TRAVERSE CITY — Mike Green doesn’t just work on boats, he restores them. It’s an important distinction for a man who poured his life into preserving classic boats.
Green, of Traverse City, restores antique wooden boats, or “woodies,” to factory condition, he said last week as he walked around the bow of a 1941 Century triple. The boat arrived at his Traverse City shop when snow still covered the ground. It was a heap of rotting wood, barely resembling the shape of a boat.
Green tends to focus on Chris-Craft boats — his great-grandfather Christopher Columbus Smith founded the boat maker — but the Century is so rare he couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
The smell of freshly milled Indonesian mahogany filled the air as Green ran his hand along the 18-foot boat’s gunwale. It is one of a kind, a limited production boat, the only survivor of a bygone era.
”It’s a piece of history,” Green said. “It’s a labor of love, for sure.”
Green spent months rebuilding the runabout from scratch; there were nearly no reusable parts left in its skeleton.
That labor recently won the 18-year industry veteran one of the highest scores ever earned by a boat and the title of Professional Boat Restorer of the Year at the prestigious Lake Tahoe Boat Show. Altogether, two boats he restored for their owner and entered in the show won five first-place awards.
One of the boats, a 1929 Chris-Craft limousine, scored 98 points out of 100 after judges had a chance to look it over. It was an exceedingly high score in the boat restoration world.
It was an homage to a craftsman who painstakingly works to return each boat to the exact condition it was when it left his family’s factory. No detail is too small, not even documenting and returning nails to the exact location of their original holes.
”He’s carrying on the family tradition,” said Tracy Secord, Green’s sister. “It’s like winning the actor of the year award in his field.”
Green began his boat building career in a Portland, Ore., yard where he worked for little pay and learned to scrape and refurbish the hulls of aging wooden yachts. Boats had always been part of his life. He remembers riding in his family’s wooden runabouts as a child in the 1960s, often falling asleep to the drone of a motor and the gentle rocking of a boat’s hull over water.
”These are probably the closest to original that exist,” he said pointing to pictures of the two boats entered in the Tahoe show. “There’s no better ride, there’s no better boat.”
There are plenty of boat restorers who make the old runabouts look nice, but few who take them as far as Green. For him, the work is more than making a nice boat. It’s about preserving his family’s history.