By Don Brandt, ACBS Member
Driving home from a weekend sail on Chesapeake Bay in fall of 1987, I spotted a wooden “runabout” and trailer for sale along the highway. Such boats were scarce in that area and it was my chance to own a “Woodie”. Impulsively, I plunked down my $3000 and trailered my new project to the Sassafras River for a sea trial. I knew this boat was going to take some work, but I had time plus the wood working and mechanical skills to pull it off. The maiden voyage went okay, the engine ran and the boat took on water. Winter was coming and it made sense to take it home to suburbia to begin work in half of my two car garage. After lying on my back for a bottom inspection and trying to remove split planks, I decided to make my job easier and turn the boat over. The bottom was removed as were some broken and rotted frames and chines. These and the decks were replaced.
Meanwhile, Chris Craft Archive documents obtained from the Newport News Maritime Museum identified her as a 1959 “Ski Boat” with a 283 Cu In, 185 HP V-8 engine. A library search of 1959 boating magazines had Chris Craft ads and photos of my new boat. It no longer looked the ads!! The topsides, upholstery, steering wheel, windshield, instruments, engine and some hardware were not original! In the pre-internet era, I began a multi-year search to identify and find the correct parts. Having never seen an actual ’59 Ski Boat I had to rely on photographs, word of mouth from dealers, flea market vendors, and finally found the original owner of a 1960 model who allowed me to take photographs and measurements of his boat.
For parts, I trolled antique boat flea markets, placed magazine ads, and went to antique boat shows. Her 1955 Chrysler “New Yorker” steering wheel was found in a “Hemmings Motor News” magazine ad. I was also lucky to find other original parts and even purchased a “junker” ’59 Ski Boat which had critical parts I had been unable to find. My local auto upholster reproduced the original interior. The engine was put back to its original configuration, tuned and ran like new!
During 13 years of “off and on” restoration activity there were several temptations to take a chain saw to the whole mess, but finally everything came together. In spring 2000, “Miss Ski Tow” came out of the garage and entered the 2000 Antique Boat Show at Clayton. She now spends summers cruising around Henderson Harbor, NY, and occasionally gets trailered to Upper Saranac Lake, NY for an outing. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Every part has a story! The oohs and aahs at the launch ramps are great! Photos of two sections of my restored boat appear in “Chris-Craft of the 1950s”, by Jack Savage.
Definitely done the hard way. 🙂 Great you were able to stick it out and end up with a wonderful boat.
I have the same boat flipped over in my pole barn. Hope to get started in the summer to restore it. I may want to call u if I have any ?? on the restoration. Pete
ITS NICE TO SEE SOMEONE SPEND THE TIME TO RESTORE A BOAT FOR THE PURE JOY AND CHALLENGE AND JUST NOT BECAUSE OF ITS POPULARITY OR RESALE VALUE THE 1959 SKI BOA WAS NOT A TOP OF THE LINE MODEL
BUT HAD A NICHE IN THE UP AND COMING RECREATIONAL WATER SPORTS CRAZE I CAN SEE BY YOU PHOTOS YOU DID YOUR HOME WORK WELL. RIGHT DOWN TO THE BRIGHT WORK TRIM ON THE HULL SIDES AND THE AIR CRAFT THROTTLE GENERALLY NOT SEEN BUT ARE INDEED ORIGINAL ON THAT BOAT I HAVE THE SAME YEAR AND MODEL MY SELF AND AM A ” SELF PROCLAIMED EXPERT” ON THIS MODEL OUR BOAT WAS PURCHASED NEW IN THE WINTER OF 1959 BY MY GRAND FATHER AND WAS DELIVERED TO OUR SUMMER HOME ON BIG BEAR LAKE CA. I HAVE MANY MEMORIES OF COUNTLESS HOURS IN HER AS I LEARNED TO SKI BEHIND THE ‘GRETCHEN E ” WHEN I WAS 6 YEARS OLD AND MY SONS DID AS WELL NOW ITS WAKE BOARDING WITH GRAND CHILDREN HOPE YOU ENJOY YOURS AS MUCH AS I HAVE MINE B.RIGGEN
I also have a Chris Craft 1959 Ski Boat – could you share the research you did with the registry.
I often admire your boat cruising around Henderson Harbor, since I’ve owned a number of mahogany runabouts. Say hello if you ever see a 1968 31′ Chris Commander Commander which we keep undercover.