Refinishing a 1955 12' Dunphy Perch
Fred Pospeschil

    The boat was originally purchased by John Junk (pronounced Yunk) of Two Rivers Wisconsin.  After some unknown number of years he sold it to Berlin Schroeder of Manitowoc Wisconsin.  For many years he used it on the rivers and lakes around Two Rivers with his son Dale and grandson Pascal.  In 1995 he gave it to his grandson Pascal on the condition that Pascal would paint the bottom..  Pascal found that he didn't use the boat because his father, Dale, owned a good sized charter fishing boat in Two Rivers.   As a result, it never got painted and it just sat in his garage collecting dust.

    Shortly after retiring in 1998 and moving to Two Rivers Wisconsin, I saw a for sale ad for the boat in the local paper.  After some discussions a price of $325 was agreed to for the boat, trailer, 4HP 1974 Evinrude Yacht Twin motor, and a 23 LB thrust electric trolling motor.

    The refinishing effort took place over a three year period (1998-2000).  Although the seats and oars were sanded and finished in the basement during the first winter (1998-1999), the hull could only be worked on during the summer as my shed is unheated.  That it took over three years to complete the work was due, to a large extent, by my setting up a 22' Starcraft Islander for trolling for salmon and steelhead trout on Lake Michigan - and then going fishing whenever the lake permitted.  During the third summer I also became involved with the Station Two Rivers Wisconsin USCG Auxiliary.

    Since this was my first attempt at refinishing a wood boat it was quite a learning experience.  I should mention that I did read a number of books on boat repair and refinishing before I started the project.

As Purchased

    The hull was basically solid , however, it had a small amount of dry rot by the aft starboard splash rail.  This damage will be shown later.  Although there was no real major structural damage, there was quite a bit of normal wear and tear.

    The transom was banged up quite a bit and had several items attached to it.  The motor mount pads were made out of light aluminum which allowed the motor clamps to dent the transom.  Berlin Schroeder worked at the Manitowoc Co. and decorated the transom with the company logo and a red reflector.  All of this added more holes in the transom.

    The rear edge of the bottom had been abraded through two layers of the plywood.  This left the screw heads at the rear of the hull exposed but still solid.  Luckily, the screws were not rusted and were still tight.

    The trailer had metal collars around the center of the rollers.  These created indentations on the bottom of the keel.  One of these can be seen as a dark area on the bottom of the keel.  At approximately the center of this picture there is an area which shows somewhat more abrasion than on the other areas of the bottom.  This is where the one foot long bunk boards had, over the years, worn away one layer of the plywood.  It is easy to see that the bottom of the hull had a number of coats of paint on it.  Clearly, the original Sea Foam Green color was not always used.

    This was the better of the two decals.  Although somewhat cracked and checked, it still provided a good reference for acquiring a replacement.  The decal is 10 5/8 inches long.  Its aft most end, the left side of the "D" in this picture, is 7 5/8 inches from the back face of the transom.  Also note that there was relatively little discoloration of the mahogany plywood.  What little there was came off fairly easily with the stripper and sanding.

    The manufacturers plate is held on by tapered copper tacks which were pried out and re-used.  This did require a little care to be used as the aluminum plate and copper tacks are fairly soft metals.  Notice the upside down "5" below the tag.  This is the first digit of the hull number 5-714 which indicates that the hull is the 714th built in 1955.

    In this picture, if you look closely, the metal cylinder in the middle of the rollers which are mounted on the main fore/aft member of the trailer.  Also note the  very short bunk boards.  These short ones were replaced with ones that are three feet long.

In Work

     One of the first things attacked was the trailer.  It was completely disassembled and sandblasted and primed by a local firm.  It was then spray painted with an exterior enamel and re-assembled.  While waiting for the sandblasting to be completed I manhandled the hull and stripped it in the my small shed.  After the trailer was re-assembled it was used to support the hull during final sanding and re-finishing.

     The finish on the seats and oars had taken quite a beating.  In addition, they suffered some denting and had accumulated seagull droppings.  Even though much of the varnish had worn off, it still took three applications of stripper to get them clean.

    Here, all of the seat components and oars have been sanded.  The seats were made from three types of wood.  The main seat boards are red cedar, the cross boards are mahogany, and the lower reinforcement boards are oak.  All of the boards look to be about the same color in the picture.  However, they definitely  are different colors.  The differences were even more noticeable after the finish was applied.

