THE RESTORATION OF "WITCH" 1929/2013 ELCO 50 FLAT TOP
by Walt Schulz
My restoration of the Elco began in the Fall of 2002. The Elco 50 was the thirteenth wood boat I have restored as a hobby in the past 40 years. The name of the vessel is “Witch” and has remained unchanged over several owners since 1929 which is remarkable. While I make my living designing and building fiberglass yachts, I find great pleasure and solace saving wood boats- it is my link to the Phoenicians. Wood boats are defiantly not a business and I can say with pride that I have never made a dime on any of my restoration work. In fact, my accountants have advised me on numerous occasions that I should start a non-profit wood boat restoration company just to write off my losses.
The owners prior to 2001 had the boat for 22 years and even with a great deal of love and money the age of the vessel slowly overcame their ability to find competent people to work on the vessel. Typically, the Elco after seven decades of use needed a major keel up restoration. I was familiar with all the “usual suspects” since the wood boat I restored before “Witch” was a 1936 Elco 38’. It was a great day for me when the 38’ Elco “Franklin” won the award for “Best Restoration to Original Design” at the Mystic, Conn. Annual Classic and Antique Boat Rendezvous in 2003. As is my habit, I sold “Franklin” after I finished the restoration work to concentrate on the Elco 50. It was another great day when “Witch” also won “Best Restoration” at Mystic in 2005.
The list of work on the Elco 50 is almost mind bogging as I sit here looking at my notes to write this essay. Basically everything on the boat from the keel, floors, frames, deck, bulwarks, transom, engines, tanks, plumbing, electric, pumps, machinery and electronics needed to be repaired or replaced. The whole forward crew cabin, galley and part of the saloon settee had been torn out and with the kind help from the people at the Mystic Seaport Museum and the Rosenfeld Photograph Collection I was able to put the yacht back to its original 1929 layout.
A new pair of Caterpillar 6 cylinder 130hp diesel engines were installed, a new electric system with panels and batteries, three zone air conditioning and heat, a 5kw rebuilt diesel generator, convection microwave, new radar with GPS navigating, autopilot, holding tanks and depth sounder were installed to mention just a few items. The hard part was to discreetly hide all the 21st Century amenities so as not to affect the original look of the vessel. I hate to see a modern radar unit in a plastic case sitting out prominently in the wheelhouse of a classic yacht. The vessel sleeps six in three private cabins plus two additional berths in the saloon and “lobby” with two heads and separate shower “tub”. The photographs shown here are only a handful compared to over 200 taken during the restoration of every phase of the two and half year project.
I sold “Witch” in 2005 and the new owners embarked on an extensive liveaboard/cruise. The two of them leisurely sailed the Elco from the upper Hudson River all the way to Key West Florida over a five year period. Unfortunately, their personal circumstances caused them to sell the boat back to me. I was glad to get my old friend back and I undertook a complete upgrading and refurbishing project on “Witch”. While the Elco held up remarkably well there were a few issues that I wanted to address after personally bringing the boat 1800 miles from Jacksonville Fla. to Rhode Island. The biggest project was to remove the 110 volt 5kw auxiliary generator and replace it with a 8kw genset so all three zone air conditioning units could run at the same time. Also, I changed the complicated two 30 amp shore power connections to a single 50 amp shore power connection. Also, all the three zone reverse cycle air and heat units were replaced with new “Clima” units that include dehumidifiers. The anchoring system was redesigned for single-handed anchoring. All the exterior wood was stripped and two sealer coats plus eight coats of varnish was applied. Eight new 12 volt batteries were installed. Several other jobs were completed to bring “Witch” back to new boat condition. The 1929/2013 Elco is now ready for another fun adventure with new owners.
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