The process of restoring something to its original state, whether it is a trinket, a piece of furniture, a boat, a car or even a building, can be very rewarding. For some people the process is far more satisfying than the completed item. Our son, Richard has been restoring an old drag racer, (1978 Dodge Demon) for the past 15 years. The engine has been in and out of the car numerous times. We are not sure if he will ever be finished. It doesn’t seem to matter to Richard. He just enjoys having a project. For my part, I want to see the fruits of my labour and so I would work frantically to complete the project, whatever, it might be.
Over the years there have been many. I guess my first was a homemade lap strake 16’ motorboat with a 10 horsepower Martin outboard motor. I was too young for a car but old enough to want something of my very own. I named the boat “Victoria”. My grandparents had a summer cottage on Victoria Point on Lake Simcoe. This seemed appropriate at the time, however, shortly after it’s restoration, I was involved with a pretty little girl who I later married. Her name was Joan Marie. To impress Joan I soon renamed the boat “Jo Marie” I don’t think it made too much of an impression because Joan was not at all interested in boats or boating. This however, changed over the years and she learned to tolerate and even enjoy boating and sailing.
This however was the beginning of a lifetime of boating and boat restorations for me. In all, we have had over 20 boats of all kinds and sizes. Many were restored from various states of disrepair. The largest, a 40’, 1923 Ditchburn was purchased for $500.00 in 1968. I built a cocoon around this boat and it sat in our backyard in Milton for more than two years while I totally rebuilt her. She was named the “Shamrock” but originally christened the Osiris” by Lady Eaton. This boat was built for R.Y.Eaton who followed Timothy as CEO of the nationwide department store chain, T. Eaton Co. R. Y. was a nephew of Timothy. He worked in the business, as did most of the family. However, R.Y. had greater skills and talents than some of the other family members and became Timothy’s replacement.
In 1927, “Osiris” was damaged in a winter storage fire and after being rebuilt was again christened by Lady Eaton “Shamrock”, R.Y. was vacationing in Ireland at the time of the fire, thus the new name.
Ozzie Waffle owner of Thorncrest Motors and a good friend of Gordon Sinclair Sr. owned Shamrock for many years and sailed her in the Muskoka Lakes. He sent me a couple of pictures. However, they were a bit blurry and weren’t much help for restoration purposes.
The restoration of this boat was a major undertaking on my part. Every spare moment was devoted to this project. I lost 65 lbs. In the first year, the combination of physical work, diet and stress were responsible for a total weight loss of over 75 lbs. Loading and offloading when she was purchased was our first hurtle. The large mobile lift at the marina in Oakville had little trouble loading her on the custom built trailer. When she arrived in Milton I just assumed the trucker would have a way of offloading her. He didn’t and we were faced with a dilemma. I should have planned ahead and ordered a crane. I didn’t and when faced with the problem, we soon found that cranes were not available in Milton on demand. What to do? The truck driver was very patient while I phoned around for two tow trucks. My idea was very simple. Jack the back of the boat up to clear the trailer, even by an inch or so. Then put a tow truck at each side of the bow with their hooks fastened together and pull. Hopefully this would lift the bow or at least take enough weight off to allow the trailer to be removed.
Slowly, the tow trucks pulled away from each other. Then the trucks rear wheels were blocked and their pulleys were left to complete the lift. The truck pulley motors strained, the front ends of the two trucks started to lift off the ground. The front wheels were over a foot in the air when the bow started to lift off the trailer. This was a critical moment. Blocks had to be placed along the chine on both sides as well as under the keel. Every block had to be precisely the same distance from the hull. It took some time to get it perfect. “Okay pull ahead slowly.” Our hearts were in our throats. “Everyone stand clear! If this doesn’t work, we don’t want anyone crushed under the hull.” The driver pulled his rig out ever so slowly. Some adjustments had to be made but it looked as if we were home free with no damage done to the equipment or to ‘Shamrock’. She was at home now for a few months at least. Everyone was amazed that we pulled it off. The transport driver had never seen a delivery quite like this one. The tow truck drivers talked of this call years later and I was the most surprised that it worked. It was the only solution I could come up with in such a short time. Perhaps it was in my self conscious mind, I can’t imagine why I didn’t preplan this.
Dry rot had run rampant throughout the hull. White oak was used for the massive ribs. They were sound. However the keel was full of rot, to the point where it was difficult to see how the old girl kept her beautiful slender shape. Her backbone was only a shell. What a horrible feeling when I discovered something as serious as having to replace over 30 feet of keel in a 40-foot boat. We knew we had dry rot problems. I had tried to convince Joan when looking at the boat that there was only about a 3 by 2 foot section of the hull that would have to be replaced. I knew that it was more as large areas of the hull were showing signs of possible problems. Further inspection proved to be worse than even I thought. I should have known. It’s always worse after you start chipping away.
