This isn't just any 17-foot Stingray bowrider; it's the very first boat this Hartsville, S.C.,
builder made. In the subsequent years, its original owner had passed away and the boat was
crumbling away under a shed.
For Mike Weatherford, the first Stingray was his Holy Grail. "This boat has 001 on the transom,"
says the longtime Stingray employee, who mounted the engine on that boat 26 years ago. "I knew
where 004 was, but I didn't want number 2, 3, or 4. I only wanted number 1."
Weatherford tried three times to buy the boat from the Miller family, who owned it, finally
getting a "yes" just in time for Stingray's 25th anniversary in 2004.
During that time, Al Fink, Stingray's founder and president, didn't know about the mission.
"I went to Mr. Fink's wife and told her what I was up to," Weatherford says. "She told me to buy
it and let her know how much it was going to take; she wanted to give it to him for a birthday
Weatherford gave her the title and the original bill of sale. Then Weatherford went to work
on rescuing the historic boat, pecking away at it for two years. "The boat didn't mean anything
till we got to our 25th anniversary," he says. "I wasn't in a hurry."
Boating Life Magazine
WHAT HE DID:
- The fittings were eat up by saltwater. "We used chrome-coated aluminum on those first
boats," Weatherford says. Stainless fittings are standard now, but in order to be authentic he
put on originals.
- The interior was completely ripped out. The carpet was shot and the seats and side
panels were rotten. Weatherford replaced what he could, then went back to the Wise Company in
Greelyville, South Carolina, which did the interiors for the early Stingrays. Wise still had the
original records and recreated the interior, including the wooden motorbox.
- The engine wasn't running, so Weatherford rebuilt the carburetor.
- The trailer, which was also original, enjoyed a facelift, too. Weatherford replaced
the bunks and side steps, then recarpeted them. He sandblasted the frame, repainted it, put on
new tires and swapped the rusted-out winch for a new one.
- The rails, both bow and stern, Weatherford redid. The bow rail was easy enough to
make at Stingray, but because of a tricky radius in the bends of the stern rail, it had to be
outsourced to Bob Walwork in Florida.
As if he had a time machine, Weatherford
brought Stingray boat No. 1 back from 1979. It helped mark the company's 25th anniversary, and
Fink has been glad to have it back and on display at the offices. While Weatherford has tested
the boat and engine on Stingray's "garden hose," he's never run it on the water—and likely
never will. After the boat has come so far, "It ain't going nowhere," he says.