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The Old Boat

11x14 Print - Available for Purchase
There's something about living in Northern Michigan that comes with a subliminal expectation that one should own a boat. Any boat. Large, small, long, short, beamy...or not. In our case, the emphasis would be on something we could afford, e.g. 'small', and 'short'. A dingy, maybe? After all, with two young boys who love fishing, an old boat would give us an excuse to get out of the house on calm days for some 'reel' fun!

Phil, Ethan and Hunter (holding 'Sunny') in front of the
former owner's yard before towing it home.

Well, it was Mother's Day Weekend last year. We were driving about a mile from home when we spotted 'it' in the front yard of a home near the bike trail: a very old 12' aluminum fishing boat in decent shape nested on a trailer resting on a cement block. I'd had my eye on it for some time, but the price was a little more that we could afford. Then it disappeared. I thought sure it had been sold. Happily, after a few weeks' absence, the boat reappeared that Saturday...with a much lower price. We stopped to call on the owner, who shared that it came with a lot of cool stuff: a nearly new 40lb thrust electric trolling motor, a new marine battery, a pair of antique wooden
"Mom's Mother's Day" present.
boat oars, a trailer already wired with lights that had new tires and wheels on it, and an on-board Humminbird fish-finder (we still joke that we got the boat and trailer for free, paying only for all the other stuff that came with it). In spite of most of its wood trim being in rough shape that would have to be redone, we couldn't resist; we wrote him a check on the spot.

The remainder of last summer and fall, and in between a few fishing outings, I started the arduous process of dismantling all the old wood from the boat. With no idea what I was doing, I got some great pointers from guys who knew a lot about wood in general, and bending and shaping it in particular. After collecting all the materials from various and sundry dumpsters, basements, and garages of friends, I got busy putting the old boat back together again.

The boys helping launch the newly finished boat into the
Lake Leelanau Narrows last fall (M-204 in the background).

Hunter lands a pike from the back waters
off the Cedar River that runs west off
the SW end of Lake Leelanau in
early May this year 
While the project took over 200-hrs to accomplish, half the fun was using cast off scrap lumber to rebuild it.  For example, I fashioned the top rails of the gunnels out of ash wood tomato stakes that I systematically laminated together over the course of several days, bending them with weights to form the same curve as the bend in the boats' bow. The side rails under the tops of the gunnels were made from red oak on the outside, and ash on the inside, left over from the construction of our home years ago. They also had to be bent to conform to the curvature of the bow (I wedged them in the crotch of a tree, then tied a sturdy rope around the ends of each piece of wood and pulled them tight, then tied it all off to form a pronounced bend in the wood...leaving it outside that way for a month to ensure the curves in the wood would be permanent.

The inside transom was made out of scrap rough-sawn oak that I planed down smooth. The outside transom was made from the scrapped sides of a red oak shelving unit. For the bow and stern, I used rough-sawn Brazilian teak salvaged from some old pallets, gluing and clamping them side-by-side to form the rigid boards I'd need to cut a pattern from that would become the new bow and stern corners. The old aluminum bench seating being a little warped, I used scrap 1x12 pine boards toggle-bolted to the benches to provide for greater rigidity, as well as to give them a cleaner appearance.

The project almost ready for a final sanding, stain, and spar
varnish. The outriggers and lower rub rails will be painted a
hammered copper finish to almost match the stain.


The antique boat oars that had several layers of old paint on them that would have to be stripped off, then sanded down for a smooth finish. But the quality of the wood under all that old paint was amazing, really showing some beautiful grain when the finish was applied.

Once all the new wood was firmly in-place around the boat and sanded smooth, it was ready for the stain and three coats of a quality marine spar varnish. For fun, we added a boat flag on her port stern opposite the running light, the mast of which I cut from an old flag pole we used to use on our front porch. We even added some interior amber running lights for those night fishing outings. Of course, the boys helped along the way, making this project a fun-but-educational experience for all of us.

Maybe the ultimate in recycling, it demonstrated how we could take a rugged old boat and make something beautiful out of it using nothing more than scrap lumber. It also taught us that there is value in even seemingly insignificant things that may not be of use to others. Don't we even find that to be true in life: the simple and humble things are where we often find great value (but that's a whole 'nother blog to develop that subject).

Some of the driving force behind this project was a bit of inspiration from my own father, Jim, who expressed a great desire to be able to "go fishing with his boys someday", and before the advance of years might prevent him from hopping into a boat. With his help and encouragement, we turned a dream into reality and made the old boat sparkle again...and did indeed take him out fishing; we hope to repeat that experience with him again this year.

Phil's dad, Jim, waiting to launch the boat on a fishing outing to
nearby Cedar Lake. The boat's old wood was removed shortly after
this outing in preparation for a full restoration.
In his honor, we named the old boat the 'SS Jimmy'. All snug in our garage, it's just waiting for the next opportunity to ferry the family out to Lake Leelanau, or some other nearby lake, perhaps even this Memorial Weekend.

While we take time to enjoy family and friends Up North this holiday weekend, let's also remember those in uniform -- and their families --who've paid the ultimate sacrifice to ensure we have the freedom to enjoy such things in this great country. God bless America.

4x6 "Be There" Card Series:  "Go Fish"; Inside: Memories
Great for Father's Day!
(Shannon's dad fishing boat)

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