Steve Brady revived fond memories of his youth by restoring a 1974 Sea Ray SRV180 runabout
When Steve Brady was a teenager in the mid-1970s he would blast around Long Island Sound in a number of powerboats. Among them was a friend’s 18-foot Sea Ray runabout that he drove hard and fast.
“It was silly kid stuff,” Brady says. “My friend Greg and I were really into wave jumping and trying to get the engine out of the water, and that boat was a real hit for wave jumping.”
Those yahoo rides behind the wheel of that Sea Ray made a lasting impression on Brady, who is now 49. “The boat was well-made and it looked great. It had a very short nose, which was unique for Sea Ray,” Brady says. “They didn’t make many models like that, and I thought it was a real classic. I love the design and size; it had the right balance and engineering to become a real classic. I always thought if I could ever get that boat again, I would.”
He did, of course, and Brady has done such a thorough job rebuilding his 1974 Sea Ray SRV180 that it would likely endure the punishment he inflicted upon his friend’s boat decades ago. Of the boat restorations I’ve written about during the last few years, Brady’s stands out as one of the most comprehensive and meticulous. He replaced the rotted stringers and deck and had the transom rebuilt and the hull-to-deck joint reinforced. He repowered with a rebuilt 1986 140-hp Evinrude. He replaced the back-to-back seats and gave the windshield a face-lift. Brady also redesigned and fabricated a new dash, reinforced all of the hardware and replaced the steering system. And he had the boat professionally painted with Imron.
The restoration took about two years (2008 and 2009). Brady estimates that he worked at least 150 hours on the boat, not counting the time he spent researching parts, materials and building processes online. “People kept asking me, ‘When are you going to be done?’ “ says Brady, who lives in Simsbury, Conn., with his wife, Lisa, and their son and daughter, Jack, 18, and Taylor, 16. “I kept telling them, ‘You’re missing the point; it’ll be done when it’s done.’ It’s the process and the project that makes it worthwhile.”
That explains why Brady spent so long on the project. “It could have been done in six months, but this was a passion that I had experienced as a kid in the ’70s and it was something I had wanted for a long time, so why rush it?”
He first saw the Sea Ray at a boatyard in Middletown, Conn., where he used to take his father’s 18-foot Grady-White for service. “It was owned by a guy who was using it from time to time, but not really maintaining it,” Brady says. “Whenever I drove by, I saw the boat just sitting and decaying.”
He contacted the owner and wound up paying $1,000 for the boat and trailer. “I had been looking for that particular model, with an outboard. I like to have all the mechanicals in a compact area,” he says. “I’m what my wife calls a wood guy. I can work with wood, fiberglass and a whole host of materials, but metals and engines are in a different category.”
BEORE: The restoration took about two years and at least 150 hours, not counting the time Brady spent researching online.
AFTER: Brady took his time to do the job right in bringing his boat back to its authentic appearance.
The heavy lifting
Brady immediately began stripping the boat. The wood-cored stringers and the cockpit sole were rotted, and the foam flotation between the stringers was soaked. “The best thing to do was to take a circular saw and cut out the cockpit sole and the entire deck,” Brady says. “And then I stripped out all the foam flotation.” He let the hull dry out for a month.
He photographed the stringer grid so he could duplicate the structure. He turned to the Internet for guidance on materials and methods. Much of what he learned came from YouTube videos posted on the Jamestown Distributors website (www.jamestowndistributors.com). “That’s how I determined what products to use,” he says. “Jamestown provides an explanation for every item they sell, including a how-to video for many of their products.”
Brady used a two-part epoxy, epoxy fillers and marine plywood to fabricate new stringers and attach them to the hull. He encapsulated the stringers in fiberglass and used foam flotation between them. None of this could have been done without the Internet, he says. “I found a company that sold me a part A and part B expansion flotation foam,” says Brady, who sells residential building materials and has restored houses as well as old boats, including his father’s 1966 Old Town skiff. “It comes in 5-gallon jugs. You mix them together one-to-one and it expands and fills whatever area you need.”
He made sure he filled all of the voids with the foam, then leveled it off with the stringer tops so the area was ready to accept the new deck, which was also wood-cored and encapsulated in fiberglass and epoxy, rather than a lower-grade resin. “If you’re going to bother doing it you can’t skimp on the materials because the labor is the same,” Brady says. “You might as well make an investment in epoxy-grade materials. [Epoxy] makes it stronger.”
Brady certainly does his research, says Tom Krivickas, owner of Boat Works in South Windsor, Conn., the company that replaced the Sea Ray’s transom (www.ctboatworks.com). “He’s a very meticulous person,” Krivickas says. “He asks the questions and finds the answers before he acts. That’s why it came out so well.”
Brady praised Krivickas’ work as well. In fact, the reconstructed transom further pumped up Brady for the project. “At that point I was making great progress, and the boat was taking shape and really becoming a fun project,” he says.
Boat Works separated the deck cap from the hull and moved it forward to gain better access to the transom core. “For the most part, the structural integrity of the transom was non-existent,” Krivickas says. “All the plywood was completely rotted and delaminating. The motor well had cracks in it.”
Boat Works sandwiched a layer of fiberglass with two layers of 3/4-inch marine plywood to basically build a new transom. The three pieces were then bonded with epoxy resin using vacuum bagging. The laminated plywood core was then glassed over. “It is a lot stronger than what it was when the boat was originally manufactured,” Krivickas says.
