A Little HALp From My Friends, Please

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Fellow Woody Boater, Classic Boat Collector and Hessel Correspondent Alex Watson is reaching out to the Woody Boater community for some opinions on what he should do with one of his rare wooden boats… And we know that many of you will have an opinion on this subject, so don’t hold back… Let er Rip!

A Little HALp From My Friends, Please
by Alex Watson

A few years ago, I bought a boat. Actually, I bought several, but that’s a whole other issue for which I need HELP, not HALp.

Anyhow, I’ve reached a crossroads with her care, and would appreciate the knowledge and opinions of our Woody Boater community to help me choose the best direction. The make of this boat, and her name, is HAL. Don’t bother looking it up. She’s a one-off, custom made in the late 30’s.

Matt did a small “dang” – type write up about HAL in late 2008, a couple years before I bought her, you can that story in the Woody Boater archive by clicking here.

Though HAL was first listed for $29,000, her price had dropped steeply. I paid a little under $8,000. A bargain? Probably not. In fact, I might be hard pressed to sell her for my purchase price. But she’s worth this to me.

Why did I buy her? Her hardware! I’d never seen anything like it. Every piece right down to the exhaust trim was cast, extruded, stamped, cut, etched, or otherwise formed from solid aluminum by Harland Cook. A keen eye will also notice each piece of hardware is monogrammed by Mr. Cook. See for yourself.

I’ve saved the two best hardware shots for last. First, take a look at the spotlight Harland made. It is remote adjustable from under the dash using, you guessed it, an aluminum handle. Monogrammed, of course.

And check out the steering wheel. Click to zoom in and you can see three different bar shapes for the spokes: round, twisted, and beveled. The nut he made for the center? Yep, it’s monogrammed too.

By now, you’ve probably noticed Harland’s fondness for the hexagon shape. It appears in all the boat’s hardware, including all the beveling. Even the exhaust trim ring is hexagonal.

And just when you think Harland deviated from that shape, say, with the spotlight’s pointed base, think again. It’s called a “hexagonal pyramid.”

When I researched the symbolism of hexagons, all kind of stuff came up. In nature, the hexagon is mainly associated with bees and is the foundation of their honeycomb. As a result, it is commonly a symbol of cooperation and community. Perhaps that’s why Harland chose the hexagon as the boat’s “theme.”

Here’s a little more I learned about HAL from the builder’s grandson, with whom I subsequently established contact…

“Alex, the name HAL came from the Cook family Harland Allen Lois (Cook). Harland built the boat in the barn at his home at 25 Elm Street, Massena, NY. They used the boat on the St. Lawrence river at their camp at Louisville Landing. The boat was maintained by my grandfather and father who were very good wood workers and mechanics. They both were tool and die men at Alcoa for 40+ years. The boat never left the Cook family until it was sold to Mr. Spottswood.”

[NOTE: I bought the boat from Mr. Spottswood, making me HAL’s third owner. – Alex]

“The boat was always stored and covered every fall in the barn at his home. I have the original bill of sale for the lumber to build the boat which I would be glad to mail to you, just send me your address. The motor was purchased from the same place the lumber was purchased, and somewhere we may have a bill of sale for the motor, can’t put our hands on it right now. Sent some pics of the boat that we have and the young lad in the boat is our son. …All the hardware on the boat was made by my Grandfather at Alcoa. The numbers, the letters, the cleats, bow rails, light, hatch cover rails, steering wheel, dash cluster for instruments, exhaust port, step pads, and his own spot light.” — Gary Cook

Here’s a copy of that bill of sale. Original 1939. Ohhhhh, Texx will love this!

And here are the photos Gary Cook sent me. From the cars in the background, they look like they were taken in the early 70’s, making HAL about 35 years old at the time.

I was thrilled to have historical photos of the boat. While they did not date from the time of construction, they did show some important missing components, including the original name and port on the transom, and the license numbers on the bow. As you can see, these were cut from aluminum sheet, not painted or leafed. Gary’s photos also showed the boat did not have a windshield originally.

I asked Tommy Mertaugh and his guys at Classic and Antique Boats in Hessel to look HAL over upon arrival. Her wood was deemed solid, including her original bottom. She needed a bilge pump for safety and a new battery, but that was about it… other than the fact that none of her lights worked, she lacked a fuel tank, her choke cable had seized, her gauges didn’t work, her motor needed to be started right at the starter, and she wouldn’t steer worth a damn. But hey, how about that good wood!

