By Andy Adams
A Labour of Love and a Love of labour Makes for the Project of a Lifetime

Perhaps the biggest challenge in writing this article is that few of our readers will be able to remember what a 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47 actually looked like, especially inside.

First, it was a rare boat. Back in 1969, a 47 was a real yacht and you had to be a captain of industry, or heir to something impressive to buy one of these. Next, the engines and running gear in 1969 were dramatically different from the latest and greatest models available today and that dictated a hull design that had to be significantly different as well.

Express cruisers are the norm these days and we’ve seen some fabulous elegant express cruisers from Sea Ray, Marquis, Cruisers Yachts and other major builders offering boats in the 50 foot range. Some of these are impressively fast, have gorgeous lines and luxurious accommodations to suit today’s wealthy boating couples, but the old Chris-Craft Commander 47 has “family” space.

We were lucky enough to get re-prints of the original Commander 47 brochures (see sidebar) and the first specification listed was, “Sleeps 6-8”. This was a floating vacation home, not a style statement. On the other hand, we still think this is a great looking boat even in today’s world, although the original interior would not be up to modern standards.

On a 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47, the original factory interior featured lots of Arborite and plastic instead of wood, a 1960s color scheme of course, and some decorating choices that we would laugh at today.

But once on board, the design and layout of this boat really stops you dead in your tracks. There’s generous standing headroom everywhere, numerous separate living areas, and an aft master stateroom with en suite head that exceeds anything I can think of on a new boat under 56 or 58 feet. Where did they find all this room?!!

The 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47 is a simply outstanding boat and one that’s well worth saving. And, that is really where the story starts.

Out of the blue, my phone rang and it was a Canadian Yachting reader who called to say that he had restored an old Chris-Craft and his friends thought Canadian Yachting should write an article about it.

We are always interested in knowing what our readers are doing, but taking the time to travel to see an older boat can be difficult to schedule. It’s harder still to say when the editorial plan will have an opening where we could publish this kind of a story, assuming the boat was really a suitable subject in the first place. On the phone though, this was obviously a knowledgeable owner and when he said it was a 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47 I knew he had a special boat. The best part was that the boat and owner were not too far away and I was able to schedule a visit last fall.

I was not prepared for what I found. What makes this boat absolutely stunning is the solid cherry wood interior.

I guess I was expecting something between a restored boat and one that was “fixed-up”. Brenda and Wendell Wilkinson patiently explained that fixing things is not what they do.

The Wilkinson history is that Brenda and Wendell have always been what they called “tinkerers”, working on projects like restoring antique cars including the 1967 Mustang they still own.

Wendell used to work for the former clothing company, Dylex in the Tip Top Tailors building on Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto and on his lunch, he would go for a walk along the lakeshore where he saw people going by in their boats. The idea of owning a boat became more and more appealing and eventually, Wendell talked his wife Brenda into trying it out.

First, they bought a 1982 Sea Ray Sundancer.

The Sea Ray provided a lot of pleasure and their interest in boating grew. Then one day, Wendell saw a 36 foot Trojan advertised in the Buy & Sell for sale by the bank. It was in Lefroy on Lake Simcoe. They jumped on the opportunity to buy it even though they still had their Sea Ray.

They reupholstered the Trojan and removed the flying bridge that had been added by the previous owners, getting a handsome new canvas top made for the boat.

They always sailed out of Ontario Place but they lived in Whitby. One day one of their friends who was visiting Whitby asked to see their boat, when he did he insisted on buying it on the spot. Wendell said the boat wasn’t for sale and the friend said everything is for sale at a price. The price was right and Wendell told us that ended their boating for the next four years!

At that same time, they heard about the Chris-Craft which was on land in Whitby not far from where they lived.

The previous owner had stored it for a number of years due to failing health. They got his name and called him for four consecutive years trying to persuade him to sell it. Finally, he reluctantly agreed to part with his ‘pride and joy’ and the Wilkinsons got their treasure.

Now the real story starts! The next step was a decade of hard work!

Wendell stopped me there - it was fun he said. The love of labour is a lot of what they enjoyed best.

And, they don’t fix up old stuff. The point is that they really like redesigning and remodeling things. So, today, their 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47 looks original but it is really custom from stem to stern.

