Holey Whaler!
by Larry Pullon
Little Rock, Arkansas

I first saw her being prostituted on ebay. Clearly well past her prime and suffering the indignity of being covered with several layers of black Krylon spray paint. I have a rule, “sell” boats on ebay, “buy” boats elsewhere, so I moved on, browsing for outboard parts or the ever ellusive boat trailer for one of the boats setting on the ground behind my house.

A few days later, there she was again, auction ending in minutes. I noted there was very little interest in the weathered old gal. So I carefully read the item description again. 1969 13ft Boston Whaler, 1982 25hp Johnson, painted trailer. Well, at least the motor was worth something, and it was only 300 miles away (that’s close with ebay stuff!). So, I ignored my own rule and bid what I would pay locally for the motor and trailer. A few hours later the email came – congratulations you have won the bid! Uh oh, “Honey, I have to make a run to Dallas next weekend”.

The owner pretty much skirted the questions I had about paperwork, motor condition, trailer condition, sticking with pay me, pay me, pay me. So, I made an appointment for pick-up and took a half a day off from work and set out for Dallas on a Friday afternoon. A few hours later as I was nearing the pick up location I called ahead and was shocked to hear that something had come up and I would have to wait until the next morning to get the boat. How could someone let me drive 300 miles and then say they were busy! Luckily I had a change of clothes with me! Ten minutes after checking into a cheap hotel room I didn’t want the guy calls back and gives directions to the boat’s location – another 25 miles away! He said his plans had changed again and I would have to pick the boat up that night (note to self, must be flexible, no cussing!) because he would be busy all day Saturday.

Resisting the urge to let him know what I was really thinking, I agreed, and set out for the new rendezvous location. By the time I arrived it was ten o’clock at night (bedtime!). The boat was in a music school parking lot, with a nearby streetlight providing the only security. Of course, the trailer lights did not work, one tire was flat and there was a pile of old carpet foam rotting in a pool of nasty water inside the hull! It was butt-ugly and it was mine! There was no paperwork, so I got an oil change receipt out of my glove box and had the owner write out a bill of sale on the back. 30 minutes later, after limping along on a sun-cracked spare tire, I was in a Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot, and sometime after midnight I was heading back to the hotel, towing a trailer with new lights and two new tires and wheels.

Early the next morning I saw the boat for the first time in daylight. I have seen worse (but only in city dumps, junkyards, and rotting along the river bank!) but at the same time I was pleased to note the lack of serious structural damage. Availing myself to the hotel’s dumpster, I cleaned all the garbage out of the hull, drained the nasty water and installed a “temp” Arkansas trailer tag. Made the trip back to Arkansas without incident.

I knew what a Boston Whaler was, by reputation, but had never actually seen one up close. And once she was safely in the shop I looked her over real thoroughly and decided the ugly was only skin deep, she could be saved! But first, I needed to learn about Whalers.

It only took a few minutes of searching to find Continuous Wave on the computer. It’s a site devoted to Boston Whalers where many of the people demonstrate the same kind of fanaticism you see with Chevy/Ford lovers and Harley riders. I read about the history of Boston Whaler, studied photos of design changes and printed drawings of the wood components I would have to make later. I also discovered that Twin Cities Marine was the place to email for the authentic parts I would need. Soon, I was asking bored forum members basic questions, and by the end of the first week had all the parts I would need on order.

Like I said, the hull was not damaged structurally, but it did have nearly 500 screw holes in it (I counted them) and the topside gelcoat was severely crazed. Many of the forum members suggested replacing the gelcoat (remember they are fanatics) but I had other ideas. Breaking out the random orbital sander and a box of 100 sanding discs (80 grit) I set about removing the layers of black rattle can spray paint covering a layer of epoxy boat paint. Two weeks later, she was cleaned up and I had another 40 hours of sanding experience. I used “Kal-Strip” paint stripper and a power washer with Purple Stuff soap to get the paint out of the cracks in the gelcoat.

Working on the inside, I used “Formula 27” (a two-part filler) to begin the long process of filling screw holes. Way too soon I was scrapping the bottom of the quart can of filler! The stuff was expensive and I had a long way to go, so I did a little homework and discovered “BondoUltimate” was nearly the same and cost 2/3 less. The only drawback was it set up hard in about five minutes, so I had to learn to work faster than I normally do. Once all the holes on the inside were filled and sanded, I started filling all the gelcoat cracks. The worst areas were inside the storage locker up front and around the engine well in the back – which were also the hardest areas to sand! But before too long I had the entire inner hull filled and sanded smooth. It really looked good!

Moving the old trailer outside, I flipped the hull (320 something pounds empty) and set it up on saw horses with Harbor Freight wheels attached to make it mobile. The outside was in much better shape, no cracks nor screw holes, and no danged black paint, so I was able to get it done in a week. There was a chunk of the keel strake missing because the trailer had no rubber bumper on the bow stop (metal crunching to fiberglass on every bump in the rode!). That was easy – I mixed up a batch of seam filler using two parts talc to one part phenolic microballoons and enough epoxy resin to make it as moist as a heavy cake batter. After putting the mix in a freezer bag, I soon had squeezed out a new keel section. Before the repair set up I added a couple layers of 8 oz fiberglass cloth wetted with epoxy resin. After sanding with the random orbital sander, I sprayed the bottom with a very fine coat of rattle can paint and lightly sanded again with a 18” long board and 120 grit paper. This revealed valleys and bumps in the hull (not many) that required more sanding or filling. Before long the outside of the hull was ready to finish.

I have had very good experience with Petite Easypoxy – at least with trailer boats. I don’t know how good it is for boats that stay in the water all the time, but for the average trailer boat it does fine. So, I painted the outside with two coats of Easypoxy Off White using a two-inch trim brush (angle cut). I could have used a 4” brush, but I like the control of the smaller brush. Easypoxy is a self-leveling paint, meaning brush strokes pretty much disappear as the paint levels and dries leaving a gloss finish. But, it is a little tricky to use. You have to keep less paint on your brush than normal, paint wet to dry, and bottom to top (to keep paint from pooling on the bottom edge). If you paint like “normal” it will be full of runs when it dries. I used a foam roller with good results on the bottom of the hull (inside and out). After letting the paint dry a few days I rolled the hull back over and painted the inside with Easypoxy Bikini Blue. Not at all like the original Boston Whaler (Robin Egg) color, but so much nicer than black Krylon it didn’t seem to matter. As soon as the paint had set good (3 days) I installed a new rubrail and factory decals. Wow – she really looked good!

Next was the wood. The old 13ft Whalers came with mahogany wood seats and storage compartment cover. I had already decided to restore the boat back to the basic Boston Whaler configuration – meaning a tiller steer outboard. I figured surely there were people who would prefer a boat without the console, steering cables, stainless rails conspiring to make a small boat even smaller. Finding 12” wide 1” thick mahogany was more of a challenge than I thought, and when I did locate the wood it cost $150 for a few boards! But there is a time to cut corners and a time to go first class and the wood is very important to this boat’s over-all appearance – so I paid the money. Using factory drawings from the Continuous Wave website I soon had new thwarts, seat stays and a hatch cover and knew how many screws to use and where to located them to hold it all down (the seats are actually loose under the seat stays). After sanding and varnishing with Captain’s Spar Varnish the mahogany looked great and really made the old boat shine!

After so much work I could not put the boat back on the old trailer (although it was a Whaler factory trailer) – so after a search, it was back to Texas for a galvanized trailer (they are rare in Arkansas). The “new” trailer was fitted with new lights, tires, winch, hitch, bunks, chains, and winch strap, bearing buddies, and given a good power washing. And after an hour or so adjusting everything to fit, the Whaler it was good to go!

For the motor I decided to go with a 1977 Johnson 25hp that I had already restored during the winter. It was a tiller steer electric/manual start and had new paint, a new prop, new cooling impeller, and 120 lbs compression (good) in both cylinders. It also ran very well. After installing a new battery, battery case, fuel tank, fuel line, paddle, etc the time was finally at hand for the first ride!

On the way to the lake, Jenny (wife) and I stopped for fuel and while I was filling the six-gallon tank an older man came up to look at the “old” boat. He walked all the way around studying every angle and then leaned over to study the varnished wood inside. He looked at me and I nodded back, and then he told me how he used to sell Boston Whalers 40 years ago out on the east coast. Said he loved them, especially the older ones, and didn’t think he would ever get to see one again. As he was leaving he softly patted her gunnel, and wiping the corner of his eye, told me I had done a fantastic job on the old gal. I beamed with pride for the rest of the drive to the lake!

It was a great boat ride! I got a little idea of why the Whalers have such a good reputation - it handled very well for such a small boat. The 25 Johnson provided enough power to blow my hat off and the thing turned like no other boat I have ever been on! We rode around for nearly an hour – exercising the Johnson and enjoying just being on the water again. All too soon the ride was over. We didn’t say much on the way home – knowing what we had to do next.

The sun was too low for good digital pictures when we got home, but early the next day I pushed the boat out on the driveway to take a series of pictures for ebay. By noon she was back on the auction block – nearly six weeks to the day since the last time she was there. Only this time it was different, she was magnificent, and very soon there was strong bidder interest - even though Arkansas is not the ideal place to list a Boston Whaler. For the next week, I answered at least ten emails inquiries a day. People wanting to know if I would deliver (no) if I would stop the auction early if they gave me so much money (no) if I would ship the boat (no), etc, etc. By the end of the auction I was happy to see my reserve price had been exceeded. The old girl had a brand new owner – one who swears she will never sleep outside again – in her new home in New York! (The new owner spent five days making the round trip, the Whaler made the trip safely and now lives in a boat house near Albany, NY – he has called twice, saying how delighted he is with his new rig).


OK, if you are still reading this you might be wondering why this essay is on Duckworks – a website supposedly devoted to wooden boats. The answer is simple - many people are starting to acknowledge the very strong connection between building wooden boats and restoring older boats, whether they are wood, aluminum, or fiberglass. They all require a similar degree of planning, same shop skills, and many of the same tools, so it is a very logical partnership. I learned how to fill seams, use epoxy, sand, and paint while building wooden boats. Those skills were critical to completing the Boston Whaler restoration.

Now that my horizon is broader, it is very likely if you look in my shop in the near future you will find a wooden river skiff under construction right beside a classic 1958 Duracraft runabout that has seen better days. Besides being lots of fun restore, the old factory boat will more than likely completely pay for the new wooden skiff project!