Nearly every year around August, I can feel my brain, body and photography sort of… melt. Part of the summer doldrums come from a combination of 90-degree temperatures, coupled with humidity and a lack of trade winds. It’s also our slow season, so it’s a bit quieter around the island, and those who are vacationing here are out on the beaches or beside one of the resort’s pools. For me, it’s the time of the year that I need to escape the sluggishness of the summer, get away to recharge my own batteries, and experiment with new photographic subjects and techniques.
This year, I decided to reawaken one of my long, lost passions –photographing antique and classic boats. Some 20-odd years ago, a portion of my world revolved around Philippine mahogany, bronze screws, old V-8 engines and gallons of varnish and anti-fouling paint. My parent’s neighbors in Lake Arrowhead had restored a ‘50s Chris-Craft boat, a hybrid of sorts, thought to be the personal boat of Chris-Craft manager, Bill MacKerer. It combined the lines of the Riviera, Capri and Continental in a Utility-style hull, and sexy doesn’t even start to describe how great this one-off looked.
A year later, they purchased another Chris-Craft, an incredible 1932 triple cockpit runabout. At the wooden boat show that year, I helped detail the boats, and at the end of the day, I was asked to drive the Utility back to their dock, which I enthusiastically accepted. After being behind the wheel for less than five minutes, I was hooked. By the time I docked her in the slip, I had swallowed the line and sinker. I had to have a “woodie” of my own.
That winter, on a morning of shoveling snow of my parent’s dock, I plopped on the sofa, and started thumbing through a local Auto Trader, and came across an ad for a used car dealer in Newport Beach, among the thumbnail images and vehicle descriptions for well-worn Mercedes, BMWs and other European makes, was a 1964 Chris-Craft Super Sport – one of the last double-planked wooden boats Chris-Craft ever made. With sleek lines that made the boat look like it was going 40 MPH while standing still, it carried a 327 Chevy (from a Corvette) bolted between the stringers. I fell head-over-heels in love, and aimed the SUV southward.
Tucked in the back of the dealer’s lot, covered in dirt and bird droppings, she was a sad sight to behold. It had been part of a trade in – two cars and the boat – for a Mercedes SL. The dealer didn’t want to take in the boat, but it was a deal breaker if turned away. Even in her dilapidated state, she was a looker and mostly complete, only missing her bow and stern poles, chocks, cleats and a couple of vents.
After an hour of negotiations (and explaining all the work that was needed, and asking the burning question: “how many other offers have you really had…?), a deal was made, and I dropped the trailer tongue atop the hitch of the family Jeep and headed home.
Over the course of about eight months, the Chris-Craft was stripped, flipped (for refitting the bottom planks), screwed, sanded, stained, painted and varnished. Her 327 Corvette engine (L76) refreshed, along with Paragon transmission, shaft straightened, bronze prop repaired and polished, and interior refreshed. When she was done, she sparkled like a diamond in the sun.
Her maiden voyage coincided with the Lake Arrowhead Wooden Boat Show that year, and I had her buffed with several coats of carnauba wax to make the mahogany gleam. I had never participated in a boat show (I had only shown cars until then), and quickly learned that it was not only about how pretty the vessel looked, but its originality, functionality and quality of the restoration. I was on pins and needles during the judging, as everything from the bilge pump to the IvaLite spot light was checked for good working order. At the end of the day, sunburned, stressed and hoarse from answering a bazillion questions, I was handed a magnificent glass ice bucket, with “Best Post-War Utility” engraved on its side.
A couple weeks ago, I traveled to North Lake Tahoe to shoot the 42nd Concours d’ Elegance wooden boat show – an incredible spectacle of boats produced from the 1920s through the ‘70s, from triple cockpit Gar Woods, to 50’s-styled Chris Craft Utilities (sporting car-like fins of the times) to perfectly replicated Gold Cup boats (Miss Detroit III — replete with the original-raced, running gear).
I was fortunate enough to be out on the waters fronting Homewood, when the event’s grand finale took place: The Roar Off, when the boats were driven past the throngs of onlookers, some puttering by, and others racing with throttles wide open. I had a blast shooting all the incredible boats, but watching the 33-foot “T44 – Wild Horses” blaze by, its 1930 Rolls Royce V-12 aircraft engine at full song, was a sight to behold. It brought back incredible memories, sensations, and a desire to be back at North Tahoe next year.