Tommy’s motor guy, Warren, went to work on HAL’s original power, a 1928 Willys Overland 4 cylinder making 31 horsepower (when new). The old Willys smokes a bit, but not out of the ordinary.

Warren also went over her transmission, a 3-speed. HAL sports an automotive manual transmission, with a foot-activated clutch. If you can’t drive a stick, you can’t drive a HAL.

Oh, and here’s HAL’s dash. I don’t think she’s on her second 100,000. 37,840 miles looks about right.

HAL soaked up beautifully for her first wet test, though water seeped through her still-dry chine boards. With some adjustments to her steering after that, she became a functional boat again.

Each time I drive her or just look her over, I think “what a different boat!” In fact, she makes my whole family smile.

Ok, so enough of the preamble. On to my appeal for HALp.

I asked Tommy what it would cost to completely refinish HAL. Again, she needs no new wood whatsoever, making her a fine “preservation” candidate, not a “restoration.” Per ACBS rules: “A preserved boat shall have at least 60% of her original wood. Reconstruction of the bottom will not be counted in determining preserved or restored.” HAL had 100%.

When Tommy quoted me on stripping and refinishing her, I knew nearly every dollar would be another drop “underwater.” HAL is one of those eye-of-the-beholder boats, not a “collectible.” No one would pay a lot more for a completely restored HAL vs. an unrestored one. So I decided to “winter on it.”

Over that winter, I began to wonder if restoring HAL was the right thing to do. I remembered Mr. Spottswood, the man I bought the boat from, telling me it belonged “in a museum.” I also remembered, years back, reading “they can be restored 100 times, but they’re only original once.” And I remembered reading a story in Motor Trend about an unrestored car, an AC Cobra, with decades of chips, dings, cracks, discoloration, and grime. The owner prized this car over others in his collection for it’s originality. More accurately, what he prized was its authenticity. His AC wasn’t a show car. It was the real deal. A factory original. Here is that article. But please, read it after you’ve completed this story and suggested what you think I should do with HAL. (Click here to see the Motor Trend Cobra story)

In a classic car book called “It’s Only Original Once”, the dedication page reads: “To all the past and present car owners who had the foresight not to restore their original cars but to treasure and preserve them as the automative artifacts they truly are.” Now, I know cars aren’t boats. Cars don’t sink; boats do. (Well, Amphicars might…) My recent total restoration of a 1948 25’ Sportsman is a case in point. “Preserving” it was out of the question owing to its pervasive rot. “Preserving” it would have placed bragging rights for “factory original” above safety.

But HAL is a different case. She’s is in remarkable shape.

Would I be doing a boat with 1938 stain and lots of 1938-2012 patina a disservice to strip her and make her like new, or more likely, better than new?

I’ve come to see beauty in HAL’s condition. I don’t see worn, tired wood, faded paint, stain, and varnish, rust, grime, and dulled aluminum. I’m seeing… here it comes… patina. This wood, while bereft of stain and varnish in some areas, is golden in others.

Take a look.

I don’t see her patina as integral to her dollar value. Nor do I see removing it as harming her value or adding value. What I see “restoration” doing is potentially harming what makes HAL special to me and to those who will see her at boat shows.

Here she is on display at a boat show Hessel, Michigan in 2010. By the way you can click here to learn more about the 2012 Hessel Boat Show in August.

It was evident some in attendance didn’t see her as tired. They looked past that and could see her individuality and history. (Either that, or they were wondering what the hell a boat so weathered was doing next to mirror-perfect kin. Ha.)

So, if HAL is to become a “preserved” boat or, more accurately, original in a practical way, in what ways should I protect her?

I figure fresh bottom paint is a given.

And her beloved hardware should remain “as-is” too. Polishing that would be a crime. (Hey, I’ve seen Antiques Roadshow.)

But I’m less certain what’s right for her hull sides, transom and decks. Leaving that wood “as-is” is probably not responsible. As she is destined for a few weeks use per year, year after year, her wood needs protection from the elements.

Typically, that means varnish. In HAL’s case, to preserve her weathered look, varnish could be applied over the existing stain. Gloss varnish would make her shiny, yet keep the weathered look underneath it. Or, we could go with a satin varnish, preserving that weathered look while not adding a “restored” or “preserved” shine.

