For many years now, the Toronto Chapter ACBS Spring Workshop Tour in Muskoka has been considered by boating enthusiasts to be a spring ritual, a kick-off to the classic boating season in Southern Ontario. The tour gives the participants a rare glimpse into many of the area boat shops to see first hand what restoration projects are under way, as well as the work going on behind the scenes as the shops prepare the various antique & classic wooden boats for another season on the lakes.
This year, thanks to Woody Boater correspondent “Cobourg Kid” we have a chance to ride along with him during his marathon trip last Saturday… and you can almost smell the scent of fresh varnish in the air during his story today.
Yesterday in Part 1 of the tour, he stopped in at Windsor Boat Works, Brackley Boats, Clark Wooden Boats, Tim Butson Wooden Boat Builder, Harwood Watercraft and Traditional Boat Finishes before stopping for lunch. (You can see Part 1 of Cobourg Kid’s story by Clicking Here)
Now he’s fed and watered and back on the road for the afternoon… So imagine you are sitting in the cockpit of “Miss Canada IV”, pull up a seat and hang on for Part 2 on the tour.
Toronto Chapter ACBS – 2013 Spring Workshop Tour
One day, 13 stops and no sleep ‘til Cobourg- Part 2
by Cobourg Kid
Despite the passage of time I can still recall the sumptuous lunches that the Toronto ACBS Chapter organized for its spring tours back around 1990. While this year’s venue (the new Port Carling Community Centre) does not have that nostalgic, well used, country club feel that the creaky old resorts we used to haunt did, it’s still an excellent facility with plenty of room for a big crowd, which we now had in abundance as the weather shifted from a cold and damp morning to a warm and sunny afternoon. The food, on the other hand, was spectacular with homemade chicken or beef pot-pies, a multitude of salads and a huge desert table to choose from.
One of the best things about lunches at these events is the opportunity to meet someone new and share ideas and interests.
In this case I was fortunate to share a table with one of the few American members of the Toronto Chapter. Turns out his family, originally from the Pittsburgh area, has summered in Muskoka for over 100 years and continues to conserve and use a number of watercraft acquired in those early days. One of the boats in their care is the elegant “Norwood II” which was delivered to his forbearers in 1911 after having been built on the ground floor of the H.C Minett Motor Boat Company, within hearing distance of the Bracebridge falls.
After a pleasant 45 minute lunch break I headed out once again, this time to Tom Adams shop at the west end of the Village of Port Carling. As viewers of Woody Boater are well aware, Tom is the craftsperson who has been charged with the ponderous task of repairing, strengthening, and putting “Miss Canada IV’s” woody parts and mechanicals back together.
To assist him in that owner Bobby Genovese has engaged a cadre of specialists, such as Peter Grieve (Flight Engineering, UK), whose team rebuilt “Miss Canada‘s” mighty 3,000 HP Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, Norm Woods and Mark Wretham who have taken charge of engine and mechanicals installation, Launi (Wilson) Elliott (who conducted crucial research), Cindy Corp (who played a big role in refinishing) and Jamie Smith & Harry Wilson who continue to coordinate and execute this massive and exciting project.
Arriving at Tom’s small shop (he is planning on building a larger facility soon) at about 2:30 pm I found the place literally awash with people, all wanting to take advantage of the opportunity to view “Miss Canada IV” and ask the team questions; which were patiently being fielded by Tom, Jamie Smith and Harry Wilson.
Taking advantage of the opportunity I squeezed in to the crowd and captured a few photos, some showing some recent progress that the team has made. As my goal was to get to all 13 shops on the tour, I chose to reduce the team’s burden and simply e-mail Harry a few questions the next day.
As planned, I e-mailed Harry Wilson the next day and asked him if he could provide Woody Boater viewers with a brief overview outlining what hurdles have been recently surmounted by the team and what remains to be completed before “Miss Canada IV” can go back in the lake. I also asked whether flooding would delay testing, what testing would entail and where it would be conducted. In closing I asked the question that all of Woody Boaters viewers have on their mind. Will “Miss Canada IV” be ready for the Toronto ACBS Chapter’s annual Boat Show in Gravenhurst on July 6, 2013.
Harry quickly and very graciously responded with the following message:
“Come hell or high water (we’ve already had the latter, so bring on the flames!), we will be ready for Gravenhurst. My tag line for the event is “No matter where you are in Ontario, you’re going to hear that Griffon on July 6, so you might as well be in Gravenhurst to watch Miss Canada IV do her stuff.”
