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Leo Bentz, Ski Nautique and Boat #1

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    Posted: January-01-2016 at 2:48pm
Leo Bentz, Ski Nautique and Boat #1

I've been trying to figure out how to tell this story since we returned from our 55 year journey back in time to recover an artifact so relevant to our sport and hobby it's unfathomable.   Three days later I've decided to just post what I've come to know as fact, through magazine articles, documents and conversations with the parties involved. To give proper credit to the authors/originators, everything I reproduce here is done so with the permissions of Leo Bentz, Mark and Bob Cleary, and Zenon Bilas. Of major importance is to give proper credit to Art Cozier, without Art's detective work and persistence over the last few months this story, or better yet, the continuation of it, would not have been possible.



Excerpt from a Zenon Bilas article 1991.

“During the '40's and early 50's, “serious” skiers typically favored wooden inboard boats, like the Beautiful old Chris Crafts, the Century Resorters, and the Correct Craft's Atom Skiers. Although these inboards had large wakes and would be considered sluggish by today's standards, they were the towboat of choice for the freshly organized band of competitive skiers. As the 50's wore on and tournament water skiing became more and more popular. Crosby twin rig outboards, the first fiberglass boats, became the favorite among competitors. Crosbys, which evolved into today's hydrodynes, had smaller wakes and a lot of power, great for slalom and jumping. Their draw-back however, was high fuel consumption, and rigging the boat with twin motors was complicated.

All of this frustrated Leo Bentz, who ran a thriving Florida ski school in the '50s and early '60s. Dissatisfied with the wooden inboards with their huge wakes, and complicated twin outboard rigs, Bentz decided to design and build the perfect boat, one made specifically for water skiing and for Miami Beach's Lee's Ski School.”


Skipping ahead in the article a little bit

“Building a plug and mold can run between $50,000 and $100,000- if the process is started from scratch.

Leo Bentz admits to taking one of his old Higgins boats he used at this school to make his first plug. After incorporating secret techniques to the hull design to produce a smaller wake, he contracted the subsequent steps to outside firms. Bob Conn, a Miami boat builder specializing in performance craft, built the fiberglass mold, and Bentz contracted with another Miami builder to manufacture his new ski boat in lots of 12. All of a sudden, Bentz was in the boat building business.”


A major omission in the article is that prior to the 12 production boats, there was one prototype produced by Bob Conn. The first production boat was sold to William Grimditch, whose son Wayne was to become world jump champion 9 years later. The prototype was sold to Bob Cleary who attended Bentz' ski school, his intent was to sell Ski Nautiques to boat dealers in Northeast.

“In September of 1959, Bentz and his wife attended the World Championships in Milan, Italy, and visited the French Riviera. There they discovered a ski school going full blast in Cannes, operating as “L'escole de Ski Nautique” (translated “the school of water skiing”) Bentz adopted the name Ski Nautique for his boat.”


“Bentz sold his Ski Nautique under the company name of Glass Craft. Shortly after producing the first batch of Ski Nautiques, Bentz decided that he had his hands full with his ski school, teaching as many as 100 people per day! He wanted out of the boat-building responsibilities and in the spring of 1961, he approached Correct Craft, intending to sell them his mold for $10,000. Amazingly, in retrospect, Correct Craft was not interested in buying the nautique mold, perhaps for two reasons. First, Correct Craft was just seeing daylight from a bankruptcy proceeding caused when a government contract evaporated; and it had just introduced it's own fiberglass inboard ski boat, which the company was marketing as the American Skier.

But, Several months later, Bentz received a personal vist from the Walt Meloons- senior and junior- at his Miami Beach ski school. Bentz says he felt that the purpose of the Meloon's change of heart was because well-known tourmanent skiers had testafied that the Ski Nautique design was the best one available to the water skiers of the day.

