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Sea-worthy sweat

Miles F. Porter IV
Photo by Miles F. Porter IV
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“There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

– Kenneth Grahame, “The Wind in the Willows” (1908) —

Firm believers in this quotation are Frisco residents Wayne Spaulding and Bill Tordoff.

These two wooden boat aficionados just completed their first speedboat renovation for someone else and the launching of a small business from a hobby. As owners of three wooden runabouts, Chris Craft and Century models, they eat, breathe and sleep boats.

Just out the door of the Spaulding’s reserve home garage is a completely restored 1957 Century Coronado. The 21-foot speedboat now boasts bright red and white upholstery, shiny chrome hardware, a newly covered vinyl sliding targa-style roof and gauges polished to reflection. Its heavy mahogany planks are sanded smooth to make sure the 12 coats of varnish offer a deep look.

The painted side inserts, reminiscent of ’50s automotive styling, received six coats of thick white paint.

“It took me two and a half hours just to do a foot – top to bottom – of the sanding required,” Spaulding said, adding that it must be done by hand.

“It’s as smooth as a baby’s behind,” Tordoff added in praising Spaulding’s manual sanding effort.

Another example of the painstaking effort required is the shear number of screws needed to fasten a wooden boat together: 10,000 in a boat this size. And each screw on the exterior must be sunken and then covered with a “bung” – a wooden plug. In a boat like the one they just finished, 3,000 bungs were required.

Old floaters

This boat took four months of nights and days off for the pair. Spaulding and his wife, Cindy, own The Boatyard, a popular eatery on Frisco’s Main Street. Tordoff, who lives in Water Dance, has mostly retired from his Ohio foundry business.

The Spauldings even have a 14-foot wooden Chris Craft standing in the corner of their restaurant’s bar. It belongs to Thom Emrick, who sails and sells Wind Rider cats at the Frisco Bay Marina.

This Century was done for a friend of the two, Steve Carmack of Brighton, who will now install a 460-cubic-inch Ford V-8. He said the name will be “Miss Mayflower.”

The pair of later-in-life craftsmen estimate the boat will be worth about $25,000 when the engine is installed. It sold originally for about $5,000, they said. One option then was a Chrysler Hemi engine.

Back in the early ’60s, when fiberglass boats took over the recreational boating market, wooden boats were often just scrapped and burned by the dealers. That means fewer of the craft are available today at increasing prices.

Today, prices run from a couple grand for a gray, bleached-out boat needing total restoration, all the way up to some 12-cylinder triple cockpit rarities costing $300,000 that make some knowledgeable observers simply gasp at their beautiful designs and construction.

The wooden boat industry used hard and sometimes contrasting colors of mahogany from Africa, Honduras and the Philippines to create their crafts. White oak was used for the interior structural systems.

“I like to bring them back to their original beauty,” Spaulding said. “It’s not my design, it’s nostalgia.”

“Fine furniture’

Spaulding currently owns a 1955 20-foot Century Coronado, named “Pegasus,” much like the one just restored, and “Four Buoys” – a 1956 vintage Chris Craft.

“Pegasus” features a blue-printed Chevrolet Corvette LT-1 V-8 engine, boasting 350 horses. It is thought to be one of only 27 remaining from a production run of 190 boats.

Tordoff, after restoring and selling a couple of classic wooden boats, now has a 1951 19-foot Chris Craft Holiday named “H2O Dancer.”

“I look at a wooden boat as a fine piece of furniture,” Tordoff said. “It’s art. I’d like to be an artist, but I’m not. It’s a challenge to fit a piece of wood to another person’s design.”

“Wayne’s the artist,” Tordoff said of Spaulding’s woodworking skills.

Tordoff recently sold “Water Dancer,” a 1957, 17-foot Chris Craft Sportsman with the original six-cylinder engine, after a couple of enjoyable seasons cruising Dillon Reservoir with wife Kathy.

Tordoff’s latest effort, “H2O Dancer,” is done differently than the original design in that the usual white-caulking stripes are done in black as is the once-blonde mahogany.

Ironically, it was Tordoff who bought the latest restoration effort in Port Huron, Mich., and towed the wooden craft to Colorado, later selling it to Rom Nellis, who then sold it to Carmack. Another boat Tordoff restored is a 1957 Chris Craft Ski Boat, now owned by his son, Greg, who lives in Powell, Ohio.

Show boats

A few years ago, Spaulding took his first restoration, “Four Buoys,” named for sons Matt, Jeff, Nick and Gregory, out to Lake Tahoe, the Mecca for restored wooden speedboats. He found himself overwhelmed by the quality of the craftsmanship on display at the annual regatta.

That trip inspired him to go to greater lengths in his own efforts. Now he has that boat for sale at a price of $12,000.

When he completed “Pegasus,” Spaulding towed it back east to Lake Winnipesukee in New Hampshire for a show and a return to his roots. He grew up on the shores of nearby Lake Sunapee.

Both Spaulding and Tordoff have taken their restored boats to Colorado’s wooden boat stronghold, Grand Lake, a two-hour drive north of Summit County, where residents have long had boathouses and held annual boat shows.

One of the boats that caught their eye there is a one-of-a kind Chris Craft, 16 feet long, affectionately named “Chris’ Craft,” for a granddaughter of Chris Smith, the company founder.

That relative, Chris Ann Braaf, has had the special boat on Dillon Reservoir at the invitation of Spaulding and Tordoff for a Frisco Bay wooden boat show.

As members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, the two boaters have hosted the Rendezvous in the Rockies wooden boat show a couple of times with the help of the Frisco Bay Yacht Club, whose founders started the local marina in 1988. Other support came from the town of Frisco and Bernie Baltich of Osprey Adventures, the concessionaire who operates the marina.

Spaulding, now director on the board of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, plans to stage another show in Summit County this summer.


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