“Testing will take place in Gravenhurst. We will try to re-create some of the photos from the 1st round of tests back in 1949. Both boat builder Tom Adams and engine builder Peter Grieve from the UK will be in attendance, as well as owner Bobby Genovese.”
“Obviously the flooding has put us on hold until the debris in the water disappears. The last thing we want to do is hit something untoward.”
“The regimen will be very strict. The 1st test will be strictly systems-focused. We will be checking to make certain we don’t have any leaks, that oil & water pressures & temperatures are on target, that the running hardware (strut, prop & shaft, shaft log & stuffing box) are vibration & leak free, etc.”
“We will limit the first run to 800 rpm, and will “go up the rpm ladder” in subsequent tests. It’s interesting to note that our “idling” speed calculations show that if we idle long enough, MC IV will hit 32 mph! Some idle!”
“Once we are certain that the mechanical installations are all ok, and that the boat appears to be balanced and responds well to the helm, then we will increase rpm/speed runs. Our 1st series of tests will be limited to about 75 mph. By the time July 6 arrives, we hope to be well over 100 mph.”
“One of the great challenges for a displacement hydroplane, especially a radical design like the van Patten “keel knuckle”, will be in establishing that critical LCG (longitudinal centre of gravity) where the boat neither plows nor tail-drags. “Miss Canada IV” should lift out of the water almost level all the way along her wetted surface. The ideal configuration will be for her to achieve a balance along her keel at the 1st & 2nd steps; initially the prop will be completely submerged, but as she picks up speed, the prop will begin to break the surface.”
“There have been numerous hurdles we have had to clear. Besides the obvious challenges inherent in re-inventing 1949 technology (Bobby Genovese wants her to be as close to her original configuration as possible and as safe), we have added other elements to make certain we keep the engine healthy and the boat sound that were not in the original:”
a) The hull has been considerable strengthened, especially at the 2nd step and at the transom. When Tom Adams took her apart in 2011, two huge cracks in her chines at the 2nd step were motivation enough.
b) We have added engine oil and water pre-heaters; the thinking here is that we never want to “cold shock” the engine.
c) The prop shaft and the strut are stronger than those used in 1949. Also, the rudder has been re-designed to increase its reach into the water. When MC IV ran at speed in 1949 & 1950, less than 4″ of rudder was actually in the water. No wonder she was hard to manage.
d) We will be installing a fire-suppression system in the engine cavity.
e) One of the biggest challenges we faced in our attempt to re-create the … the cockpit. For the longest time, we had no definitive photos of either the dashboard & gauges, or the floorboard/pedal layouts. We finally found revealing photos just about two months ago. Tom had to then undo some of the work on the boat to bring things into alignment with the new photos. This cost us time.
f) finding/building a trailer for a boat of this size and unusual bottom configuration has presented more than its fair share of headaches.
Cheers – Harry Wilson
Departing Tom Adams shop I headed back into Downtown Port Carling to Visit Duke Boats Limited. Charlie Duke founded the business in 1924. The current Duke building has been a fixture in the community since 1932 when it was rebuilt after the original was claimed by a disastrous fire.
Originally focused on Boat building and motor repair, the business was sold in 1968 to Ed Skinner who operated it as a restoration and repair facility for wooden boats. Following the great recession, Mr. Skinner closed down operations in 2008 and the building lay vacant, and a little forlorn. Until late 2011 when it was purchased by Kathy McCarthy and Jeremy Fowler, who had previously been operating a similar operation just up the lake at Minett.
Under the leadership of Jeremy and Kathy the old Duke building has been transformed both inside and out. Dockside space was repurposed to house not only the Bent Rudder Café, which opened in in spring 2012, but also to accommodate a full service marina equipped to maintain all types and makes of boat. Up in the second story workshop the owners have re-organized and cleared out the space to provide efficient quarters to build, refinish and restore wooden boats.
At the time of my visit the Duke building had, unfortunately, been inundated by the recent high water levels. The flood has been attributed to an above average snow fall this winter and a quick melt coupled with heavy rains. Because of the flood conditions the Café and the dockside marina have had to temporarily closed. Upstairs, however, work continues unabated.