     After the stripping it took quite a bit of sanding to get the wood reasonably smooth.  The level of wear and tear was such that all dents could not be removed through sanding.  Those that remain are its "life stripes" and give the boat some "character".  To put finish on the oars I tapped a finishing nail into the handle end of the oar and bent it over such that it could hook over U brads driven into the floor joists in the basement workshop.  I like the look of natural wood so I do not use filler stain.  As a result, it takes a few more coats to get a nice smooth finish.  On the seats and oars I applied about fifteen coats sanded between each one.

    This shows how the seats are constructed.  All of the original screws and bolts in the seats were ordinary steel and somewhat rusted.  All of them were replaced with new steel screws to keep them reasonably close to original.  The ends of the main seat boards are all tapered for an exact fit with the hull.  As a result, all seat boards have to go back in exactly the same order that they came out.  If all boards had not been position coded as the seats were disassembled it would have been a difficult job to get them back together as some of the boards were almost identical.

     Getting the hull stripped to this condition was probably the longest and most difficult part of the whole process.  The varnish generally took three applications of stripper (Zap Marine & Savogran strippers).  During the last application of the stripper the surface was scrubbed with a paint brush which had its bristles cut to a length of 1/4 inch.  I find that this is a good way to get the remaining stain and filler out of the grain and obtain a more even coloration for the wood.

     Stripping the bottom was a real stinker.  It had at least four different colors of paint.  Some of the top layers came off with the use of stripper and heat gun.  After that it really got difficult.  The original Dunphy Sea Foam Green Bakelite Enamel is as tough as the Dunphy ads claim.  This stuff required repeated applications of stripper, heat gun, and scraper action.  I started with an ordinary steel scraper but it rapidly dulled and didn't remove much material.  Once I started using a scraper with carbide blades the process improved considerably.  However, the enamel was so hard, even when stripper was applied, that the blades were still dulled.  Regular use of DMT (Diamond Machining Technology) Diamond Sharpening System on the carbide blades kept them sharp and functioning.  As can be seen in the picture, the hull had picked up a lot of minor dents over the years.

    This shows the only real structural problem with the hull - some limited dry rot where the aft portion of the starboard splash rail meets the hull.  There was also some rot on the interior of the hull at this location.  However, it was sufficiently limited that it could be cleaned out and filled with Smith & Co. CPES (Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer).  This seems to be a somewhat strange place for dry rot unless the boat was stored resting on the starboard side for some period of time.  One would think that the boat would have been stored on the trailer.  However, during forty five years almost anything can happen to a boat.

     The hull also had a gouge inside on the starboard side which was filled with some type of material which resembled old bubble gum.  This gouge was also filed with Fill-It, sanded, and stained to blend with the surrounding wood.

    After much sanding and fairing, the hull was ready for the initial coats of paint.  The left picture clearly show the fairing along the lower edge of the transom and where the aft portion of the starboard splash rail meets the hull.

    The picture shows the fairing of a large dent where the stem and keel join.  It appears that these indentations were part of the manufacturing process.  Much farther back can be seen the previously mentioned wear areas from the old bunkboards.  Not as readily discernable is that a strip of 1/8" x 1/2" of aluminum bar was formed and attached to the keel.  This bar runs from just under the stem eye bolt to the very aft end of the keel.  This bar is embedded and encased in the Smith & Co. Fill-it Epoxy Filler which, in the picture, makes the bottom of the keel white.  The aluminum bar was added to protect the keel from the abrasion of the keel rollers.  The final part of the preparation phase was to apply two coats of CPES.  Make sure you wear a good respirator when using this stuff.

    Here the bottom was painted and one coat of varnish was applied.  I began painting the bottom with True Value Antique Sea Foam Green polyurethane which I had been told was the same as the original Dunphy color.  Although it was close, it just didn't quite do the job.  In addition, it tended to run a lot.  However, it did provide a very hard finish which was similar to the original.  Since I had a gallon of it I used it to basically finish fairing the bottom.  Due to extensive sanding, only a miniscule amount of it remains on the hull.  The final coats of paint were custom mixed by the Kirby Paint Company based on a color chip I provided.

    To get a proper color I ran color chips against the color on the bottom of the model boat built in the Dunphy factory by Mr. Marsh who worked in the Dunphy Plant during the 1950's and 1960's.  I reasoned that since genuine Dunphy paint was used and the model had been well protected from the elements that this color was the best one to match.  This is good paint.  I brushed on one coat, sanded it, and then applied the final coat with a HVLP (High Volume Low Pressure) sprayer.  The paint has a lot of titanium in it and can be thinned without losing its covering power.  If you want some just contact the company and ask for Dunphy Sea Foam Green Fred Pospeschil Formula.  They are located at George Kirby, Jr. Paint Co. 163 Mt. Vernon St., New Bedford, Mass, 02740 Phone 508-997-9008.  These are good people to work with and make a great product.

