Thanks to Mike and Kristen for sending in this whopper restoration story on their cool Century project! We need this sort of stuff this time of year! And the culture needs folks like Mike and Kristen!!! Take it away Mike and Kristen Woodyboaterville is all yours today! Woohooo! I love stories like this!
While waiting for a meeting to begin, I used my phone to search the local craigslist listings for boats. “Wood boat” was already a cached search string from my previous searches and I could quickly see if anything new was listed. This day was different. A boat I remembered from many months ago was listed again for sale. It was a Century and seemed to have everything in place or at some stage of replacement with a sell price that seemed fair. I sent a quick email to the seller for a meeting and waited.
As a young engineer with a passion for boating, old boats, and hands on projects, I thought this craigslist listing could be the gateway for me to get into the hobby. My wife also grew up around boats with her dad both the family’s pleasure cruise captain and a reputable commercial captain on the great lakes. We talked about the opportunity and agreed that we always knew we would get a boat of our own at some point, and staying true to our style we also knew we weren’t interested in blending in with your average fiberglass cruiser.
We inspected the boat in the seller’s driveway and I crawled around everywhere to see what it had to offer. The boat is a 1956 Century Resorter 18. It had all its deck hardware and major components intact It was refurbished in 1969 with a replacement interior and a brand new Chrysler 318 V8 that we started up. It was dirty, greasy, musty, and the interior fabric showed us -young people- what bad color choices looked like in 1969. As a recent addition, the previous owner had a replacement bottom put on which I later knew as some derivation of West System bottom. A water test proved that despite its shortcomings the drone of the V8 and a great ride got us hooked. After a long weekend of back and forth consideration with some overly intense engineering analysis, we decided to make the purchase. Years of craigslist browsing and working on other boat projects told me I couldn’t buy even a john boat with an outboard for the price. I enlisted my dad and his boat trailer and we brought the boat to it’s new home on Thursday June 26th, 2014 at 6:45 pm.
Through July and August we ran the boat as much as we could and after buying a new aluminum trailer with brakes, we trailered to some small lakes where we grew up. The engine was strong, the musty smell subsided, and we had fun. Everyone loved the sight of it and we earned waves and smiles from those we passed on the shore. With more use, there was some growing concern of increasing water intrusion through the bottom. We learned that docking over night was a bad idea and one weekend needed some midnight ingenuity to rig a large sump pump, a 24-hr mechanical push pin light timer, and some hoses to pump the bilge through the night. Thanks to my dad and his lifetime collection of things in a workshop junk drawer, we were able to cycle the sump pump in 15 minute intervals using about 30 timer push pins. Who has 30 of these?
After that long night, I knew it was time to consider options for the bottom as I could see some delamination between hull layers where the bottom met the transom. Living in the Fingerlakes we have many reputable wooden boat builders and restorers to choose from and I visited a large shop on Cayuga Lake. I was offered many options ranging from fiberglass to a true 5200 bottom. With each option I was fairly presented with pros, cons, and estimated costs. The team did a great job with explanation and I later regretted not giving them my business. At some point during the inspection a lead craftsman joined the group and commented on what a great boat this was. After some poking around he later proclaimed, “these are funny looking screws. I’ve never seen a silicon bronze screw with a torx head.” And with a quick swat of his magnet we all knew what the real problem was. The bottom was completely fastened with zinc plated cabinet screws. Where the bottom was delaminating, the heads of the screws were corroded and now separating from the shanks allowing the plywood to lift in some areas. In just a few years since a bottom restoration, the occasional dip in fresh water was enough to accelerate corrosion of these “for interior use only” screws. Science is cool but I felt sick and it must have been evident by the team at the boatyard. The same craftsman that detected the problem offered me the best advice yet- “the boat’s not going to sink and you are properly outfitted with a good bilge and safety gear. Enjoy the boat for the rest of the season and then you’ll know what to do with this boat.”
We took the advice and we were hooked. In October of 2014, we began disassembly. There were two things my wife and I agreed on to start this project.
