ENCINITAS — Since Ethan Huntington began his restoration of a 1950s San Diego County lifeguard rescue boat for his Eagle Scout service project, the yearlong journey presented a number of unforeseen challenges.
Following months of preparations and hours of considerable work, Huntington completed his refurbishing efforts this past week, preserving a vestige of Encinitas’ historical lifesaving service.
“There were a lot of hurdles we had to overcome to get it to this point,” Huntington said. “But even if it seemed really overwhelming, if I took it one step at time, I could do it.”
When he first discovered the shallow-draft boat, or “dory,” it had been sitting for several years in the San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas. In the 1940s and 50s, lifeguards used the dory to perform rescue missions ranging from Moonlight Beach to Fletcher Cove.
Barb Grice, executive director of the Heritage Museum, said she is amazed lifeguards were able to operate such a cumbersome vessel.
“This is a heavy boat,” Grice said. “Just think about rowing this to go save someone in the ocean. There are oars, but no engine. And you’re rowing out to save someone. It’s fascinating because that’s hard work. Think about how strong you have to be to lift those oars.”
In 2012, the boat was donated to the museum by Encinitas Lifeguard Captain Larry Giles, who had kept it in storage since the 1980s.
After nearly 70 years, the rescue dory — long since replaced with jet skis and surfboards by the Marine Safety Division of the Encinitas Fire Department — was timeworn and ravaged.
The less-than-seaworthy craft was covered in cobwebs and chipped paint, with deep cracks coursing through its rotten gunwales and hull. A pair of cheap wooden oars had swollen so large they no longer fit in the rusted metal collars, and a half-destroyed foam buoy clung to the sides without purpose.
But a decaying keel was just the type of project the 14-year-old Pacific Ridge High School freshman had been seeking.
“I really just wanted something different from everybody else,” Ethan Huntington told The Coast News. “I see a lot of kiosks and benches — they are very nice. But I wanted something different that would stand out and I would remember more.”
And there were days when things didn’t fit exactly to plan.
For example, the original anchor of the dory was still intact, but the chain had been corroded. Huntington bought a new replacement chain but spent nearly an entire day trying to detach the rust-laden metal links from the anchor with a hacksaw.
Despite the moments of hard labor, Huntington has paid for much of the renovation costs himself, including hiring a dry abrasive blasting team to strip the surface of the boat with high-velocity walnut shells — a biodegradable alternative to crystalline silica.
The restoration project’s finishing touches include a single-red stripe along the base of the hull and the word “LIFEGUARD” stenciled in black on both sides of the bow. He also purchased reproduction oars from the same model dory and an authentic, bright-orange buoy.
And last but not least, Huntington eventually spruced up the anchor and gave it a fresh coat of silver paint.
Outside of his restoration project, Huntington loves math, origami, drawing, playing piano and is currently writing a study guide for students, which he hopes to publish and share with his English teacher.
“I’d like to thank my Dad,” Huntington said. “Sometimes I like to procrastinate when something seems too overwhelming. But he keeps pushing me, pushing me, and I actually get the work done.”
Grice said she hopes the remodeled boat will be featured in the Heritage Museum’s Encinitas Holiday Parade. Additionally, Grice said she plans to refurbish the boat’s trailer and create a historical lifeguard display at the museum based on the Huntington’s work.