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1955 21' Chris-Craft Capri

We’ve had the pleasure of restoring more than seventy-five of these classic boats, and some models just seem to stand out a little more than others.  The 21’ Capris are one of those extra special boats.  They’re sleek, roomy by runabout standards, pretty quick and maneuverable, and just a sexy boat by anyone’s standards.  The Capris were the successor to the very popular Riviera models.  They still retained the beautiful two-tone finish (blond and natural) but incorporated some attractive design details.  The clipper bow, or bull nose as some call it, tapered rear deck, and most noticeably the sleek wrap-around windshield that gives the boat a much faster and sportier appearance.  I owned a 19’ version and just loved the boat.  The 21’ is a better riding version and provides more room and comfort in the cockpit.  

This particular boat comes from the Atlanta area.  She is really tired and needs what we call the ‘Full Monte’, or in other words…everything.  So, that’s what she’s going to get.  We’ll start with a new 5200 bottom, then move to new hullside and deck planking, complete refinish, re-manufactured power (MBL-158hp), new correct windshield, flooring, chrome, etc., etc.  This will be a twelve-month project. 

Well, once you have the boat upside down you really know what you’re dealing with.  As with most original bottoms of this era they’re just plain worn out.  The photos tell the tale.  We’ll take it off and then see what else needs attention.

Once rolled back over we pull off the hullside planks as there were several short planks and most were badly cracked and thin at the butt joints.  The owner agreed to have her replanked with the glue & screw method so the varnish won’t crack at the seams over time.  It also makes a much stronger hull.  To do that however requires replacing all the battens so the adhesive will be between new properly sealed wood.  Don’t try this with old battens and planks… you’re just asking for trouble.

We’ve always had very good success with our plank cutting method for achieving tight seams, but we’re always looking for new and better ways to do things.  So, I took the guys up to my buddy Don Danenberg’s shop in Michigan and he gave us a lesson on the ‘routing’ method for cutting planks.  He even allowed us to try it out on his own ’39 Barrel-Back he’s redoing.  Yes… we did hold our breaths in fear of having the router run wild and put a huge gouge in the wood.  But Don, the ever-patient teacher, gave us very good tips and showed us how to fabricate the router base to achieve the best cut.   

We could not wait to get back and try it out.  We purchased a new and very hi-quality hand-held router (or laminate trimmer), made the base and then tried it out.  Well, I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.  The plank seams were… ah, perfect.  And it’s simple as well.  We had a little learning curve, but before you know it we were cutting the planks roughly to shape, clamping to the hullsides with spacers and then trimming the plank edges to match the lower plank.  When we removed the spacers and clamped into space it was a perfect fit… no buts!  We removed the planks, sealed with CPES and then glued the backs and edges.  The final result was outstanding; I’m a little embarrassed we had not been using this method earlier.  I give Don the credit for showing us… so thanks!  A little Captain Morgan, dinner, and some good cigars conveyed our appreciation.


It took some time to properly fair the hull, but once finished it turned out fantastic.   As always we begin with 40 grit, then 60, 80, and finally with 100.  All the fairing occurs with the 40 grit, all the other subsequent grits are really just to remove the scratches of the prior grits.  Continue to press lighter and lighter with each grit.   Then we move on to the decks.  We had originally planned to only replace the blond sections which were terrible, but once we striped the decks it was pretty clear they would also need to be replaced.  Multiple cracks, misplaced bungs, enlarged deck seams, etc. makes it necessary to replace the entire deck with new ribbon Philippine mahogany.  We used clear Philippine for the blond sections, which is a little less grainy and lighter in color.

When doing the blond sections where the blond extends from the rear cockpit down through the engine hatch and rear deck, we use one continuous plank to have the grain consistent throughout the entire rear deck.  It makes a very nice appearance.  It may take a little more time but the result is always worth it.  It’s also necessary when cutting the edges of the plank to do so with a 5% bevel to allow for the crown in the decks and get that tight butt fit.  If you don’t you’ll end up with seam cracks, which will ruin the appearance.  Once we have all the woodwork completed it’s time for final sanding (remember, no more than 100 grit) and then we make sure the hull is cleaned off.  We like to bleach the boats, which will uniform any inconsistent colored wood and/or bungs and make for a very consistent color after staining.  It takes a little time to properly mask off the blond areas and then we mix our stain.  It takes us about two hours to stain.  Be sure to allow at least two days after bleaching before staining, otherwise you may get some very ugly discoloration around bungs and other areas where the bleach may take a little longer to dry.  Let the stain dry at least another two days before applying sealer.

Below is right after bleaching.  We use a two-part furniture wood bleach that you mix 50/50.  After mixing allow to sit for about ten minutes to establish its potency then apply with a foam brush.  Always start at the bottom and work you way up, otherwise it will leave drip marks that may not come out.  Move fast and make sure you get as even of coverage as possible.  The boat will look wet for an hour or so before it begins to turn white.

Getting close now…

Finishing the project...
We had some mechanical delays finishing this great classic, but it always pays to persevere...eliminating each issue one at a time until you get them resolved and the boat just right. A lot of time, sweat...and even some blood (my own of course) went into this one...but now that she's finished all of us at the shop are very proud of her. Now she goes home to Atlanta.
The happy owner has now asked us to find a triple-cockpit to do for him. Gads, this is a tough job...but someone has to do it!