    For the brightwork I used three coats of Interlux Goldspar 95 high gloss polyurethane varnish.  I did not use any filler or stain.  If you have good mahogany, or any other wood with a good grain and color, I think fillers reduce the beauty of the wood.  Without a filler the first coat soaks in quite a bit and took two days to dry.  Three coats, with sanding between them, gave a good shine and protective finish.  However this does not result in a show winner finish.  Three o five more coats should produce a such a finish.  I suspect that these coats will be applied in a few years when maintenance is performed.  For what it is worth, this Interlux finish flows well and hangs pretty good on vertical surfaces.  Equally important, it has high surface tension which pulls out the brush marks.

      In this picture several things are shown.  First, there are a number of dents made in the transom by the Evinrude motor.  These and the holes from the screws which held the previous aluminum motor mount are covered by the rubber motor mount which was installed as part of this project.  Twelve of the other holes were covered when the transom handles were re-installed.  Finally, the non-skid area was painted with True Value polyurethane Forest Green enamel.  After the second coat was applied a light coating of sand was sprinkled on the wet paint from a salt shaker.  Then a final third coat was applied.  This produced a color and texture which looks, as far as I can determine, like the original Dunphy Bakelite enamel.

     This picture shows the use of an adjustable truck load restraint to spread the sides of the boat apart.  This is necessary because the seats help hold the shape of the hull and, because of this, they fit tightly against the interior sides of the hull.  By spreading the sides of the hull out by about one inch there is enough room to insert the seats without marring the finish on the inside of the hull.  When we first used the boat there was considerable "squeaking"  as the seat edges settled against the hull.  After a few minutes everything was quiet and all was well with the world.

Whenever I read a description of how some boat was refinished or restored I am curious as to how long it took and what it cost.  Normally, this information is not provided.  I suspect that is because, for the larger boats, the person would not want to reveal the amount of money they spent.  In this project about $450 were spent and about 100 to 150 hours were used.  I also spent $75 to have a new recoil starter spring installed and to have the 4 HP motor tuned up.  In the beginning I kept pretty good track of the hours, however, towards the end I was not as conscientious.  The dollar amount, however, is quite close.


    Well, here is the final result.  Clearly, this is not a museum quality job - but that was never the objective.  However, it is now a very usable little boat that looks good on the water and the trailer.  The following pictures and minimal narrative document the results.

    Although the seats, oars, transom, breast hook, and transom knees do have the nice furniture quality surface I did not go that far with the rest of the bright work.  After the boat is used a few years it will probably get sanded down and all of it will get the smoother finish.  For now, the wood is well protected and looks good if you don't have your nose too close to it.

    This picture simply show the general appearance shape of the boat.

    Here, you can see the oars and boat are held down for transportation.  The board going across the boat has pegs in it which fit into the oar locks.  This keeps the bungee cord from abrading the finish and pulling the sides of the boat together.  Interlocking plastic grating tiles are provided to keep your feet dry if there is water on the bottom of the boat and protect the finish from gas tanks, anchors, etc.  I also added a rubber transom motor pad to reduce vibration and help protect the finish.

     This shows the nice grain in the transom knees.  Also shown is that there is still a little of the discoloration due to weathering remaining in the oak.   I thought that this gave the hull some additional character and that trying to remove all of it was not worth the effort.  Nobody is going to be fooled that the boat just left the factory and has never been in the water.

     The three filled holes in front of the bow handle and the two behind it clearly indicate that various things have been attached and removed from the hull over the years.  The knowledge of what these were has been lost.  However, as with the other "life stripes", I prefer to view these as character building attributes rather than a defect.

    In late September 2000 the boat was finally launched in the West Twin River.  My brother-in-law and I attached the 4 HP Evinrude Yacht Twin and cruised down the river at no-wake speed, past the Coast Guard station, and between the breakwaters until the swells from Lake Michigan became bigger than we felt were comfortable.  At this point we said "safety first" and motored back to the launching ramp in Vet's Park.  The boat handled well and the little Evinrude pushed it along in good style - even with close to a 500lb load.  The following year I mounted a 9.9 HP Johnson which makes it get up on a plane and scoot right along.  Now, Becki and I like to cruise the West Twin river in the evenings and look at the wild life.  On these trips we see loons, Canadian Geese, Bald Eagles, cranes, deer, and many other types of birds.  Final thoughts - a good learning experience, a lot of fun work, and I now have the little wood boat I have been wanting.  Now its on to a 1957 17' 6" Thompson Sea Lancer.