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Happy Hour, a Pandemic Project

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This is a story of how a wreck of a 1989 pontoon boat became the perfect project for a global pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent shut down of America occurred while I was on a family ski trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The resort, on a legit powder day, (not bitter, much) decided not to open and officially closed for the season on March 15th, 2020.  We negotiated our exit in terms of changing flights, rental cars and condo commitments and were on our way home by March 17th.

To limit our exposure We flew to Burlington, VT where my daughter lives, instead of our home airport in Boston. We drove to our home in Marblehead, MA and packed up everything we might want for an extended quarantine and drove to a shared family vacation home in NH.

The NH house seemed the ideal place to hunker down in a remote location that also had access to lots of outdoor activities.

My sister Kris and her family were of the same mind and chose to also quarantine in NH. Her family consists of my college roommate and brother-in-law, Brett and nephews Will (18) and Sam (16). They stay in the “Lake House,” and we stay in the “Dog House,” so there was plenty of space. The Dog House is a guest house that we took over when we rescued our dog Otis.

As scary and frustrating as a “lock down” and “pandemic” are, we were having a pretty good time backcountry skiing, Nordic skiing and enjoying each other’s company in our “cohort.”  But, we were definitely looking for activities and projects to keep us busy

About two months into our “new normal” Brett came across the following Craigslist post for a 20’ Pontoon Boat priced at $6,000:

This boat was about 10 miles away from our house, so we decided, what the heck, let’s go take a look.  Brett texted the owner who wasn’t available to show us the boat that day but offered any of the next three days. We didn’t respond.

Two days later, Brett sees an updated Craigslist ad and the price has dropped $1,000 to $5,000. Sensing a motivated seller we texted again and setup a time to visit the boat on Saturday, May 30th.

Curt, the pontoon boat owner, met us at the end of his driveway. We walked around the boat, climbed aboard and asked some questions.  Curt had a gift for stringing descriptive expletives together that we all appreciated and still quote on occasion.

Our inspection revealed; The deck of the boat, painted grey, felt pretty spongy. The upholstery was downright ugly, if not nasty. The engine was a 40 HP not a 75 HP as indicated in the first ad.

When asked, Curt said “it runs, but there’s some issues with the f*&$in’ carburetors that we’ll probably want to fix.”  After fifteen minutes of light inspection and colorful banter with Curt, we said “we’ll think about it.”

We thought about it for a few hours recognizing that we would be buying quite a project. Brett texted Curt an offer of $3,500 saying it was our best offer. When he replied accepting the offer within 4 minutes we guessed we might’ve left a little on the table. We didn’t really know at the time how much restoration would be required or the condition of the engine, but we did know the trailer was almost new and worth close to $2,000.

Everyone was excited to get her launched and to assess what we had bought.  We trailered her directly from Curt’s driveway to our lake … Lake Kolelemook. Here’s Brett and I struggling to float her off the trailer for the test drive:

The engine turned over pretty quickly so we loaded on the crew and backed out into the lake for a cruise. Shifting from reverse to forward is where we discovered there was an issue with the linkage and the engine stalled, never to start again.  Fortunately we had loaded some paddles aboard and were able to make our way back to shore to haul out the boat.

And here begins our restoration project.

The marina was backed up and couldn’t look at our vintage Mercury engine for a month so we decided to strip, redesign and repair/rebuild the boat before addressing the engine problem.

The first part was straight forward … strip everything off the boat down to the deck. We quickly discovered that not much was salvageable. This slideshow depicts the nastiness that was the upholstered seating, the rotted console and what we should’ve noticed in our first inspection that the starboard pontoon was not even connected to the deck at the bow from a previous crash.

Stripping down to the bare deck took several days and presented multiple challenges. The rear bench seat is flanked by two nicely contoured arm rests that double as storage. These would be hard to replicate so we removed them with the intent to restore. The rear bench seat itself was completely rotted but we removed it carefully to preserve the design as best we could for the new seat we would build. The port and starboard bench seats were built on storage boxes which we preserved. All the rails and gates were removed for restoring/repainting. This was a time consuming process as most nuts and bolts were seized. The bow section of decking was removed as it was damaged but fortunately, the main plywood deck was in good shape.

With the boat stripped we needed a design concept in order to put her back together. Originally, we were calling her the “Tiki Boat.” We envisioned bamboo, grass, palm fronds and tiki torches.

That night in early June of 2021 we were assembled around the chiminea after dinner enjoying adult beverages and strategizing next steps when inspiration struck. The “Tiki” concept was abandoned. We were enamored by the classically retro styling of the beer cans we were holding. The locally brewed, “crushable pilsner” called “Happy Hour” by Peak brewing of Portland, ME became our muse.

Creating the pontoon boat “Happy Hour” involved the input and effort or our entire cohort. My wife Sig took the lead on all upholstery items including the rear bench and side arms and the port and starboard benches and back rests. Sister Kris and nephew Sam had supporting roles working on any projects that required assistance. Brett, nephew Will and I handled the reconstruction and the daily trips for supplies that we affectionately referred to as “dawn patrol.” Dawn patrol involved taking the supply list from the previous day to the various lumber, hardware, fabric or paint stores but also involved a visit to the local coffee shop.

This gallery of photos highlights the various restoration stages featuring painting the deck, surfacing the deck with Astro turf (which was one of the harder items to source given supply chain issues,) taping and painting the railings, building the console, etc.:

The restoration of “Happy Hour” took all of June and half of July. We had a pre-scheduled vacation on the island of Nantucket that would have us away until early August. So, we dropped the boat at the marina and hoped for good news on the engine repairs. In addition to the carburetor issue we discovered a leak in one of the pontoons which greatly complicated the repairs.

By the time we had returned to our NH covid hideout, the pontoons had been made water tight, the carburetors were replaced and the linkage was repaired. New gas tanks and gas lines were installed and she was ready to be picked up and officially christened.

We added some final touches like running lights, fore and aft solar tiki torches and an outrigger table for the gas grill. Much fun was had that fall and the “Happy Hour” lived up to her name with many a cocktail and dinner cruise. She was well used late into the season, including during some early snowstorms until we hauled her out October 18th, 2020.

We’re now into our 3rd season with Happy Hour but 2021 had some notable days including several in early April involving skiing and boating.

Thanks for reading along.

From the cast and crew of the Happy Hour,

Cheers Y’all ! Follow Along on Instagram

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