The keel, which was white oak, 8 inches thick and tapering from 12 inches to 30 inches in depth,all had to be removed, but then what? When building a boat the first piece to be laid is the keel. Everything is attached in one way or another to the keel. It is like removing the basement of a house and replacing it. Not easy, but not impossible. For two years I crawled around under this huge hull jacking and shimming. Every move had to be calculated. One wrong decision, one jack put in the wrong place or turned to high or left too loose could have this 10-ton craft toppling over and crushing me.
This was a project I originally took on with a partner. Sometimes partnerships don’t work out and so I soldiered on all by myself. Having never taken on anything this grand in the past (my largest project up until then was a 1936, 19’ Interlake Sloop). I had no idea what a major undertaking this was to become. Finally after weeks of chipping and hacking, sawing and scraping I had a 30 foot hole down the centre between the 2 sofa-size, 6 cylinder Kermath engines. What a dilemma, how do I fill up the hole in the bottom of my boat? As I am standing looking into this abyss, a sinking sick feeling overwhelmed me. These two massive engines hadn’t run in over 15 years. What If? Stop, one thing at a time. But if they can’t be run, all my work will be in vain. They are too large to be taken out and replaced – WOW, what have I gotten myself into. Stop focus. The engine problem comes next. Right now, how do we replace the 30 feet of keel? Most obvious would be to purchase a solid white oak tree, have it partially shaped with large band saws, shaped and formed and then jacked into place, then more shaping and fitting. NO! This would take months. There has to be a better way.
As with all problems, sometimes they can’t be solved overnight. Time and thought will have to come into play. So there are many other jobs to do. Get on with them and the answer will come in time for my new keel. With a project of this magnitude, I was forced to put on blinders, (figuratively speaking) and concentrate on one project at a time.
At the bow “Shamrock” had 6 feet of freeboard. The whole hull had to be scraped and sanded, especially below the water line, for two reasons, to find dry rot and also the replace the cotton caulking: In the 20’s, when caulking between the planks on a wooden boat, a small space was left between each plank to allow for expansion when the dry wood comes in contact with water. Natural cotton is jammed in the void with a gaw, a chisel like tool. This is a technique used for hundreds of years in boat building.
In some makes of recreational boats (Trojan) for instance the planks would shrink when in dry dock so much as to leave a quarter inch crack. In cases like this when launching, slings would be needed to support the boat from sinking while the hull seized up. After two or three days, the boat would be as tight as a drum. Shamrock was no exception. When she was finally launched it took three days before we were confident her pumps would keep her from sinking.
As the most important part of a boat is the part generally not seen, the keel problem had to be resolved. One night, not able to sleep, lying in my bed every horrible thought imaginable was going through my brain. All the “What if?” questions -What if the engines have to be replaced? What if – I can’t fill that void where the keel once was? What if – all the wiring and electronics don’t work? What if? Suddenly I had an inspiration. What if I had a metal fabricator take some measurements and then form a ‘U’ shape, flanged on each side to conform to the shape of the hull. Bolt it all in place to the ribs, weld the pieces together then fill the void with re-enforced cement. It could work – It did work! This was so much easier than I could even imagine. Another mountain climbed and conquered.
Time went slowly by, night after night, three to four hours after supper until the cold made it impossible to continue. Weekends were better. The cocoon I had built acted like a greenhouse and providing we got some sun, the temperature inside could be 20 degrees higher than outside. Grass was even growing 4-6 inches high while snow lay on the ground outside my work place. In the spring of 1970, it was finally time to remove the cocoon and reveal the fruits of my labour. What a special day that was. I could now stand back and look at this beautiful craft and visualize her finally in the water again. What a thrill. However, much work was still to be completed. New plywood decks and then a vinyl coating – varnish and paint – deck hardware and a wheel. Everything had been stolen off the old girl and had to be sourced.
A friend, who worked at our local Chrysler dealer, checked out the engines and except for fuel pumps and a cracked block in the port engine, everything seemed okay. “Cracked block, that sounds pretty serious,” I said. “Well I think I have a solution, I think if we drill a hole and —“, “Just do it.” I said, “And let me know how much it costs.” Whatever Bob did, it worked. The two engines purred like contented pussycats, but only when gasoline was flowing. We soon realized that 50-year-old fuel pumps with leather diaphragms would need to be replaced.
Kermath went out of business after the war in 1946. Parts were not readily available for sure. However, Harry James an old character in Orillia had purchased a pile of stuff from Pal Engines when they went out of business. Harry took me to his basement. It was full of engine parts of all descriptions. He showed me a bushel basket full of my fuel pumps: Everyone with a leather diaphragm. The leather was covered with a greasy white chalky substance. “How many do you want?” “I’ll take them all.” I said. There must have been 40 or 50 in the basket. We got about 3 to 4 hours of running time out of each one before the leather finally failed. After that, electric fuel pumps were installed and Dad and I were given a rest from crawling into the engine room, almost every trip.
