My Blog: Latest Boating News & Columns

Tolka Photo Goes to Florida
15th December 2011
Tolka, the amazing boat built by Bell Laboratories in Nova Scotia, will be a main attraction in Florida at the ACBS Sunnyland Chapter, Mt. Dora show this spring. The promo flyer features a page width photo taken by me! Some of these photos of Tolka will be on display at the Toronto International Boat Show in January.
DOA Regatta! Georgian Bay Perfection
15th September 2011
By Tim Du Vernet

It doesn’t take much to enjoy being out on Georgian Bay and the Dispro Owners Association lucked out this year. Stationed at Honey Harbour’s Delawana Inn, nearly forty boats launched for the annual regatta.

Over the years, the event has mellowed from being a weekend of races and childish playfulness to mature and comfortable cruising. With perfect weather and spectacular scenery of Georgian Bay, this was unquestionably one of the nicest regattas ever in the history of the event.

Mary and John Storey, who were among the nearly 100 participants, toured in their 1947 Greavette Dispro named Muggins . It was an absolutely spectacular weekend, according to Mary. “Sure there were the usual breakdowns and a few boats got slightly lost, but that is all part of the adventure.”

The event began with the Friday evening gathering to hear Guy Johnstone, owner of KITTY HAWK tell the story of how Orville Wright came to Georgian Bay and the boat he bought in 1932.

After the group photo taken by your’s truly, the Dispro Owners headed out to three historic cottages on the Saturday. Guy and Kathy Johnstone who summer in Franceville , opened their cottage to the DOA and an opportunity to see KITTY HAWK at her summer berth.

Guy explained that Franceville was a family run tourist center which at one time or another had three hotels. These hotels were operated by the France family and the name “Franceville” was the designation assigned by the Federal Government when it became a postal center. (early 1900s) Guy’s wife, Katherine is a France and was raised here. Lambert, the cottage where KITTYHAWK and Orville Wright summered, is about 1 1/2 miles south of Franceville.

The Orville Wright cottage was the second of three stops on for the Dispros. Particularly precious and fascinating were the original pieces by summertime friend, A.Y. Jackson. Several panels in the cottage are decorated with this Group of Seven member’s handiwork. The current owners have been careful to preserve and protect the delicate works of art.

After a revitalizing wine and cheese party Saturday after a day of cruising, the DOA did their best to fill the resort’s dining hall, which the Dispro Owners had nearly to themselves.

Sunday is always a shorter cruising day, to give boaters a chance to load up their trailers and head home before the traffic. The cruise headed south this time toward Penetanguishine, again in nearly perfect weather.

Sunday’s lunch brings the annual handing out of the DOA regatta plaques for those who brought a boat and the awards for special members. With a hearty lunch tucked under their belts, the Dispros were all out of the water by 4:00 and safely on their way. The group plans to return to Delawana Inn next year, as has been the pattern.
The Complexity of Nautical Designs
16th August 2011
By Tim Du Vernet

At boat shows we marvel at the variety and elegance of the boats built in Muskoka. It is generally easy to tell the difference between a boat built in Muskoka versus one built somewhere else.

Chris Crafts and Hackercraft boats generally have different proportions and accent details. In some cases, there are huge differences underneath the deck boards too. The origins of design trends in boats has often been linked to the automobile industry. Specifically, when wings and fins were all the rage in cars, fiberglass boats came out with them too.

It recently struck me how conservative we are today with our boat designs compared to the huge experimentation that was happening during the first third of the Twentieth Century.

Clearly many of the advancements in hull design were developed as engine technology advanced as well. With greater power came greater speeds and demands on hull design.

Magazines from 20’s and 30’s show some pretty crazy boat designs. Yachts and traditional wooden, multi-masted sailboats were built in great variety. Rowboats, tenders and small dinghies were also built in all manner of shapes and sizes.

A strange feature on some launches was a double helm, where a boat could be driven from an unprotected front cockpit or a protected helm further back. Some boats had two windscreens and multiple cockpits with canopies and elaborately carved coaming accents. The sense of style and flair was of obvious importance. No need for mega watt speakers pointing backwards!

Today, we think of modern boats as variations of mono hull planing designs. Back in the 20’s and 30’s, the planing hull was still in its experimental stage and steps and hydrofoils were built into hull designs. It was a fast boat that could go much more than 30mph.

The power of a modern fiberglass boat is pretty much a standard affair and some of the modern Mercury engines have found their way into wooden boats too, as a matter of convenience.