1) We would do things the right way, the first time. And would make good decisions that would satisfy my engineering brain and commitment to quality work.
2) The project would be completed in a year or less as I didn’t want to be that guy who had a boat disassembled in the garage for 10 years.
I committed to doing all the work with help from family, friends, and soon to be friends in the trade like some of you that at the time I hadn’t met yet. I needed to work to a budget and use my existing skills or learn new to get the job done.
The first step was engine removal and we did it with an I Beam and chain fall. The engine is a 1969 Chrysler 318 with a Paragon P31 R transmission. HEAVY
I would tackle the engine restoration after I had deconstructed the hull. I blocked the engine and made this its resting spot in the garage for the next months. I covered it with a sheet so I didn’t have to stare at its rust.
Initial gutting of the interior completed. Although leaky, it was encouraging to find very sound framing with no apparent rot from this viewpoint. Full results TBD once the bottom was off.
I built framing to strengthen and support the hull sides and deck during the bottom work. The framing was positioned so once rolled over the boat framing would rest on the trailer’s bunks. I would do all the work positioned on the trailer in case I needed to transport it during the build.
I used a local boatyard to roll it over and place it back on a trailer. I thought this would be a safer option than using some friends who would be nice enough to work for pizza and beer. (They were very willing, however) The two hoist attendants that day weren’t entirely familiar with the maneuver but I was able to describe the process by recalling the YouTube videos I watched in preparation.
There were few tasks in this process that weren’t a true labor of love. Removing the Frankenstein West System bottom made me think twice about the whole project. The steel screws were countersunk very deeply and then covered with thickened epoxy for fairing.
I located the screws with a magnet, marked the location with a sharpie, used a wire brush on an angle grinder to remove the epoxy, and then extracted each screw by heating up an extended torx bit on an impact driver so it would burn through the epoxy covering the torx feature on the screw head. I lost count but by weight, I think I removed about 4000 screws with this method.
With my wife out of town for this particular weekend I worked 3, 16 hour days to remove the bottom. It was a double layer plywood bottom with enough epoxy to build a modern fiberglass boat…twice.
End of the weekend success. Bottom and most battens removed. Very little framing issues and only a few needed replacement.
With the bottom’s next steps in consideration, my attention turned to the engine. I disassembled the engine and cleaned the layers of sludge and grease from interior and exterior components. The cam and tappets showed wear but at this stage I opted not to replace rotating components. I compared the engine components to spec and although nearing some out of spec conditions, I worked on what needed attention first.
I rebuilt or replaced most exterior components, gaskets, oil pump, all wiring, sending units and sensors, alternator, distributor, ignition coil, starter, and carb. The old carter was a good carb but was showing its age with some terrible corrosion. I replaced the carb with an Edelbrock marine. I also rebuilt the transmission as it was shifting very hard prior to disassembly. A new clutch pack and seals would be enough to restore it.
I sandblasted and hot tanked all components to prepare for paint. Since this is a 1969 model, the engine was to be painted in ‘Early Chrysler Blue’ which I mixed some epoxy high temp paint and sprayed.
I reassembled the engine and prepped all cooling lines and electrical so it could be easily put back in the boat in the spring. This engine photo is from a disassembly in 2017. After 2 years of use after the initial rebuild, the close to out of spec conditions were now out of spec. The engine lost oil pressure and I knew a full rebuild was needed. Since this is a 318 and more of a commodity engine, I chose to purchase a long block instead of remachining the existing.
With the engine rebuild completed. I tackled the interior. Some framework was in good condition while other parts were vinyl wrapped wood dust. My wife showed me what patience looked like while she removed what seemed like 10,000 staples holding the whole thing together.
The original engine box didn’t survive disassembly. It completely disintegrated. I worked up a new design that put a twist on the existing look. I choose to make rounded mahogany corners with dado joints for the plywood sides wrapped in vinyl to fit into. It’s not original to the Century design but it’s what we wanted. It was a fun woodworking project as well.
