THE RESTORATION OF WITCH 1929/2021 ELCO 50 FLAT TOP
...a true "new" 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. When I purchased her, Witch became the thirteenth wood boat I had taken on as a hobby restoration projection over the past 45 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
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 8kw 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.
A great deal has happened in the boat yard business since I started working on wood boats when I was 16 years old. One of the big issues is the loss of skilled workers and many boat yards with experience in maintaining and repairing wood boats. On a more positive note, we now have new materials and compounds like epoxy that have dramatically improved over the past two decades. For instance, flexible epoxy which is the perfect compound with many uses on a wood boat was not even available when I started working on Witch almost 20 years ago.
All the frames in Witch are epoxy laminated which are immeasurably stronger than conventional steam bent oak frames. Another improvement is Awlgrip Clear Coating for varnish protection which significantly reduces maintenance on mahogany (not teak) trimmed boats. Most wood boats were designed and engineered for marine railways before the now common usage of a travel lift machine for hauling and launching. A travel lift raises a boat in only two point loaded positions and the structural stress and other problems on a wood boat are then compounded by inexperienced blocking when the boat is out of the water even for short periods. To address this issue I installed a carbon fiber reinforcement beams that discreetly runs the entire length of the keel on Witch.
Finally, to meet my goal that Witch comfortably reaches the 22nd Century, we cold molded the entire bottom of the boat using multiple diagonal layers of thin cedar set in epoxy built up to ½ inch thick over the existing 1 inch cedar planking. The cedar was then covered with two layers of 6 ounce cloth in epoxy for abrasion resistance purposes. In addition to being massively, uni-body strong, cold molding is totally maintenance free (except for annual anti-fouling paint) and boring worm resistant. Witch is the fourth wood boat that I have cold molded over a 27 year period and I felt that my old friend really deserved the extraordinary time and expense to do the job.
Witch had an independent marine survey in June 2019, valued at $400,000 with a replacement value at $2,275,000. (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