In Good Company

October 29th, 2009 by James Ferris

In the mid 1970’s the classic boat hobby was not as “mature”, as it is today. There was little emphasis on “all original”; it was enough to have a cool (and fast) speedboat. Many wooden boats were being stripped of usable hardware and then burned. Fiberglass was the future!

Some guys still did appreciate wood boats though, and Robert Burnand was one of them. He had good training, growing up with his fathers boat CASSIAR, a 64 ft. sportfisher originally built by Palmer Scott for Richard Mellon in 1946. His grandfather sailed and raced ODYSSEY, a 68 ft. yawl built by Stephens Bros. in Stockton, CA. Lucky girl Perlita; she came into a family with truly sterling wooden boat credentials!

Good CompanyPerlita, hanging out in good company! Cassiar center, Odyssey to the right.

Bob Burnand purchased Perlita Too in 1973, from the estate of George Newton, her second owner. She had been stored in a warehouse at the Aircraft Xray Company for years waiting for George to restore her. Unfortunately Georges’ health failed before he made much progress, however a lot of work was done on the Scripps V12, including attempts to sort out various problems relating to the supercharger installation. More on that later, as research continues…..

PaperTrailBob drove a hard bargain!

Burnand-whse-3Even the dog realized this was a big project…

When Bob took delivery of Perlita, much of her was in pieces, in boxes! By this time her hull had suffered greatly from the southern California summers, drying out to such an extent that caulking had already been stuffed into her topsides plank seams in order to keep the ocean out. She was in need of major work, so Bob stripped and varnished the hull, disassembled and overhauled the motor, rebuilt and reupholstered the seats, re-cast some damaged chrome pieces, and got her back in the water.

Burnand-offshorePerlita enjoying the waves off Newport Beach in the late 1970’s

Nevertheless, Perlita was ‘a lady of a certain age’ by then, and her hull was weakened after years of high-speed offshore runs. The caulked seams, coupled with the marine environment and long hot summers at the dock, were playing havoc with the planks and fasteners. Perlita’s skin condition was getting worse by the season.

Fast forward 10 years

With additional years of  indifferent storage in a barn by the next owner this is a small part of what we faced. [side note: talking recently with Bob Burnand, he recalled that the odd square patch in the side planking was there when he got the boat; “….some real crappy work by Reeds guys…..”. Bob should know; he’s spending close to 200K on the bottom and planking of CASSIAR right now……]


The planks were too shrunken and dry-rotted at the ends, to be re-used in our restoration. And as we noted before, the frames were equally far gone. Which brings us up to date, with Chris at SeaSonic Boats carefully shaping and fitting Perlita’s new planks over new frames.

53 Riva, Sommerferien 09 mit Nico 125

53 Riva, Sommerferien 09 mit Nico 167mmmmm…don’t you just love the aroma of fresh mahogany………?

While Chris is working his magic on the wood, Richard Frisch and Fred at Queen City Plating showed us these pix of Perlitas hardware in the “metal-working” stage of the plating process.

COPPERThese look sooooo good even this way! Thank you Queen City…..


Jim McNeilly doing the final assembly, getting her ready to fire up for the first time in 30 years. Can’t wait!

The plot thickens…!

Second owner George Newton purchased Perlita Too from Roland Reed sometime in the late 1960’s. I have recently talked to Don Davis, a former executive at Newtons’ company, who remembered Perlita Too, and the interesting association between George Newton and Roland Reed, as well as a whiff of Americas Cup sailor, Briggs Cunningham, and speed records……more to come…..

Comment below (we love comments!), and please feel free to email me.


12 Responses to “In Good Company”

  1. Reg Down Says:

    James & Caroline – Receiving these monthly updates on the “Perlita Too” restoration project may become “Habit Forming”… Now I can hardly wait for the end of November!

    It’s so exciting to see the mahogany planking being installed as the hull starts to take shape again. If the hardware looks that good in the photos, I can only imagine how great it will look installed, almost adding that third dimension to the hardware. To me, the V-12 Scripps that Mr. McNeilly has brought back to life looks more like a fine piece jewelry rather than a 55 year old (2000 pound) lump.

    Great Work Guys

  2. Brian Driggs Says:

    I had been wondering when we’d get another dose of Perlita! Sweet!

    One thing that strikes me, though. When we restore older cars, we separate the body from the frame and each is gone over in turn as part of the “frame-off restoration.” Now, if sections are beyond repair, they’re replaced, even up to and including the assembly itself. Even so, if the chassis is too far gone, the original body is still mated to a new chassis and vice versa. Where am I going with this?

