Elverson man completes antique boat restoration

Doug Berg, of Elverson, stands in front of his tender, the Wyman D. Haskell. Berg restored the antique boat over a ten month period before launching it into the same Maine harbor which it was first launched from by the original owners. Photo by Justin Finneran for the Tri County Record.

ELVERSON - As a professional engineer Doug Berg spends a good portion of his day at a desk, but he is by no means foreign to working with his hands. He counts among his handyman accomplishments the building of a hen house and the hanging of cedar shingles on the summer kitchen of his Elverson home. Yet now Berg has added to his extracurricular portfolio a task which many other amateur craftsmen would consider both enviable and unfathomable – he restored an antique boat.

It was a task he had first set for himself a few years ago, which has its origin in simply picking out a spot on a map.

The state of Maine has been a memorable family vacation location for Berg, and kayaking expeditions have among the favorite of those memories.

“I have always enjoyed kayaking, sailing, and (boating),” Berg said, “being out on the water became a part of my summer vacation routine with my son.”

So, in 1999, Berg decided that he would just pick a spot on the map of Maine and go there. That spot was Stonington, located on Deer Isle, centrally located in middle coastline of the state.

“I picked Stonington sight unseen. I liked the way it looked on the map because it was among an archipelago of islands that you can just paddle to,” he recalled, “so I said to myself ’I’m going to Stonington’”.

In his visits to the Stonington Berg saw many endearing things beyond the landscape. There were the nice coastal cottages, the welcoming Stonington locals, and, of course, lots of boats. At the place he stays known as Spruce Harbor in the Stonington area there was one small boat Berg would see now and again sitting in a neighborhood garage. It was a charming motor boat named in honor of its maker - Wyman D. Haskell.

“The Wyman D. Haskell is a ‘tender’, a type of work boat used to pull the owner’s racing sailboat out onto the water to the starting point of a race,” Berg explained. “The man Wyman D. Haskell was a caretaker of cottages at Spruce Harbor, and he is a bit of a local legend. Haskell built the boat in the 1960s for a family in Spruce Harbor, when he was in his 70s. One of my kayaking friends, Whitney, saw that the boat was on sale and contacted me.”

Before long Berg was the proud new owner of the tender – the “Wyman D.’, as he likes to call it – but the boat sat for some time in his own garage in Elverson before the right set of circumstances arose to reignite the same industrious fire which drove Berg to purchase it in the first place.

“The Wyman D. sat for a few years until I saw that Dan’s Garage was available for rent. That was a sign to me that (the restoration should) begin. The garage was basically right next door to me and the perfect space to work on the boat. I had been a customer of Dan’s Garage for years, so I talked to the owners, began renting the garage in October of 2011, and got the project started.”

So began a ten month long restoration process, one which saw Berg (aided by a couple of friendly neighbors) put in countless hours of work.

“There’s a term that scientists use in labs when they are counting (microorganisms), TNTC, it means Too Numerous To Count... …that’s how many hours were put into (this restoration).”

With the Wyman D. set up in Dan’s Garage, the first step Berg took was to rebuild the engine.

“The Wyman D. has a 1963 single cylinder marine engine. I was able to get it started but soon it stopped running. I am pretty handy with electric and can read wiring diagrams, but this was beyond me – so I took the engine to a man in Kutztown. He was able to fix it for me, and he told me that there was a problem with a piston that was preventing the engine from getting the compression it needed.”

As he prepared for the next stage of repairs, however, Berg ran into a not-so-minor interruption.

“I had been renting Dan’s garage on a short-term lease with the understanding that they were looking for a long-term tenant. The owners called me on New Year’s Day and told me that they had someone ready to sign a long-term lease, so I needed to have everything cleared out promptly… …that was tough to hear because I had the boat in there and things scattered all over the place, and now I needed to pack up and find another place.”

Berg spoke to his neighbors, Kim and Pat O’Hara, about his impasse. They generously offered the use of their barn. He was pleased to also learn that his neighbor Keith Diemer had expertise and generously assisted with the project, but that he was also a carpenter and very much interested in offering guidance on the restoration.

