Apr 30, 201301:00 PM

Odduck: Adventures in Boat Restoration

Sometimes a Great Notion is a Bad Idea

It's hard to figure out where to begin this tale of adventure, or what is probably more accurately described as a misadventure. There's the project itself, and there's the background of how I came to it.

In a nutshell, I recently bought a 1987, 24-foot, aluminum Crestliner Sabre day cruiser in horrible condition for the purpose of re-building it into a usable trailerable, cruising boat.

1987 Crestliner Sabre dual console

It has a stand-up cabin, separate head, deep cockpit, 8-foot beam, 4.3L MerCruiser I/O and weighs less than 4,000 pounds. The light weight is important to me. The trailer it sits on brought it 500 miles from Michigan but is in sad shape.

Although the boat is basically a wreck, it has features that led me to believe in its potential. Most noticeable is a weird looking front cabin that rises off the front deck. There is a large center hatch flanked by two large fixed windows and good sized sliding windows on each side.

Crestliner 24 cabin

The windows are important, because my wife and I have long been big-cabin-window, flybridge people. Even when we have to sit inside, we like to be able to see the river. It is also very important that there's a separate head rather than a Porta Potti under a seat cushion in the V-berth. There's also a minimalist sink/stove/ice box combo in the cabin, but most of that will get tossed along with most everything else on the boat.

Buying a boat to throw practically everything away needs some explanation. Very few people would be nuts enough to do what I am proposing, and for good reason. But one of my many character traits, or flaws if you will, is seeing things for what they could be rather than for what they are. I also have to admit that I have a history of trying to turn something into what it isn't. But part of that is my well-established ability to easily spend two weeks and $200 to do what a pro would have done in a snap for $50.

Part of this saga is also connected to the fact I've been lucky enough to write articles for boating magazines since the mid-'90s, so I've had the opportunity to write about boats and boat people on a wide variety of waterways. Even though we're longtime Mississippi River boaters, I've wanted to venture on other waterways in our own boat. That now includes the Florida Keys.

But boating, for us, means anchoring out overnight, so something more than a cuddy cabin was on our list.


I also have to fess up to being a bit driven to the offbeat, so simply buying a competent, standard, small trailerable fiberglass production boat just didn't fit my style. And as my wife says, I'm also prone to "getting a wild hair."

But still, I took an old house that had had minimum upkeep and maintenance but had a glorious untouched oak interior and renovated and remodeled it to the point that, even though we no longer live there, our whole family still has strong emotional ties to it.

I started really “messing with boats” with an old 25-foot Carver flybridge with lots of exterior teak. I re-did all that, then built a swim platform from cyprus. It also had a badly scarred transom, and rather than gel-coating it, I had a boater friend who teaches auto body spray it with automotive paint. Scott Kave did a masterful job of blending colors, and we were sold on the value of using paint on boats. We used that boat to take a break from hauling our kids from this practice and that game, so because my wife's nickname is Duck, it was called Sittin Duck.

The next boat was a 26-foot Carver flybridge that had sat uncovered for a couple years before we bought it from the bank. The key to restoration on that boat was the extended use of a pressure washer to blow away the years of dirt and grime before I could start rebuilding. That one was tagged Duck Tape.

Then came our 32-foot Marinette. Even though I'd sworn never to do a project boat again, I bought this after it too had sat pretty much unattended for a couple years. The first thing that came out of that was the holding tank, which rotted through and emptied into the forward bilge as we were bringing it home from Lake Michigan. Twelve years later, there's little original left on the boat except the hull. We called Scott back a couple years ago to repaint the bridge and main cabin. I chronicled that affair for HeartlandBoating, pointing out the various errors I made in the process. Again, Scott did a great job of covering my inept preparation.

Crestliner re-build on trailer

That's part of the background of why I started to re-build what we are calling Odduck. I tried to get out from under it shortly after buying it but couldn't get the job done. I traveled 500 miles to northern Michigan to pick it up, had my heart broken when I first saw what shape it was in, and then white-knuckled my tow vehicle and boat over snow-packed and windy roads for 45 miles, sliding out of control at times, to a town where we stopped for the night. I called back the seller and told him I'd sell it back to him for $500 less than I paid. I never heard from him, so we towed it home, where I  despaired over what I'd done.

There's little on the boat that is re-usable. The engine block is cracked, the condition of the drive is unknown, all the upholstery needs to be replaced, there's no canvas, etc.


The biggest mystery was the entry to the cabin. There were helm and mate seats on both sides of the boat, mounted high on two different framed boxes, one on top of the other. To enter the cabin, there's a bi-fold door on the port side, but the bottom of it doesn't reach to the deck. Next to it is a single door that's even further off the floor. In the center of the boat is a plywood panel that likewise is cut up off the deck.

Crestliner renovation - helm

It wasn't until Mike Neyssen from Crestliner ran the hull ID number and told me the boat had left the factory as a mid-cabin that it made sense. On the port side, a step up became the top of a foot-box area of the cabin and that height matched the bifolds. Then, another step up, which matched the height of the single door, was the floor for the dual helm seat as well as the roof the cabin.

So, now the question is how to re-frame a mid-cabin and what to do it with other than 3/4-inch plywood, keeping in mind the key is lightweight. And that's just one of a thousand questions and issues I'll face as I go forward with basically a good hull and a moderate but not comprehensive set of skills.

Through the project, I'll be asking for help from a wide variety of sources. Besides researching on my own, I'll be contacting people in the boating industry I've met, interviewed and written about. Locally, I'm seeking assistance from various people, with Bill Norris of Norris Marine Repair and Restoration of Rock Island, Ill., as a major source. Then there's the longtime boater, project boat and Great Loop veteran who retired from an electrical construction business. And the wooden boat craftsman who's also a marine surveyor. And the guy who bent a circular staircase out of stainless steel for his boat over an LP tank. I'll owe much to many as I move ahead.

Even when I get the most discouraged, as I survey all the work I need to do and attempt to do things I have no idea how to, I keep reminding myself I'd much rather be “messing with boats” than doing yard work.

Next time – The stripping and gutting process begins and replacing the transom.

About This Blog

Follow longtime HeartLand Boating contributor Gary Kramer on his latest undertaking: rebuilding a 1987, 24-foot, aluminum Crestliner Sabre Mid-Cabin Day Cruiser from the hull up.




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