But perhaps varnish isn’t the way to go at all, as it will certainly affect the present look to a noticeable degree. A local fine artist and truly a master of color and finish, Rick Reichlin, brought an interesting third option to my attention. Last summer, he treated an antique oak tabletop of ours with top quality paste wax. The result? The paste wax showed a deeper woodgrain, but there was no material change in the wood’s wear, color, or reflectivity. And the surface he applied has since proven resistant to stains and watermarks.

I recognize traditionalists might think using paste wax on a boat is heretical. But if it largely preserves patina, enhances the grain, and protects the wood, why would this be bad?

So there you have it. My plea for HALp, especially re HAL’s exterior wood. Do you think I’m nuts to believe she should retain her wear?

Or, do you think that’s the right course, but have positives or negatives to add about the varnish and/or paste wax alternatives I mentioned? Or do you have a forth option I should consider for protecting wear and finish?

Please weigh in.

Thank you – Alex Watson

71 replies
  1. chad
    chad says:

    Or… drop a Stroker in it, paint it purple, glass it, re-upholster it with zebra stripes, and challenge everyone to a shootout.

  2. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    What a great boat. I guess Hal had alot of time on his hands during those winter months on the river. After awhile it is not any more fun driving your car across the ice to Canada. Hal has the narrow beam that is great on the river’s chop. I can visualize it going up river in a nice warm southewest breeze. I would try the wax first since it is reversible. How about a nice user boat finish. Protect the wood but do not worry about it being perfect. Leave it out in the sun and start a new patina. Hal is lucky to have you.

    • Don Quixote
      Don Quixote says:

      Smoother her with as much care and maintenance that you can. Remember when she’s gone, she’s gone.

  3. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:


    It sounds like you have already researched all the altrnatives thoroughly, and know all your options. It is therefore time for you, and only you, to decide what will make the boat what you want it to be. That is the only way you will appreciate the boat to the maximim, and not have any regrets. I would also love to see you bring the boat down to our Algonac show , as it is truely a treasure, and I’m sure the photo’s do not do it justice.

    Good Luck

  4. Tom Carter
    Tom Carter says:

    I too recently bought an old no-name runabout that a Navy vet built after returning from WW II. It has original finish on everything, and the latest evidence of use points to 1962. It last saw daylight around then.

    My intention is to put it into the condition it was when the last owner used it and lovingly cared for it. So I’ve buffed out the slight pitting on the chrome lights and trailer hubcaps and when the weather warms up I’ll over-coat the varnished brightwork with Epifanes. As I said, my intention is to make it resemble what condition I think the builder would have it in if he survived to this day. I don’t much care about collector value, as I bought it to use with my grandsons, not to market it.

    Your mileage may vary, and you should do what you’re comfortable with.


  5. ranger
    ranger says:

    i like this little boat…it’s harware caught my eye even before i read the great story of her and saw the pictures that gary had sent you.

    sorry i can’t be of any help – other than to tell you – what a great position you are in…whatever you do with HAL will be perfect, alex!

    chad’s up early stirring the pot this morning, isn’t he?

    best of luck

  6. Alex
    Alex says:

    Tom: Thank you for your thoughts. Sounds like a cool boat you have. Best wishes with the resto.

    Hmmm. Never thought about HAL’s mileage. But it must be ok with that skinny beam and little motor.

    Wonder if I can I improve it by 2 MPG if I inflate her tires a bit more?

  7. Alex
    Alex says:

    Chad’s not up early. He’s getting home late. Sounds like quite a night if he’s seeing purple and zebra stripes!

  8. Scott Ales
    Scott Ales says:

    I am very interested in this story. 27 years ago Debra and I bought our first wooden boat. We still have it and have never restored it. Were not exactly sure what it is but it has a marinized 1937 flathead Ford V8-60 in it. The other interesting feature is the transom. It was cut from one big piece of wood! No seams and it is not plywood. Planks are copper nailed. The engine is and always has been out of the boat. The boat is exactly like yours as far as condition goes. Clearly our boat is also a homemade one off. We absolutely WILL restore our boat someday. I think….