    I guess, what jumped out of these pictures at me, was that the entire hull is being rebuilt from scratch. To me, the hull is the heart and soul of a boat. You can remove the seats, engine, rudder, moorings (is that what they call those deals on the sides you tie ropes to?) and you still have a wooden, boat-shaped thing floating in the water.

    In the case of Perlita, if the hull was beyond repair, couldn’t it be said that she was no more? Sure, the engine and all that can be rebuilt and restored, but if it’s all going into a chassis that has been built from scratch today, isn’t this more like a *clone* of Perlita?

    I still think the effort and attention to detail in this project is the gold standard. It just struck me that, if the very heart and soul of the boat was beyond saving, a significant part of Perlita is gone forever. Then again, this could just be how it’s done when it comes to wooden boats. Wood can last a long time, but it can’t last forever…

  3. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by CASUDI: #Kaizenblog ~ link to niche post that will last 100 years @CathyWebSavvyPR @chrisbaskind…

  4. James Ferris Says:

    Reg- Thank you for your comment. Jim McNeilly would agree with you about the look of a Scripps V12 – he loves them because in his words “they look all dressed up” compared to a CC or a Graymarine. And regarding the hardware; this week I spoke with Bob Burnand; he said “those castings were really junk; 2 pieces broke when we tried to polish the plating”. AHA! So now we know 2 pieces of chrome are NOT ORIGINAL!! Eeeek! BTW: Richard @ Queen City echoes that comment; and our plating bill reflects it, in spades!

  5. James Ferris Says:

    Well jeeze Brian, great of you to cut to the heart of the matter in your first post on PERLITA’s own blog!!!! LOL!

    Indeed, the line between restoration and recreation can be blurry at times, whether with a classic car or a classic boat. In the auto restoration world, the chassis and accompanying serial number is often considered to be the “soul” of the car, and for judging and valuation purposes is usually the “legal’ definition of the original car. As you suggest, other items may be restored or replaced, but the chassis remains (usually!). In the case of historic race cars, even that can be a hotly contested issue, as race cars have serious accidents, get entire chassis/tubs rebuilt/replaced, and race again, even by the “original” owner/factory/etc. Gets more complicated/contested as the car goes through succeeding owners and more ‘events'; and even more exciting if the car is considered in some way “historically significant”.

    In the case of a wooden speedboat, the “chassis” (frames/ribs/keel) usually deteriorates due to time/use/neglect rather than in-use damage. Sometime, often many years later, when the restorer disassembles the remains prior to restoration, the deterioration/damage may be nearly terminal. Re-use of the existing “chassis” or frame may constitute a safety issue, let alone an issue of value loss.

    In the case of PERLITA, as the images showed in our The Rise & fall of a Hollywood Star, the ‘fatal’ damage occurred at the ends of frames, where they were joined together, at the chine for instance. There was no real way to re-use those frames short of somehow attaching a new end piece; structurally that’s just not feasible. Joining wood end to end (even with epoxies) is not like welding metal end to end. The only logical solution in this event is to replace the rotted wood with an entire new piece. (Sometimes, if the damage is not too bad, or located in a better place, strengthening pieces call “sisters” can be added. This repair has its own pros and cons of course! nothing is easy)

    When that is the situation with nearly all of the frames, you are indeed losing some of the ‘soul’ of the original boat. The ramifications of this are endless! (true for cars or boats!) Curiously, in the world of wooden boats, replacing the ‘body’ in your analogy, the mahogany planks, is not seen as such a loss of ‘essence’ of the boat; although there is certainly a strong discussion raging about “preservation” (acknowledging some retention of faults) versus “restoration” (acknowledging some replacement/repair of faults). It is and will remain, and endless source of discussion and argument, right up to and (especially) after the judging process in a juried boat show.

    Back to PERLITA. You are concerned that “the hull is being rebuilt from scratch”; that she might as well be a “clone”. My position is that we have stopped short of “cloning” PERLITA; while admitting (and detailing) publicly the lengths we have gone to ‘bring her back’. If we were going to clone her, we could have sold off the remains, and created an exact replica from scratch, with less difficulty, and probably for less money initially invested. Clearly though, that result would not have been PERLITA TOO. Maybe Perlita Three……, but, another boat. Indeed, some pieces of the frame have never been removed from the boat; Chris is carefully rebuilding around those pieces. Other pieces such as the planks, were clearly not salvageable, as they are shrunken along their entire lengths, and dry-rotted for the final 18″ at the transom. The 2nd owner attempted to solve these problems by adding about a thousand extra screws!; caulking between the planks, and covering the ends with added-on chrome trim pieces. FAIL.

    Part of the reason I have spent over 15 years researching PERLITA’s history, is to be certain that where we can save her existing aspects, that we do so accurately. Another reason for researching is to learn which aspects of her in “as-found” condition were original (ie: the rare instruments), and which were later additions/alterations (the gas tanks). That is enabling us to carefully preserve some things, and not repeat others. As well, we are fortunate in the extreme to have the original builder, Carlo Riva himself, still here to enthusiastically answer questions!!

    Current case in point: I’m dithering/agonizing over whether to save or replace the engine stringers. I’m reasonably confident they are the originals; but they are drilled and hacked and split and skewed in too many places! What to do, what to do? New ones will add strength, last forever, and be cheaper; but the old ones have “patina”, and they are a main part of the “chassis”.(in some boats (not Rivas) they carry the serial number, the “truth” of the boat). So, I’ll take them out of the boat, bring them to my barn, and spend the winter fussing over them.

    To return to your automotive analogy, the owners, restorers, historians, judges, and peanut gallery alike, are becoming quite diligent in the discovery/cataloging and application of historical information. Whether a 1950’s era Ferrari has been re-bodied, or had the engine replaced, it’s a very big deal to those groups, and values are assigned accordingly. A 375MM with a re-stamped block is still a $3M+ car, and only a few of us purists would turn up our noses!

    So it may be with PERLITA; some will agree that we’ve “done the right thing” for the boat, and she still carries her history proudly (and beautifully), and some may feel “well, that’s not really hull no. 3 anymore”. As I have stated before; “one should always strive for perfection, but it’s OK to be satisfied with excellence”.

    So, thank you Brian, a great question to be able to answer. I hope I have…..but if not, we can try again!

  6. Reg Down Says:

    James – Is it safe to say that based on the meticulous research, documentation, disassembly and restoration procedures that you and Chris have done to date on the Riva, in essence you have identified Perlita’s DNA and are now respectfully maintaining (or incorporating) that same DNA during each step of the restoration?

    Using the automotive analogy, can the engine stringers be compared to the original chassis of a car and the new mahogany planking be compared to reskinning a door, fender or quarter panel on an rare automobile?

    Just a thought…

  7. Torbjorn Skjoren Says:

    Dear James !
    got your email yesterday – lovely reading and great pictures – I must say!
    Gotten to the point that I must visit the site every morning before starting work..
    The project seems to come along very nicely – and I just love the way you fret over details..
    I routinely mail out the link to our members in the Rivaclub here in Norway.
    As you know, I had a great time meeting (and getting to know you) at Dora this year. Hoping to meet up again next year (or some other time/place).
    My best to Caroline
    ciao !

  8. James Ferris Says:

    Reg- DNA! I love that idea; after all, the wood was a living thing with its DNA. So yes, I like the thought of maintaining PERLITA’s DNA everywhere possible, and trying to ‘inject’ a similar DNA in the materials we’re adding for repairs/restoration. (maybe stack the new mahogany close to the old, in hopes of sympathetic osmosis…….?)

    And yes, the engine stringers are certainly a major component of the boats “chassis”, and in PERLITA’s case somewhat unique, as she was built with subsidiary engine supports inboard of the primary hull stringers. They were unfortunately affixed with mild steel brackets and bolts, all of which are terminally corroded and will be replaced. Given the ‘lump’ weighs just a tad over 2000 pounds, this is not a place to run too close to edge by repairing corroded steel fittings! And I certainly agree that the planks are the “skin” of the hull (I’ve always thought of them that way), though that can lead to the boat restoration arguments around planking vs plywood, fiberglassing over, etc…..

    Thanks for your great suggestion!

  9. James Ferris Says:

    Hi Torbjorn – Great to hear from you again! I had a great time at the Mt. Dora show, and was really happy to meet another guy so wrapped up in Rivas, and Tritones at that! Great that you are passing along our blogposts, thanks!, would be great for the other clubs could get the story, maybe through the VIVA RIVA…..I’ll have to copy them.

    Hoping you’re able to visit again, maybe to the west coast this time……in June…..Tahoe……take a turn at the wheel…..! You would feel right at home in the San Juan Islands too……


  10. Brian Driggs Says:

    What a great discussion! It could be said that we’re dealing with a sort of grey area at the fringe between literalism and idealism. One school of thought might require that those singular, identifiable bits of the vehicle are critical parts of the whole, while others might go more on feelings, taking their guidance from their perspective of the personality of the vehicle.

    Some people name their cars. A lot of pilots name their planes. But I’m pretty sure every captain names his boat. Naming a vehicle is probably a major part of that vehicle being thought to have a certain personality. At the core of “personality” is “person,” so I can see where it could be said that keeping a focus on DNA stands to be the difference between a restoration and cloning.

    So I can see where you’re coming from. You’re walking a fine line (if only in your mind) between performing the most accurate restoration of what rolled into the shop on a trailer, weathered and neglected while preserving the idea of the whole. You have to consider, with each component, whether it’s replacement will detract from the identity or the essence of the boat and proceed accordingly. That’s a tricky position to be in if ever there was one!

