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by Don

Vintage Engines – Part 1

October 14, 2021 in Uncategorized


Once you have heard the sound of a Dispro one cylinder, you’ll never forget it or confuse it with something else, similarly the Coventry Victor two cylinder. These are two examples of period engines that have established a unique character and identity. The engine is connected with the boat as much as the boat with the engine.

There are several other Muskoka built boats with a similarly strong connection to power. Buchannan built several models of engines that were installed in Muskoka boats. The Buchannan Midget was synonymous with boats built in Port Carling, especially through the 1930s, such as the Duke Playmate and early SeaBirds. At around 25 HP, it was a good match for these simple utility boats.

As the boats grew in size, so did the need for power. We had a 1939 SeaBird and a 1954 SeaBird, both with Buchannan engines. The newer one was rated around 65HP and it could just barely get the boat up on to a semi-plane. Paul Gockel describes the Midget as a very robust engine that stands up very well to use.

The Buchannans in our SeaBirds, I remember as being pretty reliable. Buchannan motors was located in Orillia. The Buchannan Meteor was built during the early 1950s and was apparently based on the block of a Hercules QXC, based out of Ohio.  In any case, the sound of these engines at speed is as unique as the boats they are in.

For a sense of what some can sound like, here is a link to a short YouTube video. https://youtu.be/UIKYUIt16bA

By Tim Du Vernet

by Don

LandOLakes Boat Show is Always Exciting

October 12, 2021 in Uncategorized


While the rest of us in Canada are suffering through extraordinary heat and no boat shows, the LandOLakes Boat show on Gull Lake in Minnesota was full steam ahead. As one of the last hurrahs of summer, there is a special sweetness to the event.

I have been to it a few times and there are some pretty spectacular collections to draw from. Between John Allen and Lee Anderson as well as enthusiasts with rare and historic race boats, the show hits a high mark for entries. 


As a Canadian visiting the show, it is also fun to see boats that are seldom seen at shows in Muskoka. There is such a variety and number of Chris Craft, Hacker Craft and GarWoods. Boats with vintage engines like the Liberty, Hall Scott and Hispano Suiza, to name the big three may be fired up at the dock. Apache II, a 1922 HackerCraft, is always a show stopper with her valves popping up and down and the great exhaust stacks sticking up.  Amphicars and similar novelty craft also have strong crowd appeal. Sea Fleas also have a universal appeal for the young of all ages.

There may be a few Canadian built boats at the show and they really stand out. Boats like Mineta show off the simple elegance that is so uniquely appealing about the Minett long deck launches from the teens through to the 20’s. Utilities by Duke and SeaBird that are more commonplace in Muskoka, appear almost exotic in this foreign context.

Let’s hope that travel restrictions won’t prohibit seeing the show next summer when Canadian boats will be taking centre stage.

By Tim Du Vernet 

by Don

Riding on Sunshine Part 2

October 7, 2021 in Uncategorized


In a recent post, the Duke Playmate was introduced as an ideal candidate for electrification because of its size and configuration.  Stan Hunter has converted a number of Playmates and he took me out for a quick ride in his “demo”.  She rides much like a regular Playmate and instead of the gas tank, you have specialized batteries. Instead of the Buchannan Midget, you have an electric motor.

Stan hints about a huge advancement that will make lithium batteries next to obsolete in their current configuration. He mentions the costs of extraction, the challenges of recycling and limitations of duration. Aluminum ion batteries claim to charge 60 times faster and hold more energy than lithium. We shall see what he has to present in 2022, “when I hope to be the first to demonstrate it here in Canada”, says Stan!

In the meantime, Stan’s configuration uses four lithium batteries that are 200 amps and 24 volts in pairs for a 48 volt system. There is a motor, a controller and the batteries. Stan points out that a person clever with technology and electric power could likely create a similar system to what he has sourced as a complete kit, but he believes would take a few years to sort it all out.

Stan also points out that the beauty of an electric yacht motor is that it can be directly inline with the coupling, in the same space as the old motor and take up a fraction of the space and be one third of the weight.  It is a relatively simple affair to customize and fit into the Playmate.

Here is a link to the boat in action: https://youtu.be/AgnyZdHyH94

By Tim Du Vernet

by Don

Riding on Sunshine, in an Electric Duke Playmate

October 5, 2021 in Uncategorized


Boat builder Stan Hunter, of Milford Bay, has made it his quest to electrify the Duke Playmate. He has been acquiring hulls for a while and so far has electrified a fleet of nearly 40 boats with a dozen more to create, as need be.  Stan has spent considerable time and effort to determine currently ideal options for cost and performance.

The Duke Playmate is an incredibly simple and yet versatile boat. Little more than a large dory with a squared off stern, they continue to be a cost effective entry into wooden boating. The Disappearing Propeller Boat is a similar craft, but in smaller form and considerably less power.

Original power was typically a Buchannan Midget, a robust engine capable of about 25 HP, especially the version with an iron exhaust manifold. Apparently the aluminum versions had a tendency to leak water into the oil. The first Playmates were built in 1933 and were built into the 1950’s. The earlier models were centre drive. In 1939, the steering wheel moved forward and the 19’ hull received greater freeboard. The Playmate would continue to grow with more power and slightly greater size. Its main competitor was the Port Carling SeaBird, which followed  a similar path of development. 

These are ideal boats for the conversion. Designed as a displacement hull, they offer far greater practicality than a Dispro, less the magic of the disappearing propeller or “device”.  Instead you do get reverse and a steering wheel.

Hunter imagines the ideal scenario, where you are “riding on sunshine”, with batteries charged by solar power. 

Here is a link to the boat in action: https://youtu.be/AgnyZdHyH94

By Tim Du Vernet

by Don

Hybrid World P.2

October 1, 2021 in Uncategorized

So what is the ideal craft for the conversion from gasoline to electric power? A boat that will maintain a steady and moderate speed, where space and weight offer options for storing batteries and mounting the motor without requiring much modification.

Enter Gladys, a 1947 Greavette Dispro. The conversion did require some necessary transitions for Gladys. Some she was happy about and others, we shall see! Of course, there was no longer a need for her gas tank, but she did acquire two large battery packs which were placed just ahead of the dash.

 Her gasoline-powered motor was also removed and in its place, an electric motor that attaches directly to the drive shaft. Tom Wood noted that one of the great benefits of this electric system is the ability to have reverse! Dispros originally were never given the ability to go in reverse since there is no transmission. Pull  the crank, drop in the prop and away you go. They do have the capability to go slightly sideways though.

Wood estimates that the total added weight might be a bit over 100 lbs. He has yet to test the limits of the batteries and notes that driving a bit slower does yield much longer run times. Mike Windsor, in Gravenhurst, did the installation of the electrical bits. Mike will share his experiences in another blog. His quirky sense of humour gave the parts some fun labels, such as the “Dilithium crystals” powering the boat. These are, in fact, lithium batteries, not Star Trek power packs!

By Tim Du Vernet

Port Carling Boats – Antique & Classic Wooden Boats for Sale