    Now, your boat I believe is a diamond in the rough. The hardware man, the hardware! I can see a show stopper in my head. This past September at the Mecum Geneva Lake auction we sold a 1953 Delta 14′ runabout. Completely customized and perfect, flawless condition. It brought $32,000 plus a 10% buyer’s premium. Why? Just look at it.


    That boat was a constant draw during the weekend. There were always people around it. There were plenty of 14′ Deltas produced so the argument is obvious as compared to your boat being a one off. But your boat was not a production, known brand. If there were hundreds of automobile companies by the 30s how many boat companies were there by the 40s? Then, how many home made boats by then? My point is this, I can see your boat completely restored in my mind and I will tell you it is spectacular! The reason is the same reason you bought it, the hardware. With a high gloss finish and professionally polished hardware your boat would would be a jewel! No one needs to know what 1938 Hals looked like so they can restore their Hal sistership properly.

    In the end I like Greg’s comment. Just because I can see it all shiny doesn’t make it right. It is your decision and once you restore it you can’t go back! Choose wisely. I may ponder over restoring my boat for the next 27 years. Thanks for sharing the story and again, I love the hardware!

  9. matt
    matt says:

    Starring at that hardware is like looking at a woman with a missing button on her shirt. Ya want to polish it all up, but you know you better leave it alone and look at the sky.

  10. Alex
    Alex says:

    Ok, Scott’s on record for implying there’s nothing wrong with taking another 27 years to make up my mind. I’ll bet my wife is squarely in that camp too, after I just paid for the 25′ Sportsman resto.

  11. Alex
    Alex says:

    Memo to the Cook family re that banner and the creative etchings in the HAL logo. That’s the photoshop handiwork of Matt Smith, Chairman and CEO of WoodyBoater. It’s not real life. I would never carve my initials in any boat (save a 1970 Arabian). So please don’t show up in Hessel and spear me.

  12. Charles Bingham
    Charles Bingham says:

    Paste wax is an interesting idea, but I have one concern with that.
    I’ve not used wax before to preserve wood, and I’m not an expert in varnish. But, would getting wax into the wood grain cause problems if you ever decided to have it varnished in the future?
    It seems it might be difficult to get all of the wax out of the wood pores, and what remained might cause bonding problems with a future varnish coat…
    Just a thought.
    A finish expert might be able to give a better answer.

    Beautiful boat!

    • Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy
      Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy says:

      My 63 Carver was done up with butchers wax when I bought it. Washed it down with paint thinner and light sanding and revarnished without any problems.

  13. Matt B
    Matt B says:

    Awesome, a boat with a clutch, can you get a “second gear scratch”?

    I say leave it alone, do normal maintenance like bottom paint and varnish but save the patina.

    Cool boat!

  14. brian
    brian says:

    No doubt I will upset a few purists, so with that disclaimer…

    We are the current caretakers of Zoomer, a one off custom boat made by a great guy and his brother. It is loaded with memories of the family and their friends from the years 1930 to 1998. When we were granted “2nd caretaker” status in 2006, she has given my family and friends many, many memories. She is only Zoomer with all of the nicks and scratches and the like. All of her patina tells her story. At our local shows, people who rode in her as children cannot help but come up and lay their hands on her, just to once again feel the wood and warmth. Sappy? Yes. But perhaps we humans need that tangible touch with our past.

    Leave HAL alone as much as possible, but do just enough to make sure she sees many more tomorrows. Do not strip, but do a light sand and then add your layer of varnish and memories.

    There are more than enough over preserved and restored crafts out there.

    I don’t really know if I am making my point here but… Take care of her and protect her wood and bits but also keep her essence of who she really is.

  15. Alex
    Alex says:

    Brian, thank you for your personal comments.

    I recall reading about the very cool Zoomer from this summer’s WoodyBoater: http://woodyboater.com/communityweb/a-day-in-the-life-of-zoomer-and-lily-wooden-boats-used-as-they-were-meant-to-be-used

    Like you, I love to use boats and seem them used. “After all, “it’s later than you think,” right?

    One key difference between Zoomer and HAL tho. Zoomer can tow a skiier. HAL can only watch. No amount of “I think I can” would get even a child up behind HAL.

    However, the good news is she’ll never topple your beer.

  16. chad
    chad says:

    We already know HAL makes you happy because we see the grin on your face in the above photo. You’ve already got user boats, restored boats and preserved boats. My point is that you have an untouched, one-off HAL… why not just keep him/her as is?

