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Thread: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

  1. #1
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    Post Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    The past few months, I had been scouring Craigslist daily, searching for old, inexpensive, wooden sailboats in need of restoration. I wanted something in the 15'-20' range, with a centerboard, easy to tow, and fun to sail.

    Well, in May, I found a boat that checks all those boxes. A 1947 lightning #2830, with complete rigging, 2 sets of sails, and a working trailer. I was so excited!

    The only downside is that it had been sitting in the owner's lawn for the last 20 years. The trailer wheels had sunk a good 8 inches below grade. The owner said it had been covered by a tarp, until last winter when the tarp ripped/blew away. And unfortunately, Mother Nature had not been kind to it.

    1.jpg6.jpg8.jpg

    The bottom portion of the hull had serious rot, both in the planking and the ribs. The rot seemed to extend up until the front of the centerboard trunk. The port side was considerably worse, as the boat was parked with a list to port, and all the rain water had pooled there. At the port aft corner, the planking had completely separated, and you could stick your hand through the side. The port chine log was also rotten.

    Luckily, the starboard side seemed much better, and the deck structure, seats, and mast step all seemed okay.

    It would be a project, but hey, that's what I was looking for! ...Right?

    The next week, I came back with some jacks and a fresh registration for the trailer. We jacked the trailer out of the grave it had dug, wrangled it across the lawn to my truck, and with some WD40 and a few persuasive nudges from a hammer, got the hitch onto the ball. I pumped some grease into the wheel bearings, and started the 4 hour journey north.

    IMG_0223.jpg

    Once home, I got her into the shop, and switched my focus to the next task: how to flip her over and start working on the hull.

    I decided to build what I'll call a "gantry crane"--basically a big arch that I could position over the boat and use to hoist it up. I made a trip to home depot to buy some (oh my god...) expensive lumber, and then a stop at my beloved Harbor Freight to buy 2 1-ton chain hoists, 2 20-ft towing straps, and some caster wheels.

    With the structure built, I was able to roll it over the trailer, loop the straps under the hull, and start lifting. It took a bit of finagling, trying to find the center of balance (2 gantry cranes would have made this a lot easier), but I finally got it balanced enough that I could hoist one side enough to get it completely vertical.




    From there, I could reattach one of the chain hoists to the lower side and start lifting it up while lowering the high side. I soon had it upside-down on the ground, and I finally got a closer look at the hull.

    I started on the port-aft side, where things were the worse. I got a hammer and started prying away rotten wood. The bottom is double planked with what seems to be 3/8" cedar on 1/8" cedar. At some point, someone had also glassed the entire bottom (but not the sides). My goal was to keep removing the rotten wood until I got to good wood... thinking at some point, there must be good wood.... You probably see where this is going. Children: avert your eyes.



    Everything was rotten. Some areas were worse than others, but If I wanted to restore this boat to the level I'd like, everything had to go. Most of the ribs resembled pulled-pork more than wood. Some stayed slightly intact while I removed the planking, but most just disintegrated. At some point, the centerboard trunk just fell to the floor (that metal centerboard is HEAVY).

    There came a point where I stopped to look at the carnage I created and wondered if I was going about this completely wrong. It seemed a more civilized approach would have been to try to replace one frame at a time so the hull shape was preserved. Only after all the new frames were in place would I start removing the planking. Perhaps on my next rotted-out lightning, I'll try this. But everything was just so rotten, I think it would have been incredibly challenging. Besides, I was past the point of no return, and accepted my fate that I would have to rebuild this bottom from scratch.

    For better or worse, I continued ripping out the rot. I used the gantry crane to hoist the centerboard trunk out, and got a closer look at it. To no one's surprise, the bottom of the trunk was starting to rot away.



    Once I got to the mast step, I decided to stop. The frames were starting to look less rotten, although I still think I'll replace the planking. It was becoming very clear to me that rain water and a glassed-in bottom do not mix well. The water soaks into the wood, and the fiberglass retains it there. The hull had no chance.



    As horrifying as that looks, I do have a plan. The first step will be tearing out and replacing the port chine log. I'm hoping to get my hands on some long lengths of white oak soon, which will hopefully be enough for the chine log and ribs.

    Once the new chine log's in place, I'll start framing the bottom. Since I will be "free-handing" the bottom more-or-less, I will have to build a structure around the boat with some mold stations to bend the ribs on. I will use battens to fair the new hull, and I'm thinking it might be good to get my hands on some plans try and recreate the shape as best I can. I will say I am not planning on racing this boat, and I am not a "lightning-purist" in any way, if there is such a thing. As long as the hull is fair and works with the centerboard trunk, I will be happy.

    After the bottom ribs are in, I'll turn my attention to the port side. The bottom of the port-side planking is also rotting away, so I'm thinking I'll cut off the bottom few inches of it, and replace it with new wood. Also, the bottoms of many of the port-side "vertical-ribs" (is there a better term for these?) are also rotting away. I'm not sure what to do about this yet. I'll most likely try to cut the bottoms off and scarf in new wood.