‘From Old to New’
Shamrock was beautiful. She was just over 40 feet long and only 11 feet wide. She drew about 2 feet. She had a displacement hull, which means she can’t plain. However, her two 135 hp inboard engines with 6 cylinders as large as garbage cans could push her arrow shape hull to speeds where we could pull 3 water skiers. She was as graceful as a swan and as fast as an arrow. She was my perfect accomplishment. No one could be happier or better rewarded for the hundreds of hours spent restoring her. I have no idea how much money went into her restoration. It would never matter. She was a jewel. I am sure somewhere in Joan’s files, bills could be found to give us an idea how much we spent.
Transporting Shamrock to Big Bay Marina on Lake Simcoe was planned in advance. A crane was hired for loading and a crane at the marina was arranged well in advance. Oscar Schuller was the owner of Big Bay Marina. His bombastic voice could be heard throughout the whole area giving orders
to staff or balling a customer out for some minor infraction. His thick German accent still rings in my head after more than 30 years –“Meester Scott, FORRWARD and BOC – FORRWARD and Boc.” He was always on hand when we brought Shamrock into port. We were placed at the end of the canal in a slip that for most 30-foot boats would be a breeze to land. However, Shamrock only had about 10 feet to maneuver forward and back until she was lined up for a full reverse into her slip. The gear levers were about three feet long and very easy to handle. Oscar would be on the pier hand motioning me “Forward and back on the gears.”
Oscar had a very old crane, very old. When we were negotiating the slip rental, he assured me his equipment was up to the task. However, when I saw the look on his face when Shamrock first came into view, sitting on the trailer in all her glossy enamel white glory, her emerald green bottom so smooth and sleek and her bright work shining with 6 coats of varnish, I knew we might have a problem. “I’m not sure my crane is strong enough. This is a big boat.” Poor Oscar stammered. I had made sure that the crane in Milton was going to be adequate, but all of us looked at the old dog of OSCAR’S with a great deal of skepticism. “We will try.” Oscar said.
It took some time to arrange the slings so the boat would be balanced just right. We only had one chance. Oscar admitted that his crane might only have enough power to do this once – no second chance. The crane strained to lift my precious cargo. Inch by inch she was raised off the trailer. Once the trailer was removed, Oscar’s crane had double duty. Hold the boat in the air while slowly turning her over the water for lowering. Anxious moments indeed as the bow tapped lightly on the ground. We were too heavy on the bow. Would the slings hold just for another 10 minutes as we ever so slowly swung over the water?
Joan is grumbling in the background but I have no time to be bothered with her problems. I am physically holding the bow from tapping the ground. Every time the crane moved a few inches, the boat started bobbing up and down. Only later did I know what Joan’s problems were. The film in the 8mm camera was all fowled up inside. We might loose this whole documentation.
When we left Shamrock as the sun was setting, she looked as if she was finally at home again, floating like a swan with the help of Oscar’s slings. I arrived back at the Marina early the next morning. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Shamrock was lying very low in the bow. She had taken on a lot of water. The engine room had two feet of water and forward into the galley and then the head it had over 3 feet of water. She was slipping off her slings and in danger of sinking. Pumps had to be put into action at once or we might just loose her. Fresh water isn’t nearly as harmful as salt water but still a real problem if it gets into the electronics or engine. Before we launched you could eat off the inside of the hull. After all this water, I had no idea what kind of mess I was to encounter.
After a few sea trials we were confident that she was ready for some serious cruising. Our cottage was at the north end of Lake Simcoe. Our marina and base for Shamrock was at the south end. The lake is about 30 miles long. Many a trip was made from one end to the other and sometimes when the weather was bad we would anchor our girl in the lee of an Island for the week. Lake Simcoe can blow up pretty good and many a steamer two or three times larger than us has been sunk in storms. She has taken many a life and you are wise to take her seriously in bad weather.
One sunny Sunday afternoon we were preparing for our trip south to Shamrock’s weekday home. The wind was up to about 30 knots and the waves were capping at about 5-6 feet. We were pretty sure we would be okay for our 30-mile trip. We would just have to be a bit more conscious and run at about half normal speed. We went out to our mooring spot and Joan when she came back from lifting the anchor onto the bow deck, was soaking wet. As soon as we headed out into the lake, we knew this was no place for us to be. The waves were going over the cabin roof. The twin props were turning but there was no water under them at times. Our bow of 6 feet of free-board dipped all the way into the waves while the stern behind me was high and dry. The boys were about 8 and 10 years old and were obviously very frightened. The prudent decision was to turn back. This wouldn’t be that easy. Shamrock had only an eleven-foot beam. If one of the higher waves hit us broadside, we might be knocked over. Our ride home was a bumpy one. We anchored and signaled for a lift to shore and a change of clothes.
Many wonderful hours were spent on Shamrock. She always got us home safely. She was strong and sound and beautiful. The Eaton family had a Captain and crew when they would take the air on Lake Muskoka. I loved every minute at the wheel and gave it up reluctantly. She did have her critics. In one marina she was fondly referred to as ‘Lady Eaton’s kidney’. A reference of course to her bilge pumps. They re-cycled Lake Simcoe many times over the years.