The company also reinforced the hull-to-deck joint, beefing up the lip of the deck cap before refastening the joint. The transom and aft section of the deck had separated, with its aluminum trim piece detached, when Brady brought the Sea Ray to Boat Works, which Krivickas established 25 years ago and restores boats from 12 to 38 feet. So the crew fiberglassed the area, turning it into a one-piece structure. “The strength was incredible when it was finished,” Brady says. “It came out so good I decided to upgrade my original engine from a 115 to the 140 outboard.” The extra horses would allow Brady to tow water skiers, another activity he has enjoyed since he was a kid.
Brady went to the Outboard Exchange in Waterford, Conn., for the engine (www.outboardexchange.com). “These guys strip down old engines and rebuild them from the ground up,” he says. “They ship engines all over the world.” The Outboard Exchange gave him $500 for the 115, and Brady paid $4,800 for the rebuilt 1986 Evinrude. Top speed is 50 mph. The engine pulls Brady on skis without strain at 35 to 40 mph.
With the stringers, deck, transom and deck cap complete, Brady moved to the next phase of the project: a paint job. Again turning to the Internet, he found Dan’s Marine Fiberglass in Westbrook, Conn. “[Dan] has a website that I had visited a number of times,” Brady says. “He does boat repairs and painting. I brought it to him, and he and I worked out a great deal. I did all the footwork for him so he could just lay down three or four coats of epoxy primer and then shoot the whole boat with Imron.”
“Imron is very forgiving and repairable,” says Dan Patten, who established his business in 1995 (www.restoredboat.com). “[Steve] wanted me to make the boat look good at the best price possible and that’s how it was done.”
The rest of the work was all Brady.
• Windshield and dash:
Brady removed the windshield and its gasketing. “The frame was clean and the glass was all original. It just needed to be cleaned,” he says. He sanded the frame, etched the surface, and primed and painted it. “I put the glass back in and sealed it up with the original rubber and then silicone. It went right back into place.”
Brady tried to stay true to the original design as much as possible, though he did redesign the helm console and dash. “The dash used to run all the way across the beam of the boat,” he says. He split the dash and “cleaned it up so it was not so dated. It was now balanced to work with the four [Faria] gauges and the new stainless-steel steering wheel I bought.”
With the split dash, it made sense to fabricate a step between the two for access to the foredeck through the centerline opening in the windshield. He covered the step with a rubber non-skid pad. He also mounted a handrail on the port side of the dash for the companion seat.
“I fabricated the dashboard items in my workshop over the winter,” he says.
The original bow rail was in good shape. “The fittings were shot, so I replaced them [with stainless hardware] and then through-bolted everything with blocks of plywood behind the fiberglass,” Brady says. He also placed non-skid pads in the existing recessed areas (for boarding) on the top of the gunwales.
• Steering and gauges:
Installation of the rack-and-pinion steering system was relatively easy, compared with some of the other jobs. “It didn’t make sense to reuse the existing cable. Everything else was new,” Brady says. The controls and throttle were part of the engine package.
• Seating, upholstery and carpeting:
Brady finished the interior with new carpeting. “There are several coats of fiberglass and epoxy on the deck, but I didn’t have the facility to apply gelcoat,” he says. “It also wasn’t necessary because it wasn’t in keeping with the original boat design.”
He also covered some of the interior surfaces in vinyl and purchased back-to-back seats from Veada Manufacturing (www.veada.com).
• Fuel tank:
The Sea Ray’s original 12- gallon aluminum fuel tank had been removed when Brady picked up the boat. And he was glad for that. The original tank sat just above the bilge under the deck. “If the bilge filled with water, the tank would be partly submerged, and water and aluminum fuel tanks don’t mix,” he says.
He bought three 6-gallon portable tanks and placed one in the stern opposite the battery for balance and the other two in the bow, running a second fuel line under the deck. He can switch fuel tanks by turning a valve fitting. “The nice part of that design is I can take the tanks off the boat and not have to take the boat to the gas station to fill up,” Brady says. “I really didn’t need a permanent tank; plus, I don’t have to worry about a tank corroding, moisture getting into the tank or the gas going bad.”
Like other owners who have restored boats, Brady has received a flood of compliments. “They say, ‘Wow, is that boat new? It’s beautiful,’ “ Brady says. “I say, ‘It’s a new 1974 Sea Ray and my own restoration.’ “
The crew at Boat Works was equally impressed when he returned to have the engine serviced. “Everyone went out and looked at the boat,” Krivickas says. “The paint job was beautiful. The finish work and fairing was done well. The surfaces were all flat, with a nice deep gloss.”
Brady had bought a diamond in the rough, but he was prepared for the work that would lie ahead. “I was in no rush,” he says. “This was a job I wanted to enjoy because I was already spending more than what the boat is worth. I certainly can’t sell it for what I have invested.”
How much did he invest? “Are we talking about the cost I tell you and the public or the cost I told my wife?” Brady quips. “One comes out of the red book and the other the blue book.”
We’ll leave those books closed and simply list the cost of the major jobs. The Imron painting was $3,000, the new engine was $4,800 (less the trade-in) and the rebuilt transom was about $2,400.
Before the Sea Ray, Brady ran a 2000 Chris-Craft express cruiser, a 32-footer he used to cruise with the family to Long Island, N.Y., and Newport and Block Island, R.I. “The Chris-Craft was a great boat for Long Island Sound and my family,” he says. “It was a 12,000-pound boat with a 12-foot beam. We loved it, but kids get to a certain age and you just don’t have time for a big boat anymore.”
He sold the boat about the same time he began working on the Sea Ray. He also has owned a 20-foot Crownline and a 26-foot Wellcraft, and when he was growing up his father ran a few small boats — two Sea Rays, a Tiara, then a Grady-White.
Brady’s boating background influenced the way he approached his Sea Ray refit. “I love boats. I’ve been around them all my life, so I was passionate about the details,” he says.
That’s an understatement.
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.