Photo © Ian Coristine/
 You are here:  Back Issues      Archive

Where Do Big Old Boats Go to Die?

In 2014 we upgraded from “Say What”, our 36 ft. Chris Craft Cavalier, to “Miss MacDac”, a 41 ft. President, to accommodate our growing family. Day trips and overnights were getting very crowded, as we had added a daughter-in-law and two granddaughters, since we purchased “Say What” in 2004. We knew that selling a 36-ft wooden boat would be a challenge and that it may take several years. We were right.

The good news is: we’ve had two offers on the boat so far this year. Very promising!

The bad news is: both the offers fell through.

The last deal was particularly disappointing as we had met the potential buyers and loved them, a new loving family that would find hours of joy on “Say What”.  We were confident they would care for “Say What” and enjoy her as much as we had. We both felt like deflated balloons when the deal fell through.

Boats, whether wooden or fiberglass, require upkeep, but wooden boats require a lot more loving care and attention. Even though we weren’t using her, we still have to continue to care for her. How long would it be before we found another buyer? This season? Next season? Was selling “Say What” the best option? Were there other options? We spent the evening on the Internet checking out possibilities.

If you want to get rid of a small boat that you can tow with a trailer---that’s pretty easy. There are auctions, boat selling co-ops and salvage yards. But a six-ton wooden boat? Your options are limited. Moving the boat takes special equipment, expertise and permits…none of which comes cheaply. Marine salvage for large boats? Plenty in the New York City area, but none in the Thousand Islands area.

Driving around Jefferson County you can see plenty of large, wooden boats wasting away “on the hard.”

Friends and family jokingly suggested taking her out and sinking her somewhere. What! No! The idea of sinking “Say What” or chopping her up for salvage is horrifying! Gary installed beautiful Brazilian cherry on the helm and lovingly cared for her parquet floors in the salon. She’s too pretty to chop up and too functional. Her twin 327-cubic inch V8 engines still have that classic throaty purr. Besides, the EPA has hefty fines for a sunken boat, whether accidental or intentional.

I only had to look across the water to Wintergreen Island for inspiration. Decades ago an old tour boat had been converted into an apartment. Perhaps we could bring “Say What” on the island, create a cradle for her where she could be repurposed into a playhouse for our granddaughters or perhaps as a writer’s retreat for me. That way, we wouldn’t have to get rid of her at all. We could keep her and cherish her forever.

I went to the Internet and found interesting repurposing ideas for old wooden boats. I found a bevy of boats that had been turned into permanent residences. I also found a great blog by a devoted father who bought a 36-ft Chris Craft Constellation, towed it to his backyard and turned it into a pirate ship playhouse for his daughter.

Repurposing an old wooden boat from this… Image from

…to this. Image from

An old boat becomes a home on land. Image from

Initially, the idea of repurposing “Say What” was exhilarating. But the more I thought about it, the more uneasy I felt. While less horrifying than sinking her or chopping her up for salvage, the thought of “Say What” permanently “on the hard” was equally sad. Sort of like having a beloved pet stuffed so you can always have it with you. Not quite the same as when it was alive and running around. “Say What” needs to be on the water with a happy group of people sunning on her deck, enjoying her spacious salon or swimming from her swim platform.

Out of the box can wait. “Say What” is not ready to die… We’ll continue to maintain and care for her, patient and confident that that right buyer—that right family—is just around the bend in the River ready to take the helm.

By Lynn E. McElfresh

  • Sad to think of

    Sad to think of "Say What" spending her golden days “on the hard.”

  • Moving a 6-ton wooden boat takes special equipment, expertise and permits.

    Moving a 6-ton wooden boat takes special equipment, expertise and permits.

  • Engines still going strong.

    Engines still going strong.

  • Keeping her shiny.

    Keeping her shiny.

  • Swim platform gets a facelift every year.

    Swim platform gets a facelift every year.

