It took most of a lifetime, but Tom Hannon finally got the Chris-Craft he always wanted
Tom Hannon had time on his hands, and he was thinking about boats, specifically a runabout for himself, wife Mary Ann, and their grown kids and grandkids. While he was shopping around and pondering the “right” boat, nostalgia took over. His mind kept returning to childhood memories of summer days spent aboard a wooden 16-foot, late 1950s-era Chris-Craft Holiday owned by his father’s friend, who vacationed with the family.
Hannon’s dad would take the clan to 1,200-acre Lake James, tucked away in the northeast corner of Indiana, where they would summer at a beachfront cabin. “We were on that boat all summer. It was bright; it was shiny. I was 11 or 12 years old, and that was basically when I fell in love with Chris-Crafts,” Hannon, 72, recalls. The Indiana native and retired firefighter now resides in Baltic, Connecticut, but the Hannon family still gathers each summer at the lake.
Of course, that old wooden boat is long gone, so Hannon opted to find a classic Chris-Craft and have it restored: a 20-foot, 1965 Chris-Craft Corsair in Connecticut with its original Buick V-6 engine and OMC C-Drive. “The guy I bought it from said he’d had it four or five years and just used it for fishing — and that he didn’t take really take good care of it,” Hannon says. “He said, ‘It is what it is,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I can see that.’ ” Hannon bought the boat for $2,000 and believes he is the third or fourth owner.
The Corsair line was born in 1962, when Chris-Craft bought the Thompson Boat Co. of New York and used its plant in Cortland, New York, to launch a fiberglass line. By the late ’60s the model name was changed to Lancer.
Hannon says that in his research he’s found fewer than 20 Corsairs of his make and model year still in existence, and he takes great pride in that. “I remember as a kid saying, ‘Someday I’m going to have one,’ ” he says of the now classic Chris-Crafts. “It only took about 50 years to finally come up with my own.”
THE LONG WAY AROUND
Hannon purchased his Corsair in 2009, remembering the fun he’d had as a child. After a good cleaning and a few cosmetic touch-ups over the winter, he and Mary Ann took the boat out on the upper Thames River in Norwich, Connecticut. “We took it out a few times. We had to get towed back to the dock once,” he says.
Later during that 2010 season, he returned to Lake James, this time with his own Chris-Craft in tow. “We took it to Indiana with the kids that first summer, and on the first trip out, the boat died,” Hannon says. “I told my wife, ‘If we’re going to keep the boat, we need to fix it up.’ ”
Back in Connecticut, Hannon spoke with a few boatyards on Long Island Sound before recruiting Fred Williams, a marine mechanic at Pine Island Marina in Groton. “I’m good for doing minor woodworking and sanding, but I hadn’t really been around boats other than to go out on one and have fun,” Hannon says.
He and Williams started with the wood decking and framing. Hannon bought marine-grade plywood and began sanding and varnishing the wood at home, while Williams worked on the interior at his boatyard. The job was barely underway when Williams became ill and was unable to work on the boat. Hannon had a broken-down Corsair and no one to restore it.
“At that point, frustration and impatience was setting in,” he says. Williams steered Hannon to Erik Klockars, a marine mechanic and marina manager based in nearby Niantic. (Klockars is also a technical consultant for Soundings.) Klockars, in turn, recommended Kieran Day, owner of Sweetwater Boatworks in New London, which specializes in restorations.
The Chris-Craft Corsair restoration finally began in December 2011 at Day’s shop on the Thames River waterfront. During the ensuing three years, the boat was brought back to Sweetwater for multiple phases of the restoration. Over the course of 1,000 labor hours and thousands of dollars — not to mention blood, sweat and tears — Hannon would learn a lot about the trials and tribulations of a restoration project.
CALLING IN THE PROS
Day opened Sweetwater Boatworks in 2001 with a focus on wooden boat restoration and repair. He was trained at The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, and went on to apprentice with a master carpenter in Italy. He then worked with the craftsmen at St. Paul Shipwrights, a restoration shop in St. Paul, Minnesota, that focuses on mahogany runabouts.
Although Day concentrates on wooden vessels, he sometimes picks a job because he simply likes the boat, which was the case with Hannon’s Corsair. Day’s no-compromise process is the same whether the boat is wood or fiberglass: a museum-quality restoration using the finest materials available.
Hannon had originally hoped to defray the costs of the project by assisting, but the shop’s insurance policy prohibited that. Instead, he contented himself with monitoring the restoration by visiting Sweetwater several times a week. “Our biggest challenge is not quality or what we do. It’s getting our client to understand what the vessel needs and what they’re in for before we even start the job,” Day says. “Having a good relationship with a client is essential.”
Hannon wanted Klockars to replace the engine, and Klockars suggested a MerCruiser 4.3-liter SeaCore V-6 after discussions with Hannon about how he planned to use the boat. The fuel-injected gas sterndrive delivers about 100 more horses and about 15 mph more (up to 45 mph) than the original engine. “Erik and I decided on the MerCruiser SeaCore, based on my hopes to use the boat to take the kids out for skiing and tubing,” Hannon says. “Erik determined that the original engine would have to be totally rebuilt, so it just made economic sense to buy new.”
When the Corsair arrived at Day’s shop, structural issues were quickly identified. The original engine was transom-mounted, and the fuel tank had been integrated with no structural support. “That’s when I got concerned about the lack of support along and just below the waterline,” Day says. “There wasn’t a lot of longitudinal strength. To support such a dramatic power change, the engine stringers had to be redesigned and fabricated. The energy from the engine had to be transferred throughout the entire vessel.”
The engine and fuel tank were removed, and Day and Scott Allen, a subcontractor who specializes in systems, installed bulkheads and an engine bed. A new 30-gallon fuel tank coated with Rhino Lining was mounted on a quarter-inch of neoprene to isolate it from the wood. They enhanced the original flotation with a pourable two-part foam in the bilge, which had the added benefit of strengthening the stringer system and dampening noise.
New decking was next. They used high-grade marine plywood with two coats of West System epoxy resin and two coats of 2000E Interlux barrier coat with epoxy resin primer. “We brushed two coats anywhere that might encounter standing water,” Day says. A coating of Interlux Bilge Kote further protects the wood. The brightwork was finished with Epifanes varnish.
The fiberboard hull ceilings were replaced with mahogany to give it a classic look. “We think about the boat 50 years down the line. That’s the way we do it with wooden boats; fiberglass is treated no differently,” Day says. “And when we engineer something, we think about who’s going to take it apart.”
The Sweetwater crew designed several built-in hatches as part of the structure to allow access for maintenance and future system upgrades.
It was agreed that a simple helm was appropriate both aesthetically and for Hannon’s planned use. Seven analog gauges were installed in the dash: tachometer, speedometer, oil pressure, water temperature, fuel level, trim and engine hours. All of the original anodized aluminum hardware was rechromed and reinstalled.
PREPARE FOR LAUNCH
Hannon had hoped to have his boat back in the water for the 2012 season, but as the project developed, he continued to have Sweetwater do additional work, realizing he was in deep and might as well have the restoration done right. During his weekly visits to the shop, he could see his boat taking its final shape. “At that point, I’m starting to get excited because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.
In December 2013, the long-awaited day had come to launch the boat and take her through sea trials. “It rode great, outpacing the chase boat with the new, powerful engine,” says Hannon. He brought his Chris-Craft home and spent the winter months deciding what the next phase of the project should be.
In the spring of 2014, he brought her back to Sweetwater for the finishing touches, including classic mahogany helm and companion seats to match the interior and a fold-out transom seat. Andy’s Trim Shop in New London, Connecticut, did the upholstery work — 3-inch foam covered in white vinyl with red piping to match the hull color.
In June 2014, after more sea trials and minor adjustments by Day and Klockars, Hannon finally had his boat. He named it Our Time as a nod to turning his dream of owning a classic Chris-Craft into reality. He hitched the trailer to his truck and brought Our Time home.
In July, the Hannons trailered the boat to Indiana for a special homecoming on Lake James. “Boy, she looked great tied out back at the dock,” Hannon says.
A stream of admiring comments follows in his wake whenever he takes Our Time out. “It gets looks every time,” he says. “Even in 2009, before any work was done, people were telling me, ‘That’s a good-looking boat,’ and I said, ‘Just wait until you see it when I’m done with it.’ It makes you feel really good when someone is talking about your boat.”
Out on the water last summer with his three adult sons, Hannon told them the arduous undertaking was about more than fulfilling his childhood wish. “This is what this whole project is all about, I told them. Yes, it has something to do with me, but it’s also about you, your kids and grandkids,” he says. “They will have this boat for the rest of your lives. It’s about building memories, and now they’re building memories on the lake I was raised on.” Three generations of Hannons spent 10 days on the lake last summer — skiing, fishing, swimming, relaxing. It was a routine that never grew old.
Back in Connecticut, Hannon and Williams entered Our Time in a restoration competition at the Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous held annually in July at Mystic Seaport. To Hannon’s delight, Our Time won the inaugural, and appropriately named, Lazarus Award. “That’s the only time it’s ever been shown,” he says. “I was surprised, happy and excited. It was just another reason that made the process totally worthwhile.”
Our Time spent last winter stored inside, protected from the elements. Now Hannon’s 50-year-old Chris-Craft Corsair is ready for a new season. “It won’t be long now before we’re back on the water,” he says proudly. “And I can’t wait.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.