Law student Brennan Parrish knew he was taking on a major DIY project when he decided to restore a 1960 13-foot Whaler Sport to its original glory. It took a lot of work, but with grit, determination, and ample help from his wife, nephew and father, he successfully brought the boat back to peak condition.
“It all started when my wife, Ann, saw an older 17-foot Montauk out on the water and was captivated by the blue interior,” Brennan explains. “I’d been looking for a smaller boat we could run around in. Something that still had enough space to bring our stuff along.”
“In researching, I realized Whalers have something of a cult following,” he continues. “Partly for the unsinkability, but also the whole Whaler community — it’s just a different dynamic, nothing like you get with jon boats or cruisers. People are dedicated to the true, authentic experience. That’s really what got me hooked.”
Brennan and Ann located the 13-footer down in Mississippi (roughly a ﬁve-hour drive from their home in Knoxville, Tennessee) and were pleased to learn it still had all its original wood and no damage to the ﬁberglass — making it a prime candidate for restoration. “I picked it up, headed straight for the shop and started sanding away!” Brennan says with a laugh.
He soon discovered the Whaler had been covered in ﬁve layers of house paint by the previous owner, so it took quite a bit of elbow grease to sand through to the Whaler logo. Of course, sanding was just one aspect of the project. After a thorough assessment, they pulled out the interior structures, removed the engine, and ﬂipped the boat for a better view of the hull.
“Luckily it wasn’t waterlogged, but that’s still a lot of boat to ﬂip,” Brennan recalls. “It took my cousin, my dad, and two friends to get it turned over.”
They tackled the bottom first, applying layers of primer and paint, then ﬂipped it back over to do some minor ﬁller work and restore the interior’s eye-catching blue color. “My dad is fantastic with a brush and a roller, which was a big plus,” he says. “We’d take turns, putting on a layer of primer or topcoat, doing coats of varnish while other stuﬀ was drying. Ann was a great sport too.”
Applying a new rub rail posed the biggest challenge. “We wanted to use a beeﬁer one, a more rigid material like the kind that are common on today’s Whalers, rather than what they were using back in the ’60s,” Brennan explains. “That stuﬀ doesn’t like to cooperate! My wife and I had kind of a… well, an exciting time installing that.”
Finally, they polished the boat’s original brass components to a mirror ﬁnish, and varnished the mahogany seat to a brilliant shine. The final touch? They inscribed the seat with “Vessels of Freedom,” a phrase from Ann’s favorite Kenny Chesney song, “Boats.”
Since completing the project, the couple has put many miles on their engine, boating all around the upper Tennessee River. Neyland Stadium is just a mile away from their slip, so there was never any question they’d join the Vol Navy, a ﬂeet of UT fans who boat to every home foot-ball game and cheer from the water.
The Parrishes have also trailered their Sport across the South, boating in the Florida Keys and South Carolina, among other spots. They have a map hanging in their home oﬃce with pins for each destination visited. “Honestly, restoring the boat is one of the best memories,” Brennan says. “To have something like that we can look back on — and now to have something we can actually use!”
In fact, the project was so worth the eﬀort, they’re taking on another one: Brennan recently picked up a 1960s-era Squall (one of Whaler’s entries into the sailboat market). “It was one of my only other bucket-list restorations,” he says. “I hate to use the word ‘adorable,’ but the Squalls really are.”
“I’m never too busy to talk about Whalers,” he adds with a grin. “Finding one, restoring it, taking it out — it’s kind of the American Dream.”