Back in 1969, Chris-Craft simply didn’t know when to stop layering in fiberglass and this hull is extremely thick; Wendell says it’s bullet-proof!

So are the original Detroit Diesel Allison 8V53 engines. These are naturally aspirated 2-stroke V8s that were originally developed for military use in Sherman tanks. After probably 20 years without use, these fresh-water engines are still ready to run.

Chrome was re-done, stainless rails modernized and replaced, the gel coat carefully sanded and refinished with DuPont Imron paint and almost every other part was refurbished or skillfully modified.

They created a new lower bridge enclosure, making it out of aluminum. When it was complete, it snapped down right over the original rails. The Wilkinsons then glassed it in and made curved side windows that were molded over what’s called “wiggle” board. These complicated curved pieces were made in Toronto and the end result is an air conditioned, enclosed lower bridge with an ultra-leather setee all the way across the 15 foot beam!

They chose to do diamond tufted back rests to visually take the boat back to its proper era. It looks stock but no other 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47 had this treatment.

The main event is the full cherrywood interior. Stretched out over all those years, the Wilkinsons kept ordering more and more cherry to the point where the lumber yard started calling Wendell, Mr. Cherry! He doesn’t want to think about what it cost but even top boats today, use mainly veneered panels. This boat has a solid cherrywood interior with furniture qualty construction, stem to stern.

As long as they were using materials like the cherry, Wendell though they might as well go with burled maple table tops, berber carpets, solid surface galley counters and gold-plated fixtures in the heads!

Stretched out over a decade of both labour and love, it must have all seemed reasonable. Brenda and Wendell’s two sons, daughter-in-law and now two grandchildren, Sasha and Connor, have all had a hand in the project.

It’s really complete now and the boat is where they love to entertain. After all the money spent on the other parts, Wendell laughed the hardest when he admitted that the sound system was probably the most expensive part of the boat! A total of two 4-channel power amps, two sub-woofers and speakers everywhere bring their favourite music to life on board this 1969 Chris-Craft Commander 47 - their labour of love.

It’s an inspiration.

Photo Captions:
Photo 1 - Brenda and Wendell Wilkinson stand proudly on the side deck of their magnificent 1969 Chris-Craft 47 Commander.
Photo 2 - This is scanned image from the original Chris-Craft brochures. Electronic versions of these and thousands of other boat models are available through www.OldBoatBrochures.com
Photo 3 - The Wilkinsons refurbished but did not alter the excellent original helm. All instruments gleam!
Photo 4 - Ignore the reflection of the photographer in the mirror! The totally redone aft master stateroom includes two double berths, a big dresser, loads of storage space, flatscreen television and far more.
Photo 5 - Corian countertop, built-in microwave, flat top cooking surface with clear glass backsplash – no 1969 Chris-Craft ever looked like this!
Photo 6 - This is the view of the flying bridge helm under the new canvas Bimini top.
Photo 7 - Brenda and Wendell Wilkinson don't fix up old stuff; they are 'tinkerers'.
Photo 8 - Here the Wilkinsons are standing beside their fully restored and greatly improved 1969 Chris-Craft.

Lifestyle

  • Prev
With old boats every repair seems to uncover something else needing attention.  Removing the ...
We admit it, this Photo of the Week shot was just too cute to resist even though it was blatant ...
Reader Lorraine Gentleman took some liberty with our request for Photo of the Week shots from the ...
This afternoon portrait of her son enjoying a snooze in a pretty unlikely spot comes to us from ...
I've been cleaning dresser drawers for space and came across this 1979 LYRA t-shirt. This was my ...
Our Photo of the Week comes from one of our CY team members who writes “This is my son and his best ...
This boat carries the distinction as the last boat to leave the C&C Custom shop in Oakville ...
We crossed Lake Ontario from Oswego with a minimum of fuss and did a little happy dance when we ...
Our Photo of the Week comes from Mark and Lisa Harris who winter in Vancouver, Washington and spend ...
I am new to boating. Bought a 2019 Ranger Tug in April followed by taking a short boating course ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
Since the late 19th century, a debate has raged on the relative merits of diesel fuel over ...
This bag does more than hold your anchor and rode in one tidy little pile. After you’ve anchored ...
Purchase your copy of the BRAND NEW Ports Georgian Bay 2020 Edition at the Toronto International ...
The boat was put on the hard for this winter and were going to follow along with Graham as he ...
In this part, we’ll delve deeper into the other parts of the boat found below the water line: the ...
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told my children to wash their hands. I remind them ...
The new editions of PORTS Cruising Guides, from the publishers of Canadian Yachting will be ...
As the seasons change and we move from warm summer into cooler fall, many fanatic boaters ...
On the Friday before a weekend with a gorgeous forecast, I heard on the news that a boat had ...
A reader suggested we take a look at anchors. Anchoring seems simple enough. A weighted hook with a ...

