Whether you enjoy the satisfaction of working with your hands, getting things done the right way the first time, or you’re simply up for a serious challenge then refurbishing a classic boat can be a very fulfilling experience. Now don’t get me wrong, it will also be a very daunting task. Expect to hit major obstacles along the way where you will certainly question ditching the entire project. However, when your reels start singing on your maiden voyage, you’ll realize that the rewards are well worth the effort.
The somewhat insane idea of resurrecting a classic boat came to me from a number of different angles. I realized that I probably couldn’t purchase exactly what I was looking for. Even more pivotal, my father and I bounced around ideas while we sat in hospital waiting rooms in an effort to keep his mind off the real reason we were there. In hindsight and now that he is in a better place, I have to admit that he was the deciding factor. It was very uplifting for him to talk about fishing and boating, and of course, the necessary apparatus to make it all happen—the boat.
One thing I quickly realized was that with a project of this caliber I needed serious help.
I knew for certain that I wanted a vessel that would last a lifetime. Something powered by twin inboards for their inherent longevity and efficiency, a seaworthy craft with a soft riding hull and a big beam. My dreamboat would also need to provide plenty of speed, range and maneuverability. With high expectations and some serious searching, I finally located a dilapidated Dick Ridgeway center console cuddy cabin that I was introduced to through a longtime friend. There are only a handful of these beauties still around and today the mold is used to create the Dusky 26XL.
After more than 10-years sitting dormant in a wet slip, my goal was to bring her back to life and show this boat the respect it deserved. Final arrangements were made, and the day finally came for me to drive her away, or so I thought. A quick inspection of the engines at the dock quickly revealed that the starboard motor wasn’t going anywhere. I eventually got the port engine to fire up after rewiring the entire junction box. Little did I know the transmission was frozen—in FORWARD! It was a real thrill starting the project off on the right foot by ripping out a piling. Some mechanical work later, and I finally limped my way to V&G Marine in Ft. Lauderdale where the boat was hauled. As her keel saw the light of day for the first time in over a decade, a colony of sea creatures were upset that I reclaimed their territory.
One thing I quickly realized was that with a project of this caliber I needed serious help. A friend suggested Chris at Meridian Yacht Services who excitingly jumped aboard, making it a point to mention that whatever needed to be done, would be done right the first time! He also pointed out that when he came across any unforeseen problems, which he knew that he would, he would be as gentle as possible as long as I kept in mind that that he had a mortgage to pay and family to support. In this industry something for nothing doesn’t exist.
The first hurdle on the agenda was updating the entire powertrain. The original motors and transmissions weren’t in terrible shape but definitely needed to be rebuilt. After removing the engines and making the necessary arrangements to have the motors freighted, everything seemed to be going relatively smooth. However, the cheery feeling was short lived when I received a call from the mechanic. “Hi Stuart. I’ve got good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?”
I opted for the good news. “Your motors are here and one of them is intact.”
The bad news? “Unfortunately, the other motor fell over on the truck and damaged $12,000 in parts.”
I never really got the gist of the story except that the insurance company refused to cover the damages. When I made the arrangements for the freight I specifically made sure everything was insured. However, I later learned the hard way that the engines wouldn’t be covered without separate freight insurance if they weren’t in their original packaging. After a 9-month battle I received a check for $1,000.
While the debacle with the engines was taking place, I focused on completing the remainder of the work, including reconfiguring the console to accommodate an arsenal of modern electronics. With the project coming together nicely it was time to put pressure on the yard to get the bottom done. After a thorough inspection and repair work, and ultimately additional bottom work at a second yard, countless blisters were repaired, filled and sanded. Her bottom was as smooth as a baby’s butt.
Soon after, the engines and transmissions arrived and were installed without any major setbacks. It was time for paint, which is exactly when the skies opened up. With severe thunderstorms a daily occurence, it was decided that a spray booth would be built around the boat. The time had also come to install new props, transducers, zincs and Lumitec underwater lights. Again, everything went as smooth as could be expected.
I contacted several builders to design a T-Top and selected Garret Towers in Ft. Lauderdale. Brett came to the boat and took measurements as I expressed my desires and concerns, making it a point to ask him to build the top as if it was for his own boat. Since I, too, engineer products for strength, aesthetic appeal and longevity, it was comforting touring his facility and noticing that everything had the common bond of quality craftsmanship. Brett lived up to his word and delivered and installed a beautiful T-Top. My fishing machine was actually coming together just as I had envisioned. After installing the electronics and a few final touches, not to mention overcoming some additional headaches that I refuse to mention due to editorial constraints, the bulk of the project was finally over. “Splash day” was right around the corner and I could hardly contain myself.
Since that day, I have been constantly tweaking and fiddling. I have fished hard and already etched many exciting memories that will last a lifetime. After investing more than the cost of a brand new boat, I’m continually asked the question if the time, money, and effort were all worth the end result. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that even as I look back at all of the trials and tribulations, I would do it all over again. Every time I step foot on that boat I think of my father, and no production boat at any cost from any manufacturer could provide that.
Do It Yourself
If you’ve toyed around with the idea of bringing a classic back to life there are many resources available to make your project as smooth and as stress-free as possible. The Internet will become your new best friend as the ultimate research tool. Unless you’re a qualified mechanic, get to know the technicians you plan on hiring. Demand references and ask questions. If you don’t understand the scope of a particular project have it explained in detail and determine the estimated cost BEFORE any work is done. It’s also critical you’re aware of exactly what’s being installed, as you will ultimately be responsible for operating and maintaining the vessel once the retrofit is complete. An extreme makeover must address structural, mechanical and aesthetic issues to ensure the end result is a safe and comfortable vessel. Refurbishing a classic is costly and requires a substantial investment of time. One thing is for sure. It’s an experience you will never forget.
A special thank you to the following individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty…
- Chris Mastrosimone / Meridian Yacht Services
- Dave Hoffman / Diesel Tech
- Brett Taporowski / Will Garrett Towers
- Sedat Esenbahar & Mark Gelder / Anglers Avenue Marine Center
- Bobby Krell / Langer & Krell Marine Electronics
- Captain Matt Gigante / Matts Marine Transport
- Bill Byers / Marine Electronics Solutions