Boston Braden jumped at a chance to buy a neglected Boston Whaler for about half price, but would it prove to be a great deal or a money pit?
There’s nothing sadder than a boat sitting uncovered, untouched and unloved, baking for years in the Florida sun. So when BJ Braden heard the owners of Blue Chip, a Boston Whaler 21 Conquest cuddy cabin, were selling it (along with everything else on a local emu farm in Myakka City, an hour from Tampa), he told his son Boston about it. But he warned the younger Braden not to get too excited, because it would probably be in rough condition. BJ remembered seeing the boat 12 years prior at a store the Thai owners operated, but he also knew they only used it a couple of times before parking it for more than a decade.
Even his father’s warning didn’t prepare Boston for what he saw. “I was totally shocked when I finally got a chance to see it. The dark blue hull was really faded, which was bad enough, but when we looked inside it was unbelievable.” he said. “The cockpit cushions were totally rotted and there was dirt and mold bonded to every square inch of the boat.”
While it must have looked hopeless, something there intrigued Boston. It was a Boston Whaler, so he knew it was well built; plus, it had his first name, which seemed to be an omen. And then there was the color.
“Blue is our family’s favorite color,” Boston said, “Most of our vehicles are blue, and so is our house. If it was red, chances are I wouldn’t have considered it.”
Let’s Make a Deal
Boston thought if he could get it for the right price, maybe they could bring it back to its former glory. The owners had bought it used for $44,000, but they spent a lot of time in Asia and basically parked it and forgot about it. In an attempt to learn more about it, BJ Googled “Blue Chip” “Boston Whaler 21 Conquest.” Up popped an online ad from 12 years earlier. So he called the number listed and was surprised when the original owner answered. (See “Meet the Original Owner” sidebar.)
The Bradens looked it up in a NADA Guide, which revealed it had an average retail of around $18,000. They paid $9,750 — a gamble considering the condition and the fact they didn’t even know if the engine would turn over — which was as low as the owners would go. Both Boston and his dad knew a lot about boats, so they didn’t have it surveyed (though that would be a prudent precaution, especially for boats that haven’t been well maintained).
“Everything about the deal just felt right,” Boston said. “Not only would we be getting a great boat at a reasonable price, but we would also be bringing it back from the dead.”
The trailer tires were low on air, but they were still holding air, so Boston inflated them and tried to tow the boat away. Unfortunately, the wheels had settled into ruts and the grass around the wheels didn’t want to let go. After rocking it back and forth, he finally freed it, and with the tires’ flat spots clomping on the pavement, he towed it slowly to its new home while BJ observed from behind.
200 Hours of Hard Labor
It was time for the unpaid work crew — the best kind — to get to work. In addition to BJ, the crew included Boston’s wife, Kaleigh, and his mother, Carol. They started by unloading all the loose items from the boat, such as outriggers, canvas and cushions. Then they removed the prodigious amount of debris that had collected over the years, from partially sitting under some banana trees.
When they opened the cabin for the first time in 10 years, the fetid air rushed out to surround them in a powerful, musky, moldy funk. With masks on, they removed the cushions, which were black with mold. They took a garden hose, turned it on full blast and went to war, hosing down every inch of the interior. A drain hole in the back of the cabin sole ushered the water through the bilge and out of the boat, which allowed them to keep blasting away.
“Even though we were pretty sure the cabin’s cushions would have to be replaced,” Boston said, “my mom laid them out in the yard and went to work on them with a high-pressure washer with a fan tip. We were shocked when they started turning white.”
They continued cleaning the cushions, using scrub brushes, Lysol Mold and Mildew Blaster, and lots of elbow grease. To their surprise, the cushions cleaned up really well, which allowed them to start ahead of budget, since they thought they were going to have to buy all new cushions. The ones in the cockpit were toast, but they had a friend in the upholstery business who made an entire set of new cushions, including bolsters, for $1,500.
Then, as a team, they attacked the cockpit, foredeck and hardtop, using a plan of attack that started with high-pressure washing before a good scrubbing with stiff-bristled brushes. And, like the directions on a shampoo bottle, they rinsed and repeated. To cut through the grime, they used a product by Black Magic called Bleche-Wite on everything in the boat that was white, and to their shock, the topsides of the boat began to gleam like it had just come from the factory.
