There are many beautiful boats docked at the various marinas in Key West, but there’s one vessel in particular that seems more at home there than the others. A gleaming 1938, 40-foot Chris Craft Back Again looks right at home in these waters. You almost expect to see Hemingway returning from a fishing trip, docking his boat, Pilar, in the slip next to her. Back Again has had an interesting history, and it was determination and grit that got her to her home in Key West.
Any boat restoration takes time and energy, and Back Again’s restoration story started back in 1982, when Ron Jung decided to find a boat that he could fix up and use as a cruiser. He spotted a derelict wooden boat resting on her bottom in a boatyard near Buffalo, New York. After paying the yard owner $100 to load it on a flatbed truck, Jung became the proud owner of the aft cockpit Chris Craft. Despite her very rough condition, he thought he would have her restored and floating again within a year. At the very least if things went wrong, it would make a good chicken coop on his farm or a playhouse for his kids, he thought. Little did he know it would become the challenge and promise of his life, and the thing that would keep him going through the toughest of times. Twenty-six years later, he would finally launch her, fully restored and ready for a new life on the water.
Jung started off slowly, just tinkering at first, but he soon sold his farm and gained more free time to start serious restoration work on the Chris Craft. The first major tasks were to replace the stem and transom. With no prior restoration experience, the work was slow going. He learned as he went, reading whatever he could get his hands on. He also recruited the help of his son Joe and his brother Skip.
As things were moving along with Back Again, they moved the boat to an inland yard in Oldsmar, Florida, near Jung’s new home and work. But life got in the way of the restoration; the oppressive heat and constant rain showers, along with a hectic new work schedule, meant that very little was accomplished. They stored the boat under a canvas, and work crawled to a near stop.
It was at this point that tragedy struck. Jung’s son and brother both passed away within a short time span, and he was left alone to do the restoration. Before they passed, however, Jung had made a promise to both that he would finish the restoration – a promise that would give him the drive to complete their dream and would help him through tough times ahead.
Jung sold off the rental apartments that were taking so much of his free time and went back to work on his boat, installing a new deck during the drier winter season. The next season he fiberglassed the wooden hull. The following season he built and installed the sundeck. Back Again was finally starting to take shape, but work was still going too slowly for Jung. He decided to move the boat one last time, to a warehouse in Safety Harbor where he could work on her year-round and not have to worry about weather delays. Every day for four years Jung went to work on her, driven by his promise.
Tragedy would strike again, however when Jung was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had to undergo debilitating radiation and chemotherapy that would drain him of all his energy and leave him in a perpetual state of discomfort. Jung was determined though, and less than six months into the treatment, he returned to the warehouse and started work again. The work was slow — his first day back he was only able to place three screws before exhaustion stopped him. As the days and weeks passed, he regained his strength and his work became a therapy of sorts, giving him a way to mark his physical improvement.
Then Jung suffered another unexpected blow. While cutting a piece of wood for the boat, he had an accident with a table saw and almost cut his thumb completely off. Work shut down for two weeks, but after everything that had happened Jung was not going to stop. He recruited friends to help him with tasks that required two hands and even took on hourly help until he was able to have full use of both hands again.
Tragedy and health issues weren’t the only things slowing the progress of the restoration, either. The new Yanmar diesels that Jung bought were taller than the engine compartment, so the cabin deck had to be raised 9 inches to accommodate the new motors, and the main salon ceiling consequently had to be raised as well. With the help of an engineer, the already-restored crown roof and windshields were painstakingly raised to the new required height. An air-conditioned fly bridge was also added, to keep Jung out of the sun and provide him with a better view while cruising.
Finally, with the majority of the main hull and structure completed, Jung turned his attention to the interior and the yacht’s systems. A new galley, heads, multiple A/C systems, electronics and custom salon fixtures and furniture were added. The galley got a full set of custom cabinets and the salon was fitted with a custom couch and crab trap coffee table. No detail was ignored, and after 26 years and thousands of hours of meticulous labor, along with a more than $300,000 investment, Back Again was ready to launch. A promise kept.
After brief shakedown cruises on the West Coast of Florida, Jung took the boat cruising the East Coast and on to Key West, where Back Again sits today, awaiting her next journey. Jung has dreams of taking her to Cuba, and judging by his determination and grit, there’s no doubt he will make that happen. May you have fair winds and calm seas, Ron — you deserve them.