    I would keep it oiled and running and not a change a thing. The next owner will be thrilled that you didn’t wax it.

  17. Scott Ales
    Scott Ales says:

    One thing about all that aluminum, you could polish it once, enjoy it for a few seasons, then just let it repatina! No harm in that.

    Hmm… Repatina

    A new boat name?

  18. chad
    chad says:

    It’s not like you’re gonna take the kids tubing in HAL.

    Take them for a leaky, smokey, musty, shaky ride and they’ll never forget it.

    Save the money for your XK Nitrous kit. You have an Arabian to embarrass. Stay focused!

  19. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    I’m with the “light sand and topcoat” opinion, only because of the potential for wet/dry degradation and staining over time. Along with that, I would wax up the aluminum bits by hand so they don’t corrode or otherwise deteriorate, (but then I come from a salt water perspective). Make the bottom as pretty and tight as you can, clean it up mechanically so it’s reliable and safe and enjoy the boat as you have been!

  20. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    Restore it to within an inch of its life. Its a wonderful old boat and I think it deserves to be lovingly treated to a restoration to bring her back to the day she was finished.

  21. Gary L Cook
    Gary L Cook says:

    Hope you are enjoying HAL. It brings back memories of when we rode in it on the St Lawrence at my grandfathers camp. I wish we could have keep the boat and used it like you but that did not work, so it was sold. My grandfather would have been proud of your work on HAL, and just to see it in the water again was a rush. We still have a model of HAL at home with gas engine and all the hardware on HAL, built by my father. Good luck with Hal it sure was a joy of my grandfather.
    Gary L Cook

  22. Allen
    Allen says:

    What Harland,would the builder be doing this winter and spring if he were alive and intent on using the boat as he had in the past. Thats what I might do…..a little sanding, fresh varnish, maybe polish up the aluminum…..think about it….we are talking about general welfare to sustain what was begun. A few years into using if originally he probably did that, so why not you. evidently he was proud of his little boat and would want to sustain its usabilty not let it deteriorate from neglect. Just my thoughts.

  23. matt
    matt says:

    . IT just may be that the original part is the dramatic tension thats keeping you going on the boat. That tension is the magic, the hope of what it could be is the cool part

  24. Dan Bristow
    Dan Bristow says:

    Hi, love the boat and the story and felt I had to give a european view. I make and restore violins and so many are ruined by people overvarnishing them. In one coat you wipe away it’s history, but so many are still ruined this way. Like a good original antique, it’s history and provenance is vital to its future appreciation and an original boat or car in such condition should not be any different. I am a great believer in linseed oil to nourish the varnish that is left and protect any bare wood from rain and sea spray.
    Sorry, but felt I had to add my extra pound from the UK.

  25. Alex
    Alex says:

    Really appreciating all this input. I will be reading it and rereading it to help with decisions.

    Gary (Cook), fun of you to chime in with your memories. Glad you enjoyed seeing HAL on the water again. Once it soaked up, it was water tight. Better than I expected. Would be a treat to see a photo of that HAL model. Can you please snap a pic of that and email it to me?

  26. Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy
    Randy Rush-Captain Grumpy says:

    You have too many boats, I think you should just give me this one, Ill be there tommorow afternoon to pick it up.
    Ok so thats not happining. I have a similar boat, well similar in that its homemade . I bought it for short money because of a family attachment. The thing is the coolest boat, but its got no resale value and im probably going to own it forever.
    Leave HAL alone and just enjoy .

  27. Tom Carter
    Tom Carter says:

    Despite what Dan says (correctly) about historic vale and refinishing, I feel I’d be respecting the original builder/owner by restoring it to fine operating condition and using it. I’m afraid gentle treatments like Linseed Oil or paste wax wouldn’t hold up at all in a marine environment. Violins, yes; boats no.

    Besides, in my case, the older heavy chrome polishes up so nicely it’s a wonder to behold.


  28. Eric
    Eric says:

    A fresh coat of bottom paint, a fresh coat of varnish to emphasize the wonderful patina! Make it safe and seaworthy is all HAL would need to be enjoyed and appreciated.

