Vintage cabin cruiser an eye-catching sight


Where do you find a boat with a link to mobsters, JFK, World War II, and the dazzle of the 1950s highlife?

On Killarney Lake, it appears.

That’s because local wooden boat enthusiast Tyler-Miles Pongracz recently launched another rebuilt Chris-Craft onto the lake waters – his fourth since 2004 – after two years of intensive work both inside and out of the 34-foot vessel.

“People really look at it on the lake, because it’s so big, and it’s appealing to the eye,” said Pongracz. “It’s made of Philippine mahogany – all the planks and the side – and inside the ribbing is white oak. The gauges inside the cabin were originally manufactured for WW II Spitfire airplanes, but they were surplus to requirements, and later used in these boats. They’re pretty cool.”

The 1951 Chris-Craft is a double-aft cabin cruiser, with a flying bridge, and Pongracz says that it was the kind of boat that well-heeled North American celebrities hankered after during the post-war glory days.

“Frank Sinatra owned one,” he said. “Jack Kennedy had one like this. If you had money in the ‘50s, you had to own one. This particular model was actually an unpopular one because it was a little small. They made 130 of them, and there are only 10 of them left. In 1951, it had a sale tag of $31,000 new.”

Pongracz, a Master Corporal and crew commander of an LAV 6.0 in the Second Battalion of the Canadian Forces Base, Shilo, said he saved up wages earned during a tour of duty in Afghanistan a few years ago in order to purchase one of the last few remaining boats.

And he found one, complete with a chequered and colourful history.

“I got back in December, 2013, after six months of training the Afghan army,” he said. “I found the boat on Craigslist in November, 2014, in Kansas City, Missouri. It was built in Algonac, near Detroit, on Lake St. Clair, and it was originally owned by a mobster, who had it shipped to New York City on a train. When it got to New York, it was in the water for 10 years. The mobster was prosecuted, and jailed, and the boat went up for auction, and was bought by a doctor in New Jersey. The doctor shipped it to Ohio, and it was there for a long time. From there it went to the Ozarks, and that’s near Kansas City, which is where I got it shipped from.”

Then it was time to get busy with the painstaking restoration of the 65-year-old vintage queen from the south.

“I worked on it at Lena, at George Keyes’ Lena Service, but most of the work was done here in Killarney, on a concrete pad in my yard,” said Pongracz. “It’s been a two-year labour of love. Sometimes I felt like putting a match to it. I probably spent over $10,000 just on materials. My boat is all stock – that means it’s like it was in the brochure, back in 1951.”

The skills he drew on during this process came from a long association with a family line of boat-loving men in Ontario, where he grew up.

“My dad used to do classic boat show competitions, for 12 years between 1984 and 1998,” said Pongracz. “I went with him all the time. It was all about the look. My dad had this same model, and it was like a really expensive man-cave for him. I learned by watching my dad – he restored more than 40 boats, all Chris-Craft. My grandfather showed my dad, when he was 19, everything about the boats: planes, battens, and chines, and how to steam planks to form them.”

Pongracz even located an original black-and-white sales brochure for his new boat, via the internet, complete with bikini-clad ladies enjoying martinis on the deck, and gentlemen in double-breasted jackets and sailing caps vigorously manning the helm.

Launch day finally came this past July long weekend, along with extra caution and no big fanfare, because a vintage wooden boat is not your average Killarney Lake occupant.

“It was just me and my friend Neil Gow, and we went out around 1 p.m.,” said Pongracz. “This boat hadn’t been in the water since 1999, and I was worried it would go to the bottom. Wooden boats need to swell in order to become watertight, but there were no issues. When I put it in the water, it didn’t take on any water. I took it around the lake. It has two flathead 6 Hercules engines, with 120 horsepower each, so it’s a powerful cabin cruiser, but not a speedboat.”

Since then, Pongracz has been enjoying the boat rides along with his friends, and his wife Amanda.

“He’s finally put it in the water, and I am so proud of him, and all his work,” said Amanda Pongracz. “We go on the lake, and it’s awesome to see all the townspeople waving, and saying, ‘Nice boat, great job’. I’m not a person who likes going out on the water, but I like it now.”

Tyler Pongracz says the restoration of the 14,000-pound boat is around 90 per cent complete. Once it is, however, the value will likely quadruple from the original 1951 price.

But he will probably always find something to improve on it, he added, because that’s the way it is with boats.

And he plans on keeping this one: for his family, for posterity, and for the future.

“This is my fourth restoration of a Chris-Craft boat, and it’s my last wood boat,” he said. “This will be my ‘forever’ boat. It’s the most practical boat I have bought because I can tow it on the road, and I have my own marine trailer. I love it. We are going to take a family trip with it next year on Lake Superior, and spend two weeks on the lake.”