She’s Too Far Gone

(or Ugly is in the Eyes of the Beholder)
by Sherwood Heggen

Two men were at the dock looking at a beautiful Chris Craft during the annual antique and classic boat show. The decks were resplendent with brilliant chrome hardware on perfectly varnished mahogany. The upholstery was done in deep burgundy leather. “My dad had one like that,” one said. “It certainly didn’t look this good, though. The decks were warped and rotten and it leaked like a sieve.” The other asked, “Really? What did your dad do with it, burn it? “No”, the first man replied, “it just sat outside for years until my dad was offered $300 for it by some guy who said he was going to fix it up. I wonder how far he got?”

Moments later the owner of the Chris Craft at the dock stepped into his boat to finish setting up his show display. Looking back to the men at the dock, he said to the first man, “I am sure I don’t know you, but you sure look familiar.” “Well, I don’t believe we have met, but I’m told I look a lot like my dad,” the first man responded. “He had a boat just like this and sold it three years ago last March.”
“Well, it must have been your dad who sold this boat to me because that is when I bought it. What is your dad’s name?” The conversation went on to prove that truly this was the same boat that sat derelict for years until it was rescued from extinction.

What is significant about this story? It is that someone who did not understand the value and importance of preserving an old boat met up with someone who did. The happy ending of the story is that the derelict boat heading for extinction was now being admired at a show and is actively being cared for. People actually paid money to see it and the other boats that remarkably have been saved from destruction.

Gadgets and Kinks, a regular segment of The Boathouse focus on boat restoration, has been using the theme of “don’t destroy it, restore it” to put across a point. That point is that there were only so many old boats, wooden and otherwise, built during their time. When fiberglass came on the scene in the late 60’s, wooden boats were being traded in for the new “maintenance free” fiberglass models. Few wanted the leaky old things and they were piled up and burned or bulldozed into landfills. Luckily, the boat in the scenario above escaped all that and will live on for generations to come. Now, even fiberglass boats are being included in this distinction and are begging for attention.

It is easy to understand why the wood boats are destroyed. Wood rots and is considered worthless. Worthless things are destroyed.
Let’s define worthless when it refers to old wood boats. Worthless is good for nothing. If a boat has shape and form, even though it is rotten, it can be brought back. Therefore, it has value and it is not worthless. Frames, keel, and chines can be replaced. Side planks and decks can be refreshed or replaced. Engines can be rebuilt. Hardware can be re-chromed. A new ensign flag can be secured to the stern pole to wave proudly behind the old wooden boat that could have been cast off as junk. It will again bring fun into the lives of its occupants who hear the rumble of the engine and the hiss of the water shearing off the bottom. Are you understanding now? Don’t destroy it; restore it!

In Gadgets and Kinks, the usual topics are centered about “how to” and “tools of the trade” for the wanna-be and active wooden boat restorer. But if the desire, talents, and equipment to restore a wooden boat don’t exist, hopefully, this article is speaking to you.

There are various players in this process of restoration. It starts with anyone who has or knows of a boat in need of restoration. That person may not have the skills or desire to bring the boat back to operating condition, but is willing to take that first step of restoration by getting it into the hands of a caretaker who does. From that point on it is well assured the boat will continue to have life.

Right now countless old boats that have great potential for being brought back are shamefully wasting away due to neglect. They are everything from row boats to cruisers. Below is an example of derelict boat. It is in real tough shape. Nearly all of the wood will require replacement. Yet, because it has form and internal structure good for patterns, this boat will be a show boat. Thankfully, not all boats have been allowed to fall to this level of disgrace, and with your care, they won’t have to.

There are so many good boats from the past that beg for your mercy. Take an active role in their future as a restorer.

Don’t destroy it; restore it!