Diesel Fuel MaintenanceSince the late 19th century, a debate has raged on the relative merits of diesel fuel over gasoline. In more recent decades, that argument has included boat manufacturers, and increasingly, individual boaters. As I pass through boat yards in the spring or fall, I’m sure to hear a comment or two (sometimes ruefully, other times with great joy) of the merit of a particular engine or fuel source.

Increasingly, diesel engines are praised for their long-life, ease of maintenance, compact design, reliability and safety, and rate of combustion. As well as cruisers and trawlers, many sailboat manufacturers in particular have chosen to install diesel engines. 

Read more about Diesel Fuel Maintenance........................

 

  

Beneteau Flyer 32By Andy Adams

Summer sun boat! The handsome new Beneteau Flyer 32 is all about entertaining and the bow area is one of the main attractions. It's a wide shape forward with a huge anchor locker and opening centre section in the railing that invites you to beach the boat and go swimming. The bow is really one giant sun bed area with armrests that fold down and head rests too, for fall-asleep comfort. 

 

 

Read more about the Beneteau Flyer 32....................

 

Dufour 460By Katherine Stone

When one does an October yacht review on the Great Lakes you can never be sure of what kind of weather you will get…. and did we ever luck out! A beautiful sunny day with a high of 31 degrees and a perfect 8-10 knot breeze with light chop made for a champagne sailing day. Lucky for me we were at Swans Yacht Sales located in the Whitby Marina on Lake Ontario, trying out the Dufour 460 Grand Large, a flag ship for the midrange Dufour boats. With an overall length of 46’5” and a hull length of 44 ‘, this boat is majestic, not only in size, but also in elegance with timeless and contemporary style. 

Read More about Dufour 460..................

Destinations

  • Prev
Boom & Batten Restaurant is suspended over the water adjacent to the Songhees Walkway and ...
Provincial Boat Havens are those special places to drop anchor in British Columbia’s West Coast and ...
NW Explorations, a Bellingham, Washington-based yacht charter, brokerage, and marine services ...

Belize: Sailing SolitudeBy Mark Stevens

We’ve just weighed anchor off Thatch Caye, a tiny island nuzzled by Caribbean waters flowing between the world’s second longest barrier reef and the mountainous coast of Belize to our west, and now we’re navigating a serpentine course through a crowded congregation of coral heads.

Once safely in deep water we raise sail. I spin the wheel of “Kavok” (a Lagoon 421 catamaran we’ve booked for our weeklong Belize bareboat adventure from Dream Yacht Charter) until we’re pointed south – steady on a lazy beam reach.

Read more about Belize......................

 

Marine Products

  • Prev
Since the days of the astrolabe, sailors have looked to the skies to determine the weather. If only ...
Since 1984 PORTS Cruising Guides have been the cruising boater's essential companion. But now PORTS ...
Canada’s largest independent fiberglass boat builder, Campion, has launched Muskoka, The M26 is 8.4 ...
It is not often I get to drive the newer model of something I own. Most of the time the model I own ...
Good news cruisers, it’s coming in early Summer 2020 – PORTS Rideau Canal and Lower Ottawa River ...
Few things are as frustrating to a boat owner as being becalmed or running out of fuel—or both. If ...
One of the biggest complaints we hear from our readers is ‘why we don’t run more new products’. ...
Every cruiser in the region has used it for years, but now there’s a brand new edition of the ...
When you visit the Toronto Boat Show, come to the Canadian Yachting booth (#1741), trial a pair of ...
With the Davis Scrubbis Underwater Hull Cleaning Kit it's easy to rid a boat of algae, grass, and ...