  29. Alex
    Alex says:

    Whereas Vince, a.k.a. Mr. Slap Chop, a.k.a. “I-darn-near-got-my-tongue-bitten-off-by-a-woman-I-hardly-know” would tell me all it needs is a good wipe with ShamWow!

    ‘Cause it’s “made in Germany, you know, the Germans always make good stuff.”

  30. Tom Wilson
    Tom Wilson says:

    They are only original once, that’s for sure. Each boat is a an artifact of the period in which it was built, cannot be anything else, and as a functional piece of art, perhaps one of the most true witnesses to the period of its birth. For sure it has more veracity than the political histories of its age.

    So, as a valuable testament to a bygone age, do you 1) keep it in an arrested state of decay 2) painstakingly restore it as the Smithsonian would using only period correct methods, chemicals, materials and fasteners or, 3) as a functional item, use and display it in motion to others, which requires some minimal updating and upkeep.

    If it were going on static display in a museum, then option 1 or if could be correctly carried off, perhaps 2 would be correct. But arguably its best use is as a functioning piece of art. The sound of its engine, especially of it shifting gears or the dynamics of it cutting the water with its narrow beam are major parts of what HAL has to offer, and that means option 3.

  31. Alex
    Alex says:

    Tom, I’m liking the direction you and others are giving me re basic protection w/o substantially erasing the boat’s wear.

    The needle is moving toward super light, fine grit sanding (more of a cleaning than a “sanding”) plus a few coats of varnish, which I think the maker would do and would respect me doing, or as Dan B suggested, something even less invasive but perhaps quite protective such as a linseed oil. The latter would not leave behind any residue, which Charles B wisely suggested would be the case with paste wax.

    Your option 2), Tom, is a non-starter in Hessel. I don’t believe they sell Q Tips north of the Mackinac Bridge, nor do I believe illegals venture up here either. Unless you’re talking Canadians.

  32. Alex
    Alex says:

    Hard to tell re varnish, it’s so worn off in spots. Rubrails (wood) are simply bare. But I expect the stain it original. Doubt this boat was heavily used and doubt highly it was ever “restored.” This was the era where wooden boats just became old.

    Fess-up time: We did strip, stain, and varnish the transom two years back. Reason? Someone had renamed the boat “Sue.” I couldn’t live with that, since the hull card clearly shows HAL as her original name, as do the vintage photos Gary Cook sent me. Whatever we do with the rest of the boat, the fresh transom will be distressed to match. Before new aluminum HAL letters are applied, just like the originals.

    Interestingly, the transom is made of spruce, yet the rest of the boat is mahogany. As best as Tommy Mertaugh was able to determine, the spruce is original. There is no indication inside of replacement wood.

  33. Texx
    Texx says:

    From my perspective, if there were two HALS (or two of anything, cars, bikes, planes) parked side by side at a boat show or museum, one perfectly restored and the other in original, un-restored condition… I would always be attracted to the un-restored version first.

    I would take the opportunity to simply admire it as an original piece of history, and immerse myself in it’s patina and signs of age, and try to imagine what Harland Cook’s vision was for his creation. And what inspired Harland to build it over 70 years ago in his garage.

    What it must have been like to navigate the St. Lawrence back in the day with that tiny 31HP Willys engine and gear shift… And how proud he must have been of his unique, one-off creation.

    Alex – As the custodian of HAL, do only what it takes to keep it seaworthy, usable and safe – and share Harland Cook’s story and unique creation with as many people as you can.

  34. allenlee
    allenlee says:

    I saw HAL at the Hessel show and was intrigued. It looked out of place next to the finished barrelbacks. Made me wonder about it’s history and I was hoping to see it motor but didn’t get to. My vote is for keeping HAL looking as is. How you achieve that is not my expertise. Reminds me of Willie Nelson’s Martin N-20 guitar Trigger. By the way Willie has 100 autographs on the Martin. Hard to put a value on a piece of history.

  35. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    I would simply varnish and protect it to an extent sufficient only to prevent further deterioration or the onset of rot, and then I would use it as a fun little parade boat. It can’t be much more with only 31 HP, and there is absolutely no point into trying to make this into ANYTHING other than what the builder envisioned.

    There is no reason not to polish the hardware (it’s most interesting characteristic in my opinion) and otherwise clean it up, but what on earth is to be gained by making it perfect? Value – not really. Uniqueness – no it is one of one, not matter the condition.

