“WOODIES” ARE BACK
BY DWIGHT B ROOKS
Veteran SSM readers will be familiar with Dwight Brooks’ fabulous collection of large scale R/C boat models. This latest effort is unique in that it is a copy of his new full-size all-wood runabout, Rapture.
In a recent article, Jim Wangard, of Classic Boating Magazine, pretty well summed it up when he discussed the return of the classic runabout. With a gleam of mahogany, a flash of polished chrome, and a throaty rumble from a powerful inboard, runabouts burst onto the boating scene during the era of Gatsby and Vanderbilt. Spreading out onto the bays and lakes where the leisured elite congregated, these sleek, low-slung boats became more than just playthings of the rich, they defined what a power boat was for an entire generation. These were boats that matched the spirit of their owners — elegant without ostentation, attention-getting without being glitzy, but beneath the surface refinement lay an aggressive urge to push the limit, to win the race. Hulls were sculpted for speed and fitted with monstrous engines — open the throttle and you’d be taken on the ride of your life.
A new appreciation for the past began taking root in the waning years of the sixties. Old runabout hulls were being rescued f rom rot and ruin as quickly as they were eing rediscovered in barns and back yards. But as the supply of salvageable originals became scarce, prices escalated, prompting builders to begin building new boats in the traditional mold. The fleet of classic runabouts is growing again.
The modern classics are being built us ing the latest materials and building methods to increase longevity, reduce maintenance, and improve performance. For instance, the original wooden runabouts, with the exception of the Centurys, featured double-planked bottoms about 5/8-inch thick with a layer of canvas sandwiched in between. While this method did minimize leal, the canvas would even tually deteriorate and serve as a breeding ground for rot.
The new boats are also double planked (some also have triple-planked bottoms), but instead of a dip in Cuprinol wood preservative, the wood is generally sealed with multiple coats of epoxy. The epoxy seal stabilizes the wood, erects a barrier to rot, and allows the construction of a leak-proof hull. Gone are the days of having to swell the planks tight or of having to live with water sloshing around in the bilge Plus, the stabilized wood reduces the labor of varnishing.
Another advantage of today’s modern classics become clear when you open the engine hatch. Instead of being confronted with an exotic, temperamental 12-cylinder power plant whose parts and owner’s manual have long since vanished, there will most likely be an easy starting V-8 made by Chrysler, Ford or General Motors. You will not need to recast broken or worn out components; engine parts and knowledgeable repairmen are as close as the marina service department. And you will not pay the penalty of excess weight or guzzled gas The massive, 250-horsepower A-120 unit in the 1930 Chris-Craft weighed 1,700 pounds A modern inboard of equivalent horsepower tips the scales at 850 pounds
Gone too are the old 6-volt electrical systems; they have been replaced with 12-volt systems that use wiring, batteries, and bulbs easily obtained from marine suppliers. Even the upholstery has been upgraded, making seat covers obsolete.
Having read numerous articles about these old boats and the fact they are now coming back into vogue I decided to build a hull styled in the “fifties’ era to be constructed entirely of solid mahogany and planked exactly as the real boats were in those days. Unlike every boat in my collection, planking with mahogany requires exact fitting of the planks primarily on the hull sides. In the past I had become spoiled because planking with 1/8th inch balsa strips was relatively easy, and precise fitting of the strips next to each other did not really require all that an exacting fit because gaps could be filled with Bondo, and the inside and outside of each boat was layered with fiberglass cloth anyway, thus filling and hiding any mistakes I may have made during the planking process, but not so with a mahogany planked boat. Everything shows, and Bondo and the like cannot be used. That really made this effort tough, and it was something I had never thought about. Also, the selection of wood for matching grain patterns became very important in asrnuch as a wild pattern next to an entirely different grain pattern did not look right. Color of the wood also became important because you need to have as much of a “blend” as you can. In building the real hulls this was very much the same and when woods were delivered to the factories they were sorted for both color and grain patterns Further problems became apparent when I realized that mahogany strips (lI8thx5/8ths) did not have the bending ability of the same size material in balsa and so the need for water and steaming became another requirement. It is no big deal, but all of it took additional time and a lot more fitting of each plank. Outside of that the project proceeded as planned.
THE DESIGN ITSELF
Classic Boating magazine had run an article with pictures of one of the most beautiful runabouts I had ever seen. It turned out to be a 19 foot aft cockpit boat called “Fantasy” which was provided with enough power to give it a speed approaching 50mph. It had been built by the Mayes Brothers back in Marine City, Michigan. That company has been around for the past hundred years and the Mayes Brothers still continue to maintain these kind of boats as well as produce custom hulls from time to time. Larry Mayes was nice enough to agree to send me photos of “Fantasy’ but he would not provide me with any plans as such. I explained that I wanted to build a model of the boat with the thought in mind of actually producing the real thing later on, but that I wanted to make several changes which I would work out in the model before I went to full scale production of the real boat. Thus, the model was built entirely from photographs sent to me by Mayes. In my collection of old kits I discovered I had a model of Sterling’s Century “Resorter” which had the basic bottom design I was looking fo but the sides of the hull provided far too much freeboard. By cutting this area down I was able to establish the hull lines I was looking for which gave the boat a much lower appearance in the water like the old GarWood Racer built back in the thirties.