  • Relaxing afternoon cruises

    Relaxing afternoon cruises

  • Relaxing in the Salon

    Relaxing in the Salon


Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Bob Norton
Comment by: Bob Norton
Left at: 8:23 AM Saturday, July 16, 2016
Great story from a family who knows that our old wooden boats have a soul with wonderful memories. The 36 Chris is worth restoring and providing new life.
Comment by: Martha
Left at: 3:57 PM Saturday, July 16, 2016
There is nothing like a wooden boat. When I lived on Lake George, we had a 22' Chris Craft Sportsman - we took great care of her and there is n othing like the sun reflecting of a varnished mahogany boat! I am still a sucker for wooden boats - yours is beautiful!
Michael Joyce
Comment by: Michael Joyce
Left at: 5:21 PM Saturday, July 16, 2016
So many great older cruisers in the world with no one to love them. Glad to see people are finding creative ways to give them another life. Also nice that the author included some links that I will check out next. Great river story, I enjoyed it.
Ted Truex
Comment by: Ted Truex
Left at: 7:49 AM Monday, July 18, 2016
Great article Lynn!

The old wooden boat on Wintergreen Island is the Whippoorwill Lodge boat operated by Jerry Russell. For a long time in the 50's it served as the mail boat delivering mail twice a day to the Grenell Island Store. It also carried passengers back and forth between Grenell and Clayton.
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh
Left at: 3:00 PM Monday, July 18, 2016
Ted,thanks for the inside info on the old boat on Wintergreen. I arrived on Grenell too late to see her in the water. (1975) She's been "on the hard" for as long as I remember. I'll see if I can rustle up some old pictures of her in the water. Thanks!
Dr. Richard Lodico
Comment by: Dr. Richard Lodico
Left at: 11:01 PM Monday, July 18, 2016
What to do with an old boat? Donate it to the Antique Boat Museum. Wood or fiberglass it could wind up in the museums boat auction held at the Museum usually the first week in August. Money raised through the sale of donated boats may be used to restore old classic wooden boats to be sold or kept by the Museum.
This is what I did with my 1991 Chris Craft fiberglass runabout, 23 feet. It will be in this years auction . I bought the boat it new in 1991 and while we were on the Canadian Islands we called TROIS ILES , it served us as transportation ,water sports and guest house for over nighters. We eventually sold the Islands and now summer in Clayton where we need a different type of boat.
We trust new owners will get as much pleasure out of it as we did.
John Holmes
Comment by: John Holmes
Left at: 6:16 PM Tuesday, July 19, 2016
My wife and I owned RELAXER II a 1969 Cliffe Craft and spent many hours cruiseing on it. Our last 19 years were spent in Gan. Relaxer needed repairs beyond our skills. We advertised in Old Boat Graveyard, Kijiji plus other websites We offered it to Clayton Boat Museum and they didn't feel it fit there criteria and turned me down. Finally we received a phone call from an enthusist of Cliffe Craft boats. The Gananoque Boat Museum was starting up and they were involved with it.They now own RELAXER II and are restoring it Target is to have it in this boat parade. It was the answer to my wife and my prayers that someone has the boat and love it as much as we do I look forward to see her floating and know that it will see many seasons in the 1000 Islands
Randy & Linda Pilszak
Comment by: Randy & Linda Pilszak
Left at: 5:52 AM Thursday, July 21, 2016
We are still working on Relaxer II John. Life got in the way this spring so sadly she will likely not be in the water this year. We have 13 Cliffe Crafts now. One is in the Thousand Islands Boat Museum and 3 in the water. We are still hoping to find the 35' OPP cruiser Charlie built that was auctioned off many years ago. Hopefully the "Joseph E. Rogers" is still in the water and not cut up for salvage. We have saved a few other wood boats from the bonfires and have a lot of work on our hands but miss Relaxer II is definitely first in line. If anyone out there has a Cliffe Craft we'd love to hear from you. And please - don't burn it!
Debbie Green
Comment by: Debbie Green
Left at: 2:48 PM Thursday, July 21, 2016
I am the owner now of Wintergreen Island and invite any of you to please stop over to see the Edith II. It is a wonderful cottage as long as you under 6', as the ceiling beams are only that high. My Dad, Jack Wheeler bought Wintergreen from the Russell's in 1983, after we had been renting the Ice House since 1978. While Jerry and Dolores ran Whippoorwill Lodge, they lived in the converted tour boat.
Kara breen
Comment by: Kara breen
Left at: 11:50 PM Tuesday, January 17, 2017
I understand your love for this vessel. Have you sold her yet and if not what are you asking? She needs a captain that will fuss and tinker and a happy crew..
Lynn McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn McElfresh
Left at: 3:11 PM Thursday, January 19, 2017
She's still looking for a good home. She's currently in winter storage in Clayton.You can email me at for more details.