    Then there's the question of the best way to plank to bottom. Plywood? cold-molded? Traditionally planked? Whatever I do, I'm definitely not glassing it in again.

    Stay tuned for more!

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    My older brother got an old Lightning off what was called The WantAdvertiser (a Massachusetts version of Uncle Henry's) many decades ago. He 'fixed it up' and I helped launch in the early summer's light wind, easy water. Not far from the shore the mast snapped just below the spreaders and the rig tumbled overboard. A passing good samaritan in his Boston Whaler and two young daughters, maybe five and eight slowed to ask if we were alright. My brother swung on him and yelled

    "Does it LOOK like we're F*%#ING ALRIGHT!!"

    I had to stifle a laugh at the look on the father's face when his girls heard that. He didn't know who he was dealing with with my brother and he swiftly whipped his boat around and took off. Of course we lost the help of a nice guy who might have towed us in but what are you going to do?

    The boat got hauled ashore and went to the dump.

    Yours is even worse shape than that boat.
    Last edited by rbgarr; 06-15-2021 at 04:49 PM.
    “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs."

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    It has got to be easier to build one from scratch. But.... if you like big challanges and jousting at windmills, keep at it. Tally Ho! is/was a rather larger version..
    At least you have the mast and sails (if sound)
    Keep us informed, please.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Second the build from new plan. Sailed wooden Lightnings for about 10 years in the late 50's and early 60's. Great fun in a really competitive fleet in west Michigan at the time. A new build will go faster than the restoration and won't cost a bit more.
    If you don't know where you're going, you might not end up there.-Yogi Berra

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Yikes!!! Good luck! I'll be following along with whatever you decide to do.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Thats not a boat and hasnt been for a long time. It will be easier, cheaper and quicker to build a new one. You have the centerboard....

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    I wish our welcome to this forum could be more optimistic, but that boat is toast.
    Other then the very, very extensive rot, now that the frames are gone, how are you going to replace them without a set of plans to go by?
    There are some very experienced builders here, myself included, who would urge you to look for another project. I've rebuilt two basket-cases besides the many new boats I've built, but neither was anywhere as bad as what you're dealing with.
    I was born on a wooden boat that I built myself.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Welcome aboard! Good luck, have fun, keep us posted.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    You give a new meaning to the word optimism. Good luck to you, but remember a sawzall can relieve your torment.
    - Anything you can't have fun with is not worth taking seriously.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Thanks to all for your input, however discouraging. It is most likely the slap-in-the-face that I needed.

    By an act of Deus Ex Machina, I stumbled across a listing for a 1950's lightning yesterday, just the hull, in far better condition. Talking with the owner, he seems very interested in a trade for an old O'Day Osprey I picked up off the side of the road last summer, which I had no intention of ever using.

    I'll be able to use the mast, boom, sails, and trailer from the old boat. The new hull looks like it just needs some sanding, varnish, and paint. No signs of rot anywhere. If the trade goes through, it will surely be the universe's sign to give up on #2830. For now, at least.

    Even if I get the new hull, I won't be dragging the old hull out to the burn pile just yet. I got this boat because I wanted a challenge, and the stubborn part of me wants to prove all the nay-sayers here wrong! Besides, I made a promise to this boat's former owner I would bring her back to life, and I sincerely meant that. And man, it would be a blast to have two of these and do some match racing! (yes, pipe dream, I know, I know...)

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    There is a pile of work there to rebuild her, but it certainly doable, ...... and that is the only way to keep that sail number going.

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Sounds like you've got a good deal going there. Incorporate the rig from the rotted boat onto the better one, drop it on the trailer and off you go without too much restoration.
    As for being naysayers, perhaps, but I rather like the term 'realist'.
    That old hull could be rebuilt but you'd be replacing the entire hull one piece at a time by the time you were done.
    As for your promise to the previous owner, I don't feel he was up front with you about the boat only being uncovered for one year. That amount of rot only happens after many years of neglect. Simply be honest with the guy and tell him that the boat was beyond help.
    Please share your progress with us.
    I was born on a wooden boat that I built myself.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    About the previous owner. If he really wanted it 'bought back', he should have started quite a few years earlier. I don't think you owe him a lot.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich Jones View Post
    Sounds like you've got a good deal going there. Incorporate the rig from the rotted boat onto the better one, drop it on the trailer and off you go without too much restoration.
    As for being naysayers, perhaps, but I rather like the term 'realist'.
    That old hull could be rebuilt but you'd be replacing the entire hull one piece at a time by the time you were done.
    As for your promise to the previous owner, I don't feel he was up front with you about the boat only being uncovered for one year. That amount of rot only happens after many years of neglect. Simply be honest with the guy and tell him that the boat was beyond help.
    Please share your progress with us.
    Why tell him anything? Move on.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Sweet! Sounds like you have just shortened your path toward sailing by a considerable amount!

  16. #16
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    I've been working on a traditional planked snipe from the 1930's that at some point in its life was glassed and left out exposed to the elements. Where there was standing water, it was rotted out like your lightning. The damage though was more limited then what you are experiencing, and and it is well on its way to being fully restored.