    In my view the two most important things you can do are these:

    1) Preserve it and keep it intact as an authentic survivor
    2) Keep it safe and running so you can use it and folks can see it out on the water. It does no one any good if it is not operational and stored away somewhere.

  36. Alex
    Alex says:

    Paul, I knew I could count on you for an opinion. 🙂

    No, really, I do value your thoughts highly. You walk the finest line I know between repair, restore, rebuild, and leave-it-the-hell-alone. With regard for cost, but never a compromise.

    Come to Hessel and drive some stuff. Bring Canadian beer.

  37. Captain Nemo
    Captain Nemo says:

    I would scuff’er up and topcoat the varnish. The pastewax would be a big mistake. If you were to go w/ linseed oil I would cut it w/ turpentine to help w/ penetration. Obviously linseed won’t weather as well as a couple of coats of varnish. Keep the patina and all the dings and imperfections, you can’t erase that kind of history!

  38. 72 Hornet
    72 Hornet says:

    Alex, after seeing so many “perfectly restored” baots at shows, it’s boats like Hal that intrigue me more. I am thinking about all of the hours of not only building the hull, but to design and construct the hardware and the obvious attention to detail. What a joy to be able to be the caretaker of this cool little boat! I would want that bare wood covered with maybe a “preserving few coats” of varnish and enjoy that patina. I have a Century Ski Dart that I use frequently, it was white and black when my next door neighbor purchased it in 1965. He was the second owner, I purchased the boat in 1997 as this was my first experience with wood boats when our neighbor would take it out of his boat house on Satruday mornings and take me for rides. From that moment on, I was hooked. When I bought the boat, it was in need of a refinish, and in deferece to the owner, I did it back to black and white and not the original bumble bee colors from Century. Its funny, but that entry level Century from 1960 gets more complements when I am out for rides than any of my other boats that are worth far more in terms dollar value. Even more than my Donzi Hornet! So, if it were mine, I would provide the upkeep to be able to run and enjoy it in a safe manner while maintaining the wood as best as you can. Great story, I hope to be able to someday see this boat in person!

  39. Alex
    Alex says:

    72 Hornet, or may I call you 72? Thank you for your suggestions. I’m pretty much certain that is the way to go.

    If you do come to Hessel, drive her.

    Have you driven a HAL, lately?

  40. MikeM
    MikeM says:

    First, I think you should legally change your name to HAL. Then you will become one with the boat and the answer will present itself.

    If the builder were to come back and see your boat I think he would be pleased to see her in her current, original condition but I also think he would be pleasantly “stunned” to see her properly restored, shiny and new.

    It’s not always about you, Alex.

  41. Brad Ernst
    Brad Ernst says:

    I also have a 1930 home built that is 100percent original with crazed varnish like your little gem. The problem is the crazed varnish seem to really absorb moisture when out on the lake or even outside. So my solution was to put on 2 coats of Epiphanies rubbed effect varnish thined 50% with thier brushing thiner. It preserved it perfectly and would do it again. It protected it but didn’t ad the gloss that regular varnish would have.

    Brad Ernst

  42. The Central Scrutinizer
    The Central Scrutinizer says:

    I’ve read this thee times now. As the owner of a Glen-L boat, I have an affinity for home built boats. HAL has a real pleasing and understated charm and it’s age and patina just really multiply that. You also have a lot of her history in hand and it is nice that you’ll be able to pass that on to someone else some day. It’s kinda like an old family member…you wouldn’t let her rot away without some sort of treatment. My two penneth say to give her a little sand paper and some varnish. She looks low and has a narrow beam, so she probably gets pretty wet all over and that can’t be good for unprotected wood. BTW, the monogrammed hardware is just too cool.

  43. tommy holmes
    tommy holmes says:

    I was just cruisin the Antique Boat Center listing and lo and behold a HAL is for sale, Only $29900. see the listing for yourself under runabouts 16 – 19ft.
    HAL is located in Florida a long way from its twin orphaned sister of Hessel.

    so much for unique…..

    • Texx
      Texx says:

      Thanks for spotting this one Tommy, but if I’m not mistaken (and I often am) this is an old listing for the same HAL that Alex now owns.

      Alex will probably chime in the morning to confirm…

  44. Alex
    Alex says:

    Catching up on replies here.

    Firstly, Mike….