On arrival I asked Dylan, a member of team Duke, about the projects the Jeremy and Kathy currently have on the books. He advised that six craftspeople are currently employed at Dukes and at present they have approximately six projects underway.
There are currently two vintage boats in Duke’s finishing room.
One being a mid to late 1950s “Canadian” brand cedar strip fishing boat (Canadian was one of the brands built and sold by the Peterborough Canoe Company). According to Dylan the boat had already undergone surgery, having had a number of new full length ribs bent in to replace those originals that had cracked and /or rotted at the keel. Dylan also mentioned that the keel itself had been replaced as part of the work. The boat was subsequently stripped and is being re-finished inside and out including new bottom paint. While checking out the Canadian, I noted that the new ribs were practically indistinguishable from the old if it were not for the new copper fasteners. Dylan responded that was intentional, Duke’s routinely apply stain to blend repairs with the original wood.
The refinishing room is also presently being shared by a 24 foot 1949 Greavette Sheerliner which is two feet longer than the normal stock model and therefore somewhat unusual. Reconstruction work on this boat had focused on replacement of the motor and drivetrain and replacement of covering boards. A 377 Mercruiser Scorpion will be installed to ensure reliability. As part of the work the bottom was surveyed and it was determined that it did not need replacement. This smooth sided mahogany runabout has been completely stripped and stained and is currently receiving new varnish (inside and out) and bottom paint.
In the workshop area the Duke crew is presently working on four projects;
One of those project boats is early 1960s Shepherd Ski Bee with an engine and drivetrain that needs some attention.
Also in the workshop is a new build custom gentleman’s racer. This hull was completed some time ago but it was put into temporary storage due to other priorities. It is Duke’s intention to complete the boat this year and find a new home for it. Interestingly the boat was originally designed to have a closed front cockpit. A decision has, however, been made to re-configure it with an open front cockpit and a Riva like sundeck in the rear.
At the rear of the workshop the crew has been working on a double ended rowing skiff for a customer. Once complete, the firm intends to use the mold to make additional copies and keep a few finished ones in stock on an ongoing basis to meet customer demand.
The final project is a refit of “Muskoka Memories” which has in the past been used by Duke for private tours of the lakes. This 1960 Shepherd runabout is currently receiving new spray rails, mechanical maintenance and will have its varnish cleaned up before being put back in service.
Departing from Dukes I headed southbound on highway 118 for about five miles and then turned up Hewlitt Road. Initially thinking I was lost again I was relived to find Curtis Hillman’s sign and gate and followed a winding drive to his shop and family home. On opening my truck door I was greeted by a very old and very friendly Black Labrador named Moose who led me into the shop. Curt has been painting, varnishing and repairing wooden boats for almost 20 years. For 13 of those years Curt worked with Stan Hunter a legendary Boat Builder whose shop, and boat livery is situated about a mile and a half away on Lake Muskoka’s Milford Bay.
Presently Curt has three projects on the go and one finished boat ready for delivery in the coming month.
One of those projects a 1949 Greavette dippy involves a full stripping and re- varnish.
Currently a 1954 Greavette Streamliner named “Jo-Jo” occupies the finishing room and is receiving the last coats of varnish after having been stripped, and stained. Once the varnish is complete and bottom paint applied a boot stripe will be applied.
One interesting aspect of this contract was the restoration of the original hardware. At some point in its life someone had decided to modernize the streamliner’s custom windscreen applying in its place a hideous stock 1960s wraparound Plexiglas model. At the same time navigation lights and deck ventilators had also been moved about and needed restoration and in some cases replacement parts. As the original metal frames for the streamliner were long gone and replacements scarce Curt took measurements from another existing streamliner and built “casting plugs” for all of the parts and had a foundry recast them. All the hardware was re-plated and has now been reinstalled.
Probably the biggest project currently underway in the Hillman shop is the restoration of a 1936 Ditchburn 23 foot launch which needed a new bottom, new drive line and refinishing .
Unfortunately the Ditchburn’s hull had at some point been fiberglassed from the waterline down. As part of the restoration Curt removed the entire bottom including the original battened seams (which were common in Ditchburn’s and Greavette’s but trapped water and caused rot). He then replaced deteriorated framing members, reinforcing them in some locations, and added new longitudinal ribs to take the place of the original battened seams, thereby strengthening and stiffening the cedar planks that make up the new seamed cedar bottom. Curt believes that the new system will not trap water and debris against the planks and thus the bottom will remain stronger and last longer than the original.
