(or Who Told You This Was Going to be Easy)
by Sherwood Heggen
In reading about restoring boats in various publications, the Boathouse included, there seems to be a quiet false message about the task described that says ‘this is a job anyone could do’. This offering of Gadgets and Kinks is going to come from a little different direction. The theme is still DON’T DESTROY IT; RESTORE IT, but this is intended to be a reality check before you dive into restoring a boat. Hang on! This ain’t gonna be pretty, but it should be said!
Let’s pretend that you have a runabout you believe needs a strip, stain, and varnish job. You find the varnish peeling and looking kind of yellow at the butt joint on the covering board by the windshield. You strip the varnish off the entire boat and during the stripping, your putty knife digs into some real punky wood at that butt joint on the covering board. You found some more soft wood at the chine plank butt joint. You pull the bad boards and discover that the rot on the surface was merely a hint of what you find below. The additional bad news is that the battens under the covering boards are a funny white color. Your screw driver can dig chunks of wood out of them so it is obvious they need replacing. Come to think of it you saw some yellowish varnish around the seams of the deck planks. You dig out the brittle caulking from the live seam and drive an ice pick between the boards. The ice pick doesn’t meet much resistance and your heart sinks. The battens are rotten and need replacing. That means pulling the deck planks! You check out the chine under the rotted chine plank, and yup, it’s rotten too.
Now you have your boat partially torn apart. The task’s completion day has moved farther away because these problems can not be ignored. What battles and experiences are you going to have to get this beauty shipshape. If you are handy with woodworking tools and have a place to work undisturbed, the problems described can take a hobbiest restorer three years of effort and at least hundreds of dollars to overcome.
If the chines are rotted out on a Chris Craft, the bottom boards need to be removed to get at them. This involves turning the boat over after you gut the boat of interior and engine. Did you know that a K block weighs at least 660 pounds? It takes a sturdy engine lift to pull the engine and a place to store it while the boat is being restored for the next three years.You won’t believe how much space seats, motor box, and other interior parts can take up in the basement of your house. Rolling the boat over isn’t that big of a deal as long as you have properly prepared the hull with bracing that you bought in the form of 2×4’s at the lumber yard. You do have enough help to roll the boat over, don’t you?
With the boat rolled over, the fun has just begun. Finding and removing hundreds of stubborn screws will be a real test to your vision and enthusiasm of seeing a finished product. Once you get the bottom planks removed, do you have room to store them. Frustration and disappointment regarding all of these issues can creep in pretty easily unless you know why you are there.
The process of making new parts seems rather simple. But that is after you have gone to the lumberyard, found the proper size boards, planed them to proper thickness, paid for them, and hauled them home. Do you have a vehicle that can haul a dozen 12 foot long boards safely? Do you have the tools to properly bring a board to proper shape?
Doing woodwork of this magnitude can create an immense amount of dust and chips.Your body must be able to tolerate a dusty environment regardless of the masks, safety goggles, and ventilation. There is a likely chance you will be picking wood chips out of your underwear after a big day in the shop. Are you sensitive to the drying effect wood has on your hands and body or its effect on your lungs? Then, sanding is going to be a challenge because when sanding your project, there is no total control of the dust created.
The physical exercise from restoring a boat must also be considered. A considerable amount of stooping, climbing, bending, stretching, lifting, twisting, pushing, and pulling can be very strenuous on your body. Moving lumber around can challenge the strong and the healthy. Many boat parts are long and clumsy to move when working alone, which is often the case. Even though electric hand tools are excellent labor saving devices, they still require muscle to make them work. If your muscles aren’t sore after a day’s work, you must have been thinking all day.
Also, plan on destroying some clothes as part of the restoration process. Shirts get torn by who knows what, jeans get the knees worn thin, and shoes get really ratty looking. WEST System, 3M 5200, and varnish become part of the weave in your clothes forever and you learn to undress next to the washing machine to localize the dirt when you come in from the shop.
This isn’t to scare anyone away from restoring a boat, but it is a caution to understand the challenge and effort it takes to complete a restoration. Know your limits before you tackle any project and work to them or a little beyond to better yourself. Life will be a lot happier in the long run. The rewards are many and satisfying, making the effort very worthwhile.
As a BSLOL member, if you have any questions regarding a restoration project you are invited to call the BSLOL Hotline or my direct home #432-4345. Either way, someone will be there to answer your questions or direct you to someone who can. If you don’t feel up to the restoration, be a good caretaker of your boat and get it into the hands of someone who can properly bring the boat back to its original grace and dignity. There are those among us whose profession is to make you look good in your woodie. Look them up and give them a try. Let’s keep these great old boats afloat for the next generation of woodie lovers.