Someone once said that driving one of these aft cockpit hulls was like driving a Packard with a twelve foot hood. That proved to be true when I produced the full size hull. However, it did permit the engine to be forward of the driver which helped the weight and balance of the boat. Many of those old hulls were ‘stepped” to get air under the hull which provided faster speeds. However, I did not use the ‘stepped” design with the model. The idea was to produce a boat that looked scale-like under power, and which would be more for appearance than speed. The various blends of different colored woods in the model made it look much prettier than the standard fiberglass hull of today’s market. There is just something about a highly varnished mahogany hull that puts it one step above fiberglass, whether it be a model or the real thing.
I do not suppose there are too many of you who care to go back to the good old “plank on frame” models because certainly they are far more difficult to build, and take an even greater amount of patience in the finishing sequence. Further, there are few (I only know of two) mahogany model boats produced in kit form today. Obviously, the market is not there, but there seems to be somewhat of a trend to return to the old woodie” look (i.e., Sterling’s Century Resorter). Billings does produce some of these kits, but most are of old fishing boats and the like.
In any case, “Rapture” was built utilizing the plank on frame method using mahogany bulkheads, planking, and decks. It is all pretty straight forward with one exception. The side planking, as I mentioned earlier, has to be precisely fit one plank to another. No gaps, no “wowies” are allowed inasmuch as it will all show when you are finished. There is no paint on this model except below the water line. The rest is all sanded, stained and highly varnished. Lots of wet sanding provides the nifty finish we all look for in a model of this type.
Oh boy, there is no hope here at all. You cannot buy fittings for a model in this scale because they are not made. I ended up using brass strips for the hatch trim and then had them chrome plated which was very unpopular with the plater be cause they do not really like to work on stuff this small. The balance of fittings I made from aluminum stock which I shaped with a file and sander and then polished on a buffing wheel which still provided a chrome-like finish. I used this method for the windshield brackets, vents, and bowlight. Quarter-inch hinges can be purchased which seemed to work quite well. They come in brass and need to also be plated, which I had done. The balance of hardware such as the strut, rudder, and water pickup were all stand ard hobby shop marine items so there was no problem there.
No big deal here. I used material from a local upholstery shop and simply used thin (3/8ths) sponge under it to provide a cushion effect. You would be surprised what these upholstery shops throw away on a daily basis including leather in all colors! They will gladly give it to you. To attach materials to the seat I simply used “Hot Stuff” where it could not be seen.
The usual standard two servo setup was installed at the very back of the boat where I had built a hinged hatch cover for easy access. I am still partial to Futaba electronics and used a six channel setup.
The bottom was painted using Dietz1er Acrylic with a hardener and sprayed. The rest of the model was stained with red mahogany filler and then varnished to build the surfaces up. Initial varnishing was thinned to 50%, and increased with each coat until near the end when I went to full density right out of the can. Sanding was accomplished using 220 grit paper and the final three coats were wet sanded using 400 grit paper All initial varnishing was done with a brush, and the final two coats were sprayed. Spraying varnish takes some doing and if you have not done it before you might want to experiment before you tackle the final product. Varnish does not dry all that quick I found out! While urethanes are fine to use I settled for good old “Captain’s Varnish” which had used repeatedly on my real version of this model. Some of the wood in the interior was bleached simply to create beauty of the wood itself. No paint was used anywhere on the insides of the hull.
The model weighs forty pounds and is five feet long so I used a standard marinized “Olympic” blower motor developing 41CCs. This worked well and provided a clutch, recoil starter, and speed control. This was the same engine I used earlier in my eight foot PT hull, and it is very reliable. Speeds range around 20-25 mph on a direct drive. For the first time I used flexible cable instead of the usual steel shaft and have had good results with less vibration. I did, however, use 1/4” cable. The shaft support is adjustable for the proper prop angles. In addition to the water pickup at the prop, I also installed an electric pump to provide cooling when at idle. Both exhaust stacks are water cooled.
This turned out to be a trouble free boat in all respects. It will not set any speed records, but it sure looks pretty at rest or under power. Directional control is superb, and rough water does not seem to bother it at all. Water leakage from spray is nil.
Hull Length 5’
Weight 40 pounds
Material Philippine Mahogany
Speed 20-25 mph
Power Olympic 41 CC gas engine
Drive 1/4” cable