So, the Meloons made Bents an offer he couldn't refuse and the mold and the name changed hands to Correct Craft. (The agreement was that Bentz would receive one boat annually for three years, and Correct Craft was to be responsible for servicing the Ski Nautiques that had been sold previously)”


A photo of Leo and his family in the prototype Ski Nautique


Photos of Lee's Ski School, Miami Beach










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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 81nautique Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 3:03pm
Bob Cleary and the prototype Boat #1

As I mentioned earlier, Bob Cleary purchased the prototype in 1960 with the intent of selling Ski Nautiques to boat dealers.

Letter from Leo to Bob


Shipping manifest


Bob Cleary's promo letter to dealers



It doesn't appear that Bob sold any boats and soon after he received his boat the mold and rights to the Ski Nautique name were sold to Correct Craft who already had a dealer network in place.

The boat then became an integral part of his families lives for the next 55 years. Bob knew how special his boat was, enough to never remove the Lee's Ski School graphics from the transom or the Interceptor graphics on the bow. In talking to Bob's son Mark he tells us of many “free” ski lessons his dad gave because people thought he was Lee and running a ski school on the waters of Barnegat Bay New Jersey.

In the mid 90's Bob and his wife Helen moved to Hilton head South Carolina and brought #1 with them. The boat was starting to show some wear and it's aging 312 Y block interceptor was replaced with a new PCM 302. #1 was lightly used for several years on the waters around Hilton Head.

Letter from leo Verifying Bob;s boat is the prototype



#1 in Hilton Head 1996


Unfortunetly time waits for no-one and the boat's existance was limited to sitting on her trailer in the Carolina elements. Bob did have the boat started and run annually, there are marina receipts from 2006 to present day of this indicating 2006 may have been the last time #1 was in the water.

In all the years with #1 sitting in a storage yard Bob never lost the vision of how important this boat was, he was determined to hang on to it. Mark jokes of his parents never arguing about anything,...except that darn boat.   When Dana and I hooked the boat up last Monday to haul her to her next adventure Mark joked again that his mom Helen finally got her wish and #1 was moving on.

In all of my excitement to be hooking the Jeep up to such a historic boat it was also a very sad moment. Mark brought his dad with him to see us off. There weren't many words exchanged but Bob walked around the boat, while I put on some fresh tires he commented on how well the graphics still looked. Again Mark joked light heartedly with me about how Dad usually doesn't remember what he had for breakfast but remembers every detail about that boat. With my own dad only a few years younger than Bob that resonated with me for the next 1200 miles home.

Mark and Bob Cleary








So as I said, the next adventure for #1 is just beginning. The boat is well used to be polite. We will be replacing the PCM engine with a period correct Y block Intercept. I haven't poked around the bilge yet but I'm anticipating doing a stringer job. What I haven't determined yet because it's below freezing here back in Illinois and I haven't washed the boat yet is whether the boat hull can be saved as it is. I had originally thought it would be a re-gel but before committing to that I am going to see if the hull can be saved as is, original faded graphics and all. She may be a survivor and if so that is how we will leave her.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote juniorwoody Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 3:04pm
Awesome piece of CC history. Got a feeling there is more coming to this story?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 8122pbrainard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 3:14pm
Can't wait for "the rest of the story"


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sampson 182 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 3:21pm
I just finished reading "Parting the Waters" by James Vincent, and was familiar with the story of the Meloon's and Leo Bentz. What the book doesn't cover is your story about Mr. Cleary, which is a terrific story. It is so cool to see what happened to that first boat as well as how its been in their family all these years. Now there is a WHOLE NEW chapter beginning. I cant wait to see all the great pics and progress on this really cool piece of Correct Craft history. Congratulations on this rare find.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SNobsessed Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 3:59pm
What a great story!   Will be a great companion to the Hurricane. Looking fwd to seeing it someday.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote peter1234 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 5:42pm
Just when i thought this site couldn't get any better ....
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote SWANY Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 5:57pm
Awesome stuff Alan! Offer always stands if you ever want help working on it, i'm glad to come by.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 8122pbrainard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 6:35pm
It's interesting that the prototype was patterned off a Higgins even having the port side helm. I wonder if the Y block was a lefty?

