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Anchored Memories

One Texan relives childhood memories through his grandfather’s boat

One limb of Richard Bay’s family tree is pure mahogany, carefully layered with 23 coats of varnish. “Like a dining room table,” he says.

Bay can climb into this particular tree, crank the engine and cruise off across Lake Belton with his grandchildren. He does that, too, thanks to a serendipitous purchase he made a few years back.

At that time, Bay was retiring from his job as an executive with Mrs Baird’s Bakeries and thinking about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He figured he might want to revisit some of his childhood.

Bay is a native of the Killeen area, where his father’s family farmed on land that is now part of the Fort Hood military installation. He spent summers on an island in a Vermont lake, where Bay and his siblings would visit. They loved to ride in a classic Chris-Craft inboard his grandfather, Edmond Richard, kept docked on the private island.

“I was born in 1957, and he bought the boat about the same time,” Bay says. “It was always a treat for us to go up there. We were just 3 miles from the Canadian border, and we’d cruise up into Canada on the lake.”

But kids grow up, grandparents inevitably grow older, and Bay’s grandfather decided to sell the boat in about 1985. The boat, a solid-wood 1949 model with a distinctive enclosed cockpit, passed into other hands and slipped away into history.

“My parents saw it once out beside a barn, but we never knew what happened to it,” Bay says.

Years later came Bay’s decision to try to find a boat like the one he remembered. One turned up in Las Vegas, but that didn’t work out. Then one turned up for sale in Vermont, and after looking at photos of the boat, he knew he’d struck gold.

“I knew it was his when I saw the pictures because he was a Chevy dealer back then and had installed seats (with arm rests) inside the cabin,” says Bay, a member of Hamilton County Electric Cooperative. “I climbed into the cockpit, and there were the chairs. Plus, in a map pocket were two registration cards with my grandfather’s name on them.”

With some negotiation, his grandfather’s boat returned to the family after 30 years. He brought it back to Texas and began restoration work. “At first, my brother and I tried to do it, but it was too big a job,” Bay says. “We found a place in Lockhart that does that kind of work and took it there.”

Rick Thomson, a Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative member, handled the restoration for Bay at his shop in Lockhart.

“It was fantastic to be able to work on that boat,” Thomson says. “You just don’t see many of those, especially in Texas.”

Thomson, who has been restoring boats for more than a decade, says he liked the fact that Bay searched for a boat like his grandfather’s and found the exact boat he had ridden in as a child. “We had a professional painter come in to do the name on the transom, Sweet Memories,” Thomson says, noting that the boat was restored to its original factory condition.

“He will be able to pass it on to his grandkids, and they should be able to pass it on to their grandkids,” Thomson says. “It should last a long, long time.”

The result of that work is a boat, with an original sale price of about $4,000, that is absolutely the vessel Bay remembers from his childhood. Restoring the boat to its former condition took time and care, including the five-plus days that the boat had to spend in the water before the wood soaked up enough water to work properly.

Now Bay, who loves the chugging sound of the sturdy, 158-horsepower inboard when he starts the engine, loves to cruise Lake Belton and hear the “oohs” and “ahs” from people who admire his classic craft. “It was kind of an unbelievable feeling,” Bay says of finding the boat again after more than 30 years.

Bay’s family likes the water and spends lots of time fishing and cruising there. He owns five boats, including two bass boats and a pair of personal watercraft.

They don’t ski behind the Chris-Craft, though. “We tried that when I was a kid, but it’s so heavy that it puts out a big wake. It’s made more for cruising than anything else,” he says. “I have two young grandkids, and when I took them out, they sat in my lap just like I had sat on [my grandfather’s] lap. That was really emotional.”

Mike Leggett, a member of Pedernales EC, is a writer and photojournalist based in Burnet.