Woody Boater Intervention! By Alex Watson.

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Watson AThis past weekend, Matt “Miss Lisa” Byrne, Chad “Lily” Durren, and I ( Alex Watson) staged an intervention.

An intervention is necessary when the afflicted individual is past the point of being able to help himself.

There are a few needs for interventions in the classic boat community:

1.Your friend can’t stop buying more boats. Intervention
2.Your friend sidles up a bit too close to a basket case large cruiser. Intervention
3.Your friend thinks he knows how to make money in classic boats. Intervention


What prompted our intervention was less common. A friend with some back issues (Mike “No Relation” Watson) was facing some pretty heavy lifting (figuratively and literally) installing his engine and drive shaft in his mostly-restored 19’ Commander Super Sport, “Blue.”

Mike Watson working on “Blue.” Note the date of this photo. At this rate, any boat Mike started on would be a classic by the time he finished.

OK, maybe intervention is not the right name for this case. How about “MikeAid?” Or “Compassion for Commander?”

To some degree, what we did is a bit like a barn raising. In a barn raising, members of a community gather to build a barn for another community member, unpaid.

A barn raising. Photo credit www.theshakercraftsman.com

Over time, the favor is eventually returned to each of the people who participate. There’s hard work, but there’s also great food and camaraderie. As a result, everyone benefits. In Mike’s case, there’s no need for, or expectation of, reciprocation. It just felt good to help a buddy.

Although, come to think of it, he does own a 1969 35’ Commander Sports Cruiser called “Original Six”…

Mike Watson’s “Original Six.”

Three of the four of us (including Mike) own 19’ Commander Super Sport V-Drives. Our love of this particular model played some small part in motivating us to do this.
Produced in 1969 only, the 19’ Commander SS is a striking boat — the marriage of Jim Wynne’s brilliant hull design, and Dick Avery’s topside artistry. Only Matt Byrne doesn’t own one (yet).

1969 19’ Commander Super Sport. Photo credit Jim Peters’ Photobucket.

Mike bought his boat as a basket case. He is pretty meticulous in what he does, so has invested countless hours in his restoration. Like most of us, he’s not adding up the countless dollars he’s also invested. That’s all water out the wet exhaust anyway.

Though Mike owns two boats, engine trouble kept his 35’ Commander out of commission all last season. That meant he didn’t get out on the water at all. Life’s too short for another year like that, Mike. It’s also too short to deny a 19’ Commander its calling.


We gathered in Kalamazoo, MI, where Mike keeps his boat.

Of course, the weekend we picked to go to K’Zoo had to have some of the worst driving of the year.

Work began Saturday morning. The biggest contributors were Matt and Chad who, having restored their own boats before, knew the steps to installing a motor and shaft. Beyond serving as the official WoodyBoater reporter and photographer, I was in charge of our music, and uncapping beer, though I loaned a hand when I could. (I’m one of those owners who writes checks for this sort of thing. I’d rather not write the checks. It’s just that ADDishness inhibits me from learning the trade and doing such painstaking work. Whereas these guys love it and are good at it.)

Left to right: Chad, Matt, Mike. It seems so obvious Matt is thinking “I’ve GOT to get me one of these!”

Watching Matt and Chad work on tasks that required a few thousands of an inch tolerance was pretty amazing. They were comfortable with all kinds of power tools and attachments. They were able to improvise solutions to problems which arose. And they were able to make do with what was available in the shop equipment- and materials-wise. I came to understand why their boats are award winners.

We stopped work late afternoon when we hit an obstacle. A flange which connected the shaft to the tranny was pretty badly scored and slightly bent, which could cause vibration and excess wear at speed.

So, we all drove to Chad’s cottage and scavenged the very part we needed off his own project 19’ Commander. How convenient was that. This gave us the opportunity to look at the condition of his boat and the pretty daunting scope of the work ahead.


Chad’s Commander SS, inside and out. Though it looks rough, the hull looks very solid. He bought a needy one, but a strong candidate.

Chad’s boat is every bit the project Mike’s was. But his excitement over it is very evident, especially as he had just picked up the boat’s freshly restored, original 327QA motor from Casey at CD’s Engine Service ( HYPERLINK “http://www.cdsengine.com” http://www.cdsengine.com) in Hudsonville, MI, one of Michigan’s best rebuilders.

The motor for Chad’s Commander.

Ok ok. That’s Chad’s venerable “B.” Just messin’ with ya. It’s for sale, btw.

Here’s Chad’s fresh QA.


Like Mike, Chad bought his boat for its great looks. Neither had ever ridden in one before. (Dang. I just realized neither had I. Now there is affirmation men are visual.)

That night, we were privileged to enjoy a home-cooked meal by Chad’s parents of baked white beans, cole slaw, and all-you-can-eat fresh lake perch and bluegill, which had been swimming that day in the lake his cottage overlooks.



Incidentally, Bell’s Brewery, Inc. (of Kalamazoo) was the official beer of this weekend, but sadly, not a sponsor.

We called it a night after looking at WoodyBoater, Bring a Trailer, and a slow mo video of Michelle Jenneke. And to think some women believe men have one thing on their minds. Sheesh. (There are three, actually.)

wat 14
Michelle Jenneke. Official mascot of the 19’ Commander?

The next morning, we reconvened at Mike’s shop to complete the install. After some sanding and cleaning of minor corrosion, dirt, and grime, the part from Chad’s boat fit perfectly.

The flange, finally installed.

After that, the rest of the install went very smoothly. The motor was bolted in place, the shaft strut was epoxied and bolted too, and the rear lifting mechanism was assembled and positioned.

We wrapped up work mid-afternoon, each of us feeling pretty good. We’d helped a deserving friend and a deserving boat make a big leap forward. As Matt said, it now floats! It is now much more likely Mike’s boat will see completion this summer and he’ll get to enjoy the fruits of his labor (and wallet).

Count ‘em. Three bodies at work. Sometimes, a little help from your friends is what you need to kick your project ahead.

In parting company, we agreed to gather on the shore of Lake Michigan for Mike’s official launching, bringing our boats along to make the occasion even more fun.

I thought this was a story worth sharing with WoodyBoater readers for a few reasons. For starters, it’s cool to realize this friendship was born on the pages (pixels) of WoodyBoater. I also thought readers would find what we did heartwarming in the middle of a cold winter. I thought it might prompt some readers to stage similar interventions for their friends. I hoped it might prompt readers who self-restore to ask for a little more help when they face difficult tasks such as Mike’s. There’s no sense delaying a project because of a particularly difficult task, and there’s no shame in asking for help, even if your aim is to say you “did it yourself.” Lastly, I thought it might prompt WoodyBoater readers to share their own similar stories.

This is one of the best things about classic boating. People are always willing to lend a hand — even a big hand — to a fellow boater. This is a big part of what makes classic boating such a feel-good hobby.

45 replies
  1. Chris B
    Chris B says:

    I think we could all use an intervention this winter like that. This is super for the long winter blues.

  2. Rick
    Rick says:

    Great story and sorely needed as it is currently snowing here again. Makes me realize that I need more local friends with classic boats. Next question Alex is who wins in a race, this boat, the blue surf or Pumpkin? Being men that’s the next important question.

  3. matt
    matt says:

    HA, Rick, thanks for bringing it up again.. The smurf is toast.. Pumpkin is coming along. The only thing making this cold weather possible is the dream of just sitting off Alexs fancy deck reving that 454 up until he is forced out for the ultimate 2014 Showdown. Makes me warm inside!

  4. Troy
    Troy says:

    DANG, Dang, dang.

    Now I have a new boat on my wish list.

    How did you get Scott Hamilton to stop by with a helping hand? You didn’t mention him.

    Well done guys and thanks for another great story Alex!

    PS: I also had a friend stop by this weekend to check up on my varnish work. She said “I love the big wood in the guest bed room, it makes me dream of mfine and his Lil Squirt!”

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      Tell her that my lil squirt has been sleeping in an not yet insulated barn in sub zero temps. Probably shriveled up like a raisin!

  5. Kevin Michael Callihan
    Kevin Michael Callihan says:


    Nice reading for winter and those of us with the passion for vintage wooden boats and others. I am not close-minded and have owned some beautiful plastic boats as well with the best being a 31′ Flying Bridge Sedan Commander CHRIS CRAFT w/twin 350 H.P. I remember as a kid when the boat was bought new and after this nice gentleman’s wife passed, he lost the spirit and I bought it as it was meticulous and had compassion for this just, upright gentleman. *1972 CC & My 21 year old baby girl. Dad loves you more than anything; you’re the best ‘wooden boat father’s baby’ in the WORLD!

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Great story!

    If anyone is free this weekend, Squirt could use a new 5200 bottom, new decking, a few topside planks replaced, staining and varnish and some upholstery work.

    If you are coming from Michigan, please bring Bell’s with you!


      • m-fine
        m-fine says:

        People in Michigan actually think that stuff is a quality beer and not a cheap laxative. First time I saw a six pack in the “artisan beer cooler” I almost died laughing!

  7. bill
    bill says:

    the first pic. of one guy working and two shooting the breeze reminds me of the phone or power company out on a job

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    Btw, that pic of Mike “No Relation” Watson sanding his hull was taken in 2010. That’s so long ago, I’m surprised fiberglass had even been invented.

    • Mike W
      Mike W says:

      Hurtful. But true. Not even 4 years yet. Same to be said for the 35SC. That picture was taken in 2010 by a dear departed friend on our way to Chambers Island between Menominee, MI and Fish Creek, WI. Lots of things got done because I was not working, sold the house and had a buyout. What a summer! Of course it was a very pricey summer. 454’s going in the 35. Fill up your vehicles because there could be a fuel shortage when we start using it. By the way, there will be two re-launch parties in West Michigan this year.

  9. Mike W
    Mike W says:

    All I can say is many, many thanks to the “friends”. Setting the beast in from scratch is a task for more than one bad back or not. I’ve set an engine in my 35 alone, more than once ugh, but that is easy compared to the SS. Climbing, V drive and no room all add up to a chore. There is no clearance or easy access to the V hub. That’s the reason Matt was chosen. “Small hands syndrome” He did a wonderful job and it takes thought and multiple hands.

    Alex did not mention that he drove through hell here and back. It snowed all along the lake for days. He would not stay home as much as I tried to suggest.

    Chad, dear, dear Chad. Your engine is no longer in your garage. Thank you for the gift. He knows now what lies ahead and anyone that thinks rebuilding a glass boat is easy should think again. I have no doubt he will make his look great. I’m moving in with your parents.

    So I now have pressure, and the desire, to finish this thing off. It won’t be a particularly fast boat but who cares. It will look and sound awesome for the 3 times I use it in a year.

    Again, many, many thanks to some wonderful people that took a weekend out of their busy lives to help.

    Mike “certainly not related” Watson

    • WoodyGal
      WoodyGal says:

      Looks alone is a good reason to buy one of these, but you’ll enjoy everything else about it too. The ride is terrific.

  10. tommyholm
    tommyholm says:

    nice job, men. nothing like a straight shaft coupled tight.
    I would have come over had you some Falstaff.
    see you on the big lake.

  11. Dave
    Dave says:

    Why is this on this site — those vessels appear to be made of plastic or fiberglass, not WOOD, as in “WOODY BOATER.” And trying to hide it by putting in pix of hot babes caressing your stern pole does not change the fact those boats are not made of organic material. Come on!

    Also, your diets suck, and maybe that is the cause of it. Too much junk food causes you to start getting a Woody from fiberglass and plastic boats.

    Get help, guys, before it is too late!

    • Alex
      Alex says:

      There’s ply in the seatbacks, subfloor, motor mounts, and to support the rudder. And I’m not even going to mention the rosewood Formica on the dash. Or that it burns organic material for fuel. And that our beer and fish are also organic. And that Michelle Jenneke is orgas… I mean organic.

      Jeez Dave, cut us some slack. It’s winter, the season of brotherly love. The time of year one doesn’t burn ants with a magnifying glass. Peace man, peace.

        • m-fine
          m-fine says:

          Well, to be fair it has the same level of styling taste as the wood panel Wagon Queen Family Truckster so the youngin’s are apt to be confused.

      • Mike W
        Mike W says:

        Seems that this path has been traveled many times here. Well plastic is made with oil and oil came from trees and other organic materials. Technically it is FRP. Haven’t seen a boat made entirely made from wood yet. Love all boats.

        Alex, thank you for not including a picture of breakfast.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      While the boat in the pictures is not a woody, the humans are all woodyboaters. That has to count for something.

  12. Chad
    Chad says:

    Thanks Alex, for the free advertising. The bidding for the B engine shown above starts at $5.

    “Can I getta 5 dolla bid now, 5 now, 5, give me 10 dollar now, 10 now 10, would ya gimme 10?”

  13. Wilson Wright
    Wilson Wright says:

    Kalamazoo may be bad but this is what Florida looked like this morning…a 30 mile stretch of nearby I-10 is closed.

    • m-fine
      m-fine says:

      That is less snow and ice than we have had on our nicest morning so far this month. No roads closed, not even a reason to be late for work. People in the South don’t know how to drive. General rule of thumb here is if the snow in the street isn’t deep enough to reach your front bumper, you are good to go. Deeper than that, use caution or switch vehicles.

  14. Alex
    Alex says:

    For those of you who want one of these boats, here’s one for sale in Michigan.

    Yes, customer-directed liberties were taken with the dash and other instances where actual wood replaced original, inorganic interior components. But these things can be reversed at fairly nominal cost.

    The most expensive and time consuming work — hull restoration, strengthening, and painting — is all done.

    I chuckled with the description this was an “open check book” restoration (which is true given what was done on this boat). Because, in reality, aren’t all restos “open check book?”


    You can read and see what was done on this boat here.


    Lastly, I have dealt with Jon Reus of MBBW, who led the resto of this and is representing the seller. I even bought my own ’69 Commander from Jon! In my experience, he’s a pleasant and straight-up guy.

    • Mike W
      Mike W says:

      I’ve seen this boat on several occasions and ironically the owner lives in our neighborhood. It is very nicely done and has had little use since it was restored. As an owner of one I like the price.

  15. 72hornet
    72hornet says:

    Love it when a project comes together! Sometimes it is more fun to help someone on their projects than those of our own! Fabulous looking Commander and that should take a maiden voyage to Tavares this March!
    Why is the steering wheel on the right and not on the left? LOL

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