We decided to do a true 5200 bottom. We accomplished this with a lot of sweat equity, advice from professionals, and a little bit of hired work. Although we hired a small portion of the overall bottom work with a reputable builder, we struggled with communication and some quality issues with the work. This was the worst part of the overall experience but a good reminder that companies like this will eventually be pushed aside if they choose to avoid new ways of business. Today’s customers are looking for fairness, quality, and communication at a level that’s higher than ever. Consumer options, research data, and connectivity to professionals through social networks have created a new way to choose and do business with suppliers. Car or boat restoration businesses are not exempt from new ways of business and they can’t forget the importance of being customer centric. Thanks to WoodyBoater I have learned of some great businesses to use for my future restoration work.
After we completed the bottom we began the final cosmetic work on the hull and deck. The boat was poorly faired during a previous restoration, so we stripped the sides down to bare wood and used long boards to establish the right lines. My wife showed her patience again by removing another 1000 upholstery staples from the crash pad locations.
Sealer and varnish were applied until there were 14 coats. Once the last coat was applied, I allowed it to cure while I worked on chrome, engine, and interior projects. Once cured, I used some lessons learned and finishing products from some automotive and fiberglass boat paint projects to rotary buff the surface for a perfect high gloss.
After 8 months of work, the engine was lowered into the boat. Also shown in the background are some upholstery and flooring shots. Upholstery kit was ordered from AA Marine. Dave and Chet are great people with tremendous knowledge. Each phone call was always a history lesson sprinkled with encouragement to complete my project. Flooring was ordered from a commercial floor supply company. We used Forbo marmoleum products. I found a piece of the original flooring and we choose something equivalent with a lighter look.
To finish up the chrome, I needed to make a new base for the searchlight that had suffered some damage over the years. I located some C360 brass and turned a new one with correct threads on the lathe. At this point, all parts were shipped to chrome.
The first water test proved a success. There were no leaks and the engine fired on the first start. After 9 months of work, the boat was ‘completed’ and ready for use.
This set of pictures were taken July of 2017 with two years of almost every summer weekend use. My parents had a cooler and towels from the 50’s that we have to complete the look and remind us what a summer day on the boat looked like in 1956. I continued to add some features including a mahogany dash that I machined and added some stainless steel design features. Also included were modern gauges. I also added a leather wrap to the steering wheel. As shown in this photo.I thought the best way to name the boat would be to relate it to my wife’s name. This made the boat that much more personal and was a fun way to add a namesake. I think it also helped to justify those extra hours in the garage.
I add pieces along the way as I learn more about the boat and reach out to many parts dealers. I never had the original stern light but was able to piece one together in 2017 by finding some old parts and having some creativity in manufacturing a new mahogany pole.
This picture shows what the hobby is what it’s all about.
The wrap up: This has been a project of a lifetime and has just got me started in wood boat building and restoration. The work has been rewarding, challenging, frustrating, and mind expanding. I’ve learned new skills, met knowledgeable and sharing people, and built something that we are proud of. I like to thank my family and friends for the help along the way and their willingness to listen to me talk about boats 24/7. I hope the rides on the lake make up for my chatter. Miss K may never be ‘done’ as I find working on small projects sometimes more enjoyable than the days on the water.
For those that are just starting out I think it’s important to understand the total work involved in restoration but recognize it doesn’t all have to be done at once and little projects along the way make sense for cash flows. For example, I chose to paint my steering column initially to get started with the idea I would chrome it later when it made sense.
I didn’t choose to restore it to original condition but feel the blend between my design additions and original features make the boat most interesting to me. Things like the original dash and gauges are in a box, neatly wrapped for a future project or the next owner. Speaker bezels, new engine box design, and leather steering wheels aren’t original but with clever design they add a little bit to the overall package while giving us things we like to look at and use.
Thanks for all of you that I met along the way that took the time to educate and encourage me. You may not remember me from the calls and emails, but I remember you.
What’s next? We’ve seriously considered expanding our fleet and I’ve fallen in love with Shepherd boats. If any of you know of or want to sell a 22’ utility or runabout, let us know!
-Happy Woody Boating
Mike and Kristen S