THE RESTORATION OF WITCH 1929/2013 ELCO 50 FLAT TOP
...a true "Retro-Mod" Grand Lady
by Walt Schulz
My restoration of Witch first began in the fall of 2002 when I heard from some friends at the Classic Yacht Association that the boat was up for sale and in need of a refit. Although I make my living designing and building fiberglass yachts, I find great pleasure and solace saving wood boats – I guess you could say it is my link to the Phoenicians. When I purchased her, Witch became the thirteenth wood boat I had taken on as a hobby restoration projection over the past 40 years.
Interestingly, the name of the vessel had remained the same since 1929 which is quite remarkable in this day and age. The lady who owned the boat prior to 2002 had her for 22 years until the death of her husband forced her to part with the vessel. Even though the couple had cared for her greatly the reality of age was upon them and the boat truly needed a major keel to cabin refit and restoration. I was familiar with all the usual suspects of repair since the wood boat I restored before Witch was quite similar - a 1936 Elco 38’ named Franklin. It was a great day for me when Franklin won the award for “Best Restoration to Original Design” at the Mystic Seaport Classic Yacht Show and I was confident I could restore Witch in a similar fashion.
When I first took possession of Witch in 2002, the list of work was rather daunting. Almost everything on the boat from the keel, deck, floors, frames, bulwarks, transom, engines, tanks, plumbing, electric, pumps, machinery and electronics needed to be repaired or replaced. For example, the entire forward crew cabin and part of the galley had been converted into a photographer' darkroom for the owner. It was only through the kind help from the people at the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Rosenfeld Photograph Collection that I was able to put the yacht back to its original 1929 layout.
In addition to returning “Witch” to her original layout, we also installed a new pair of Caterpillar 6 cylinder 130 HP diesel engines, as well as a new electric system with panels and batteries, three zone air conditioning and heat, a 5kw diesel generator, a convection/microwave oven, new tanks, etc. The most challenging part of the refit was to discreetly hide all the 21st century amenities so as not to affect the original look of the vessel.
After the refit was complete, Witch also won “Best Restoration to Original Design” at the Mystic Classic Yacht Show and I sold her in 2005 to a couple from upstate New York. The new owners embarked on an extensive live-aboard cruise, leisurely sailing Witch from the upper Hudson River all the way to Key West, Florida over a five year period. Unfortunately, personal circumstances in their lives forced them to put the boat back on the market and since I was between wood boat projects I couldn’t resist buying her again. I was glad to get my old friend back and while Witch had held up remarkably well there were a few issues that I wanted to address after personally bringing the boat 1800 miles from Jacksonville, Florida to Rhode Island. From 2010-2012, I used Witch lightly in Rhode Island during the summer seasons and finally in 2013 we went back over her once again. The biggest project was to remove the 110 volt 5kw auxiliary generator and replace it with an 8kw genset so all three zone air conditioning units could run at the same time. Also, all the three zone reverse cycle air and heat units were replaced with new Climma units that include dehumidifiers. In addition, I changed the complicated two 30 amp shore power connections to a single 50 amp shore power connection and the anchoring system was redesigned for single-handed anchoring. All the exterior wood was stripped and two sealer coats were applied as well as eight coats of varnish. All exterior varnish is protected with modern Clear Coat for long lasting UV and weather protection. We added eight new 12 volt batteries and we checked and serviced all systems to ensure that “Witch’s” 2004 refit was brought up to 2013 standards.
After seasons of cruising aboard Witch in New England, we hauled her and brought her back to the shop in Bristol in the Fall of 2018 for some touch ups and tender loving care. (see latest photos). Witch is now ready for cruising. And, she cruises nicely at 10 knots which happens to be more than trawler speed, with a maximum speed of 12 knots.
NOTE: While I have been saddened to pass the ownership of my wood boat ladies to new owners, I do recognize the fact that it would be a disservice to these boats, if not impractical to keep them all, and they deserve to go to new owners who will care for these golden age treasures as I have. Witch has been under my care and a special part of my life, having owned her (although not continuously) for 16 years. So, if you are interested in acquiring Witch, please ask about the maintenance agreement that I am offering with her sale.
An independent marine survey took place late in 2013. A new survey (May, 2019 will be forthcoming) and is available on request.
Offered by Shannon Boat Company
19 Broad Common Road, Bristol, Rhode Island 02809 T +1 401.253.2441 email bill @shannonyachts.com