“Keith played a huge role in guiding me through the process of restoring the boat,” Berg said. “He was my carpenter leader on this project. I really owe a lot to him for his help with the restoration – he was very patient throughout and was very generous with supplies and know-how.”

With a new home for his tender secure and a professional carpenter as a resource, Berg moved onto the very time intensive task of repairing the hull. Since the Wyman D. had been sitting in a garage since the 1970s, the boat was nowhere near watertight.

Berg first removed the layers of paint from the outer hull of the Wyman D. with a belt sander. Once the hull had been exposed, he diligently went to work cleaning out all of the old binding agent materials from between its planks - this involved a series of tools including a circular saw, a router and dental picks. When the seams were clean, Berg went on to reconstitute the hull. This entailed filling the freshly exposed seams with long and narrow strips of wood, known as splines, and generous amounts of epoxy mixed with sawdust to match the natural hue of the Wyman D. After the splines and epoxy were set, Berg smoothed everything over with another round of sanding.

Next to come was the replacement of a long crack in the keelson – the fin like piece of wood that runs along the bottom of the boat that ends where the rudder begins. Berg made multiple cutouts perpendicular to the crack in the keelson and secured them with bowtie-shaped wooden pieces and epoxy. The rudder was a piece which was beyond restoration, so Diemer constructed a new rudder for Berg and then reattached it to the Wyman D. with the original hardware.

With the hull and keelson intact, and a new rudder in place, Berg then covered the outer hull with a layer of protective fiberglass and several coats of epoxy. Then came the paint.

“I painted the hull to mimic the same paint scheme you would see on Hinckley boats - bright red for below the waterline and blue for above the waterline, separated by a thin white stripe.”

That white stripe was, by Berg’s admission, a surprisingly difficult step.

“(The paint for the stripe) would crack as it was drying, and I would have to wait until it completely dried before cleaning the old paint off. It was nightmare. I had to try it at least four times before getting the paint mixture right.”

Once he solved the riddle of the white stripe, Berg moved on to restoring the interior components of the boat. This involved the removal of the old plywood floor and replacing it with a new floor crafted by Diemer. Berg also handled the sanding and varnishing the woodwork inside the boat. It was during this stage that another of Berg’s neighbors, Janice Houck, repainted the Wyman D. Haskell name plate on the back of the boat.

With the restoration project reaching completion, Berg had small plaques made to commemorate the building and the restoration of the Wyman D. Haskell.

“I had two plaques made - one with the original date of construction and one with the date of the restoration,” said Berg, “It’s not quite fifty years, but the dates were close enough so I had the plates made that way.”

With the Wyman D. Haskell back at seaworthy status, Berg made the preparations for a special two-week August vacation to Deer Isle to enjoy his new transport. Once arriving in Maine he met up with some good friends and launched the Wyman D. from the very same beach which it had been first launched from fifty years ago - Spruce Harbor. To add a touch of Pennsylvania to the launch, Berg christened the boat with a bottle of sparkling wine from Elverson’s J. Maki vineyards.

“When the first launch came the weather was rainy and windy. It was not a particularly picturesque moment but I still enjoyed the (feeling of accomplishment),” said Berg.

There was also another minor issue which followed the launch.

“As soon as I got it out I had a problem with the water pump,” Berg said, “so I had to take it to get repaired… …but it was ready the next day and we picked up right where we left off.”

The remainder of the vacation with the Wyman D. was, in fact, spent quite picturesquely.

“It was great, and (my friends and I) really enjoyed going out in it. We used it to go from island to island, seeing the sights and stopping for picnics,” he said.

Looking back at the course of events, Berg admits that he was not honestly sure that he was ever going to see the Wyman D. Haskell back in the water.

“There were times when I thought that I did not have it in me, but in the end everything really came together. It’s a beautiful boat and it has almost all of the original parts. Families living in the (Stonington) area that knew Wyman D. Haskell and saw the name on the boat have given me some nice kudos for the restoration.”

Find the Tri County Record on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/TriCountyRecord, on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TriCountyRecord, and search for Berks-Mont News, our six-publication newsgroup, on Google Plus.