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‘Sustainable passion’ is a key ingredient

We’ve all seen them — the pollen-covered, leaf-filled, forlorn-looking boats sitting year after year on corroding trailers in boatyards and backyards.Their owners had planned to restore them, dreaming of the day they would launch their like-new boats as family and friends look on in amazement. Too often, however, the dream remains a dream, typically because the owners lack what Gordon Reed calls “sustainable passion” for such an undertaking. “Even with all the money and time in the world, if you don’t have the commitment — that sustainable passion to see the project through — it’ll never happen,” says Reed, who restored a 1965 Glastron V-171 Crestflite. “It’s easy to have that passion to begin with, but it’s not so easy to maintain it a year and a half into the thing, when you’ve spent a bunch of money and you’re not even done yet — or even close to being done.”

The owner of this 1963 Ensign hired Metan Marine of Halifax, Mass., to restore the sailboat after the company restored his 23-foot 1976 SeaCraft center console.

Patience must prevail. “The key to having patience is knowing that at some point things are not going to go the way you want them to,” he says. “View the challenge as a positive, not a negative. If every issue that pops up is going to frustrate you, then you probably shouldn’t have started to begin with.”

In the last three years, Soundings has featured Reed and five other boat owners who have carried out major restorations and/or repowers. In addition to Reed’s Glastron (“Imagination spurs a restoration,” September 2011), we wrote about Steve Brady’s 1974 Sea Ray SRV180 runabout (“Memory lane makeover,” January 2012); John Abess’ 1977 21-foot Mako center console (“Refit of a lifetime,” December 2011); Jeff Koenke’s 1984 Boston Whaler Outrage 250 (“Patience pays off,” June 2011); Roland Robert’s 1984 Sisu 22 (“Better the second time around,” November 2010); and Jim Spalt’s 1989 Mako 261 (“Renewal comes in a refit,” May 2010).

Some boaters — such as Mako owners Spalt and Abess — hire professionals to do the work. “My time is better spent making money, although I would certainly enjoy doing some of the work myself,” Abess says.

Instead, he did lots of research and closely monitored each step of the project. “You should know the shortcomings or weaknesses of your existing boat, as well as what you want to have done to it in order to please you. This is very important,” says Abess, who spent a total of $45,000 on two refits, which included repowering twice, modifying the hull to accept an engine bracket and an Awlgrip paint job. “Learn what it would cost to purchase a new boat that would please you. This will help you make the commitment to upgrade your current boat.”

Do your homework before hiring anyone, Abess says. “They should come highly recommended by a number of people,” he says. “Their yard should seem busy, and you should inspect the work they have done on other boats to see if it meets your standards.” He also advises establishing an agreed-upon price and completion date before authorizing the work. Once the project is under way, the boat owner should be a meticulous record keeper.

Abess was very much a “hands-on” owner, says Bobby Gehlken, whose G-Crafts Marine (gcrafts in Awendaw, S.C., did most of the work on the Mako. “He took lots of pictures and documented the whole pro-ject,” Gehlken says. “We let him tell us what he wanted and we built it. He wanted it like he wanted it and we worked with him.”

If unexpected issues emerge — and they will — make sure the professional explains the problem and solution and clearly understands how you would like to proceed, Abess says. “This requires that you educate yourself about the options available for replacing components or rebuilding areas of the boat,” he says.

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The components linked to the major portions of a refit often push an owner over budget, Spalt says. “Before you undertake the refit, very carefully estimate the costs,” he says. “My experience is you’re going to spend 20 percent or even 30 percent more than you anticipated because there are so many things you do not foresee in an old boat that creep up on you.”

Spalt spent about 30 percent more than he expected when he restored his Mako center console. “I figured I could use the same wires that I had for the new electronics, but the entire console had to be rewired,” he says. “With the fuel system, I thought I could have the fuel tank replaced and everything else would be fine. But it needed new fuel lines, and all the old lines had to be dug out. There’s just a lot of extras that end up costing you in materials and labor.”

Spalt had his boat’s twin 200-hp Yamaha 2-strokes replaced with a single Yamaha F350 4-stroke. He says that meant the engine controls and cables had to be replaced because the 4-stroke requires electronic fly-by-wire equipment.

Unlike Spalt and Abess, Steve Brady and Roland Robert carried out much of the work themselves. Robert and his two sons stripped and repainted the Sisu 22, replaced the fuel tank and steering system, and designed and built a hardtop with front and side windshields and a starboard-side helm console. “You need to decide how much you want to do on your own,” Robert says. “Let’s face it. There aren’t many easy things to do on a restoration. Decide what you can handle and be comfortable with. Replacing a transom requires a lot more effort than building a cabin door.”

Don’t skimp on materials, take your time and pay attention to details, says Robert. “Research the correct materials for whatever it is the project might be,” he says. “Use the marine-grade materials for plumbing, glass work and electrical. After all the effort that goes into a project like this, you want it to last as long as possible.”

Robert’s research started by visiting several boatyards and speaking with experts in the field. “I got a lot of great information on materials and applications, epoxy versus polyester resins, and core materials,” he says. “Plus, it got me motivated and on the right track.”

Use the Internet, too, says Brady, who did substantial wood and fiberglass work refitting his Sea Ray SRV180. “I didn’t know who to contact for what,” he says. “Google became my best friend.”

Take advantage of the websites of marine supply companies such as West Marine and Jamestown Distributors, Brady says. “They give you a full page of information on whatever the project might be,” he says. “And Jamestown’s YouTube videos are invaluable because you can see what the project will entail.”

Know your limitations and know when it’s time to hire a professional, Brady advises. “I can work with fiberglass and with wood, but if you put me in front of an engine I may be able to do the basic jobs, but I certainly wouldn’t know how to rebuild it,” he says. “That’s over my head. And painting — I can paint, but it wouldn’t have come out as nicely as it did.” Brady hired Dan’s Marine Fiberglass ( in Westbrook, Conn., for the Imron paint job. He tapped Tom Krivickas, owner of Boat Works ( in South Windsor, Conn., to replace the Sea Ray’s transom and bought a rebuilt 1986 140-hp Evinrude 2-stroke.

Brady’s restoration took two years. “I could have finished it much quicker, but it’s the process and the project that make it worthwhile,” he says.

The restoration of Jeff Koenke’s 1984 Boston Whaler Outrage 250 took two-and-a-half years. The boat had suffered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina and needed a lot of work. The blistered hull had to be chemically peeled and sanded because moisture was trapped inside the laminate. Koenke did most of the sanding. Anticipating the completed boat sustained him through the hundreds of hours he dedicated to the project. “But I enjoyed the work,” he says. “You’ve got to have passion for this and you have to be patient.”

Passion and patience — there are those two words again.

See related articles:

- Ready for a refit?

- A tale of two very different refits

- DIYers: You're going to need some epoxy

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue.