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Rebuilding a classic: 20,000 rivets later

In the late fall of 2003 Aphrodite was delivered to Brooklin Boat Yard, where a complete restoration was planned to bring her back to her original appearance and to bring her systems up to today’s standards.

Upon arrival at the yard, Aphrodite was hauled and set aside over the winter months until other projects in Brooklin’s main shop area were completed and space was available to begin the restoration. During this waiting period the details of Aphrodite’s construction were carefully studied, photographed and cataloged by Kevin Houghton of the yard’s design office so that once the project began a reference library would be available to ensure that no original details would be overlooked.

Read the other story in this package: Saving Aphrodite 

Aphrodite moved into Brooklin’s main shop area in early March 2004, and she was blocked in place in such a way that her hull shape was as close to her original lines as possible. Accomplishing this was as much art as science, since very little in the way of her original plans still exist to use as reference. Once project leader Brian Larkin and the rest of the restoration team were satisfied that Aphrodite was sitting straight and true on her lines, the superstructures, decks, interior joinery and old mechanical systems were removed, leaving only structural bulkheads remaining in place.

During this demolition phase of the restoration, all of Aphrodite’s original bronze deck hardware, hull ports and other salvageable fittings, including the mechanisms for the “roll-up” saloon and forward trunk windows, were carefully cataloged, removed and stored for reinstallation. Structural bulkheads were removed only after installing temporary bracing that would stabilize her distinctive hull shape and ensure that this shape would stay intact throughout the ensuing months, when her original frame structure and hull planking would be completely replaced.

First to be replaced was her keelson, skeg and stem, followed shortly after by new floor timbers, which were temporarily fastened to Aphrodite’s still-existing frames. At the same time, planking was removed from her torpedo stern to gain access to this area and install temporary molds that would duplicate the shape and provide a pattern on which to bend on new framing members. Aphrodite’s transom shape is one of her most distinguishing features, so care was taken to ensure that its re-creation would be exact.

Next to go in the demolition phase was the original hull planking. Aphrodite’s hull was double-planked and copper-riveted over frames spaced 12 inches apart. This made the job of removing the planking time-consuming in that sections between the frames (less than 12 inches) had to be cut away, then the remaining planking riveted to the frames had to be cut away one rivet at a time. Some 52,000 rivets were used in her original construction, and 20,000 were replaced in the restoration.

As original planking was removed, temporary longitudinal ribbands were fastened to the remaining original framing to help to hold the hull shape and provide a surface on which to bend in new hull frames. Aphrodite’s original hull framing was solid 1-3/4-by-1-3/4-inch white oak. Brooklin Boat Yard’s restoration work differs only slightly from the original in that Aphrodite’s new frames are double 7/8-by-1-3/4-inch white oak steam-bent into place and glued together to match the original frame scantlings. Every frame in the boat was replaced.

While new frames were being installed other important structural components, such as engine beds, shaft logs and strut and rudder blocking, were being fabricated and installed in preparation for her new engines and running gear. Also following the new frames was the installation of new interior bulkheads and framing of the deck areas. The bulkheads forward and abaft the engine room are an area where the Aphrodite restoration differs slightly from the original. Sound-deadening closed-cell foam insulation was sandwiched between layers of 3/4-inch ship-lapped cedar to reduce the engine noise in the accommodation spaces forward and abaft the engine room. Sound-deadening insulation also was installed in the overhead spaces of the engine room to aid in reducing engine noise in the pilothouse, directly above the engine room.

Aphrodite’s topsides originally were double-planked, copper-riveted Philippine mahogany. White lead was used as a bedding compound between the two layers of hull planking, and butt blocks were used between framing members as a place to land the plank end rivets of the exterior planking layer. Aphrodite’s new planking follows the same scantlings of wood type, thicknesses and rivet fastening, but the white lead bedding has been replaced by thickened epoxy, and the planks have been scarfed and epoxied together, eliminating the need for interior butt blocking. Replanking began in November 2004 and was completed at the end of January 2005.

As soon as the bottom had been replanked and the inside surfaces of the planking painted, Brooklin Boat Yard’s mechanical department was hard at work with the installation of new engines, generator, tankage and other systems.

Aphrodite now has a pair of 1,000-hp Caterpillar C-18 diesels that will give her a cruising speed of around 30 knots and a top end of 40 knots. While this is slower than her reported speed of 60 knots while being used as a trial horse for PT boats (powered by a pair of big 1,750-hp V-12 Packards that the Navy reportedly managed to increase to 2,000 hp), Aphrodite’s owner and captain think it is just fine. However, she is capable of even more speed.

To handle the yacht’s electrical demands, the reborn Aphrodite is equipped with a Mastervolt 12.5-kW generator, 50-amp AC shore service and 12 volt DC system. New lighting fixtures were selected with an eye toward the past, and in keeping with the style of the day all new lighting fixtures are of satin-finished nickel.

Aphrodite will carry 285 gallons of fresh water for domestic needs and, as with the lighting fixtures, great care was taken to select vintage plumbing fixtures. Aphrodite’s captain also had crank handles and cleats specially cast. Waste disposal will be handled by Vacu-Flush heads plumbed to a large central holding tank to meet modern standards and regulations. She has a modern suite of electronics that can fold out of site when at the dock.

Interior arrangements were changed slightly to accommodate the needs of her owner, but the joinery materials and style are right out of the late 1930s, giving the impression of moving back in time when going below. Janna Ritz of Ritz for the Home ( ) designed the interior and even re-created Aphrodite’s original china and silver.

Thanks to careful documentation and attention to detail, Aphrodite is an exact duplicate of the original head-turning yacht. Her sleek black hull is accented by a white boot stripe at the waterline and her distinctive carved gold leaf scroll, which has been faithfully re-created by the craftsmen of Brooklin Boat Yard. Above her new teak decks, the trunk cabin and pilothouse rise in an expanse of varnished African mahogany cabin sides, off-white cabin top, bronze hardware and gleaming, vintage green glass. Aphrodite is again, as she was in days past, a stunning example of the classic American motoryacht.

John Maxwell heads the brokerage office at Brooklin Boat Yard — (207) 359-2236, . When not in the office, he sails aboard Goshawk, a 76-foot Bob Stephens-designed Fast Sloop built jointly by Brooklin Boat Yard and Rockport (Maine) Marine.