Jack Stevens had kept an eye on the boat for years; it was a little Chris-Craft day boat that belonged to the general manager of the golf course where he once worked. In fact, he’d offered his advice and skills in restoring the classic wooden boat. “I had the pleasure of using the vessel while he owned it,” says Stevens, 47, a sales manager from Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He also had the chance to buy it once or twice, but the timing was never quite right — until a few years ago.
The two met again, played golf and talked about the boat, and Stevens expressed his interest. “He told me he would be over on the weekend with the boat in tow,” Stevens says. “He showed up at my home with the boat, trailer and title. He said, ‘I know how much you like this boat and that you will take good care of it’ and left without taking so much as one dollar for her. I have been forever grateful and will always do my best to keep her in the best condition I can in appreciation for his generosity.”
Gypsy VIII is a 26-foot Chris-Craft Semi-Enclosed model, built in 1955, a rare type in the classic-boat world. “It has beautiful features and great lines and the open cockpit allows for easy movement at full capacity,” Stevens says. “Country singer Alan Jackson owns a fully restored version of this boat called Flat Top and it wins ‘best party boat’ wherever it goes.”
SPECIFICATIONS LOA: 25 feet, 10 inches BEAM: 8 feet, 1 inch DRAFT: 22 inches WEIGHT: 4,000 pounds HULL TYPE: semidisplacement PROPULSION: single gas inboard, 95 hp and up FUEL CAPACITY: 36 gallons
The wooden boat had been out of the water for three seasons, and the cosmetics showed the typical wear; flaking brightwork, some dry rot here and there. But the engine was good and the structure solid. “I wanted to bring her back to show her beauty, charm and elegance,” says Stevens. And so a five-year project began.
Stevens, working in a hoop shed next to his house, went through the boat “from stem to stern and top to bottom.” He fiberglassed the hardtop and made panels for the underside, covered with marine-grade vinyl. A new original bow hatch replaced the old, the bronze hardware was rechromed and the woodwork stripped, stained and varnished. “I put countless hours of research into making her as complete as she would have been from the factory,” says Stevens. “All the pieces I added are from original models and the proper time period.”
Stevens did the work, drawing on the skills he learned working at Pilot’s Point Marina in Westbrook, Connecticut. “With the encouragement from my grandfather, I started there after high school, hauling boats and [getting into] boat refinishing, Awlgrip, gelcoat and varnish,” says Stevens.
He had a mentor in sailor and ex-boat captain Brian Lenahan. “Under Brian’s tutelage I learned all aspects of marine carpentry and fabrication. Brian and I worked on America’s Cup vessels and custom racing sailboat designs and even spent three months abroad in Greece rebuilding the interior of a 72-foot Italian cruiser.”
Along with the restoration came upgrades; folding cockpit steps and a swim platform. “[That’s] the most valuable and useful addition,” he says. “It allows us play time in the water wherever we go, with easy entrance back into the boat.”
Stevens figures he spends “easily a couple hundred hours” during the year in seasonal maintenance. “The expense in materials usually is a thousand or two by the time you do everything from varnish, paint, bottom paint and zincs, especially if you are upgrading things.”
The payoff comes when he and his wife are out on Gypsy VIII with friends and family or maybe a business client, day-tripping up the Connecticut River to Hamburg Cove and Selden’s Creek or taking a sunset cruise. Destinations on Long Island Sound include Duck Island and Clinton Harbor, along with Niantic Bay. “When we are on Gypsy VIII, every day is a special occasion,” Stevens says.
Power comes from a vintage Chris-Craft gas engine, the 6-cylinder, 95-hp KL model, “old, but probably not the original,” says Stevens. The boat cruises easily at about 17 knots, running from 2,800 to 3,000 rpm. “Her fuel consumption is hard to gauge, as we are almost always running with a full crew, so her efficiency suffers,” he says. “Michelle and I do chuckle that we probably spend more on cheese platters and wine than we ever do on fuel.”
The name Gypsy VIII harkens back to Stevens’ grandfather, Jack Miserocchi, who stirred his initial interest in boats. “He owned the first seven Gypsies,” Stevens says. “I was a first mate as a young boy, working on his Luhrs 32 doing weekend charter fishing.”
“He passed before I got this boat, but I know it would have made him very proud,” Stevens says. “Every time I go out on Gypsy VIII, I tell him I love him and thank him for the experience on the water that he gave me.”
The Chris-Craft 26 Semi-Enclosed is a good example of the new fleet of postwar family boats produced by America’s most prolific builder. The open cockpit and helm area were designed as a single space, in contrast to the divided seating areas of double- and triple-cockpit boats of the 1920s and 1930s. The hardtop provided weather and sun protection, the windshield panels could be raised for ventilation and the sliding side windows were reminiscent of an automobile’s. The single inboard was housed under a cockpit engine box, which could double as a table. An upholstered seat stretched across the transom. The helm station is on the starboard side (with a companion seat to port), laid out with a small instrument panel and a stylish modern wheel. The 26 Semi-Enclosed has a flush deck, which provides a small, low cabin forward, with room for a bunk, that’s handy for small children. It’s also a useful area for storage, and there’s space enough for a portable toilet. The cabin is well ventilated by a round hatch in the foredeck. The high freeboard and many handholds help make it a safe boat for youngsters.
Chris-Craft was ready when World War II ended, offering a fleet of newly designed family boats for a public eager to get out on the water. The designs were sporty, fishing- and family-friendly, ranging from small runabouts to cabin cruisers, and were even offered as kit boats. The 26 Semi-Enclosed, which debuted in the late 1940s, was a popular entry-level model, thanks to its economical single engine, open cockpit and small cabin.
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue.