I waited all day for the old wooden boat to come up for bids. The auctioneer told the small crowd to bid on the trailer and forget the boat. I just couldn’t believe someone would junk it out. It was a classic 26 foot 1970 Skiff Craft built in Plain City, Ohio.
The Henry Boat Company is still building these wood boats.
So, I bought the boat and went home, which was next door, and told my husband of 45 years that I bought the eye sore that sat next to our driveway for at least 15 years. We pulled it across the road to our spare lot and soon started the renovation. You don’t realize the amount of work it takes to clean up an old boat.
The first thing that had to be done was cut the rollers off the trailer and fit bunks under the wood hull. We then had to vacuum and clean years of dirt, leaves and animal messes out of the vessel, as well as disassemble all the cabinets and seats.
The worst job was scraping the hull, and filling the gouges several times before applying two coats of primer and two coats of bright white. We chose a burgundy trim color, since we had some left from another boat. It is really sharp.
We were able to start the engines with fresh gas. The tanks were full of old gas which was like sludge. Roger used the internet to find materials and parts. He ordered a three part kit to clean and restore the gas tanks.
All the wood had to be sanded, refinished or replaced. We stripped all the upholstery and boxed it up to use as patterns. During the winter in Florida, we bought upholstery at a boat salvage yard. I sewed 14 cushions with my old portable sewing machine. When we returned in the spring, we assembled all the upholstery, then tackled the decks. We had stripped all the old electronics earlier and did a lot of rewiring. We replaced the steering wheel and steering cable. The hardtop and decks were pretty shabby so we stripped off the hardware, railings and old vinyl. We plugged holes with plugs and epoxy, before laying the new vinyl.
We found that the rub rails were damaged from years of docking. Twenty feet of wood was replaced. I took the headliner down and a lot of debris, including dead hornets, fell on my head. The transom looked pretty rough so we took off the lower units, painted them and found that one had to be replaced. Back to the internet. We found a used one in great shape.
We ordered a sheet of mahogany plywood from Tassier Boat Works in Cedarville. They gave us some hints on how to reface the transom. One of the men had attended the auction and had seen the boat. They were impressed with what we had done, so far. I told them that every time we did something on the boat, Roger would say, “I hope it floats.”
Page 2 of 2 - We had also contacted the company who still builds Skiff Crafts and they were very supportive in our venture. They refurbish old Skiff Crafts, for a price. I even made custom burgees, a triangle shaped flag for the bow.
The next project will be the trailer. We already replaced the tires and rims, got a new tongue jack, and rebuilt the bow stop. When we launched the boat, after testing the engines, the trailer was open to replace the lights and wiring. After a good paint job, we will have new decals made. We made a beautiful name board from mahogany with our boat name, 1st Grader.
If we didn’t have a pole barn that was big enough to fit the boat, all this would have been impossible to accomplish. Although we have no time frame, there isn’t a day we don’t do something on or for the boat.
It has been a labor of love. We both work well together and take great pleasure in bringing the old girl back to life. I talk to her and say that she is having the best spa treatment around.
Roger has been the best, as he coordinated the procedure and the order in which we should do the renovation.
People ask if we have done this before and how do we know what to do? My answer is that we have had a wide variety of boats and have always done our own work. We renovated 3 Nautaline houseboats, but all the boats are different.
Roger and I have many talents. What one can’t do the other one can. Our goal was the wish to save this old boat. Roger has backed me all the way. Roger’s father was a wood pattern maker so he learned by building small boats as a child. We love the classic old boats and always wanted a Skiff Craft. We now have one and have put our all into this project. In writing this I am sharing my pride and joy with anyone interested. It’s great cruising on the Cheboygan River in an old refurbished wood boat, that could have ended up in the old boat bone yard. n
“ Roger and I live on the Cheboygan River. We like fishing, gardening, traveling and building things. Roger is a retired millwright from the Saginaw G.M. foundries. I am a retired 1st grade teacher from Bridgeport. All our boats were named 1st Grader. We spend the winters at Aberdeen, in Ormond Beach, Florida.”
— Bonnie Bauer