Within the next week the Ditchburn will receive a new 350 Mercruiser and driveline to replace the old Chrysler Straight Eight which has a cracked block. Before delivery the boat will have its finish refreshed and new boot stripe applied.
Curtis also recently completed re-planking work from the chine to the deck above the starboard step area of a beautiful 1929 Ditchburn Viking stepped hull named Hibiscus. Once planking was complete the new wood received 8 coats of varnish, followed by a final top coat on both sides of the hull. Hibiscus is anxiously awaiting its owners and its 84th season on the Muskoka lakes.
Departing from Curt’s shop I re-traced my steps heading back to Highway 118 then north for a short jaunt to Stan Hunter’s Shop and Boat livery.
Stan Hunter is a fixture in Muskoka. He has been working in the in the boatbuilding trade for just about 30 years now , having started out in the early 1980s as an apprentice to boat gurus Ron and Tim Butson. In 1990 he struck out on his own creating his own business. Later other aspiring boat builders began to learn the trade from him, one of those folks is Curt Hillman, which as we know from our previous stop, also set out to form his own company several years ago. Recently Stan’s son joined the firm making Stan Hunter Boatbuilder Ltd. a truly family run business.
From personal experience I can tell you that Stan’s a bit of a multi-tasker. Not only does he regularly repair, restore and refinish classic and antique boats he also occasionally builds a boat or two and writes a blog. If this were not enough he also acts as a boat broker, develops new watercraft (he is currently working on an ultra-cool design for the ultimate Muskoka paddleboard) and runs Muskoka Launch Livery.
Stan’s livery is the only place in Muskoka (and probably Ontario) that you can rent a real antique wooden boat and even choose the one you like from a stable of four fully restored Duke Playmates built between 1941 and 1952.
Why rent a Duke Playmate? While as Stan says “Certainly there are bigger, faster and more glamorous classic boats around the lakes, but we have selected the Duke Playmate for our rental fleet because they are historic, local, charming, safe, seaworthy and serviceable.”
As someone who has rented one of Stan’s boats for a day, I can attest that the entire experience was great fun and well worth the modest investment.
Stan’s location is also somewhat unique, other than Duke’s he has one of the very few boat shops that is actually on a piece of waterfront land. The atmosphere in Stan’s shop is also unique, very warm and cottage like with the smell of fresh varnish, cedar and pine boughs permeating the air.
At present Stan and his son are completing a full refinish on a striking 1952 22 foot Greavette Streamliner. This boat was originally restored by Stan about six years ago, and the owner, a Toronto Developer (whom I went to university with) felt that it was time to do a little freshening of the finish.
At present Stan has four interesting boats in his yard that he is selling for their owners:
• A thirty foot, Cliff Richardson Day Cruiser powered by two straight six Buchanan rocket engines. Built in Meaford, Ontario in 1947
• A SeaBird smooth side mahogany runabout built in Port Carling in 1939
• “Mossano” a SeaBird smooth side mahogany triple cockpit built in Port Carling in 1948. In my opinion with a few modifications and a larger engine this boat could be easily converted into a vintage gentleman’s racer .
It was now 5:00 PM and most of the sane participants on the tour were already ensconced at their summer homes having a libation or two, the remainder, no doubt well on their way home. Always the perfectionist my mind pondered the fact that I had fallen three short of my goal to hit all 13 venues in one day. Then I reflected on the positives, I had learned a lot in one day, saw a lot of cool stuff made some new friends and re-connected with old friends in the process, all in all a very productive and enjoyable day. Ten shops were enough.
I shook Stan’s hand bid him adieu and set out on the 3 hour journey home to Cobourg … and some well-deserved sleep.
Thanks to Cobourg Kid for sharing this great 2 Part story with us here at Woody Boater. Without a doubt, between the rich history of the Muskoka Region along with the many premier boat shops throughout the area, the rare and unusual antique & classic boats we experienced along the way once again gives us a new appreciation for Muskoka.
Special thanks to the folks at the Toronto Chapter ACBS, the volunteers and the boat shops for organizing this unique event and to our friend Harry Wilson for his comments today. I can hardly wait to get back there in July for the big Gravenhurst Boat Show and take it all in.