A Down East refit

Welcome to The Swamp Yankee Chronicles, a new blog that will follow the restoration of a 1991 former commercial boat into something that will work for a family that has grown to include two grandchildren, my fast-sprouting 13- and 14-year-olds, an 80-pound black lab — you get the picture.

This promises to be a pretty cool project, given that we’re stripping the 22-footer down to its bare bones. The decks will come off and every fastener, every nut and bolt and piece of hardware will be removed.


This former workboat is a 1991 Sisu, a Down Easter with a solid reputation as an efficient, seakindly hull, one that is easily driven and one that will get you home when it breezes up and the seas get a bit boisterous. The same basic hull is still being built new or being refit by several builders, each of whom you will meet in subsequent blogs.

When this project started, the open boat was dirty and mildewed, her outboard was gone, her console was a mess and there were holes in her decks and small holes in the hull sides where two strings of fenders were attached. But the hull was solid, with no signs of delamination between the fiberglass skins and core. The Sisu was well-built and bone-dry.


She’ll be rebuilt with new systems and equipment, including a new outboard, console, leaning post, paint, wiring, electronics, steering, mahogany coaming, removable sleeping platform, canvas and so on.

Sometime this summer, Swamp Yankee will be relaunched as a new seabird, but that’s still a ways off and I don’t want to jinx things by jumping the gun.

Along the way, you’ll meet a number of colorful characters, including boatwright Charlie Koller, a talented woodworker and craftsman who has been rebuilding and repairing boats for more than 30 years. Charlie happens to be my brother-in-law, a circumstance that I don’t hold against him. He’s the talent behind this refit. I sort of sit back and soak up what I can and marvel at his versatility, ingenuity and speed.


I’m the editor of Soundings, the Essex, Conn.-based boating magazine that recently turned 50 years old. Yes, time does go by like “hurricanes and faster things,” to quote the Greg Allman ballad.

So please join us on this project and watch the transformation of Swamp Yankee from a tired workboat to something that will be a nice mix of modern technology and traditional design.

11 thoughts on “A Down East refit

  1. I look forward to seeing the refit come together. I rebuilt my first boat several years ago. It was a 15ft Cherokee Semi-V aluminum boat with a wooden transom that I fished out of as a kid. It had gone to ruin sitting in a barn yard. I completely gutted it, replaced the transom, all wiring, steering cables, some bad rivets, rebuilt the Evinrude Lark and painted it OD Green. She (Das Boat) is still a worthy boat and I will pass her down to the next generation. I rebuilt a 79 Cobalt after that that is still in use. My last build was a wooden 16 ft pirogue. I love old boats and it is good to see them brought back. I have my eye on a 89 Mako, 27ft center console, that would be my dream boat. Good Luck. Sam

  2. Sounds good! Anything that says refit, Swamp Yankee and boat in the title gets my attention!!

  3. Sounds like a good project, and something I have talked about doing for the past few years since I moved to Florida. When I moved I gave up my 34 Catalina, which I owned for 20 years and sailed all over Long Island Sound, out of the Northport Yacht Club. (Quite often to Essex, Great town)

    Can’t wait to follow your project,
    Steve Hickey

  4. William, I second all of the comments above but the main thought in my mind is the fact that a sound boat is going to be recycled into a new life. I’m tired of shoes that can’t be resoled and mountains of tech hardwear in piles around the world. The Sisu will be a Family boat that will last many proud years. I’ll enjoy the progress and I appreciate the more complete and finished SOUNDINGS.

  5. Wonderful project. I’m doing the same right now to my venerable 1989 19′ Boston Whaler Outrage. Looking forward to the end result with great anticipation!

  6. I shall be watching with interest from downunder. I’ve got a very similar project going on with a 1971 Aquasport 19-6. Good luck. Seem like your boat is in excellent hands.

  7. William, Your “Under Way” definition of a “Boat Project” (July, 2011) was and is most helpful to me and my wife’s understanding of what our current boat (1968 Bertram Bahia Mar 25) is all about. She no longer asks about a finish date. I do my part by keeping the boat usable (“no drastic changes to a venerable brand”) before and during most of the major undertakings. I look forward to the Sisu project even though the projected time table might put the pressure on me for a completion date. I enjoy the rehab process almost as much as being on board and under way. Thank you for the wisdoms and perspective stated in that particular Under Way. I have re-read it a few times to help remind me that “it doesn’t have to be perfect to be a lot of fun”. Your brother-in-law is fortunate to have you along for the journey.

  8. Hey Bill,

    Glad to hear that the Sisu is on it’s way to a new life. I look forward to seeing the progress. I’ll send along some photos of Sallie.3 some day.

    All the Best, Gordon

  9. Bill
    Looks like a great project. I have a 1993 Rosborough Sea Skiff 22′, 1st cousin to the Sisu. Can’t wait to follow your progress, hopefully with many pics.

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