ATTN: Keith,
You must put a sticky on this one!!!


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lewy2001 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 6:50pm
Alan what a great story and find.

This site has been the genesis of so many amazing things.

Alan you (& ccfan) have something extremely special and it could not have found a better place......

If you're going through hell, keep going

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Smithfamily Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 7:07pm
Could not have gone to a better home Alan. I am sure you will do her justice! Congratulations and good luck!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 62 wood Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 7:25pm
Can we take a ride at Green Lake this summer?

CONGRATS! ...... Could not have found a better home!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 62 wood Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 8:26pm
Just got time to read the whole story... Wow! what a cool history !!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chevy350 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 8:30pm
Wow is all I can say..
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote dwcar Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 8:37pm
Great story Alan!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Chevy350 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 9:19pm
Besides the engine, what else isn't original?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Eether Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 9:33pm
That's just awesome!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote NCH20SKIER Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 9:44pm
This is great news. I am happy formal of us that this boat has been saved.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote 8122pbrainard Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 9:46pm
Originally posted by Chevy350 Chevy350 wrote:

Besides the engine, what else isn't original?

I'm sure Alan can speak on what he finds but I did spot the windshield and the gauges.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Luchog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 9:55pm
Great story, congratulations!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote M3Fan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 11:17pm
Wow. Amazing find. This is essentially the trump card for all future SN or CC conversations.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote LaurelLakeSkier Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 11:20pm
Great story on an amazing find Alan. Glad it was able to follow you home! We'll be anxious to see and hear updates on this latest restoration project.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Faceplant Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-01-2016 at 11:24pm
Very cool !!!!!!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote OverMyHead Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 12:30am
Wow Alan, You are my hero. You have a knack for for finding amazing boats, and then documenting them in an equally amazing way. #1 is lucky that it found you, and we are all lucky to get to share in the experience through CCfan. I look forward to the return of Sunday evening updates.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jbear Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 2:21am
this is gonna be so cool to follow.

had heard from a little birdie awhile ago something about this so was just waiting to hear for sure....couldn't be in better hands.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TRBenj Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 9:15am
The info that came with the boat is almost as cool as the boat itself! I didn't realize Leo made a dozen boats.... I wonder where the other 11 ended up. Very cool to hear the Higgins story confirmed too!

Looking forward to seeing this one done, Alan... It's in good hands.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Morfoot Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 10:21am
Still smiling that this boat ended up in the hands of a master craftsman and one who will restore it to it's former glory. Ya never know what's gonna happen when you travel a few hundred miles to a CCFan mini. That's why you have to hit s many as you can.

Great write up Alan and congrats to you and Dana for bringing her home. We all look forward to the future postings on bringing #1 back to life Dr. Frankenstein!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Riley Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 10:51am
Congrats Alan! The Cleary's should be very happy that the right people ended up with that boat.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Riley Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 10:58am
What do you think you do about a trailer? Restore what you have?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote 81nautique Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: January-02-2016 at 11:34am
Thanks everyone but I need to make a major clarification before we go any further. The credit for finding this boat goes entirely to Art Cozier. I heard about the boat while down at Greg Fossetts October CCfan gathering and instantly had interest.. I've been looking for a new project since finishing the Hurricane but nothing interesting had come along. After talking to most that knew about the boat to make I wasn't stepping on anyone's toes Art and I contacted the owners and several months later we were able to put together a deal.

I really do owe a huge debt of gratitude to Art because while talking to Mark Cleary it was obvious that Art had "sold" him on selecting Dana and I as the new owners. Mark told me he's had many offers over the years for much more money than we offered but he agreed to sell us the boat because he felt it was going to the right people and we would do the right thing with it..

We are determined to restore the boat as close to original as possible and then haul it around like we do with the Hurricane and make it available for all to enjoy. Give us a few years and you will be able experience it in it's former glory with us at as many CCfan events as we can get to. We will even throw you a rope and give you a pull.....so someone start restoring a set of Cypress Garden Water Skis now.
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