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.

Related Articles

 

 

Beneteau Oceanis Yacht 54By Zuzana Prochazka

Beneteau saw an opportunity to add a little thrill to any cruising adventure, so they took the hull of the First 53 racer (introduced just last year), and with a few fashionable changes, created the Oceanis Yacht 54, the new entry-level of Beneteau’s swanky Oceanis Yacht line. The result is a performance cruiser that sails like a witch and looks like a grande dame.

Design

Roberto Biscontini is the naval architect and Lorenzo Argento created the details of the exterior and interior design. 

Read More

Destinations

  • Prev
Over the course of four days in September 1864, representatives from Prince Edward Island, Nova ...
The new owners of L’Orignal Marina offer boaters a new destination. Located in a charming ...
Commemorating 100 (+1) years of through-navigation on the Trent-Severn Waterway National Historic ...
On Friday, April 2 at 7 pm ET on TVO and streaming anytime after that on tvo.org and the TVO ...
Salt Spring Island, the largest among the Gulf Islands, has a certain mystique—much of it having to ...
Located in Lake Huron, the internationally significant Manitoulin Island is the largest freshwater ...
In Part I, Sheryl Shard ended the story at June and the start of Hurricane Season when they were ...
You likely aren’t quite ready to travel yet, but we have our fingers crossed that we can all fly ...

Riverest MarinaThe new owners of L’Orignal Marina offer boaters a new destination. Located in a charming francophone village in Eastern Ontario, this joined marina and restaurant venue is the ambitious initiative of long-time entrepreneur André Chabot and biologist Alexandra Quester, both residents of L’Orignal.

The purchase of the L’Orignal Marina was made official in November 2020. The new year was barely underway when all 50 available slips were already reserved. No wonder the addition of member and visitor slips is already planned for the 2022 season – the 2021 count is up to 62 power and sail already. At the moment, the Riverest Marina offers boaters a stop where they can launch their boat...

Read More

Lifestyle

  • Prev
Last issue we featured a story about the engagement proposal aboard Via-Mara, a 1969 Trojan 42 Aft ...
With thanks to Sail Canada, here’s a collection of photos that are Olympic quality. Clearly our ...
Wow. That was a lot of fun reading the collection of boat names that came in from all over the ...
No individual had a greater impact on the modern sport of sailing than Bruce Kirby. Known and ...
Just off The Ocean Race European Tour, Daniel is setting his sights on competing in The Ocean Race ...
After being our fearless leader and publisher since CYOB kicked off, Greg Nicoll, handed over the ...
Swim Drink Fish is spearheading the Vancouver Plastic Cleanup by installing, maintaining, and ...
With but four weeks to go, Sarah is in Japan, staying safe while acclimatizing to the heat at ...
MJM is a different kind of boat builder, second generation family owned and operated, we design and ...
Stuart Hendrie, a pro photographer sent along this photo of the pirate ship in Jordan Ontario. Many ...

DIY & How to

  • Prev
It’s a scary thought - whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – it’s ...
It’s a scary thought – but whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – ...
Last summer there was tremendous interest in buying a boat to have fun in the restricted world ...
The boat buying or selling market is hot now and has been since the late spring of 2020. Sean ...
Last issue we got up with Montreal sailor Marc Robic who has accumulated a lot of tips and tricks ...
While some parts of the country are lucky enough to have year-round boating, there are plenty of ...
A Transducer is a device that is installed below the waterline that provides underwater data to a ...
Spring has finally sprung! At least it has weather wise here in Montreal, so it is with great ...
For most of us, the thrill of being aboard is associated with the motion of the water, wind in our ...
An important, but often overlooked maintenance item on any type of boat is it’s steering system. ...

Galvanic CorrosionIt’s a scary thought – but whether your boat is made of wood, fiberglass, aluminum or composite – it’s slowly deteriorating under you. Part of this is the nature of the marine environment: Sun, moisture, waves, wind, movement and vibration all contribute to components breaking down.

But there are other factors that are much more concerning and act at a significantly faster rate that the environment can take credit for. One of these is commonly spoken of, but not terribly well understood: Corrosion. As boaters, we’re concerned with two main types of corrosion: Galvanic and Stray-Current. This edition will focus on galvanic corrosion – in two weeks, stay tuned for info on stray-current.

Read More

 

  

Marine Products

  • Prev
AkzoNobel Yacht Coatings has introduced a new, easier to apply topside system with two new products ...
Whether for news, weather or just to watch the game, onboard television reception is important. But ...
Kanvaslight® was specifically engineered for a long life in a salty, sun-drenched environment. The ...
Watermakers take ocean water and create perfect drinking water using reverse osmosis. A Schenker ...
If you’re headed out for a weekend afloat or on a week-long cruise you often must park your vehicle ...
Ten years ago, St. Margaret’s Bay (Halifax), Nova Scotia-based SailTimer Inc. made the first ...
Between the odor and working in confined spaces, replacing an onboard sanitation line is never a ...
For many boat owners who have gear to tote and the occasional stretch of bumpy road to negotiate, a ...
The 2022 Sea-Doo Switch is a re-imagined pontoon that makes hitting the water more accessible than ...
On the water audiophile-quality sound is attainable with the new JBL-R3500 source unit. The latest ...

News

  • Prev
Royal Canadian Yacht Club’s Defiant completed a six-race sweep of the Cup for Canada over Zing, the ...
On September 6, Groupe Beneteau laid out its course to develop new boating experiences, new ...
Last Friday, the first ever Canada’s Celebration of Sailing honoured the season for Sailing in ...
Boating Ontario is very proud to have Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety jump on ...
Montreal-based Vision Marine Technologies, Inc. is headed to the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout to ...
Summer is in full swing with Canadians enjoying time outside and on the water. So, while enjoying ...
On July 23 last year, CYOB published a piece on a beautifully restored 1967 Trojan 42 Motor ...
HanseYachts AG presents RYCK, its third motorboat brand carrying the "Made in Germany" label. The ...
“We are all proud of our athletes and coaches who have dedicated themselves to push Canadian ...
Collingwood, ON hq’d Limestone Boat Company – owner and builder of Aquasport Boats, Limestone Boats ...

Mia and Caleb's EngagementOn July 23 last year, CYOB published a piece on a beautifully restored 1967 Trojan 42 Motor Yacht in Oromocto NB. (That piece was also expanded in CY magazine later in the year.)

One of our Canadian Yachting contributors, Denise Miller, had shared the article on my social media and a young man reached out and asked if she could connect him with the owners of the boat, Dave and Barb. Denise leapt into action and Dave and Barb were thrilled. They concocted a plan that the young lady, Mia, thought she was coming to model for a sales brochure for Dave to do charter tours.

Read More