Here at Woody Boater, we continue to hear stories about classic wooden cruisers that have either been abandoned by their owners, or are offered for bargain basement prices and in some cases for free, or simply to recover past due moorage fees by the marina. Unfortunately, due to the sheer size of these old boats, and the cost of restoration, many of these old classic cruisers remain in a dormant state, rotting away.
But for all the sad stories out there these days, it’s so refreshing to hear a good story about a classic cruiser that’s been saved from the burn pile, and brought back to life by some caring, dedicated owners. This is one of those stories, from fellow Woody Boaters Ron Stevenson and Dick Dow out in the Great Pacific Northwest. And yes, it has a happy ending. – Texx
THE $100 DOLLAR CHRIS-CRAFT
Story by Ron Stevenson
Photos by Ron Stevenson & Dick Dow
As you know, or will learn, and even though some of us have gotten one at one time or another, there is never any such thing as a “free boat”. Well getting one for $100 is not much different than “free”. Here’s the story.
The original hull card shows that the Chris-Craft, a 1953 35’ Commander, hull number C35-340, was ready to be shipped on 3/17/1953. It was loaded on a railroad car in its shipping cradle, and shipped to Bryant Marine in Seattle, Washington. It is said that Bryant Marine was the largest Chris-Craft dealer west of the Mississippi at that time.
We also know that a custom boat lift along the lines of the shipping cradle was built at the owner’s home in a covered boathouse in Medina on Lake Washington, across from Seattle. Chris-Craft knew of the plan to keep the boat on a lift and reinforced the bottom framing with that in mind. The 35′ Commander lived a good life, pulling into the boat house, being lifted out of the water, and after the door closed, she was out of the sun and rain. The owner, Mr. Acheson, re-powered her with Chris-Craft 283’s at some point, keeping the original Chris-o-Matics as was typical in the day.
We heard that after Mr. Acheson died in 1963 his wife Lois didn’t use the boat much, so it literally hung on the cradle unused for at least 30 years. Finally, in the summer of 1997, a cable on the lift failed, dropping everything partially into the lake, compromising the bottom, resulting in ITCHIN’ sinking in the boathouse. Now sinking can be a relative term, in fact, she only took on about a foot of water. But now the boat was a big liability, and it had to be fixed or gotten rid of.
Well, some years before, a friend of ours in the local Antique & Classic Boat Society Chapter, Craig Magnusson, had talked to Mrs. Acheson about the possibility of buying the boat. (Craig has a sister ship Commander named “Take-Off”; so he knows what cool boats these are.) At the time, she was not interested in selling the Chris-Craft.
Now with this turn of events, the call was made to Craig and he was asked if he was still interested in the boat, and would he like to buy it? Craig was very pleased to hear from her, because he had a few friends that he knew would like the boat. We were at her dock 3-1/2 hours later in “Take-Off” to see what was going on. As the salvage divers had made temporary patches and refloated the boat, we towed it away with her permission.
The deal was struck, and on August 1st of 1997, Craig gave Lois $100 dollars, with her knowing that ITCHIN’ would go to new owners (myself and boat buddy Dick Dow) who would restore the boat to its original glory. A good deal right?
We put her on the hard while a third of the bottom was replaced, a new transom beam laminated and installed and other repairs made. Fortunately, there was no structural damage. We bought and rebuilt two Chris-Craft 350 Q motors, rewired, re-tanked, added a holding tank, hot water heater, reupholstered and generally went through every inch of the boat, bringing systems up to current standards while keeping it as true to original in appearance as we could.
Dick and I spent three years, almost every night and every weekend restoring and putting ITCHIN’ back together.
We learned about the acronym for BOAT (“Break Out Another Thousand”). She passed her survey with flying colors. Once again she is cruising these Pacific Northwest waters. Since that time Dick and his wife have moved on to another, bigger boat.
After completing the restoration, ITCHIN’ picked up a few trophies here and there at various shows, but the real fun is in using the boat. With twin 350 “Q” motors, we cruise at about 20 knots at 2,500 RPM – burning about 10-12 gallons per hour. She is nothing more than a big 35′ runabout with a cabin, and loves to go fast.
Does she get used? During the summer of 2010 my wife and I proudly took ITCHIN’ to the Classic Yacht Association’s Bell Street Boat Show on Father’s Day weekend in Seattle, to the Center for Wooden Boats Fourth of July Boat Show, (again in Seattle) to the Chris Craft Rendezvous in Port Orchard, to the La Conner Classic Yacht and Car Show and ended up in Victoria, British Columbia, for their Classic Boat Show on Labor Day weekend.
After the restoration was done, we would occasionally do an “honor pass” – cruise by the Acheson home on Lake Washington – hoping that Lois might be looking out the window and see the her old boat go past, freshly painted and varnished, totally restored inside and out, “ITCHIN’” to head out on another adventure. (Sadly, Lois Acheson passed away August 29, 2004)
Fast forward to May 2014 – After all those years of blood, sweat, and tears, and 14 years of wonderful adventures… I got a call from an old acquaintance of mine, F. Todd Warner, who has a customer who has to have my Pride and Joy. ITCHIN’ was not for sale, but for the right price, can’t anything be bought? The interested parties flew out for our Opening Day ceremonies in Seattle on May 3rd. Both myself and the new owner are very pleased with the new agreed value.
ITCHIN’ will start its new life on Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota in a few weeks.
She will be missed? – Which brings up a question… “How do you say goodbye to a true love?”
Ron Stevenson & Dick Dow
Passionate people who save classic boats.
Special thanks to Ron & Dick for sharing this wonderful story of ITCHIN’ with us today – you both deserve credit for not only saving, but restoring this beautiful 60 year-old classic Chris-Craft cruiser. Giving her a new lease on life.