Yacht ahoy

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- When Baton Rouge's Scott and Bonita Hollingsworth bought a 1928 Elco yacht in 1995, they thought it would take a year to restore. It took much longer, but the result is eyecatching, including the Cleopatra chair on the covered deck.
Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- When Baton Rouge's Scott and Bonita Hollingsworth bought a 1928 Elco yacht in 1995, they thought it would take a year to restore. It took much longer, but the result is eyecatching, including the Cleopatra chair on the covered deck.

In 1995, when Scott and Bonita Hollingsworth bought a 67-year-old wooden yacht named Bon Conge, they thought the hard part would be getting it home from Maryland. After all, the journey included tidal shifts that ran them aground, bad weather that delayed them and leaks that needed repairs.

But once in Baton Rouge, they figured the restoration would only take about a year, especially since they could work on it the truck equipment business they own. Their calculations were off — by about 15 years.

“I told somebody that life is what happens when you’re making plans for other things,” Scott Hollingsworth said.

But, finally, a little over a year ago, the Hollingsworths put the 42-foot yacht back in the water. The effort, they said, was worth it.

“The boat looks wonderful,” Bonita Hollingsworth said.

The judges at last year’s Madisonville Wooden Boat Festival agreed, awarding their 1928 Elco deckhouse cruiser Best in Show.

It’s an eye-catcher, and anyone who comes aboard is likely to be even more impressed.

Bonita Hollingsworth refinished and varnished all of the wooden trim. Original fixtures and fittings have been restored or replaced with vintage parts Scott Hollingsworth found on eBay. Modern necessities or conveniences — a GPS navigation system, bow thruster switch, circuit breaker box — are hidden from view by woodwork that has been repurposed or added to look original. One flat-screen TV is hidden behind a mirror. Another pops out of a cabinet. Visitors who don’t know what is inside assume the cabinet is vintage.

“I’ve had people say, ‘I like this. Did it come with the boat?’” Scott Hollingsworth said. “I didn’t say anything. It passed the test. If they believe it came with it, you did what you’re supposed to do.”

It all took a lot of doing.

They took the boat apart, down to the hull, where they found holes to repair. They rebuilt the original roof, getting a mill to replicate the original oak ribs and fir planking with idential woods. They replaced the 1945 gasoline engine with a diesel power plant that, though smaller, is more powerful. The size difference is a bonus in an engine compartment where space is at a premium.

“That’s one thing I’m good at because I’m short,” Bonita Hollingsworth said. “I can go places he can’t go, and I’ve been having to learn. He said, ‘You’re getting to be a pretty good mechanic.’ ”

Much of the boat also was re-engineered to maintain the balance between an authentic look and updated function. Instead of two single beds in the aft cabin is a fold-out queen-sized bed. A cabinet slides to one size to make room for the bed when it is going to be used. In the aft cabin bathroom (“head,” in nautical lingo) the floor was lowered to provide drainage for a shower that has been added. They also installed air conditioning. The result is something the boat’s original owner — Texas Rep. John Nance Garner, who became vice president under Franklin Roosevelt from 1933-31 — would certainly have enjoyed.

When the work was done, a crane lowered Bon Conge into a pond behind their business, but held it in the water until the hull’s dry wood swelled, making it watertight. Then, they trucked it to New Orleans, where it was launched on Aug. 14, 2012, and journeyed to King’s Point Marina on the Tickfaw River. Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Isaac bore down on Louisiana, and Scott Hollingsworth rode out the storm on the boat for three days, loosening mooring ropes so Bon Conge could rise with the storm surge, tightening them as water dropped to keep the boat in its berth.

“It was an adventure,” he said.

The Hollingsworths did a lot of research on the boat, learning that only 15 of this model were made in 1928, and located vintage items such as an original burgee (pennant). The man in South Carolina from whom they bought it also had an Elco plaque that they thought would look good in the boat.

“I told him, ‘For lagniappe, I want you to send me the little Elco plaque,’” Bonita Hollingsworth said. “I got the burgee, but I didn’t get the little plaque. I said, ‘I can’t believe he didn’t send me that as much as I paid for that thing.’ About two weeks later, here it comes in the mail with a letter: ‘I apologize, but I didn’t know what lagniappe meant.’”