Engine builders such as Sterling, Hall Scott, Kermath, Rolls Royce, Scripps, Miller and others were prized power plants that continue to be spoken of with reverence. The restoration and continued use of a period power plant isn’t without its challenges, but they are equally an important aspect of the heritage of wooden boating. The advertisements for these engines in vintage magazines are works of art that draw heavily from moods and style trends of the period.

The water cooled burble of an antique engine is especially sweet when it comes from vintage cylinders. There are several wooden boats that continue to run with vintage power. Malcom McGrath’s Wascana II is powered by a 100 hp Scripps. Jim and Eileen Minett’s Little One is powered by a rare Buchanan. Cliff Stanton’s 1912 Minett is powered by an equally ancient Van Blerck engine of 25 hp.

Speaking of Little One, a clarification in how she came to Jim Minett. She wound up in the possession of Jim’s great uncle Bert Minett. Little One had been left to his only child, a daughter, Marjorie, who was living in the U.S. She did not want the boat so offered it to Bill Minett, Jim’s father and Bert’s nephew and he took possession.
Height of the Summer
03rd August 2011
By Tim Du Vernet

Ah, the August long weekend and it’s the height of summer! What to do? There are so many options. Rosseau has set this weekend as the date for its annual Classcf Cruise of vintage cars and boats.

As in the past, the cars capture most of the attention and their numbers and range were truly impressive. Despite the word being kept very close to home, the public dock area at Rosseau was filled with entries and the highway lined with cars ferrying spectators. One thing about the Rosseau event, be sure you get there before 2:30 or you will miss most of the action.

Cars are nice to be sure, but it’s the small and loyal group of boat owners that I prefer to give my attention. About 12 boats came out for the show including Shania, a 1949 Greavette owned by John and Mary Storey, that traveled all the way from Gravenhurst, nearly the entire length of the lake system.

Paul Gockel steamed Seraph from Avon Bay for over three hours to make the trip specially for the boat show. It doesn’t take much for Paul to find a good reason to take out his steam boat, as long as there is wood or coal to keep him going! This year, Paul wasn’t alone as he was joined by another very unique steamboat from Rossau. With a steam engine installed into a modified yawl hull, built by Mark Harwood, and a hard canopy overhead, this unique boat was completed in 2005 by George Lang.

Two Dispros and an electric powered replica made by Mark Harwood also came out. Gord Wilson drove his 1988 Hackercraft up from Windermere to participate. Morley Sellens brought his most unusual of Muskoka boats, a 1948, 22’ sea sled built by the Ames Brothers. With a large open cockpit and a Ford V-8, she looks a bit like a hot rod for the water.

Saving the best for last, of course, is the show winner for the boats. Jack Law’s canopy launch won the “Best Boat Award”, which was sponsored and presented by Emmanuel Thuiller, of Rosseau. Jack rescued this boat from the floor of Lake Rosseau and spent two winters restoring her.

It wouldn’t be a long weekend without a boat portrait or two, and this weekend I had the pleasure of photographing Chris and Julie Bullen in their wonderful fleet of boats. For a long time Chris wanted a wooden boat and he chose to challenge himself by building his own outboard racer from plans in 2001. This is a speedy 15’ outboard is powered by a 60hp Mercury.

More recently, Chris and Julie acquired Gatsby, a 1947 W.J. Johnston triple cockpit runabout. This is their favourite cruiser to enjoy the Muskoka waters of East Bay.
Miss Canada: The Restoration Begins
01st August 2011
By Tim Du Vernet

I dropped by Tom Adams boat shop in Port Carling a day or two after she was delivered from the Muskoka Boat and Heritage Centre to see what was up.

She looked very much like a vintage running shoe that had seen some reworking here and there. It will take some time for Tom to get a complete picture of what will be involved in the restoration.

Sourcing an engine, transmission and gauges will be among the challenges to bring her back to period authenticity. Rolls Royce Griffins aren’t easily tracked down. Even after all the hardware has been sourced and installed, it will take the input of engineers of various kinds to trim her properly. There may also have to be some concession to safety and practicality by including a transmission.

Miss Canada IV is a marvel of experimentation and pre-conceived design. Her two step hydro hull was designed to ride up out of the water like a giant water foil. The curve of her bow deck provided more lift as she went faster.

