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An Oscar-worthy pedigree

Tower company restoring wooden boat once owned by actor Robert Redford

Jodi Summit
Posted 5/7/19

TOWER- Sunrise River Boatworks, in Tower, is used to treating every single wooden boat it restores as a one-of-a-kind project, but the current beauty being restored in their shop has a very special …

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An Oscar-worthy pedigree

Tower company restoring wooden boat once owned by actor Robert Redford

Posted

TOWER- Sunrise River Boatworks, in Tower, is used to treating every single wooden boat it restores as a one-of-a-kind project, but the current beauty being restored in their shop has a very special story to tell.

“Sunray” is a 23-foot Grand-Craft Tahoe Hardtop, built in Holland, Mich., in 1984. Grand-Craft is a wooden boat shop started by retired Chris-Craft employees, after Chris-Craft shut down its Holland plant. The inboard boat sports a unique phoenix inlay on the dash, one of only five boats, all built in 1983 and 1984, with such a detail.

But what is truly of interest to folks who are not wooden boat aficionados is that this very boat was built for Robert Redford, who owned it for 10 years, and used it for waterskiing and entertaining guests on lakes near the Sundance Ski Resort in Utah, and on Lake Powell in northern Arizona.

In 1987, the Redfords traded in the boat for a smaller 20-foot Grand-Craft.

The 23-footer was sold to its second owner, who renamed it “Phoenix,” in honor of its unique dashboard inlay. The boat spent a year cruising on Lake Michigan before being sold to its current owner, who has a cabin on Burntside Lake. The boat is now called “Sunray” in honor and in memory of the family’s award-winning Palomino stallion.

Sunrise River is doing a “bottoms up” restoration of the boat. The boat, which has clocked in a little over 640 hours of use, was regularly maintained and professionally serviced throughout its life.

The restoration included removing the hard top, chrome, and engine, so work on the boat’s hull could begin. Wooden boat bottoms were not made to last a lifetime.

“We have about 1,700 hours into this project so far,” said Jeff Larson and Dana Hein, who have truly enjoyed working on what is most likely a once-in-a-lifetime project. Plans are to have the boat ready for water testing in early May, and to have the boat finished and “show-ready” by later this spring. They started working on the boat in the fall of 2017.

“This is the biggest project we’ve ever done,” they said.

Redford is aware the boat is being restored and was glad to hear that news, said Larson.

This restoration included rebuilding the original “soaker” bottom with a more modern technique, which uses a special type of caulk to create a watertight seal between the original mahogany planking. Traditionally, these types of boats needed to soak in the water, in order to swell the mahogany planks and create a watertight bottom. The newer method means the boat can go in and out of the water without having to soak. The new bottom is warrantied for ten years, but should easily last 30-40 years, they said.

Besides rebuilding the hull, the restoration included rebuilding the engine, new stain and varnish, and rebuilding the boat’s hardtop and top decks.

The boat was in remarkably good condition, they said. Only one of the boat bottom planks needed to be replaced, and the 454 V-8 engine was given an overhaul, but was also in remarkably good condition. The boat can cruise at speeds of up to 47 miles per hour.

Restoring the 1980s vintage boat, however, did create some challenges.

“The overall restoration process, while posing some disassembly challenges, has provided many insights into a more modern wooden boat,” they said. “And although new products and technologies were incorporated during its original production, the basic concepts of wooden boat designs still applied.”

The boat is being brought to what is called “preserved” in the wooden boat show community.

The wooden exterior, dash, and interior all received 18 coats of varnish. Some of the wooden details were redone in a golden color of varnish, to match the phoenix inlaid on the boat’s dashboard.

New chrome was installed on the hull, and the rest of the chrome was re-chromed to look brand new.

A sign-painter from Clear Lake, Minn., spent two days in the shop, repainting the boat name and numbers in real gold leaf.

The shop generally works on two to three boats at a time, and some projects can take over a year to complete. But not all the projects are high-end.

“Wooden boats don’t have to be over the top like a Grand-Craft,” said Larson. “One of the boats we are working on now is a Thompson boat, and very affordable.”

Larson and Hein said they hope to bring the boat to some wooden boat shows, including the one on Lake Vermilion at The Landing on Labor Day weekend.

They said there is one other Grand-Craft boat in the area— a boat named “Miss Vermilion” that is docked on its namesake lake.

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