By Captain Stephen Rhodes
Having myself owned a classic 13-foot Boston Whaler as a teenager, since becoming a father it has been my dream to restore a Whaler for my own sons as they enter their teenage years. Our offshore boat is a custom 35 Henriques Express, Legacy. Like many other offshore fishermen, I wanted an inshore boat for flats fishing, tubing, water skiing and other adventures that are not feasible on a twin diesel sportfisherman. Beyond the fishing and boating applications, I knew from experience the many lessons that restoring a boat can impart to the boys.
I bought my own Whaler back in the early 1980s. The boat had been paid for from hard work on clam boats and laboring long hours on open and charter boats. Starting at the age of 13, I earned money working as a mate on my father’s charter boat. And my uncle’s 65-foot party fishing boat to pay for my 13 Whaler. In part from the amount of spray coming over the rails, we named the boat the Soak N Wet. I fully expected my sons to work on restoring the Whaler to “earn” the boat and learn all about its systems and electronics as we installed them. And that chore is a heck of a lot easier than culling clams in the middle of winter in the Northeast.
The Right Hull
I debated the appropriate-sized Whaler before landing on the original 21-foot Outrage hull. This hull was produced from 1970–1982 and features two versions. The original, and more-rare, model features ribbed hull sides with a teak center console, teak anchor hatch, mahogany casting platform and mahogany interior side rails. Boston Whaler built this hull in 1970 and 1971 and only 722 “ribsides” were sold. With the custom wood accents featured on this model, many captains and mates that work on Paul Spencers, Jim Smiths and other custom boats have mentioned that my ribside looks like it was customized down south by Rybovich or Merritt. I share their sentiments.
Whaler produced the “smooth-side” hull that lacked the custom teak and mahogany components of the rib side from 1972-1982. I decided that I would purchase the ribside version and then kept an eye out for a ribside that was a candidate for a restoration that had most or all of the original wooden parts for over a year. These hulls are often referred to as the “banana hulls” and have a wide following online. Finding a used one in decent condition proved to be more of challenge than I would have expected.
Assembling the Crew
Following a ton of research and checking out several boats that were far-beyond restoring, I found my ribside. I assembled a crew of boat-savvy veterans (mostly relatives) to help in the restoration. My father is a retired Marine Engineer from the NY Fire Department. A former charter boat owner, my father helped with all the wiring, steering, engine mounting, and fiberglass repairs.
My father-in-law is a retired US Navy and NYPD veteran. He used his backhoe to remove the old, seized 140 outboard off the Whaler and installed the year 2000 Honda 130 hp outboard that is the “new” power plant. My uncle is a retired Port Authority mechanic and former party boat captain. During the refit, he was the master of all trades in restoring the fiberglass, removing the console and all wood components. He also supplied most of the new fittings that made their way onto the Whaler. My next-door-neighbor is a retired NY Union Carpenter and gladly volunteered to restore all the teak and mahogany on the boat. The entire boat was taken apart. All new wiring, fuel lines, steering lines and other critical systems were replaced with new.
All Hands on Deck
My sons applied elbow grease wherever needed to help restore the fiberglass. During the process they also saw just how much work goes into restoring a classic. I personally sanded and faired every square inch below the waterline. A coat of epoxy paint to prevent blistering came after the fairing, before the two final coats of bottom paint. Keeping updates and tweaks to a minimum, I made it a point to try to keep the boat as true to the vision of the original Whaler designers Dick Fisher and Bob Dougherty as possible.
We removed the fuel tanks and drained them of old gas, sucking out all of the residue before reinstallation. My goal was to keep the boat as original as possible. We sourced a new OEM seat cushion and a new OEM center console windscreen from the original canvas shop that supplied all the canvas work for Whalers in the early 1970s. We sourced remaining components, such as a used OEM Bimini top, OEM bollard, GPS/Fish finder, radio, rod holders, and other assorted items from eBay and Craigslist. I never would have predicted how much time and effort it would take to outfit the Whaler.
The Final Phase
My sons told me several times that they thought I was opening up a boat building company with the amount of packages arriving in the mail. Fortunately, the original rails were in good shape. However, all the chrome over brass rail support bases were in need of a re-chroming. We sent all of these support bases to a custom shop in Georgia that specializes in marine metal restoration. A fellow ribside owner had recommended the shop. We replaced the teak bases for the reversible pilot seat and gas tanks with more durable starboard. We also added four new stainless-steel supports to the bow casting platform.
This platform, after all, will see a ton of use by my sons casting to striped bass and bluefish as well as dropping the anchor to catch tautog and sea bass. My sons and I have used the boat for three full seasons. The founders of Whaler would be proud to see Outrage hull number 285 looking great and performing even better. The boat has exceeded our expectations from a handling and fishability perspective. We have caught a wide variety of inshore species on the Whaler ranging from 30-pound striped bass to eight-pound tog and 7-pound summer flounder.
My sons and their friends have gone tubing more times than I can remember. We have explored shallow water locales where I would never dare take our 35 Henriques Express. At 49 years old, the Whaler has a new lease on life. Our family hopes to keep the boat for decades to come. It’s our hope to see another generation enjoying the Still Soak N Wet.