Eight years ago I made the decision to buy and restore a old wooden boat, with the dream of some day taking it to, what I considered then (and still consider now), to be the premier wooden boat show in the country, the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance in California. That dream finally became a reality a few weeks ago, when Cyclone – my 1952 18′ Chris-Craft Riviera was re-launched for the first time in over 40 years.
There were a number of challenges over those eight years, which we will talk about one day, from start to finish… But today I would like to give thanks to a few people that came together in last few weeks, and days leading up to the show that helped make all this possible… And share a few stories along the way.
Mike Mayer and his crew from Lake Oswego Boat Company prepared a true “concours quality” boat in their shop just outside Portland, Oregon. The execution of the work and the attention to detail was exceptional. Mike had a clear understanding of the Tahoe judging process, and the final results reflected that.
Preparing a boat to be judged at Lake Tahoe is an exciting experience. And even though I have been researching every aspect of Chris-Craft Rivieras throughout the last eight years, there were still a few “last minute” details that we had to address to ensure that we were, in fact, delivering Cyclone as a concours quality boat… When I say “last minute” – That was the case with a few details.
For example, we could always refer to the original line drawings, wiring diagrams, and plans that we purchased from the nice folks at the Mariners’ Museum in Virginia. And there were a few times we had to call the museum to obtain additional information from the Chris-Craft Archive, and they were always very helpful.
Cyclone spent the first fifty years of her life in California, and although she came with almost all it’s original hardware, interior, wiring, engine, etc – things like the original windshield glass were long gone. Every aspect of originality was very important to me, and I have learned from people like Don Ayers (President of the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club) that in order to achieve originality, true research is the key to success.
The Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club and the popular Boat Buzz Forum is an extreamely valuable resource, regardless if you are restoring a boat to show quality, or just need advice in regards to basic maintenance on your boat.
I was determined to find the correct windshield glass shape / pattern for the 18′ Riviera, and over the years I have seen many different versions of glass patterns used on Rivieras… This may seem like a minor detail, but these minor details do make a difference. I also knew of a number of Rivieras that I could get measurements from, but it was often difficult to confirm if these were original or also been replaced over the the years.
In an attempt to find the original glass pattern, last year I posted an inquiry on the Boat Buzz Forum, and a fellow Boat Buzzer named Dan Reed from New York State responded. Dan & I communicated by e-mail, Dan confirmed that he owns a documented original 1953 18′ Riviera and offered to help me with a windshield pattern. He went to the effort of removing one of the glass panels, made a template and within a few days the pattern was sent to Mike across the country to Oregon.
One of the issues that many folks (including me) experience with later post-war wooden runabouts is that there isn’t nearly as much documented information available as there is with most pre-war wooden boats. However, as time marches on, more and more late post war (1950’s & 1960’s) wooden boats are now being restored. This could be due to availability, or the fact that many “next generation” owners can now relate more to the later post-war models.
Although there were over 1,200 18′ Chris-Craft Rivieras built between 1950 & 1954, for some reason they don’t seem to be that common place at boat shows or auctions, compared to the more desirable post-war 20′ Custom.
One of the most knowledgeable people I know in the hobby when it comes to post-war runabouts (not to mention any other wooden boat marque on the planet) is my friend Brian Robinson from Robinson Restoration in Southern California. Brian worked closely with Mike and I during the Cyclone project and was always willing to help when we needed a second opinion on many of the restoration details.
In an attempt to replicate what I thought was the original fuel tank from Cyclone, a few years ago I had an exact copy fabricated from stainless steel. In May this year, we determined that the fuel tank I used for the fabrication was probably not original to the 1952 Riviera. Although there is some limited evidence that two, or even three different styles of fuel tanks may have been supplied to the Chris-Craft plant in Cadillac, Michigan during the Riviera production run, further research was required to ensure the correct tank was used for Cyclone.
Brian Robinson located an original fuel tank from the same period that Dave Wright had, and I called on my friend Dan Reed (with the 53 Riviera) to confirm the dimensions. Once again, Dan helped me by supplying a number of digital photographs and measurements from his Riviera which confirmed we were now on the right track… And we had a new period correct tank made to these exact dimensions, which arrived at Mike’s shop a week before Cyclone was to leave for Lake Tahoe.
How that we had the correct tank, I insisted that we use some original Chris-Craft tank straps with the correct twists to bolt to the stringers. After an emergency e-mail to my friend Jim Staib at Fine Wood Boats in McHenry, Illinois, a pair of original tank straps were delivered by UPS to Mike in Portland. Thanks Jim!
Upholstery expert Jack Mayeaux from Jack Mayeaux Upholstery in Portland, Oregon completed the beautiful upholstery work, with all the correct crash pads and pleated seat cusions, original safety tags, the works… Thanks Jack! The transom art and pinstiping on the decks was done on Friday / Saturday and Mike left for Lake Tahoe with Cyclone in tow on Monday, just a few days before the show started.
I left for Lake Tahoe on Tuesday afternoon, and during the 21 hour non-stop drive I received an e-mail from Mike (who was now in Lake Tahoe) asking if I had any documentation to confirm the exact location of the original metal Chris-Craft hull tag that was located under the engine hatch. Like the windshield glass, we all knew generally where the hull tag should be located, but wanted to make every effort to do it exactly like the factory did it in 1952. After I received the e-mail from Mike, I drove for a few hours thinking about where I could get the information… And then it hit me… I bet my friend Dan Reed would know.
At 3:00 AM EST from the darkness of I-15 just north of Pocatello, Idaho – I rolled the dice and sent Dan an e-mail asking if he could once again help me confirm the information on the hull tag location. Is Dan on vacation… up at the cottage with no cell service… does he check his e-mails as frequently as we do?
Just a few hours later I received an e-mail back from Dan Reed with the photos and information we needed… He made the affort to go out to where ever his Riviera was, opened the hatch, snapped a few photos and e-mailed them back to me with a message “Good Luck in Tahoe!” How cool is that… Thanks again Dan.
Mike installed the original 1952 Chris-Craft hull tag and red Notice to Dealer card under the hatch, addressed a few other last minute details, arranged to have Cyclone inspected and sealed at the local boat inspection station (which is mandatory prior to any boats being launched in Lake Tahoe). At 6:30 AM on Thursday morning we were ready to offically re-launch Cyclone at the Sierra Boat Company gantry after being out of the water for over 40 years (since 1972).
The crew at the Sierra Boat gantry treat every boat with the care and attention like it was their own, which is comforting… Total professionals.
A few people have asked me what inspired me to name her Cyclone – and the answer is simple. After the Riviera was delivered from the plant in Cadillac, MI to the Chris-Craft dealer (Kenneth E. Wilson) in Newport Beach, California in 1952, the original owner of the boat (Mendel W. Ledington) named and registered her as Cyclone. And we got lucky with our research and found the original registration card, not a copy…
From a boat owners perspective, the entire experience at the 2012 Lake Tahoe Concours was fantastic, I felt honored to be invited, and the judging team that was responsible for the Blond Deck Chris-Craft Runabout Class and Cyclone was an absolute pleasure to work with.
The depth of knowledge and experience of the judges at Lake Tahoe Concours is remarkable, you have to see them in action to truly appreciate what they bring to the table. They see things in a completely different light, with calm intensity.