by Roger & Sybil Smith member of the Smith Mountain Lake chapter
I was always intrigued by the sport of outboard racing, ever since watching an amateur race on the Western Branch of the James River in Portsmouth, Virginia, with my new wife, Sybil, who was a Virginia native. I filed that memory away for nearly forty years until I heard from a friend that he knew of some outboard race boats in a warehouse in Richmond, Virginia.
By this time, we had been very active in ACBS, including my privilege of serving as an International Director, and as a Chapter President. Sybil was always so supportive of these endeavors, and she recounted a while back how we came to be the owners of this Neal Hydroplane:
“Roger mentioned that a friend in Richmond, Virginia told him about some hydroplane racing boats that was stored in a warehouse in downtown Richmond. He said, ‘Maybe we should run down to Richmond and we can have a nice dinner’. That sounded good to me, but when I saw him hook up an empty boat trailer, I knew he was thinking about more than dinner. I was right! Our first stop was a warehouse that specialized in architectural antiques. Sure enough,among hundreds of dusty artifacts were two old race boats, standing up against the wall. Knowing my husband, he was not about to go home with an empty boat trailer!
After Roger did some negotiating with the owner I knew the worst. He bought not one, but both of the race boats. “What are you going to do with two boats like this?” I said. His reply was, ‘One will be mine, and the other one will be yours! We’ll have His and Her race boats and we can race together!’
Fifteen years later, Roger had restored his Neal hydroplane, and ‘mine’ still sits in the garage, somewhat forlorn and waiting for some miracle to happen.
Now to the boat restoration! It took over 14 years of on and off effort, with the help of a few friends, to bring it to its current condition. The boat had to be almost completely disassembled, and since I had done a lot of woodworking, I had no qualms about taking on the project. However, unlike traditional wooden boats like Chris-Craft and Century, almost every wooden component was interlocked – meaning, for example, that to replace a cockpit side board, the entire stern and motor box had to be removed. This was to add strength to the hull.
So, that was the process – remove a component, evaluate its condition, replicate if it required; reinstall it in reverse order of dismantling. About 70% of the wood was replaced, following exactly the original construction methods. Every screw location was followed to the letter with new bronze slotted flat head screws –put in by hand!
Beautiful African Stripe mahogany marine plywood was ordered for the decks and varnished. New Seconite aircraft fabric was installed on the front deck, and shrunk over the new frames, using a calibrated iron, then primed, painted and lettered.
We were fortunate in that most of the original hardware was there, although in poor shape because she was raced in salt water, and the boat had been stored outside for a number of years. So, all the original hardware was duplicated by recasting or refurbished.
Early on during our life with the boat, our four-year old grandson Zachary really took a liking to it, helping me dismantle the boat with his screwdriver. Every time he visited us over the years, he’d ask “Grandpa, when are you going to finish my boat?” So, as he entered college, I made a concerted effort to finish restoration of “his” hydro. We completed it in the Summer of 2014.
Our Hydro won the “Best Owner Restoration” award at the 2014 Smith Mountain Lake Antique and Classic Boat Show; was featured at the Roanoke Boat Show in 2015, and won the Hagerty Award at the St. Michaels Boat Show in 2016.
This labor of love could not have been completed without the invaluable support and assistance of friends Bill Salisbury, Phil Jones, Fred Truntz, Scott Wahlberg, Mike Caleo and. of course, Zachary Smith (now a college graduate).