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The Boating World Has Finally Embraced the Restomod

Buyers are looking to forego the hassle of older engines, systems and high prices for custom builds.

2014 Intrepid boat Alison Langley

Compared to their popularity in the car world, restomods—restored classics modified with the latest tech and trim—have arrived late to yachting. “Ten years ago, most boaters didn’t even recognize the term, but we’ve seen it gain legs,” says Bill Morong, owner of Yachting Solutions, a boatyard in Rockport, Maine, which has completed more than a dozen such transformations. 

The restoration of older boats typically involves salvaging as many original parts as possible, including engines, for historical accuracy. It’s this authenticity that factors into the judging at shows and buoys standing within the small-but-fastidious classic-boat circles. But things are changing. 

“Those boats are quaint but not very practical,” says Morong. “Few people want 1930s gas engines or wire-and-sprocket steering systems; they like boats with the appeal of yesteryear but want modern systems and propulsion. They usually ask us to create something different from the shells of their grandparents’ boats.” 

Interestingly, vessels handed down within families comprise the majority of inquiries Yachting Solutions receives, though there can be a tendency to balk at the cost of the restomod process. “I often tell them that the cost of the project, as a rule of thumb, will be more than the cost of a similar-sized new production boat, but less than a new custom project designed from a fresh sheet of paper,” says Morong. 

Avocette, Huckins Fairform Flyer at Yachting Solutions Rockland Maine.
Avocette, Huckins Fairform Flyer at Yachting Solutions Rockland Maine. Billy Black

Some rise to the challenge, such as the owner of Avocette. The 1931 Fairform Flyer, built by Huckins, had a number of caretakers who kept it in shipshape condition but was ready for a refresh after nearly 20 years of neglect. 

“It was a basket case,” says the owner, noting that, beyond rotting wood, a fire had consumed the interior. In 2016, he decided to return Avocette to its former glory, but with caveats: It had to be safe and comfortable, and its 1930s heritage needed to be preserved. As for the project, “it wasn’t for the faint of heart,” he says. “We made so many decisions, it became a custom design.” 

Every element of Avocette required a total rebuild. Morong’s team collaborated with naval architect Bill Prince, using 1930s drawings from Huckins and laser scans. “We 3-D modeled the boat, torsioned it to its original shape, and then totally rebuilt the hull to the shape we’d designed,” says Morong. “We wanted original proportions, so it didn’t look like some bastardized version.”

The process also included moving the new engines aft—the 1931 Sterling Petrel engines were replaced with 450 hp Volvo Penta Diesels with IPS pods—as well as adding a C-Zone digital onboard- management system and repositioning the galley forward to provide a contemporary dining space with a skylight. Then there’s the new salon, highlighted by an Art Deco fireplace and wood-beamed ceilings that reflect the increased headroom throughout. 

Avocette 48’ 1930 Huckins fair form flyer rebuilt by Yachting Solutions in Rockport, ME
Avocette 48’ 1930 Huckins fair form flyer rebuilt by Yachting Solutions in Rockport, ME Billy Black

Most restomods don’t involve 90-year-old donor vessels. Yachting Solutions’ other projects range from a ’63 Bertram 31 to a 2014 Intrepid. The Intrepid’s owner wanted a much higher level of customization than the factory was willing to do, essentially turning a bare fiberglass fishing vessel into a New England–style wood-clad runabout. At the lower end, Metan Marine of Lakeville, Mass., has made a name for itself by reinterpreting 17-foot Boston Whalers from the late 1960s. 

Morong also points out that, rather than simply upgrading hidden components like engines, many yards are exercising a wider artistic license over exterior designs. Cooley Marine, in Stratford, Conn., recently finished work on a ’69 Bertram 31, retaining its classic lines but adding a blue-tinted windshield that resembles “a huge pair of Costa sunglasses,” according to founder Andrew Cooley. “We started with the bare hull and tried to install every feature on the owner’s 50-foot Tiara,” he says. 

The process involved moving engines aft, adding a generator, and getting a composite engineer to design framing for the much heavier windshield. The reshaped interior included repositioning bulkheads for more space. “Details like magic glass in the aft head—which is opaque but goes clear when nobody’s in the facilities so the driver can see out—define this boat,” says Cooley. “It’s one-hundred-percent custom and modern, but still looks like a Bertram 31.”

Which is the exact mission statement of a restomod.

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