about the differences between then and now.

    When Paul and Mike took Barnwood to Tahoe I seriously doubt that the idea of calling Southern Pacific even came to their minds. I did not given it a second thought to haul Zoomer up to a somewhat remote Waldo Lake some 5000 feet up in the Cascades to do some simple motoring about. And with 36ft of Flying Cloud – any moving task would have been just that much more daunting.

    Below: Zoomer on Waldo.

  10. Alex
    Alex says:

    brian t, “Where’s Waldo?”

    (Sorry, someone had to ask that. Otherwise, there would have been unfinished business.)

  11. St. Lawrence Restoration
    St. Lawrence Restoration says:

    Matt – Thank you so much, the article turned out Great!! Clay Thompson was actually the one who did the restoration work on the boat. Once the boat made its way to the Thousand Islands, St Lawrence Restoration has taken over the maintence on the boat, including installing a new bow thruster. She also has a single 502 Chevy engine as mentioned previously. If anyone has any further questions or would like to stop by and see the boat in person please feel free to contact me, Jen McIntosh at or call 315.686.5950.

  12. matt
    matt says:

    If someone from Woody boater buys it, we will throw in a Sons of varnish t shirt. Hows that! that’s inventive alone!

  13. Carl Garmhaus
    Carl Garmhaus says:

    Here’s the picture I promised of the other Robinson we know about in Michigan. Wish i had a better shot.

  14. St. Lawrence Restoration
    St. Lawrence Restoration says:

    We recently found out some more information we thought would be fun to share. Ransom E Olds was a car inventor and manufacturer. He was the first to use interchangeable parts. He sold the name Oldsmobile to Leyland which later became General Motors. He then began to produce his own brand called REO soon after he sold the Oldsmobile name, somewhere around 1910. REO was very successful and produced cars up till around 1936 and continued making trucks (REO Speedwagons) through WWII.
    The top of the line REO’s around 1929 (circa the Robinson Seagull) were called “Flying Cloud’s”. Thus the boat name Flying Cloud.

  15. Don Ayers
    Don Ayers says:

    A whole bunch of interesting history behind this boat was left out of the story! What a shame

    It was a complete basket case and sitting on a trailer at Sierra Boat.

    Clay Thompson deserves all the credit for restoring and researching the boat. It became a huge part of his life.

  16. Paul Rentz
    Paul Rentz says:

    My grandfather worked for Gar Wood from 1937 to 1945. Wish I knew more about those days- after Gar ended his racing career and lived there at Grayhaven, where grandpa’s office was.

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