Starting Over - Part 1

Bringing an old boat back to life takes time.

And imagination.

And money.

When done well, the money and the time are quickly forgotten.

After all, it's a boat.

Renovating a boat isn't about the money it costs as much as it's about reaching into the past and saying "it still works...sorta." But the money part comes up pretty soon thereafter.

Boat renovations are taking place all over the country. It's happening in garages, in warehouses, in boat yards, on trailers, on jacks, from trees and to a (hopefully) lesser extent, on kitchen tables. For the next three issues of BoatUS Trailering, we're going to watch the renovation of a 1970 18-foot Sutphen Gran Sport ski boat powered by a 318 Chrysler with a Volvo outdrive. The boat is owned by the family of BoatUS Trailering's Associate Publisher Beth McCann. Her husband, Bob, says the idea of refurbishing the 38-year old boat had its start during a reflective moment a few months ago.

"I was remembering my first ride in the boat back in Massachusetts where I grew up and thinking 'Yes, this is what I want to do!'" he recalls. "My wife and I are hopeful this same boat will provide that same genuine excitement for our own children."

The first question that has to be asked isn't, of course, about money, but "Why"?

Bob McCann: This boat has had more lives than a cat. It's been in my family since 1971. My father owned it and I remember how it sank at a dock on Buttermilk Bay on Cape Cod, Massachusetts after being left uncovered as a huge severe thunderstorm rolled through. It sank and wasn't brought back to the surface for more than a week. But we got it running with no problem and that's how I knew this boat was something that connected me to something bigger.

After being used by my family to tour Boston Harbor, it was trailered to Florida and my dad and his wife made a few trips to the Keys. He gave it to Beth and I as a wedding present. It's been trailered from Massachusetts to Chicago to Virginia and, most recently, to Florida where it was parked under a tree. Hurricanes Wilma and Frances knocked down the trees it was under and in both storms, the boat was untouched. It sat for two years. After much too long, I pulled the cover off the Sutphen one day and realized I had sinned and let that old boat go to hell. I was mortified! Well, anyone with half a brain would have sold it and hoped someone else would have as much fun as I had over the years with the old Sutphen. Then I got to thinking, a little paint, upholstery, some engine work and an addition to the garage and all would be right with the world (and I realized the old man would be very disappointed if I sold it).

The second question to be asked is "Who?"

Bob McCann: Word of mouth is a big factor. We had a larger boat at a dock, a 34 Wellcraft, (which is why the Sutphen sat on a trailer for so long), that needed some mechanical work.

So we asked fellow boaters for recommendations and one company stood out when it came to doing good work. The repairs were made and we had a relationship with the company, Supreme Marine, and were familiar with their boatyard. But having a relationship isn't always the only factor to be considered: Seeing the work performed is just as important. We had seen other renovated boats in their yard and were impressed. My advice is to take the time to get a number of quotes from potential boatyards and keep in mind that the lowest price never guarantees the best quality work.

So I invited Tony from Supreme to come out and take a look and give me an estimate. He was very thorough, looking at areas of the boat I would have never guessed had any bearing on whether the boat floats, runs, idles, or as had been the case of late, sits properly on a trailer. Tony knew what he was doing. He even called in people he would be using for the work he wasn't going to do himself, (i.e. upholstery), and got quotes from them for the job. He looked at the engine and saw the proverbial white powder that indicates pitting from corrosion. We came up with a plan for the first stage, second stage and so on, as well as an anticipated completion date.

Note: Always have a completion date in any agreement. Sometimes you can get a discount if the date is missed. At the same time, understand that weather can be a factor if the work is done outside (or in Florida, it's always a factor during hurricane season even if the boat is inside and the job is put on hold to deal with securing and protecting other boats).

The third question to be asked is "How much?"

Bob McCann: He gave me an estimate followed by a warning: "As we take this boat apart, we may find other things." I said "Yeah, sure, OK, no problem." We had a deal and I knew I had pleased the Boat Gods by following through with this idea to rebuild. In fact, my wife and I began thinking about how cool it was going to be to pass this boat through generations (we have two daughters ages 14 and 11). That's when the phone rang. It was Tony. "I think we have a little transom rot." I started hoping I had misheard his warning about "finding other things" and that he had actually said "thing," meaning singular. 

Read Starting Over, Part 2

Read Starting Over, Part 3

This article was published in Trailering Magazine.


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