    In the case of PERLITA TOO, is the hull (am I using the right term, here?) the most important part? Or are we restoring more than just the physical boat itself, but the synergy? All the various bits add up to more than “just a boat.” Some bits make up more of her DNA than others. Sounds like you’re on the right path.

    Love this project.

  11. Paul Harrison Says:

    I have contemplated the same issues as Brian has articulated here, as I am doing a similar full restoration on a boat as we speak. A full restoration with near complete replacement of wood is not an easy undertaking to reconcile with “preservation”. However, I have come to a sort of understanding that works for me in my frequent ruminations on the topic.

    Wood is ephemeral – design is not – and what you and I and others who are forced by seriously deteriorated boats into these sorts of undertakings are trying to do is not simply preserve the boat – but the entire essence of the design and its’ execution at a moment in time. Perlita Too will have some original wood, mostly original hardware and in my opinion one of the most important parts – that magnificent Scripps V-12. Wood is an organic material and much more vulnerable to deterioration from all manner of sources than is the metal we find in cars. It just cannot last for very long at all. So, do all originals cease to exist when nature has taken its’ inevitable course? No.

    I do not agree that the “soul” of the boat is the hull, but I would suggest that the soul of a boat is more broadly expressed as a synthesis of all its’ founding and contributory elements – good and bad. This would include the design element, the material, the running gear, the engine – everything in one unique combination.

    The analogy to cars is of course most appropriate, yet we see restorations where almost everything, including sheet metal, has been replaced. The one thing that seems sacrosanct in most cases is, contrary to Brian’s suggestion with boats, the engine. It is not enough to be the same size engine – it has to be numbers matching. No one really cares about how many fenders or control arms or bumpers the car has had – it is the engine. I would argue that, especially in cases like Perlita Too, where she had a very unique and desirable engine and the engine has been retained, that she passes that test in the same way it is administered to special cars – no matter how much wood has been changed out.

    There have been many clones, recreations and resto-mods noted in the car world in recent years, and most of these probably perform better in most respects than do the originals that influenced them. We of course see this in the boat hobby today, with newly built Gar Wood’s, Hackers, Barrel Back’s and such available. They are what they are and there is no pretense about it. But, I would submit that any effort to either “preserve” or “restore” (using your brief description of the terms in this application) an original boat in a way as close to originally delivered as possible does not result in a clone or recreation. Most people restoring a boat like Perlita Too, and even many lesser boats, for judged competitions or just purposes of authenticity will try to retain as many original components of the boat as they can.

    For my own purposes, a boat becomes a replica or a clone when a person begins to waver from the original dimensions, materials or construction techniques of the original boat. Adding frames, thicker planking, changing the hardware or otherwise adulterating important design parameters results, in my opinion, in something that is no longer a restoration but a “tribute” or clone. There is seldom a valid argument for replacing an engine with modern power (seldom but certainly not never) You can restore a boat, but you can’t improve or re-engineer it to modern standards and try to call it a restoration. You can practically do so of course, but it won’t be as delivered and as the designer intended and both the heritage and design provenance is lost.

    I look at the owners of these boats, special automobiles and other collectible items as caretakers and conservators of important and aspects of history. I believe we have a duty to preserve and restore these artifacts for the enjoyment of future generations. I respect the efforts of all to preserve and restore antique boats, cars, etc. and would hope that others look upon them with the respect they deserve, even though sheet metal, chassis or wood has had to be replaced. Because certain elements of a thing may have been faithfully replaced out of necessity, it does not automatically impart the loss of the direct lineage the object has to it progenitor, in my opinion anyway.

  12. James Says:

    Hello to all from Taipei!

    Thank you Brain and Paul for your comments. This is a great discussion; I hope it spreads to other blogs and forums as well.

    I think Paul and I are basically in agreement.

    I would add however that the “soul” of the boat also encompasses the unique history of the particular assemblage of wood and metal (boat) that we refer to. With PERLITA TOO, I feel fortunate to know some of her history; from the fabulous fifties Hollywood connection, the association with Catalina Island the unique Californian resort; her racing history with the addition of the superchargers, unique in the world of Riva; to her rescue by perhaps the foremost wooden boat collector ever, Alan Furth of California. And I’m always looking for more…..

    So, I consider history as an important part of the soul, essence, character, of the boat.

    A question directed to Torbjorn: how do you think the European (I know, a pretty vast over-simplification ;-) viewpoint might be the same, or different to our discussion here?

    I’ll be 2 more weeks in China, sometimes with sketchy connections, but I’ll try to keep up!

    Best to all,