One of the lake’s newer residents is about to become a common sight plying the waters of Smith Mountain Lake. Her name is Tugly, a combination of “tugboat” and “ugly,” but she’s definitely neither of those.
Instead, she’s a high-prow 26-foot cruiser with a bright red hull and white topsides. She’s been transformed from severe rot, rust and decay by Mike and Chetta Worley, formerly of Safety Harbor, Florida who now live full time at the lake.
Mike’s familiarity with the lake goes back to his childhood when his aunt and uncle lived in Moneta. “I remember being out on the lake with them even before it was at full pond,” he said. “Other cousins have been moving back here to retire, and my sister has some lake property as well. It’s the natural place for us to settle.”
The lake’s change of seasons also fits the couple’s dream of living in a climate where a closed-cabin boat like Tugly is perfect even in winter months. “When we can be out enjoying a steaming cup of coffee and the serenity of a seemingly-private waterway,” Chetta said.
A salvage yard in Tarpon Springs had posted a trawler-style vessel made by Outer Reef Marine of Bradenton. It was hull No. 11 of 35 that were built. They found the boat looking sad and dowdy in a sea of back-lot weeds—sitting atop foam blocks and littered with discarded fishing gear. The couple paid $2,000 for the vessel that was then named Cecilia.
“We knew the hull held water,” Mike said. “There was 3 feet of it inside, completely covering her rusted diesel engine.”
Having previously restored a Cal 33 sailboat, the couple knew the challenges they faced. Mike, a capable do-it-yourselfer with an electrical engineering degree, was full time managing the systems architecture department for a Tampa defense contractor.
Chetta, who served as the extra hands on the project, handled all the housekeeping and home maintenance chores, allowing Mike to work most nights and weekends restoring the boat.
Mike tracked down old drawings and brochures to guide his reconstruction—cabin doors and the mock smokestack atop the cabin were totally missing, for example. However, he opted to completely reconfigure the interior to open up sight lines and make the vessel more functional. “The design part is among the work I like the best,” he said. “That and the woodworking.”
And there was plenty of woodworking. Literally every bit of lumber had to be replaced. “Stringers, bulkheads, flooring, cabinetry,” Mike recalled.
It took 25 sheets of plywood to recreate an interior, along with plenty of teak trim. Fiberglass work to strengthen the hull and repair gaps in the topsides also was required. “Anyone who says fiberglass layup isn’t nasty work hasn’t done it,” he added.
Mike’s electrical background was handy for designing and installing the boat’s heating, lighting, stove, microwave, refrigerator/freezer, TV, generator, appliances, pumps, ventilators, navigation, back-up camera, engine and bow-thruster. He wired most all the storage and service areas to light automatically when opened. He installed the galley sink, head and shower and trimmed the boat’s offshore-running fuel capacity to make room for more fresh water, hot water heater and waste collection.
Chetta purchased an industrial sewing machine to make the upholstery for Tugly’s V-berths, salon settee, drapes, headliners and assorted trim panels.
“We learned long ago that investing in the tools needed to do the work ourselves saves money in the long run,” Mike said.
Mike kept receipts for materials, fittings and components that totaled $40,000 and has logged 3,000 hours of direct labor. A marine survey of the restored vessel pegs its replacement value at $175,000 — proof of the value added by hard work and prudent shopping. Tugly’s market value, based on comparisons with similar-vintage trawlers made by Nordic, Ranger and American Tugs, is around $120,000.
While marine surveys typically are devoid of compliments, Tugly’s inspection documents convey the excellence the couple’s restoration work.
"It is unusual to find the creativity shown in the redesign of the interior,” the survey stated. “The level of skill and craftsmanship in so many areas, and the devotion to see it through to completion in one man with the help from his wife are impressive. From the technical drawings, fiberglass repairs and paint work on the hull and deck through to the carpentry (both frame and trim) the mechanical, electrical and plumbing installations, the vessel is well done."
Before being trucked here in April 2018, Tugly spent four years landlocked in front of the couple’s Florida home. “But when it came time for Mike to retire and the house to be listed, a big boat in the driveway and a garage loaded with tools and other restoration remnants wasn’t in the staging plan.” Fortunately, they had a dock on a lot they purchased in 2011 at Smith Mountain Lake. The couple designed and built it mostly themselves for Tugly.
The Worleys are looking forward to exploring the lake in their unique vessel, and others will have a chance to see Tugly at this year’s Antique and Classic Boat Show at Mariners Landing in Huddleston on Sept. 14.