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Lightning Class Association

Restoration of Skaneateles Lightning #167

by Bill Oben

The Lightning sailboat was designed by the Naval Architectural firm of Sparkman & Stephens in response to a request from John and George Barnes, owners of Skaneateles Boats, Inc. The Barnes brothers were interested in building a one-design sailboat which could be used both for racing as well as family day sailing. The two firms collaborated closely on the design of the sailboat over a two-year period, and prototype Lightning #1 (now part of the watercraft Collection at Mystic Seaport Museum) was built in 1938. The boat received an enthusiastic response from the yachting world, and production began in earnest the following year.

Lightning #167 was one of approximately 112 Lightnings built by Skaneateles Boats, Inc. in 1939, the first year of production. Records indicate that the boat was sold to Ward’s Sporting Goods Store, a dealer in Ogdensburg, New York, who in turn sold the boat to a gentleman residing in that town. She appears to have spent much of her life sailing on the St. Lawrence River, passing through a succession of owners and eventually relocating to the Finger Lakes. In 1999, #167 was donated to the Finger Lakes Boating Museum.

The old sailboat came to us in seriously deteriorated condition.

Half of her bottom planks had been removed, revealing severely weakened frames.

Many of the side frames were damaged, as were portions of the decking and side planks.

All of the mahogany trim, including splash rails, combing and bang rail, was missing.

Fortunately, most of the original hardware had been retained.
Each year the Museum selects a theme to guide our program of exhibits and events. The theme selected for 2008 was the boats built in Skaneateles, NY. This prompted our decision to restore our Skaneateles Lightning. Work was begun in the fall of 2007 by Museum volunteers, with the intent to complete the restoration in time to participate in the Lightning 70th Anniversary Celebration in Skaneateles over July 4th weekend, 2008.
The bottom frames and several of the side frames had deteriorated, and it was necessary to replace them. Many of the bottom frames were in such poor condition that they couldn’t be used as patterns, and it became necessary to loft the boat (a process which involves drawing the various views of the boat full size) in order to generate the shape of the replacements. The new bottom frames were cut from mahogany stock and carefully positioned with the aid of a reference line that had been temporarily erected above the over- turned boat. The lower section of the centerboard trunk was replaced with new mahogany, and the unit was varnished and re-installed in the boat. The deteriorated inner stem was also replaced, and the hood ends of the side planks were refastened to it.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this restoration was replication of the double-planked bottom employed by Skaneateles, a system in which two layers of cedar planking are installed at right angles to one another and fastened together with screws and canoe tacks. The factory accomplished this with the use of a steel mold over which the bottom was built.

In order to rebuild the bottom without such a mold, temporary blocking was installed between the frames. This blocking provided a form around which to” bend in” those transverse planks that fell between the frames.
Once the inner layer of planking was installed, the keel was laid down and the inner planking was screwed to it from the inside of the boat. A 2-inch section of deteriorated side planking had been cut out, and a replacement piece was installed at this point using a lapped seam. The blocking was then removed and the outer layer of bottom planking was installed. Each plank was bedded in 3M-5200 and screw-fastened through the inner planking to the frames. As this step was completed for each plank, the two layers were fastened together with brass canoe tacks as originally done by Skaneateles. However, in the absence of a steel mold, the tips of these tacks were “bucked over’ with a hand held clenching iron from underneath the overturned boat. Approximately 2000 tacks were applied this way.

After fairing the new bottom, the boat was turned right-side-up and topside repairs were begun. Sections of deteriorated deck planking were replaced along with several support brackets.

The deck was then faired and covered with a new layer of 10 ounce canvas bedded in a coat of fresh paint, as originally done at the factory.

The interior of the hull was repainted, and three coats of marine paint were then applied to the canvas.
Replication of the mahogany trim also proved to be challenging because the original pieces were missing and could not be used as patterns. Communication was established with the owner of a Lightning of similar vintage, who provided key dimensions and several photos which proved very helpful in this part of the process.

The spray rails were particularly challenging because of the contours and bevels involved in fitting them diagonally across the top of the deck and within the forward end of the cockpit. These parts were dry-fitted along with the replacement coaming, and then removed and finished outside the boat prior to final installation.

The replacement mahogany half-oval bang rail stock was fashioned at a local mill work shop, and similarly finished prior to installation.

Spars, floorboards and seats were repaired and refinished.

The rudder was rebuilt with new cheeks, and a replacement tiller was obtained.

New belaying pins were turned to replace those missing.

All of the hardware was cleaned, polished, and reinstalled.

Throughout the month of June a small group of volunteers worked diligently to complete the boat in time for the July 4th Regatta in Skaneateles. The work schedule shifted from the usual two mornings per week to daily activity, which included weekend work in the final stage.

The boat was completed on the afternoon of July 4th, and immediately left for Skaneateles to participate in the 70th Anniversary Regatta (without benefit of an in-water test following her total restoration). She was launched the following morning along with some 130 other Lightnings, mostly of fiberglass construction, and performed well after resolution of some minor rigging problems.

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