Roger DeVries had put significant sweat equity into his 1974 Sea Ray, replacing the transom, deck and stringers and installing a new exhaust manifold on the runabout's 155-hp MerCruiser I/O. He had given the boat the foundation for a new life.
"The boat was not in horrible shape," says DeVries, 62, of Wyoming, Mich., who had acquired the bowrider three years earlier. "It was structurally sound by the time I got finished with it."
Even so, the 19-foot SRV 190 was a cosmetic and mechanical nightmare, with outdated wiring and engine and steering controls, dilapidated upholstery and a thoroughly oxidized gelcoat. And the vessel sat on a rust bucket of a trailer that barely made it to the launch ramp. The retired locomotive engineer's boating days with his sons and their families weren't exactly worry-free.
"We had it in the water a couple times last summer, and it was good enough to get out there," says Lisa DeVries, 28, who is married to DeVries' eldest son Nick, 28. But something always needed to be fixed, she recalls.
So when Lisa DeVries heard an announcement on the radio seeking contestants for an extreme boat makeover contest, she thought her father-in-law would have a good shot at winning.
The contest, held by Action Water Sports of Hudsonville, Mich., would award a $10,000 refit to the owner of a boat who was a military veteran or a person with special physical needs. The boat had to be 25 feet or smaller and in working condition.
Lisa DeVries' entry letter explained that Roger DeVries was a Vietnam-era veteran who lacked the time to complete the refit of his Sea Ray because he was constantly helping others. Nicknamed "The Doctor," DeVries has fixed everything for friends and family, including Lisa DeVries' car on more than one occasion. And, she wrote, he was the father of three sons who were currently in the military. One son, Adam, 24, was in Iraq for his second tour, and the two others - Nick and Jeremy, 25 - were scheduled to ship out in spring 2011.
The contest was a close one, with about 40 entrants who could have won. Roger DeVries and his family were selected, but that's just the beginning of the story. In snowballing fashion, marine businesses jumped aboard with Action Water Sports and helped turn the $10,000 refit into a nearly $29,000 overhaul.
"It looks like they stripped that thing down to nothing and rebuilt it," says Roger DeVries, who had traded a 13-foot aluminum boat with a 30-hp Johnson for the Sea Ray. "It looks like a brand-new boat. I'm just delighted."
DeVries didn't know he had won the contest - or even that he was an entrant - until the day his name was called in February at the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Boat Show. The rest of the family had been told just after Christmas, and for nearly two months the DeVries clan kept it a secret.
Luckily, the boat was in storage in a barn at a friend's home, so the family had no problem hauling it to the dealer (other than the threat of the trailer falling apart) so the work could be done. And because it was winter, DeVries had no reason to go to the barn to check on his boat.
"There were a couple times when we almost spilled the beans because we just wanted to talk to him about it," says daughter-in-law DeVries. "We kept forgetting it was a secret."
Lisa and Nick DeVries invited friends and family to the boat show to see the made-over Sea Ray - and the father's reaction. In fact, DeVries wondered why he kept bumping into so many friends and acquaintances at the show. "I was just blown away," he says. "I had no idea that they had taken it and they redid just about everything."
The project took on a life of its own when Action Water Sports and Tim Danner from Land 'N' Sea Distributing began calling parts suppliers and asking them to donate products for the cause.
"When I called, I figured I would be talking 15 to 20 minutes to pitch this and end up with a small donation," says Danner, a former MerCruiser certified technician who helped install the engine components. "But two or three minutes into the conversation, they said, 'Yeah, we think this is a great idea. Whatever you need, let us know and we're on board.' It just built momentum."
Coming up with the new trailer was a product of teamwork. "We did not expect to supply a new trailer with this boat," Action Water Sports manager Jerry Brouwer says. "I called Phoenix Trailers and explained it to them. They called their suppliers - the paint supplier, steel, lighting, the tongue jack, the winch. And then suddenly we had a lot of people supporting one cause. We just went to the people in the marine industry that we do business with on a regular basis and asked for help. And they responded - big time."