ALTHEA - 1929 Chris-Craft 38' Commuting Cruiser

ALTHEA's Story
by Les Gunther, January 2007

In the Depression year of 1928 the Chris Craft Co. brought to market Model 276, a 38 foot "commuter cruiser" , which was the first cruiser to be added to their product line. It was designed to carry 20 passengers in comfort at speeds up to 30 m.p.h.

ALTHEA was hull number 5025, built at the Chris Craft facilities at Algonac, Michigan in 1929. Her first owner, William F. Ladd of New York used her as a commuter between his summer home on Long Island and his office in lower Manhattan.

On her way in San Juan Channel.
She was subsequently owned by several people who gave her different names. In 1976, owners Warren Moore and Robert Calaviero found her in bad condition in New York and began an intensive 10-year rebuild. Most of the work was done above the waterline, including a new cabintop and cockpits.

In 2005, she was purchased by Les and Betsy Gunther from Hollis Baker at Harbor Springs, Michigan. Patrick Curry was brought in as a partner with the responsibility for restoration. She was trucked out to Friday Harbor, Washington in May of 2005 and  launched at Jensen's Shipyard. As she had been stored in a hanger in Harbor Springs for the previous three years, her seams were open and it was believed that once she was in the water that they would swell and become water- tight.

Though the water intake slowed there was enough flow to cause concern and she was taken to Jensens Motorboat Co. in Seattle, Washington for inspection.
At Jensen's Shipyard in Seattle, WA
When the garboards were removed it was found that there was extensive damage to the frames, floors, keel, stem and transom.

Most of the problems were located under the fuel, water and waste tanks and were not visible until approached from below, hence not becoming evident in surveys. No rot was found, however previous repairs had been
inadequate and poorly done and much of the damage was from age and hard use.

Because of the excellent condition of the boat from the water-line up and the fact that she is rare and of historical significance,  it was decided to completely rebuild  from two planks above the water-line down. The chine logs, all the frames and floors, the stem, the lower half of the transom, the inner and outer hulls, the dead wood and shaft log, the engine beds and mounts were replaced.Casting of a new propeller shaft strut was made and installed. There is not a square inch of wood below the water line that dates prior to 2006. With the use of better materials and techniques she is a far stronger and better boat than the day she was built.

Framing completed.
While access to the hull interior was available new fuel and water tanks were installed as well as a new waste holding tank. Both the AC and DC electrical system were replaced, new batteries and a new charger were installed. A halon fire extinguisher system was added to the engine room and all other safety systems were brought current.

ALTHEA was re-launched in April of 2006. Her repairs proved to be excellent and she was entered in the Seattle's Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival in early July where she was awarded first prize in all categories. She was then entered into the Victoria Classic Boat Festival where she earned The Best Power Boat award.  She also took first prize at the 17th Annual Chris- Craft Rendezvous in Port Orchard and at the La Conner Wooden Boat Show.

Sanding the new mahogany planking.
Of the original sixty five of this model that were produced between 1928 and 1932, it is estimated that there are fewer than nine surviving. In 1930 Chris- Craft produced a 48 foot model cruiser with a very limited production but it was the 38 foot model 276 that was the apex of Chris- Craft products. The publication "The Legend of Chris-Craft" by Jeffrey Rodengen states, " The Queen of the fleet was the new 38 foot 30 mile Commuting Cruiser, and arguably the Smiths' crowning achievement for the decade."

Hull rebuild nearly complete.
Extensive efforts have been taken to keep ALTHEA as original as possible. The temptation to install modern conveniences has been resisted except for the engine and toilet. The original engine was probably a V8 which produced 250 hp and that was manufactured by Chris-Craft. There was some question as to the reliability of that model and most of them were replaced. The date when her original engine was discarded is not known but at least three other motors were installed. Today Althea is driven by an OMC Cobra 5.2  big block Chevrolet. She does 30 mph plus at top speed and cruises at 15 to 20 mph at moderate power.

She only needs a fine finish now.
The original toilet was small in size, low in stature and located below the retractable basin, all of which combined to make a most difficult and uncomfortable facility. It was replaced with an electric head which has been moved to the bulkhead opposite the sink. The original levers and handles were retained for looks but it is now a functioning civilized toilet.

After ALTHEA won at Victoria where the competition is fierce and the judging rigorous, the head of the board of judges was asked why they chose her over other fine entries and he replied  " It was because she has not been loaded up with all the modern conveniences and that she was being used for what she was intended, fast transportation in luxury".

Like new, on the way to relaunching in 2006.

Now that ALTHEA has established her credentials at the boat shows she will temporarily retire from competition. Though she has four bunks, a small galley and a head, all are minimal. Her water taps are hand pumps, her stove is portable and the ice box is old fashioned and requires block ice. In other words, she is configured as was intended in 1929. She is not a house boat or a long distance cruiser, but she will get you to where you want to go in a hurry and in style, and wherever she goes she gathers envy and admiration.

Tom Davidson now owns ALTHEA (2008) and cruises her on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.


This is in no way the end of ALTHEA'S story....