There is no question that it would have taken enormous courage, nerve or something else to propel this plywood craft to her speed record of 138 mph. Tom pointed out that plywood was a new concept when Miss Canada IV was designed and her construction made extensive use of it. Tom also notes the glues in the plywood of the period didn’t have the longevity of modern materials and some of the plywood has begun to delaminate. As a result, it may be essentially a rebuilt boat once finished.

Much of the work will be quite ordinary too. The thin deck plywood was fastened with screws. Each of the thousands of screws will need to be removed and replaced. Tom and Bobby Genovese will have to decide how to preserve the original character of the boat and while maintaining her as a safe boat to run near the speeds she was designed for. Seat coverings, lettering for the boat name and colour and stain choices will be among the many decisions to make.

Unlike more obscure boats that are discovered in barns or the lake bottom, Tom will be able draw from many sources to help answer these questions in the coming months of her restoration.
ACBS Show around the corner! July 9th
27th June 2011
Summer Excitement is Here

By Tim Du Vernet

The ACBS-Toronto boat show is looming large now. With just one weekend to go! For wooden boaters, the show represents a serious start to the season with the long weekend past.

While ACBS-Toronto organizes the event hosted by the Town of Gravenhurst, the ACBS is a big organization and draws participation to this show from several of its chapters.

That means both boating participants and spectators alike will get to enjoy a broad range of classic boats from as far away as Florida, Ottawa, and beyond.

As classic boat collecting matures, more and more fiberglass boats become vintage and historically significant. This year’s show will combine all classic craft into a one day public event on Saturday with member activities happening Friday through Sunday.

Once again, the ever popular card board boat building event will be fun for youth and families as well as those who love to see just how far a card board boat can go.

A special highlight of this year’s event is the return of Miss Canada IV to Gravenhurst. Built by Greavette Boats, she will be the centre of attention at 12:00 with official ceremonies. The return of Miss Canada represents the co-ordinated efforts of many people from Ingersol to Gravenhurst. She will be part of a remarkable documentary film titled “Harold and Lorna”.

The show boat is the very historically significant KITTYHAWK. This name is tied to aviation history as well as more humble boating history on Georgian Bay.

Built in 1929 by Gidley Boats, KITTYHAWK started her career as a taxi boat. She came up for sale and Orville Wright bought her in 1931 after she a hardtop had been added.

KITTYHAWK was his Georgian Bay boat, where he spent the summer. At 32’6” and substantial freeboard , KITTYHAWK, is ready to handle the waters of Georgian Bay. Perhaps her sturdy nature is one of the features that attracted Orville Wright. The Gidley “Gull” model is described in the brochure as an all mahogany express runabout, equipped with a Kermath engine. A “general purpose craft she has a passenger capacity of eight plus incidental baggage accommodation.”

Shis is currently owned by Guy and Kathy Johnstone, who summer on Georgian Bay in an area known as Franceville East. KITTYHAWK will be brought to Lake Muskoka and launched specially for the show. It is expected that representatives of the Wright family will be present for the special showing of this remarkable boat.

Once again, there will be lots to see at this year’s boat show. Remember, the show is one day only with a modest admission fee.

The ACBS will also be selling posters featuring the KITTYHAWK in two versions, the production version and a very exclusive, limited edition version produced by Tim Du Vernet. More updates on the show next week!

Little One Launched Anew
21st June 2011
In 1919, an island cottager whose identity eludes current and previous owners, ordered a custom launch for the sole purpose of going to and from the island.

And so it was, that Little One was built. In every way a long deck launch with an open cockpit and straight windscreen, just like her siblings, but only 21 feet long. In all respects a scaled down version, Little One performs with the stability of a big much bigger than her wee transom and delicate foredeck wood suggest.

Jim Minett chose to give her a refreshed presence on the waters of Lake Joseph as a time marking gift to himself. Turning 65, Jim wanted to enjoy this special boat in its best condition for as long as he would be able.

Acquired by his uncle, Bill Minett, who acquired her from his father Bert , this is a boat well-treasured by now three generations. Little One had survived six owners and 90 years in admirable condition, but her bottom had developed serious problems and her engine was suffering too.

So off to Paul Brackley Boats she went for refinishing and a new bottom. Her engine too, would be overhauled.

Jim just took delivery of Little One as she was launched freshly from her restoration and testing. It was quite a site. Amidst the chaos of Muskoka industry at the Appian Way launching, she was quietly slipped into the water.

Wood was being loaded onto a huge barge and the fork lift doing its best to spew diesel fragrance into the air and to stir up dust while Little One was assembled for her take off.

