In 2001, the Gibbs returned Thunderbird to her original home in the Whittell boathouse. In 2007, Joan Gibb conveyed Thunderbird to the care of the non-profit Foundation 36 with the goal of conveying her to Thunderbird Lodge Preservation Society (TLPS) which took place in 2011.
The spring of 2014 it was discovered that her engines were in dire need of rebuilding and with the determination of donors, volunteers, and crew, both Allison engines were rebuilt and are in working condition. However, the water level of the lake was less than cooperative. Due to drought conditions, we were not able to get her out of the boathouse for cruises – but it was conducive for even more repairs.
Here is the next course of action according to Dave Triano of Triano Marine Design who will be overseeing the restoration:
Over her 75 year history, the Thunderbird yacht has been through some very significant changes. It has been said that over the years the wood in the bottom of the Thunderbird has been replaced twice. However, my own investigation of the actual wood and construction of the bottom has led to a much different conclusion.
The original hull is composed of two layers of South American Mahogany (Swietania Macrophylla species). The inner layer is laid on a diagonal to the keel, while the outer layer is laid longitudinally. In between these layers (each approximately 3/4” in thickness), a ‘gasket layer’ of canvas bedded in red lead was applied. This original construction method was common in the years prior to World War II, and it certainly had its drawbacks: although it basically kept the water outside of the boat and allowed for the natural expansion and contraction of the wood, this inner layer would lose its true effectiveness within 8-10 years of construction.
Wood samples have been taken throughout the hull, and it is clear that over 80% of the wood present on the bottom of Thunderbird is original wood; the previous work on the bottom only replaced about 20% of the outer planks present. This was normal practice, at the time that each wood plank was failing, there was probably no need seen to replace the ‘good wood’ on the rest of the hull. In addition, 3 sheets of stainless steel were added to the aft section of the hull, fully covering the existing wood structure from one chine to the other. Presumably, this was to remedy leakage issues in this area, and perhaps add some structural rigidity to the aft end of the boat, which tended to move much more with the installation of the Allison V-1710 engines.
Owners of original construction antique boats can attest to the annual ritual of the ‘soak-up’, where their boat is suspended in the water and the wood cells are allowed to swell with water. This process enlarges the cells, swelling the wood in all dimensions, and tightens up the interstices between planks that may have developed. This action is not a sign of health, it is a sign of the deterioration of the original fastening and placement of the wood, but it is an essential characteristic of this original construction technique. Before the very successful 2013 season, Thunderbird required almost 3 months of suspension to ‘soak up’…. clearly a sign of difficulty. The wood cells in the original wood of our amazing boat are essentially dead; they have lost their ability to move water through their cell membranes. This is why the decision has been made to replace the bottom on Thunderbird, we will ensure her safe, dry operation for the next 75 years, and perhaps more. In the next installment, I will discuss the technique we will be using to replace this tired wood, respecting the original construction and design while integrating a proven, modern technology to replace the original canvas/red lead gasket layer.
TRIANO MARINE DESIGN
So you can see we have some exciting plans for her future and more to come!