Woody Boats – “It’s Not About Need”
A huge wonderful thanks to long time fellow Woody Boater Steve Bunda and Chapter President Of The Sons Of Varnish Wisconsin Chapter, for sending us in this incredibly insightful story. Dang, Not only does Steve have a way with boats, but a way with words! Enjoy. I did.
I and many other woody boaters caught the bug , started with one wood boat and then added more. For me it was easy as I had a supporting wife that loved woody boating as much as working on them. The reasons to purchase another one always made sense at the time and could be justified by any number of things. May it be a different style , size, rarity, investment, cost, or any other rationale that came after a few beers. A few years ago my good customer Gordon Moore brought me another boat to restore a pre-war 21 foot utility . I said to him, Gordon you do not need another boat, his response ways,” Steve it is not about need”
After being involved with wood boats since working at Kinn Marine , Oconomowoc, Wis, in 1976 and subsequently buying our first boat a 1946 Chris Craft 17 foot Deluxe in the 80’s . We turned a hobby into a nice little business and have installed over 75 5200 bottoms and restored many more. We bought boats and stashed them everywhere, built buildings and filled them up with treasures including Chris Crafts, Century, Thompson, GarWood, and others.
The reason to save them was obvious because it would be a crime to scrap them and burn the hull . But as time passes , 10 , 20, 30 years and the boats are still there something has to change . Throughout the years we have seen many collections sold off at auction, and I have come to the realization that I have more boats than time to restore or use.
A few years ago I set off to sell 2 boats a year and it is not easy to find new owners for average everyday woody boats. Wood boats are maintained and restored based on Value or Love. But when the boat’s value is not shored up by being a rare or highly sought after woody like a Barrel, Cobra, Racing Runabout, or other special collector boat. And the love is lost when the original boat owner and the family walk away from their wood boat.
The problem is finding a new owner for an average every day survivor or project boat that does not meet this criteria. So what do we do with these boats? They cannot be made rare, hard to create love, all money and time invested restoring them is not easily recovered.
I think the answer is to help people of all ages to understand the uniqueness and the ability to restore a wood boat whether doing it yourself or having a professional do it. I have helped many people restore their boats and that process has saved many a wood boat and filled it with love. Restoring a wood boat is about the “Journey” from the purchase, planning, taking the first piece of hardware off to the completion and boating on your favorite waters.
When we completed a restoration on our 1937 25 foot Triple and subsequently launched it for its maiden voyage it gave us a great sense of accomplishment. A feeling you cannot get by going to your local marina and purchasing a new plastic, aluminum boat, or pontoon. After completing our last project , Laurie and I looked at each other and said , now what do we do? Which one is next?
Again, thanks to Steve Bunda and this amazing 1937 25 foot Roll Deck. Found abandoned in Sturgeon Bay Wisc, restoration started by Keenan Bunda and then completed by Steve and Laurie Bunda over 8 years between customer projects. Named Who’s Your Daddy , because we would love to find the original owner some day . The boat is now filled back up with Love.
Steve owns what used to be called Bottoms Up Restoration and is now search term named Antique Boat Restoration. Oh Google, you have messed with a fun brand name. Photo credit Marc Blazich from and taken on Lake Lucerne Wisconsin.
Good restorers are a special breed to be admired and respected. It sounds like Steve and Laurie fit that definition. Thanks for what you do to save these pieces of history!
There is so much truth in what he says. It took years for me to complete my boat and came very close a couple times of given up. But what a feeling when it was completed and launched, nothing better.
great job Steve! That is a lot of boat to restore. and what a special boat it is.
Great work, fellow traveler! Our boats are a journey for the soul more than the body. So you tend to the path, trying to keep it as clear and beautiful for the next visitor. The weeds and ruts will come back for the next generation to address, but you’ve done your part. That’s all that can be asked.
Nice story Steve.
For those that have not seen Steve’s shop, it is a miracle to behold. It makes a NASA clean room blush. Instills confidence when you arrive and you know you’re in goods hands.
I just want to know how you clean up all the 5200 that seems to show up on everything, even things you swore you never touch?
Nice job Steve! No one needs a wooden boat, but the want is always there. Restoring a boat is definitely a “journey”.
Steve and Laurie are excellent restorers and very nice folks. A person can not go wrong bringing a wood boat to them for a high quality restoration, nor purchasing one of their restorations. I can attest that there are a lot of boats around and Steve knows the full scoop on each of them. And their shop is not just “first class”, it’s “world class”! We’re very fortunate to have them in our little neck of the woods in northern “Sconny”.
late to the party today… Steve brings up and issue too close to home for me… I ve spent many years collecting boats and acquiring the spaces/facilities to store them… Trying to find a “worthy” next caretaker is not easy to do… I don’t have the resources to “help” someone else restore a boat I didnt have the time to do myself…. New caretakers need storage and shop space beside the garage that the spouse will retake after parking outside…. If they dont have the historical love for the boats, it will surely be neglected and worse off than when they acquired it. (“Oh there was a box of parts somewhere, but Im not sure what happened to it”) I shudder to think what would happen to my boat collection if something, god forbid, happened to me tomorrow… Covid has made it hard to further personal connections wiht fellow WoodyBoaters , and I hope we can get to a new normal that at least allows us some closer interactions… Maybe this winter Ill get endless energy, no other projects will come up, and Ill get some of these boats addressed… 🙂
I have forced myself to restrict the number of boats. Even made my drive in shop space only 18 feet deep so as not to be tempted to get a boat larger than 16. I know guys in Frank’s area and situation…maybe guys with the same problem should stage an auction…let em go…no reserve (except your “reservations”). Now this would be a logistical nightmare if we had to MOVE all the boats to one place…but a kid could engineer a web way?? !
Let em go and Go Boating….John in Va
Truly a miracle what Steve and Laurie can do for boats. We have been able to witness the process over a bunch of years. Their shop and machinery are incredible! They love wood boats almost as much as their dogs!
Purchased my third wooden boat this spring…a 1059 22′ Shepherd with the 331 Chrysler M-45-S option. It’s newest of the vessels I own which includes a 1956 42′ Matthews Martinique Express Cruiser and a 1947 S&S 41′ Bermuda Cutter.
I know, I need help!
Great restorers are so hard to find and once you find one hold on to them for deal life! Having just gone thru a restoration disaster with restoration shop #1 only to be saved by restoration shop #2, I am acutely aware of how valuable a good restorer is!