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Renewal comes in a refit

The economics - and the enjoyment - of overhauling his 21-year-old Mako appealed to this boat owner more than buying new

Though new-boat prices have softened during the recession, some boaters still aren't comfortable laying down big money for a new vessel in a struggling economy.

For about half the cost of buying new, Jim Spalt turned his 1989 Mako 261 into a like-new boat with the latest equipment.

Count Jim Spalt among them.

Rather than spend $100,000 on a new center console in the 25- to 28-foot range for fishing and day cruising, Spalt spent about half that to overhaul his 1989 Mako 261 named Dauntless. A Yamaha F350 4-stroke, which replaced a pair of 200-hp Yamaha 2-strokes, accounted for nearly half of the renovation cost.

"Ask yourself what you get for 55 grand new today, and you don't get a 26-footer with a 350-hp 4-stroke, electronics, hardtop," says Spalt, 57, a home builder from Barnstable, Mass. "You just don't get that. Everything on my boat is new."

The addition of a custom Armstrong engine bracket to the Mako freed up space in the cockpit and created new storage areas. The bracket became part of the hull's running surface, mimicking its shape along the centerline and stretching the overall length from 26 to 29 feet, resulting in improved performance.

"It's twice the ride that we used to get out of the boat," says Spalt, whose Mako has an 8-foot, 6-inch beam and a 23-degree transom deadrise. "I was in probably 3- to 4-foot seas and going about 25, maybe 28 knots, and I wasn't getting a pound - there was no pound. It was very gentle, and it rode right on its tail, so that was a huge improvement in ride."

The stem-to-stern project included modifications to the helm.

In addition to adding the bracket-mounted engine, the project included installing a hardtop and replacing the fuel tank, hardware and electronics. Spalt hired his brother-in-law, Joe Gallagher, owner of Three Harbors Marine in Chatham, Mass., to perform the refit. Gallagher, who has known Spalt for decades, used to maintain a fleet of boats in a commercial fishing business Spalt operated in the 1980s and '90s "There were no discounts involved because he is my brother-in-law," says Spalt. "The cost is the real cost."

The 1989 Mako hull was in good condition, so it was a good candidate for a refit, but the 2-stroke outboards had to go. "The 2-strokes were probably not maintained well by the previous owner," says Spalt, who bought the boat in 1999. "They never really ran right, and then when ethanol was introduced into the gasoline, we started to have real problems. With the 4-stroke it's more of a turnkey situation. I can go down to the boat with my family and not worry about it starting and not running right."

The 4-stroke setup, which includes electronic throttle and shift and power-assist steering, consumes much less fuel than the twin 2-strokes, says Spalt. "When I used to cruise, I would be burning 25 or 26 gallons per hour at around 30 knots," he says. At about 26 knots, he says, the Yamaha burns 10.2 gph.

This photo shows the boat in its original incarnation.

"That's tremendous fuel economy," says Spalt. "It has exceeded what we thought it would do. And I don't have to buy 2-stroke oil." Top speed exceeds 46 mph. The Mako topped out at 44 mph with the 2-strokes.

The Yamaha F350, a V8 with a displacement of 325 cubic inches, is the heaviest outboard on the market. But the twin 200-hp Yamaha 2-strokes weighed a combined 870 pounds, and the new power weighs roughly 70 pounds less, says Spalt.

Though the weight of the 4-stroke wasn't a problem, its placement farther aft, due to the bracket, was a concern. "Because of the cantilever effect, I thought that it would float much lower in the water," says Gallagher. "But to my surprise, because of the positive buoyancy of the bracket, the boat ended up floating about an inch higher." The aluminum bracket is hollow, which helps provide buoyancy, he notes.

Gallagher hired a local fiberglass shop to replace Dauntless' wood-cored transom with epoxy-coated marine plywood and reglass the structure. However, he took care of the most difficult and involved part of the project himself: replacing the aluminum fuel tank. "[The tank] was filled with sludge, ethanol and water," says Spalt.

Removing the 20-year-old tank, installed on centerline under the cockpit sole, was no simple task, because it was bonded in place with adhesive foam. "I tried different methods of removal," says Gallagher. "In the end I had to just get in there with my Sawzall and cut it out chunk by chunk."

The job took 40 hours. "Once we got the tank out of the boat, we realized the existing hull was a better hull than any new hull its size on the market," says Spalt. That's when they decided to keep the Mako and "do a complete facelift, from stem to stern."

The entire project took around 200 hours, says Gallagher, starting in August 2009 and finishing in late December. Spalt sealed the deal with a new twin-axle trailer for his Mako, which Gallagher hauled to Florida for the winter.

Gallagher ran the boat through its shakedown, logging 20 hours around the Keys and other areas. Returning to Cudjoe Key after fishing near the Dry Tortugas, Gallagher and two friends ran into 4-foot seas. "It was just like a Nantucket Sound chop," says Gallagher. "The wind was running against the Gulf Stream. I had it planed off at about 14 knots, and it didn't have a problem at all. We were still making good headway, staying on plane. It was comfortable for the people on board."

After the shakedown, Spalt traveled to Florida to drive his "new" boat. "The ride that we get with the bracket is phenomenal," he says.

It was just enough to whet his appetite, and Spalt is itching to get back to his boat, which he'll have on Cape Cod for summer. "It's in Jupiter [Fla.] just waiting for me," says Spalt, who enjoys boating on Nantucket Sound with his wife, Kristen, and their seven kids, ages 11 to 24.

"It has been a family boat," he says. "We fish out of it. We go on picnics. We take it out around Monomoy and Nantucket Sound and fish the rips."

With its freshly painted Corinthian blue hull and prominent outboard, Dauntless should get plenty of second looks this summer. "I think it's a good-looking boat," says Spalt. "When people see it I think they'll say, 'Hey, where can I get one of those?' "

Work list

  • stripped the hull, primed and painted interior and exterior with Awlgrip
  • applied non-skid to entire deck
  • replaced aluminum fuel tank with new 200-gallon aluminum fuel tank
  • installed new aluminum Armstrong engine bracket
  • replaced twin 2-strokes with new Yamaha F350


  • new electronics, gauges, controls
  • installed mahogany console insert to mount controls
  • new chrome hardware and navigation lights
  • custom console curtains
  • installed aluminum T-top with rod holders
  • color-coordinated name (Dauntless), boot stripe and topsides

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue.