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1932 Chris-Craft 303 Triple

If you’ve been to this site before, you’ve seen the 21’ Cobra we did a while back.  This client has since brought us a second and very rare boat indeed.  The country was feeling the pain of a deep economic depression when this boat was manufactured, and Chris-Craft records indicate less than one hundred of these hulls were built.  Obviously much fewer than that remain today.  It’s too bad, as these models were truly quite stunning with beautiful lines and move gracefully through the water.

This particular boat had already gone through a partial restoration with a WEST bottom and re-planked sides.  Like most incorrectly restored WEST or fiberglass bottoms on these wood boats, this one is also rotting from the inside out.  What happens is boats especially 20’ and longer will flex quite a bit as they move through the water.  If not done properly the hard epoxies will experience stress cracks over time and allow water to wick into the wood.  Then moisture has difficulty escaping, resulting in rot over time.  We’ve seen it many times and have replaced numerous WEST bottoms that were not properly sealed.  I realize there are many reputable shops that still use WEST and have enjoyed success with their restorations, but we prefer to use the 5200 method which remains flexible and allows the wood to move without any degradation to the structure. 

As you will see we had to take a saw, chisel, a few beers, and much time and patience when removing the bottom.  We basically cut it off taking much care not to damage the frames, chines, stem, gripe, and keel.  Hand chiseling is required in many places to insure against causing said damage.  After removing the bottom we made frame repairs, checked carriage bolts and replaced where needed, and then sealed with CPES and painted with thinned bilge paint.  We thought it odd that most of the bottom was attached with steel staples and a very few oval head fasteners.  We’ll finish the bottom then move on to removing the hullside and deck planks.  We are going to glue/screw her back together with 5200 to give the hull more strength and keep those seam separations from occurring. 

It’s amazing how many times we find duct tape on problem areas of these leaky bottoms.  I love duct tape but not for bottom repairs.  The problem when replacing one of these WEST plywood bottoms when they go bad is there are no plank patterns to make new ones.  So we contacted some other 303 or similar model owners and obtained what we believe are pretty darn close dimensions of which to go by.  So far so good.

You can see here how the ‘non-marine’ grade plywood began to delaminate due to moisture getting trapped within the plys.  Once that begins to occur it’s only a matter of time before your bottom is shot.

Making a small jig to help hold the new rough-cut plank in place makes it much easier for fitting.  Sometimes it works better than an extra set of hands.  It never has to get a coffee refill and won’t ever complain about the boredom of holding a plank for so long.  Once you have one side fit the way you like it, flip it over on the other side and it should also fit there.  Then you just cut a duplicate.  Remember, be sure to leave a ‘penny’ gap for the 5200 to ooze and proved that cushion for expansion.   

It’s not recommended on the can of CPES, but a good Macanudo cigar makes sealing the bottom more pleasurable and helps disguise that wonderful odor.  Be sure to cut your intermediate battens and butt blocks now so you can seal all at the same time.  Don’t forget to mark them; otherwise you have a dickens of a time remembering where they go. 


Moving on ahead we finished the 5200 bottom and proceeded with the hullside planks.  These are replacement planks and had been cut out earlier.  Most were pretty good fit, but we still had to make some minor adjustments with a hand plane to get a tighter fit.  We are gluing & screwing the planks together, so we’re also replacing all the battens so we’ll have fresh wood for the screws to grab on to.


As you can see we also replaced the port side covering boards and the aft one on the starboard side.  The transom is new as well.  The old planks were on ¼” wide and had no strength left in them.  The trim around the cockpit is quite attractive, but a little tedious to fabricate.  The old ones were cracked and just could not be repaired.  Most of the deck planks are being reused.  We’re just a couple of weeks from staining.  She will truly be a beauty when done.

****Finishing the Project ****

This Chris-Craft was a true joy to work on.  Boats of this vintage seem to have a somewhat different character or personality…and they demand even more respect that others.  We always treat our client’s boats as if they were our own, but this ’32 was a little more special.  The crew just loved working on her, and you can see that in the results.

The owner is going to finish putting her back together, the engine, interior, hardware, etc., so we let her go out the door with a beautiful finish ready for those tasks.   Good bye special lady!


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