Jim Stepped into her like a person putting on a favourite shoe. She just fit. He turned the windscreens forward, as usual, set all her gear in place and then readied himself to fire her up. With Brackley’s crew fending her off and keeping an eye on the construction loading crew, it was time to get her underway.

Without hesitation, Little One’s restored engine roared to life. Excessive exuberance was soon put in check with an adjustment to the throttle. It was interesting to hear Jim speak about sounds he remembered, vibrations and throttle action, some of which have been retained and others changed. Certainly the restored Buchanan engine had a lot more power Jim felt.

So Jim and Eileen Minett made the first cruise in their renewed Minett, to return her to her place of honour at the family cottage.

Outboard Fun
14th June 2011
By Tim Du Vernet

Remember that popular phrase that proclaimed, “some of the best things in life are free”? Running a sea flea is the next best thing, in the boating world. Two quarter inch sheets of plywood and a small outboard were about all that was needed to make a sea flea, as the plans were advertised back in the 50’s.

The days of mini thunder are returning to some parts of Muskoka as the thrill of skimming across the water in a sea flea is being passed down to a new generation looking for a simpler way of sharing parent and child fun on the lake.

By comparison, the jet ski is expensive and far less approachable than a sea flea. Besides, where is the nostalgia? The focus for this renewed energy has been channeled through the website

This Saturday, the Muskoka Sea Flea group will be holding a FleaTest on Six Mile Provincial Park. At last word, 27 boats were going to participate. While registration is closed, visitors can watch for free. More info is on the website.

Chris Taylor, Andrew Taylor and Erik Luksep are contacts for the event and have explained it as follows: Muskoka Seaflea is proud to host our first “Fleafest 2011” at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park. This informal gathering will bring together a variety of vintage and home built boats to celebrate the resurgence of this family oriented past time.

The focus of this event will be the sharing of information among our members, demonstrations of boat performance and handling and a guided tour of the lake. Participants are required to pre-register their boats on our website. This event is free to the general public with admission to the Provincial Park. Registration and further information is available at our website: From the posted itinerary, it looks like the day will be filled with family, friendship and sea flea fun one way or another.

The Muskoka Sea Flea group participate boat shows such as the ACBS summer boat show and the Muskoka Lakes Association boat show with demonstration kits and buckets of enthusiasm. Their web forum participation now boasts over 1000 members and the excitement just keeps growing!

When I visited Chris at his family cottage a few years ago to see the sea fleas in action, the thrill was certainly infectious. I hope to be bitten by the speedy water bug again this weekend.

How to Define Original
07th June 2011
By Tim Du Vernet

A few days ago, while shooting a very original little rowboat, the discussion came to how “original” is defined in the vintage boating world. The ravages of time and the natural breakdown of the materials used in the boats is forcing this discussion to the surface. As our boats (and many of their owners) get older, just about every boat (and their owners) will need parts replaced.

In Muskoka, boat owners generally enjoy using their boats as much as they do their appearance and the security and safety of the artifact depends on a tight bottom and reliable engine. But just how much of a boat can be replaced before it ceases to be authentic?

The decal and serial plate aren’t necessarily any indication of the accuracy of the builder and date since replica versions are easily manufactured or bought. This year’s ACBS show will be a judged event where even more attention is brought to the process of restoration.

It is a sensitive topic and one that has many genuine points of view. If an owner discovers a boat in derelict condition, that is used as a starting point for a reconstruction, is it fair to label the finished boat with the decals of the original?

There may be tremendous historical value in the reconstruction, but can it equal the authenticity of a boat that hasn’t been reconstructed and yet looks in rough shape? The newer the boat, the more original wood should still be in the boat, that part is easy.

With a 100 year old boat, that has had its bottom replaced once or twice, been refinished two or three times, new planks replaced here and there, new upholstery, modern engine, etc., where do you draw the line?

Rick Terry, an experienced judge and owner of a vintage boat, has a pretty clear list of requirements and suggestions. Some suggestions are easier to work with than others. Terry notes that owners will not be penalized for the installation of required safety equipment.

Murray Walker, who has several fine vintage boats, is also quite specific in his perspective. The older the boat, the more tolerance there should be for replaced wood. He also feels that reconstructions should be in a different category.

When many wooden boats in Muskoka were moving from their first owner’s care to that of a new generation, some forty years ago, Vic Carpenter was one of the first builders to restore and build new and he created some of the most dramatic boats on the lakes today. Once again, there is the opportunity to celebrate contemporary builders and enjoy a customized boat that renews a legacy.