    If you’ll be my bodyguard,
    I can be your long lost pal!
    I can call you Betty,
    And Betty, when you call me,
    You can call me [HAL]!

    And secondly, Betty, it IS always about me. So deal with it, you spoiler of llamas.

  45. Alex
    Alex says:

    Brad, I will run your formula by my finish expert. Thank you for the tip, especially as you have proven success with your concoction.

    While we’re on the subject of mixtures, do you have any cocktail recipes for me too? Or for the official WoodyBoater bartendress, LILY?

  46. Alex
    Alex says:

    Tommy H, the boat you are looking at at Antique Boat Center is mine. That is indeed a very old listing. I just emailed them and suggested they remove it.

    Are you interested? Do you want to buy mine? You know, despite this tepid economy, the price of HALs has risen quite dramatically. Last I heard, Alex (same guy, but the other personality) said he might be willing to trade his original HAL for a 3rd, 1946-1950 25′ Sportsman (restored). Though it could be just a rumor…

  47. Peter Gantt
    Peter Gantt says:

    Hello. Way out here in Washington, we don’t see as many antique boats, but I vote to lightly sand, a coat or two of varnish, and back in the water. As for the aluminium, if you polish it, it will be back to the current state soon enough. I say leave it alone. I think we have enough boats looking like jewelry. PS I’m happy you’re Hal”s owner. You’re a sensitive caretaker.

  48. Alex
    Alex says:

    Peter, thank you for your kind words. I really do care about this boat. Not only is it cool and does it make people smile, but it is by the hand of an incredibly talented man, not “men,” as my Chris-Crafts are. So you’re right. I feel a responsibility. Mind you, I feel that for my Chris-‘s too. Only the “what to do” with them is easier to figure out.

  49. Bill Whitney
    Bill Whitney says:

    Regarding all those hexagon shapes: probably many of them were made from extruded hex bar, meaning the shape was already there. If the builder worked at Alcoa, he may have gotten a lot of free scraps. Very neat old boat.

  50. Alex
    Alex says:

    Bill, I think you’re right re the extrusions. That mIght explain a lot. So less mystery to the hex shape, perhaps? Convenience over mysticism? Still I’d rather work at Alcoa and get hex scraps, than work at Taco Bell and get, er, “food” scraps (and I’m being kind here).

  51. Rodger Stroop
    Rodger Stroop says:

    Awesome, i would be writing forever, lots of Fabulous ideas here,… a complete restoration, yea, that’s it,.. stem ta stern, top ta bottom (er vice-versa) W.E.S.T/3m5200 bottom, polish up that Aluminum & Chrome it, Rebuild & trick the motor,
    Just Saying ,…

  52. Tim Fuhrmann
    Tim Fuhrmann says:

    In 2008, I bought a 1956 Glasspar Club Lido that really didn’t need much at all. The Transom was rotten and the seats had rotted away. The gel coat (yes, it is a glass boat) was badly deteriorated and the engine had been a rat’s nest for years, literally. ugh.


    Long story short, I brought it back to life to use it, not show it. Ultimately boats are there to be used. I will never get my money out of it, don’t need to. I get my money’s worth every time I take her out and nearly every one who sees me, waves, smiles and shouts “That boat is gorgeous.”

    You have choices to make and lots of recommendations above, but most of all, do what is necessary to preserve the boat and use it well.


  53. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    I can appreciate wanting to keep the patina, but I think any boat deserves to be restored, especially if one wants to keep enjoying it for may years to come. Sand her down, put a new stain and several coats of varnish. A woman wouldn’t go to the trouble of getting a new face lift and then wear the same old torn and tattered dress. Do her up right. You wouldn’t be the first and you won’t be the last to give one’s lovely boat a dressing up. Go for it. She will love you for it!

  54. Alex
    Alex says:

    Hi Lynn. Thank you for your thoughts. The decision was made a while back to protect the boat from the elements but retain its weathered patina. What we elected to do will not stand in the way of a total re-do anytime I wish down the road.

    I am writing a follow-up story about what was done, and how it was done. That story will probably be in WoodyBoater sometime in the next 10 days

    Coincidentally, the finish work was completed today, the day of your comment.

    Thank you again for your input.

  55. april
    april says:

    bought this boat and need some information on it.. it says on the metal plate inside sport lidio

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