On Friday morning I received a call from fellow Woody Boater Don Ayers. It was 7:00 AM and Don was driving east on I-80 from Sacramento towards Auburn, California to spend the day with Rudy at Northwest Classic Boats. Don said “I have been looking forward to this day since September last year… I had trouble sleeping last night!”
Last September Don’s classic 1959 Riva Ariston was delivered to Northwest Classic Boats for a major restoration and on Friday they reached a significant milestone on the project. All the woodwork was now successfully completed and Don was planning to spend the day with Rudy to assist him with the staining procedure.
“Magnifico” is the best word to describe the work. And for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know Don Ayers, regardless if it’s him doing the work or a professional restorer doing the work, he has very high standards when it comes to workmanship, originality and attention to detail.
But the reason Don called me from California on Friday was to say that he had been carefully following the stories (last week) on Woody Boater regarding the subject of wooden boat restoration and thought it was time to chime in with his thoughts on the subject. After all, this was a perfect time to comment now that the woodwork had just recently been completed on his restoration project. So we thought it would be fun to share Don’s experience and comments in a story with some very cool images. Don wanted to call the story No Surprises for a good reason, and here’s what he had to say…
When I first started investigating professional services to restore my boat, a 1959 Riva Ariston, the first word out of my mouth was that I did not want to get any. The recent topics on Woody Boater compelled me to contact Texx and ask to write about my experience. After being in the hobby for twenty years, I’ve heard my share of war stories and that has lead me to be very cautious when dealing with a professional shop. Truth is, I have very little experience directly as a paying customer but quite a lot through others having restoration work done.
What struck me about the latest postings (on Woody Boater) are the comments and concerns regarding new bottoms and the incredible range of pricing and quality. One person commented, “Shouldn’t a professional restorer have a pretty good idea about what a bottom should cost so they can give an accurate estimate”. I could not agree more with that statement.
I think first we have to start with a philosophy, and that is do you think an original boat bottom that is 40-70 years old is safe? And when I say “bottom” I’m talking about the structure it’s attached to as well. With very few exceptions boats that retain their original bottom structure and bottom planks are worn out, oil soaked, brittle and at the very least not real functional and at the worst unsafe.
If you agree with this philosophy and I’d bet most do then why get caught in the trap of “frame replacement”? It seems that most who use a “professional” service become dismayed when prices escalate due to the shell game that is “frame replacement”. It’s the oldest trick in the book, lure someone in by quoting a price for the skin of the bottom and then acting all surprised when they get the bottom off! If you buy into the philosophy then why even play that game?
OK, we know that these boats are old and that the bottoms were never meant to last 60 years, so why not take the approach of “full bottom” replacement? What I’m talking about is replacement of all bottom frames, knees, chines, keel, transom bow and forefoot i.e. everything from the waterline down.
Knowing my boat had the original bottom and based on the experiences of countless others, I know that the only way to do it was to plan for “full bottom” replacement. That way there are “No Surprises” and I know exactly what I will have when done. Even the ACBS these days understands this and considers full bottom replacement something necessary for most all of our boats. That is why it does not count against you when putting your boat in the restored category.
Rudy at Northwest Classic Boats sold me on this philosophy even though I’d heard it a hundred times and had to advise many to do the same. He just said it best this way, “Of the 100 or so full replacement bottoms of original boats I never found one that did not need it.” Case in point is a 33’ Gar Wood with a bottom that was done 11 years ago. All the previous shop did was replace the outer skin and left all the old framing, chines, keel etc. Now after that short time it needs total frame replacement because everything is rotten. Northwest and some other very reputable shops make it simple, that’s the way they do business, on budget on time with quality. Professionals do know how much time and materials it will take. Northwest charges $1,000/foot (up to 25ft, all materials included) and what that gets you is 100% new below the waterline with modern construction, no games, no worries. Sounds expensive at first until you consider everything that goes into your hull construction, keel, all bottom frames, chines, knees, transom bow and forefoot and the like. (Note the sample of the oil soaked keel below – Texx)
Another interesting by product of last week’s discussion were comments revolving around the “check writers”. In my humble opinion there are very few of those in this hobby. I believe if you polled various restorers you would find that they don’t just exist off the uber wealthy but rather by the more bread and butter work that 98% of us provide to them. It is a ridiculous notion to classify anyone among us that use professional services as “check writers”. After twenty years in the hobby this is the first boat I have had professional work on. As many have we have done the best amateur work possible and if lucky sold the past boats for a modest profit to move up to a better situation. Sort of like buying a house, renovating the bath and kitchen and then moving up. And for the other 2%, God Bless them because I sure enjoy seeing their boats at shows as well. They have clearly worked their butt off being good at something and I admire that.
Certainly this is just one man’s opinion – Comments Welcome – Don Ayers
Thanks Don for your insight and candid comments on this subject. We have been following this unique restoration project from the beginning, and if you would like to see the enitire project to date, including some rare historical information on the Riva marque, Don has documented it as a journal at the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club “Boat Buzz” Forum. Click here to go directly to Don’s living journal.
For me, one of the most impressive aspects of the Riva’s restoration project is the limited amount of time it has taken Rudy and Northwest Classic Boats to complete the work to date. The 1959 Riva Ariston arrived at Northwest Classic Boats in mid-September 2010. The fiberglass covering the original bottom was removed and all the structural work, including all wood and materials processing at the mill, was completed by early December. Topside structure, hull, bottom and decks are applied, prepped and ready to stain by mid-May. An impressive amount of work in a short period of time considering what type of classic boat they were working on. The image above is how the boat looked then at what it looks like today after being stained. Rudy plans to have 20 coats of varnish applied by July 1st then it’s ready to return home Don’s to Edmond, Oklahoma where it will be finished.
Thanks to Dave & Rudy at Northwest Classic Boats for providing some of the images of the restoration process. To learn more about Northwest Classic Boats you can go to their web site by clicking here. We look forward to seeing the classic 1959 Riva Ariston when it’s completed in 2012.