The entire inside of the cabin had to be cleaned by hand scrubbing, since the high-pressure washer would have been too much for the side panels. Being inside, it wasn’t as dirty as the outside surfaces, and it cleaned up surprisingly well.
Time to Pay the Piper
“Sadly,” Boston said, “we knew the ‘free’ part of the restoration was about to end with a trip to the marina to try to get the engine working after 10 years of being idle. My dad and I could have probably done a lot of it ourselves, but after it had been so neglected we wanted it gone over by professionals, since we planned on taking it offshore.”
So far, their luck had been holding. Though they bought the boat without keys, they found a hidden spare key during the cleaning process. But the good-luck bubble burst at the marina. The first item the marina personnel checked was the 92-gallon gas tank: totally shot and unable to be cleaned out.
The boat performed beautifully, and it was a real kick to get out of the waist-deep water and just look at the results of our hard work. “But fortunately there was a sticker on it from the manufacturer,” Boston said, “and they were able to make an exact replacement for $976.”
The outside of the Mercury EFI 200 needed repainting and new decals, but when they took off the cowling they found it was pretty clean inside. The mechanics at Cut’s Edge Harbor Marina in Palmetto, Fla., first performed a compression test, which revealed good compression on all six cylinders. They had to replace the spark plugs, high- and low-pressure fuel pumps, fuel lines, the intake gasket, the water pump and the fuel/water separator. They also cleaned the fuel injectors and lubed the cylinders. The through-hull fittings were replaced and two new batteries were installed.
“Then came the moment of truth,” BJ said. “We added some new fuel, turned it over and Bingo! She fired right up and ran excellent, much to our surprise. The 15 horsepower Johnson kicker wasn’t so lucky. It ran for about 30 seconds before dying for good.”
Total repair bill: $3,471 for all the parts and labor.
The Big Buff
After they got it home, Boston went to work on the badly faded hull. Terry Dunagin, the original owner of Blue Chip and the former director of marketing for Boston Whaler, told them it had three layers of gelcoat, so they could afford to get pretty aggressive with it without worrying about buffing right through it. First, they thoroughly cleaned the hull and let it dry, and then they used 3M Marine Super Duty Rubbing Compound ($35), which, like the name implies, is for badly oxidized hulls. It suspends its abrasive material, crystalline silica, in kerosene and other nasty liquids, so it should be handled carefully and used outside. Users should protect their eyes and skin from direct contact.
“I found the best way to apply the rubbing compound was to use a rag to apply it in a small area, instead of putting it directly on the buffing pad,” Boston said. “I used a Shurhold Dual-Action Buffer (the kit costs $150) and found it was best to work the rubbing compound in with the buffer on the speed setting 2, to avoid heating the pad up.”
Boston found that the oscillating motion of the buffer was preferable to buffers that simply spin in circles. The motion reduced swirl marks and immediately went to work on the white haze. To his surprise, the deep blue gelcoat started coming through. But it wasn’t shiny yet.
“I switched to Shurhold’s Buff Magic rubbing compound ($23), which has a milder abrasive, and repeated the process,” Boston said. “Now it was starting to get shinier, but to really bring out the shine and protect it from the elements, I used Shurhold’s Pro Polish ($23), a long-lasting polymer-based wax.”
His technique involved applying a ring of polish onto the pad and pressing it to the hull before starting the buffer — speed setting 3 — and working in small areas. After each first pass, he switched to the opposite direction, always using light pressure and shutting off the buffer while it was in contact with the hull instead of pulling it away while it was spinning. Next, he snapped on the Brite Bonnet over the wet pad, turned the speed down to 2 and buffed the haze out until he achieved a high gloss.
The final step was to get the engine cover repainted, so they went to a family friend and helped him repaint and install the new stickers, for $245. It looks like a new engine.
“After we were done,” BJ said, “we launched it on Manatee River in Bradenton, and all of us headed out into the Gulf of Mexico to beautiful Egmont Key for our first trip and had a blast. The boat performed beautifully, and it was a real kick to get out in the waist-deep water and just look at the results of our hard work. It was a great feeling of satisfaction to know we had given this boat a second life.”