Mike Teusink didn’t grow up around boats. Born into a farming family in Holland, Mich., his childhood was filled with horses and hayrides. Although he admired the craftsmanship of older wooden boats from builders such as Chris-Craft and Gar Wood, Teusink thought they would always be out of his reach.
After graduating from college with degrees in history and education, he began building wooden boats as a hobby while teaching at an Indiana middle school. He built his first kayak in the living room of his 1,000-square-foot apartment.
“I have a very loving and understanding wife,” Teusink says.
A move back to Holland to be closer to his family left him without a job, so Teusink decided to try working on wooden boats until he found another place to teach. In 2004, he began restoring antique and classic runabouts and other vessels at Macatawa Bay Boat Works in Saugatuck.
“My plan was to work on boats for a year, then go back to teaching. But once I got started, I couldn’t quit,” he says.
Teusink met Kirk Wingard at the boat restoration company, and the two quickly became friends. Wingard was born into a boating family. His grandfather, Earnest Wingard, had been the captain of a 92-foot yacht built in 1925, the Verano, and several other Great Lakes vessels, while his parents owned a series of smaller boats they used on Lake Macatawa.
By the time Wingard went to college, he knew he wanted to work with older vessels.
“I graduated college with a business degree,” Wingard says, “then went right back to boats.”
When his family’s neighbor, Steve Northuis, started Grand Craft Boats in 1979, Wingard began working at the new shop. He designed boats and created patterns for brand-new models.
Eventually Grand Craft was sold, and Wingard followed Northuis to his newest venture — Macatawa Bay Boat Works.
Two years after meeting, Wingard and Teusink had had one too many lunch break discussions about dreams and goals, and they left Macatawa Bay Boat Works. They started their own venture, The Wooden Runabout Co., in 2006. There, they repair, maintain, and restore classic and antique wooden boats. The company also builds new boats from their own designs, or to match a buyer’s unique wants and needs.
Located south of the Holland airport, the shop is filled with planking, boat parts, old fittings, and the machinery needed to refinish old boats or fabricate new ones.
In one room, a CNC machine waits silently for its next commands. The big, computer-controlled cutter can create the pieces needed to construct the partners’ beautiful creations. Parts for restorations are all cut by hand.
The Wooden Runabout Co. can accommodate boats as long as 40 feet, and an overhead lift helps remove the wooden vessels from their trailers when work on the bottom or hull sides demands it.
While The Wooden Runabout Co. works with lots of Chris-Crafts, the shop also sees boats from many of America’s other early pleasure boat builders, including Hacker-Craft, Century, and Riva.
“When we first started, the shop was so empty we thought we’d never fill it up,” Wingard recalls. Clients typically fall into two categories. The first is the owner who likes the finer things in life and loves boats. These are clients who spare no expense to bring an old classic back to its former glory.
The second is the “Average Joe,” who inherited his or her grandfather’s classic wooden boat and wants to maintain it for the family’s future generations.
The first job Teusink and Wingard tackled was the restoration of a 1936 19-foot Chris-Craft Special racing boat. Wingard says 51 were built, but only six are left.
“It was one of only a handful that survived,” he says.
Today, the shop is busy with four projects, including a 33-foot 1932 Gar Wood “Baby Gar,” a long, sleek, wood-hulled beauty that Teusink and Wingard maintain for its owner. The boat is in the shop to be sanded and revarnished, although its surfaces already shine like mirrors.
Meanwhile, Scott Miller works to restore his 1974 31-foot Chris-Craft Commander. Although Miller’s boat is fiberglass, Teusink and Wingard are happy to provide advice and hands-on help.
“You should see some of the boats that come here,” Miller says. “Some are nothing but driftwood before they’re restored.”
The company generally works on three or more restoration projects every year, in addition to performing a variety of maintenance and repair tasks on clients’ antique and classic boats.
Ask either Teusink or Wingard what their favorite restoration project might be, and both will say: “The next one.”
The Wooden Runabout Co.