Dream Boat - those were the words that fellow boat
builder Geoff Magnuson used when Mike Michaud told him about his
latest boat building project “Murlen”. When Geoff asked Mike
what he was working on this winter, Mike told him it was a boat
of his own design. Oh, Geoff said, “A dream boat”.
Actually, the boat started as a 1946
Gar Wood deluxe utility, hull number 7116. Mike found the boat
and thought of a Gar Wood speedster he liked named
owned by Vintage Race Boat Shop owner, Bill John. But this Gar
Wood was in terrible shape. It became “a dream boat” as Mike
began to visualize how to rebuild it into a speedster like
story begins following Mike’s successful project building a
replica of “Miss Detroit III”. In reality, the story begins even
earlier than that. Mike has always been a builder and lover of
speed. At age 13, Mike built a Sting Ray chopper bicycle. At 16,
his first car. In the 1970’s Mike raced hot rods. A few years
ago, Mike built a P-40 custom motorcycle. That project was
in a story written by his 19 year old daughter, Shelby Michaud,
in the September/October, 2005 issue of Iron Works, the
magazine for Harley enthusiasts.
Mike grew up, in and around Square Pond
in Acton, Maine. It was there that he developed a love of boats
and speed. Having reclaimed some old growth Douglas fir lumber
from several sports stadiums that were being demolished, Mike
wondered how he might use that wood. Douglas fir has been a
preferred wood for boats because of its strength and high rot
resistance. Even though Mike has to patch some of the screw and
nail holes in the wood, he still has enough wood for four more
Detroit III grew out of the love of boats,
speed and the good fortune of having that wonderful Douglas fir.
“Miss Detroit III” was constructed during the 2004-2005 winter.
Fortunately, Mike has a work shop in a 30 x 80 foot building on
the same property as his house. One of the first things you
notice in his shop is the double rows of clamps lined up on
either side of one of the windows in the building. A rough count
shows that he has at least 50 clamps ready for use.
Miss Detroit III was constructed
following the original design used by Gar Wood. The original
boat won the 1918 Gold Cup in Detroit. Gar Wood was the first to
successfully use an aircraft engine, a 1916 Curtiss V-12, in a
race boat. Mike says that the original Miss Detroit III was very
complex in design. His current project is a lot simpler.
Miss Detroit III debuted at the
NH Vintage Race Boat Regatta
last September. After Miss Detroit III was completed and ran
well in Wolfeboro, Mike decided he would take on no winter
projects in 2006. He spent a few weeks at home, making dinner,
watching TV, but getting a bit fidgety. Mike did not realize he
was acting strangely until his wife, Erin said, “Mike, you’ve
got to find something to do.” And so, “Murlen” began.
When asked why another vintage race
boat, Mike said, “It gives you a kick. When I ran Miss Detroit
III at Wolfeboro, I had such a feeling of freedom. When you work
on a project like Miss Detroit III, look at all the old
photographs, and read about the guys who built the original
boat, you get to know the guys. I wanted to relive what they had
done. To feel what they felt. That’s why I decided to do it
Although “Murlen” may have a simpler
design than Miss Detroit III, there are plenty of challenges
associated with this boat. First off, the original boat. It had
so much rotted wood that it was near to impossible to rebuild
the original hull. So, Mike designed a new hull. The original
utility was 18-1/2 feet. Mike needed to find some new stringers
at least 21 feet in length to recreate that hull.
Unfortunately, no lumber yard had any
Douglas fir like that. Mike did find some 28 foot pieces from a
lumber yard that had been ordered by someone else, long in the
past. The lumber yard, being eager to rid itself of such custom
wood, offered the wood to Mike at cost. Another serendipitous
receipt of old wood. Of course, Mike accepted.
As Mike contemplated cutting the 28
foot pieces, he just could not bring himself to carve up the
wood. So, he changed his design to a 31 foot hull. After he put
the bottom together, he proudly showed it off to his wife, Erin.
Always practical, Erin asked, “Is there enough room for a 31
foot boat?” Mike replied that his shop is 50 feet long. But Erin
reminded him that the storage part of his building is only 30
feet long. Oops! Mike’s answer: “I guess I’ll have to store it
on an angle.”
Mike incorporated a bow frame member
and a bow nose piece from the original Gar Wood utility in the
bottom of “Murlen”. So, this boat is considered a restoration of
an original boat, not a replica like “Miss Detroit III”. All of
the original hardware will also be included in the final boat.
Mike has the original nose piece, the Gar Wood logo shield, and
the other chrome plated brass pieces, which he will attach after
Murlen will be a twin cockpit
speedster. Mike used offsets from the original hull which had 13
frames. He continued the theme until he got the length he
wanted. “Once you design some good lines, you can get what you
want in building a boat,” Mike explains. In describing the boat,
he gestures that “From here to about here is Bill’s boat (Obsession),
and thereon, it becomes a lengthened version of a
Mike also intends to construct the
transom to be convex, both ways. In 1937 or so, Gar Wood
transoms were constructed to roll over the deck. Mike is
expanding on this theme.