Alan Cowan Furth

September 16, 1922-June 11, 1993

Courtesy of Roy Dryer III.                         

A successful businessman and prolific boat collector, Alan Cowan Furth was born in Oakland, California on September 16, 1923. Alan was famous for his collection of boats, but before he was the man with a collection of over 70 boats, he was a boy tinkering with engines on his family’s orchard. The events that shaped the nation also shaped Alan’s life, and how he responded to this combination of events turned Alan Furth into a force in America’s boating community.

Alan first caught the boating bug when he and his family took a rare trip to Lake Tahoe. In the middle of the Great Depression, Alan’s family received an invitation to come up to the lake for a visit. Alan’s family didn’t have extra money for luxuries like boats or Lake Tahoe property, but happily accepted the invitation to enjoy these luxuries for a short period. Alan got his first trip on a wooden speedboat during this trip. It was during this ride in an unknown Chris-Craft that Alan decided that one day he would own a boat just like it.

Several years later, Alan found himself taking a necessary break from his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, to help fight for his country in WWII. Alan enlisted in the United States Marines in March of 1942, but didn’t actually leave for battle until several years later. Towards the end of the war, Alan served as a tank commander in the Pacific. When the war finally ended, Alan found himself in Kysushu, Japan with little to do, lots of tools, and several ruined Japanese suicide boats.

Called shinyo or “ocean shaker,” these boats carried over 500 lbs of explosives. Japanese soldiers used these 20’ boats as manned missiles against America's fleets. Overall, deployment of the shinyos proved tricky and ineffective, but the few successful attacks were devastating for the US. Their potential for destruction caused military officials to order the boats destroyed after the Japanese surrendered, but when Alan got his hands on, one he was able to use his skill with engines to bring the suicide boat back to life. In this quote from a 1992 Motor Boating & Sailing article, Alan recalls the reaction to his rebuilt shinyo: “The MPs finally cornered me in an inlet, and there followed a substantial dialogue as to whether or not I was supposed to be doing what I was doing.” The boat stayed behind after Alan was released, but the experience of rebuilding boats left a mark on him.

Alan completed his schooling and became a lawyer after his WWII service ended in 1946, but he quickly found himself drafted into the Korean War. His training as a lawyer allowed him to avoid fighting by becoming a lawyer in Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). By 1952, he earned the rank of Captain and re-entered civilian life as a lawyer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and by 1960 he bought his first boat: a 21’ Higgins.

Alan Furth with his rebuilt shinyo in Sasebo Harbor, Japan,1945.
Photos Courtesy of Virginia Furth

Between 1960 and 1993, Alan collected numerous unique and historic boats. Taking the love of boating that first developed from his ride on Lake Tahoe during the Great Depression, combined with his knowledge of motors he got from his experiences on the orchard, and his passion for bringing old boats like the Japanese Shinyo back to life, Alan became a key player in the restoration of the nation’s historic boats. In the pages of this website you will learn about some of the boats and projects Alan spent countless hours working on to preserve maritime history. "The Boats" give a brief explanation of his collecting habbits and highlights a few of those boats, and the remainder of the pages feature the Furth boats that are now part of the Tahoe Maritime Museum's Collection.