Restoration of the “Weirdest Boat”

by Gary Baker

Last November, I traveled to New Hampshire to pick up our newest boat, a 1933 22’ Cruiser purchased on eBay. Upon returning, my first step was to empty the boat of its contents to see what I had bought. The sight-unseen purchase, inherent in an eBay acquisition, makes careful pre-purchase inspection impractical. Looking back, I could not have imagined I would be so lucky–or prophetic. While the December 2001 issue of The BoatHouse chronicled the original purchase and trip back to Iowa, I enthusiastically ended the article noting the boat would be a “strong candidate for weirdest boat at the 2003 BSLOL Rendezvous.” Little did I realize that cute little tag line would come back to haunt me this year at Treasure Island.

Given that my “boatyard” doubles as my backyard, boat restorations at the Bakers’ usually involve a complete disassembly process, using as much of the original material as possible and a user-boat reassembly. Although out of the water for over 30 years, what was left after a thorough cleaning and vacuuming was more than I would have ever expected. The 22 foot yellow-pine-over-oak hull was rot-free and not past salvaging for a painted boat. A “new” 12 foot x ¾ inch plywood bottom had been fabricated and installed nearly 25 years ago but never finished. The engine had apparently been removed for the bottom restoration and re-installed ready to run. Inside was a full complement of hardware and other parts, including the old wooden windshield and hardtop that was only suitable for patterns.

After nine months of off and on work, I was able to restore this boat to the condition as pictured and shown at the 2002 Rendezvous. The photo above shows the parts of the boat that were re-used after eliminating what was too weathered to re-use. Although rot-free, there was significant weathering on the hull and topsides. Rebuilding the windshield and top (67 individual pieces), farming out some engine welding, polishing hardware, and other repairs occupied most of the winter. Warmer days were spent with a heat gun stripping the interior and inner hull of 70-year paint buildup. All surfaces – inside and out — had a layer of gray paint close to the oldest layer, lending credence to the previous owner’s claim that the Coast Guard had used the boat on Lake Champlain during WWII.

As warmer weather approached, the number of finishing tasks multiplied. CPES on the outer hull, heat-assisted cleaning out of all old caulk from the seams, and finally, primer and paint started the process. CPES on the inner hull was applied, primed and painted pearl gray — the least objectionable of its many old color schemes. New canvas was installed on the deck, going on nicely over remnants of the tar and roofing felt that once covered it. Then the newly-constructed hardtop was added. Several conversations with Jamestown Distributing resulted in cotton twine, cotton batting, and “caulking in a can” for the side seams. Original interior cushions were sent off to be reupholstered in more of the pearl gray canvas. A new wiring harness was fabricated from braided harness material plus wire fish tape, and installed according to the reprint of the original engine manual obtained from Andrew Menkart at On and on, a little at a time, things came together for the finished boat.

Working on a 1930’s painted boat, and a workboat at that, has an entirely different feel from working on a mahogany runabout. There is a level of finish that would be inappropriate to a varnished boat, yet perfectly natural in an old painted boat. Gouges in the hull can be filled and smoothed, but not so much as to obscure the honest weathering of the planks that creates the character and patina of a 70-year-old boat. Old screw holes can be filled. Split planks can be epoxied, puttied, and re-used. Those that are too weathered can be re-sawn to replace pieces in other areas. The very worst become patterns for new pieces. Under the canvas are tongue-and-grooved seams that obviously show through underneath the new paint, but are somehow correct and proper on this boat.

Working alone gives you lots of time to get up close and personal to your work. For the majority of the restoration, I was working on a brown boat. Not a nice brown, but a nasty, old, splotchy, and mottled brown. One quick day of painting after all the prep, and my brown boat was gone, replaced by a white boat. Sounds simple enough, but it took several weeks for the brown boat to fade mentally and the white one to take its place. The transformation happened again after adding canvas decks and painting them green. My white boat became a green and white boat, again changing its character completely. Adding the windshield and top transformed it into a smallish New England fishing boat, replacing my mental picture of a sleek white-sided cruiser. The last and best phase was seeing the boat sitting on the trailer after its first in-water test in 30 years.

I knew that I would make it to Red Wing the next day as an in-water boat rather than a trailered boat.

As the transformation was taking shape, I was also faced with naming her. Kathy stated that she needed to see the completed project, but thought a name might just occur to me as I continued to work on the boat. Mulling over its varied history and one of its previous owners, the noted East Coast Naturalist John Noga, we bantered about several ideas until the name “All Clear” surfaced. Not only did this encompass several aspects of the boat’s past, but as we leave our harbor to boat out into the main lake through a narrow channel, Kathy says, “all clear” to indicate a clear channel, and its homeport is now Clear Lake, IA. We fancifully envision its usage by the Coast Guard during WWII patrolling Lake Champlain – and thus the name. Plus, “All Clear” fits well on the narrow transom split by the odd outboard rudder.

The finished product was certainly worth the effort. Kathy and I had more fun at the 2002 Rendezvous than any other, just sitting on the boat talking to the people that stopped by for a chat. My little cruiser was a people magnet. For the first time in my Rendezvous experience, people actually walked down the dock to see the whole boat, peeking into the interior at the cast iron sink and old-time hand pump. Of the boats in the water, it certainly struck a cord of interest — as well as nostalgia — with many of the show attendees. To our delight, we must have told our story a hundred times. It more than validated my thoughts of the boat’s potential on the long trip back to Iowa last Thanksgiving, later events notwithstanding.

All things considered, it should have been no surprise to win the Weirdest Boat award at the 2002 Rendezvous. As I remember it, the last three Rendezvous winners were the fiberglass Dorsett (whose owner’s wife almost didn’t let him come back after winning the dubious honor in 2001), the two-toned pink aluminum mail boat in1999, and that guy with the airboat in 2000. By our count, we received 210 comments about the “cute boat”, 76 about the “cool boat”, 56 “great boats” and of course, one “Weirdest Boat.” Coming from Dr. Bob and the judges though, that is high-praise indeed, and a prophecy fulfilled. The next boat I buy I’ll be more careful about an award I predict. The entire restoration is documented at: