Mark Bigda – Rocket Man!


Rocket Man…with a trailer

Thanks to fellow Woody Boater Mark Bigda fro sending in an inspirational story about getting his Rocket back to life!

After several failed trips to New Hampshire in search of a project boat (all were barely skeletons with a small amount of surviving hardware) a listing came up on Craigslist for a 1953 Rocket Runabout in the lakes region of New Hampshire. Actually my wife found the listing and contacted the seller only to find out that the boat was now on Long Island New York and yes it was sold already. The seller had not closed the deal and was starting a list of alternates in case the deal fell through and I was to be first on the callback list. About a week later the call came that the previous buyer was making too many demands on shipping etc. from the island and the boat was still mine if I wanted it. The answer was yes.
The scramble was on to get ready for something that I had never done before. I found a used trailer hitch on Craigslist and installed it and lights onto my pickup truck. I contacted my son and he was happy to join me and in two weeks we were on the road to New London Connecticut and then on the ferry to Long Island, cashier’s check in hand. We arrived safely at the residence and found the boat to be exactly as described by the owner – the first time that happened. The transom had gaps in the planking and the spray rails were very worn aft. The varnish was peeling and non-existent in many places. There was hard white epoxy around the shaft hole in the keel but all the hardware was there. The original engine was there but not in the boat. We loaded up the engine into the bed of my truck and hitched up the trailer. I handed over the cashier’s check and we were on our way back to the ferry for an uneventful trip back home.


My daughter Danyelle showing her approval of the purchase (if you look closely you will see the waterline painted up to the spray rail at the bow – not original)

That was October of 2009.  Shortly after the fun started for a was intended to be a preservation project ( I had the knowledge of a newborn at that point).  It wasn’t until two years later that it turned into a restoration project.
After a flip the bottom was removed, frames cleaned and replaced where necessary, new keel and chines and a new 5200 bottom complete with barrier coat primer and the original yellow bottom paint (several other colors over it but well preserved in some spots for color matching).  Both chines were broken at frame three and later on it ran all the way up the topsides and battens.  That was the turning point from preservation to restoration.  Many new skills picked up along the way and several guardian angels like Clarence with his giant diesel motor saw to cut my new white oak keel (from scraps for a large sailboat project) and Mike with his portable band saw to re-saw all of my plank stock.


My two sons Bryan (kneeling) and Cory marveling at the suspended boat

Next was more steam bending and learning the ingenuous “router method” of fitting the topside planks not to mention thousands of silicon bronze fasteners and wood plugs from the same plank scraps with the grain direction the same upon installation (I still have nightmares).  The deck planks are next with one more new skill – making kerfs on the table saw.  By the way – everything was rehearsed using cheap throw away pine until I gained the confidence to go at the real wood.


This is where I spent most of the restoration – a portable garage with no heat or air conditioning. Topside plank installation in process and corrected waterline at the bow.

Once all the new wood was in place it was hours and hours of long board fairing – all by hand and then the critical finish work of stain and varnish.  And yes in parallel with all of this was the rebuild of the flathead and all of the supporting hardware – most of which I did myself.


That’s me inspecting varnish coat twelve (note the original white interior sans ceiling boards and yellow bottom)

On June 24th 2016 the nearly 7 year journey culminated in a lake trial with engine guardian angel Phil on board.  I backed the trailer in and the engine fired right up.  We checked for forward and reverse operation and I hopped in for the ride of my life.  Phil made some final tweaks to the carburetor and then  we just cruised along, varying the RPMs as we went and already turning heads and garnering waves from admirers.


The finished product at our local Bay State Woodies show September 10th

So how would I sum this all up to anyone considering taking on this type of project.  Was it wise to buy a boat without a marine surveyor – probably not.  Did I pick a boat (17’ runabout) that I could handle – most definitely.  Was it fun – absolutely !  Did I have the prior skills to take on the project – not even close but I was willing to learn as went along.  Did I bring a rare 1953 Chris Craft Rocket back to life  – you bet you’re a$$ I did.

Special thanks also goes out to Seth Katz at Katzs Marina for his experience with his Rocket and willingness to lend advice on my waterline, seats and engine hatch.
As the Rocket Man lyrics go :
And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
 Till touch down brings me ’round again to find 
I’m not the man they think I am at home
 Oh, no, no, no, I’m a rocket man

13 replies
  1. Matt
    Matt says:

    Shut up! The boatress let me know as well. I only need one wife thank you very much! It was early, or late, I kinda loose track.. You would think all I had to do was write one sentance and that I screwed up! HAA

  2. Sean
    Sean says:

    Took that same Orient – New London ferry when we rescued the 1965 Ski Sporter form LI… a nice ride :).

    Great story on the resurrection and a great example of perseverance to finish a project!

  3. Dave Clyne
    Dave Clyne says:

    “Knowledge of a newborn”. You nailed it, Rocket Man ! Unless you have been through it you have no idea what it takes to achieve such a restoration. Great summary and even greater achievement. Beautiful. Congratulations !

  4. Jim Staib
    Jim Staib says:

    Mark, CONGRATULATIONS on finishing the project!! So many people get started and never see it to the end. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor for a long, long time.
    Smart move leaving your contact info with the seller.

  5. John Baas
    John Baas says:

    Congratulations, Rocket Man! Don’t you just love diving into something you know nothing about and coming out the other side an accomplished and skilled craftsman? Anyone with enough money can send their boat off to a pro….nothing wrong with that. But they will never feel the pride and satisfaction the DIY guys and gals feel. Great job!

  6. Tuobanur
    Tuobanur says:

    Way to go Mark, the percentage of people that actually complete a project like that is very low, so consider your self “one of the fortunate few”.

  7. Denis D
    Denis D says:

    Congrats Mark, great story about a great project I have also been following on Danenberg’s site. It was a great tip you gave me about Clarence!!
    Now as John in Va. says, Go Boating!!

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