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.

Destinations

  • Prev
Some may say that the sailing experience of monohulls versus catamarans is as different as chalk ...
The Presque Isle peninsula is a 3,200-acre – 7-mile long arm that extends northeast into Lake Erie ...
I know of no other boating location quite like the town of Gananoque in the Thousand Islands.The ...
Having cruised the BC coast for several decades, we enjoy sharing information about the remote ...
Glendale Cove, on BC’s Knight Inlet, is protected habitat for grizzly bears – and the ideal spot to ...
Years before realizing my family and I would find happiness in boating, Bronte Village had been a ...
The family of the Great Lakes, like our own, has members who each enthusiastically demonstrate ...
Clayoquot SoundClayoquot is one of the major sounds on Vancouver Island’s wild West Coast, and a ...
The Rideau WaltzI have lived in Ontario my entire life but have likely explored more acres outside ...
It was still dark when we departed our home slips in Chrystal Harbour, LaSalle, Ontario, and ...

Boat Reviews

  • Prev
Bernie Luttmer of Swan’s Yacht Sales, has finally had his brainchild come to life, and he tells me ...
The BC builder takes a big step forward with its largest yacht to date: stylish, fast and ...
Modern graceful elegance is what Dufour’s Umberto Felci was trying to achieve when he designed the ...
The very first Sabre yacht, was a Sabre 28 sailboat appropriately named Patience. Sabre repurchased ...
When the time finally comes to do the dream destination cruising you've always talked about, you ...
The Offshore series from Canada’s largest aluminum pleasure boat builder offers practicality, range ...
Embodying the Cruising Sailor’s Wish List.The Bavaria Vision 42 is the product of collaboration ...
The Beneteau Oceanis 38 claims more flexibility than seen before on this size of boat and a new way ...
From the first glance the wide open decks large cockpit and overall look and feel of this boat are ...
The brand new Cruisers Yachts 328 Bow Rider is one of a new breed of boats that is redefining our ...

Environment

  • Prev
Boating and astronomy can be a match made in the heavens. The inky black canvas above the boat is ...
The 30,000 Islands of Georgian Bay is a boater’s dream destination with crystal clear waters, ...
New rules severely restrict where and how salt-water boaters can discharge sewage. Is your boat ...
Many Canadian Yachting readers have likely experienced the beauty of British Columbia’s Gulf ...
Many newspaper headlines appeared in the spring of 2012 with these two names highlighted. The ...
Investing in a reusable winter cover is a sound environmental choice and a practical way to ...
I’m on vacation! Things can turn ugly in paradise when you finally reach that secluded anchorage. ...
I've been a pilot for 37 years and spent 28 years flying passenger aircraft for the airlines ...
There's been lots of talk about electric boats recently, but few examples are actually out on the ...
I think it’s a given that as a Canadian Yachting reader, you are passionate about ...

Lifestyle

  • Prev
If you are ready to start your Holiday baking or just plain need a great chocolate fix these ...
It doesn’t seem to matter if you are on the east coast, in the Prairies, or on the west coast, ...
An easy salmon dish with homemade teriyaki sauce and a Sriracha cream sauce that will knock your ...
Soup season is in full swing and this Tomato Tortellini Soup with Pesto is just the recipe to warm ...
This flavour-infused pasta dish is terrific for any season.  It takes a little bit of prep time but ...
As the season's evenings grow cooler boaters will be looking for heartier galley meals to extend ...
Cooler days and cooler nights make everyone want to prepare something warm and comforting... This ...
This is a simple recipe too.  The only challenging part is rolling up the tortillas without ...
This recipe is great for a make-ahead easy yet satisfying on board meal.  You can use chicken or ...
The formation of Glacial Lake Iroquois, at the end of the last ice age, was to have a lasting ...

Marine Products

  • Prev
Just like diamonds, stainless steel is forever. Combining beauty and strength, stainless steel ...
The compact McMurdo Smartfind Plus G5 GPS EPIRB features a high performance, multi-channel GPS ...
50 amp cordsets from marine electrical products manufacturer Furrion feature Powersmart™ blue LEDs ...
The Yacht-Master II is designed to meet the needs of professional sailors. This regatta chronograph ...
Sweden-based Radinn, a company aiming to "revolutionize the watersport industry,” is trying to make ...
Taylor Made Systems is introducing a new range of glass sunroof systems for the boating industry at ...
KVH TracVision® owners in the U.S. can now enjoy satellite TV from DISH Network® on their boats and ...
Douglass Simpson, a winner of the Globe and Mail's Top 12 Canadian Innovator awards in the ...
Whether chilling snacks for a quick outing or supplying auxiliary cold storage for longer trips, a ...
SunZone SprayWet has been specifically designed to be applied on wet skin. Its formulation is able ...