    As a teenager, I was in the Sea Scouts, and we raced a wooden lightning #3436. I remember at some point it was damaged in a storm and the entire double planked bottom had to be replaced. I enjoyed sailing and racing lightnings. A snipe is much smaller and cramped. In retrospect, I wish I had a lightning. I wish you well with your project.

    IMG_3591.jpgIMG_2947.jpg

    Jim
    Last edited by Dunphy Snipe; 06-17-2021 at 06:33 AM.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Hi - I am a fellow Lightning guy, and I feel some of your pain. I restored a 1956 Lightning and I have home built another one.

    My 1956 Lightning was rough when I first got it, but it was nothing like yours. It had some cracks in the bottom but was basically sound. And it needed a good bit of work on a sagging deck, but most of the planking was fine. It turned into a hell of a lot bigger project than I ever imagined. It was 15 months of pretty steady work before I was able to launch it.

    If I were you, I would just chock this one up to bad luck, and move on. Even with the experience I have had, I would never take on a project like your boat. I don't know if it is still available, but there was a free Lightning in New Hampshire on Craigslist not too long ago that was already partially restored, and didn't need anything like the work your Lightning does.

    Also, as we speak, there is a partially restored Lightning on Facebook Marketplace. Much of the heavy lifting has already been done on that one, and the owner says he will give it to someone who is willing to make a $ 600 donation to a particular charity.
    Here is a link: https://www.facebook.com/marketplace...5-175f4175cb9f

    Good luck.

    Mike from Vermont

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    My opinion about these types of undertakings:

    Taking on projects in this stage of decay and completing it because 'the stubborn part of me wants to prove all the nay-sayers here wrong!' seems like a strange reason for doing so. You won't get enough lasting credit or admiration for it from others if that's the need. Years ago a forum member had a notion to restore, cruise and live aboard a Nova Scotia schooner full time. He was practically browbeaten into doing it although forum members probably thought of themselves as being merely encouraging. He sunk pretty much all his life savings into a project that really didn't suit what he needed or could manage on his own. Offers of help didn't really materialize as much as posted, he got in trouble offshore a number of times and his life ended up between the proverbial rock and a hard place. It was very difficult to watch.
    Last edited by rbgarr; 06-20-2021 at 10:07 AM.
    “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs."

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Just to butt in way after the horse left the barn, you can typically find really nice, sailing, often race-ready examples of popular class boats in wood at the class association sites under the "vintage" classifieds. Thistles are a great example, and I seem to remember vintage Lightnings being available as well when I was interested in them. People who race have a far more reality-based sense of what their boats are worth and have usually dumped at least a new set of sails into them without really looking back or sweating the fact that they're not going to get the money back. Along with, usually, rigging, tuning, prepping etc

  20. #20
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    If the rigging and sailing gear on this one and the hull of the 2nd one make a good boat for cheap, I would burn that hull and take it as a win!

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Again, thanks to all for your feedback. Please be assured that I'm aware of how bad the condition is of hull #2830. This is what led me to look for another hull last week.

    Yesterday, I successfully traded the old Osprey I had for a new Lightning hull, #5096, which according to the hull number records, was probably built around 1952. I met the seller at the boat launch. He launched the boat, and then I loaded it onto my trailer (from the first lightning I got). Like my first hull, this hull had also been fiber-glassed below the waterline. But unlike my hull, there were no signs of rot or soft spots anywhere that I could see. And it didn't leak a drop while in the water!




    According to the seller, this boat's been in storage for at least the last 15 years. Obviously needs a lot of sanding, varnish, and paint, but it will undoubtedly be orders of magnitude less work than my first hull.

    If I combine this hull with the trailer, mast, sails, and maybe the beautiful bronze hardware of #2830, I should have a lovely fully-working Lightning.

    By the way, do you think that deck on the new hull is teak? It looks like it used to be varnished, whereas the deck on #2830 was canvased.

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Blitzen - Congrats on the progress! Looks much, much better. The deck on my 1956 Lightning was tongue and groove cedar 6" wide boards, but Lightning decks were built in many different ways. I haven't seen a teak deck on a Lightning, but anything is possible. If your boat was measured for compliance with Class Specs, then the Class should have a Measurement Certificate with a lot of info specific to your individual Lightning. The Cert is available to you. The International Lightning Class website has both the office email and telephone number. Good luck, Mike Seibert

  23. #23
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    In 2008 I bought a Point Jude 15 (Hull #1) and have done some work on it, but need to remove and replace the centerboard trunk and paint/caulk it inside and out. Finally retired, I'm committed to get that done this summer and launch it this fall. Yours is a similar project and I'll be watching this thread closely as I bet you and I will encounter and overcome similar obstacles. Good luck!

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Bringing a free 1940s Lightning back to life

    Very nice on your new lightening! This one looks like a boat!
    A 1950’s lightning, I would be very surprised if the deck is teak. Now mahogany, I could easily see that.

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