October 4, 2020
Mystery boat restorer Fran Cyr…the racing boat builder/racer
Solving a mystery is often filled with twists and turns…
In part one of the Fran Cyr mystery hydroplane, we looked at how Fran became interested in racing…canoes. This led to a desire to build his own racing canoes to save money. That path would result in 15 hand-built cedar strip racing canoes.
From Episode 332 we learn about the mystery Scat Cat hydroplane that came into the possession of Fran Cyr the builder of high-performance racing canoes. The story of the restoration of that craft hinges on the background of the restorer.
Cyr was no stranger to the water when in 1982, David Buzzell and he entered the Madawaska Stream Race. Cyr described it this way, “My first canoe race was with Dave Buzzell in the 1982 Stockholm Legion Madawaska Stream Race. They gave out prizes then; we didn’t win anything.”
“Canoe racing got more serious in 1983 with Steve Gudreau and it was when I purchased my first Wenonah Canoe from Partners in Sports. I raced Wenonah Canoes up until I started building my own canoes.”
That first of 15 racing canoes was the “Rickie Craven” edition with livery depicting Craven’s NASCAR Tide colors. This tandem boat was built in 1991. The Craven colors were chosen after Craven joined the Cal Well’s PPI Motorsports #32 team in 2000.
“I built my first canoe, the ‘Tide Boat’, the winter of 91-92,” noted Cyr. “I had drawn up the plans freestyle on graph paper. It was supposed to be a white-water racer. It didn’t have enough volume for white water and wasn’t very fast in deep water so I later took a chalk line to it and cut down the sides and made it into a shallow water racer. Nicole (his daughter) and I painted it up as the Tide canoe, being Ricky Craven fans.”
Cyr explained his venture into the world of building cedar strip racing canoes saying, “I started building canoes to satisfy my need for affordable racing canoes and to test my ideas about canoe designs. It was also very satisfying to start from scratch with rough cut cedar boards, aluminum tubing and angle and end up with such a beautiful product”.
“I also learned a lot that helped me with the hydroplane project. Building canoes is also cheap therapy for someone who works with people all day in a job that is often many times difficult to see much accomplishment at the end of the day.”
Building a racer
Part of my tour of Cyr Racing Canoe that September day including a tour of the shop where construction of racing boats takes place. Like most race projects, Cyr’s work begins with fairly detailed plans. Most of his canoes were built from plans he drafted. Sometimes taking the lines from an existing canoe for reference using the lead solder method. He also purchased plans and would sometimes modify the designs to suit his needs,
He would frequently add his own touches, always keeping in mind the dictates of United States Canoe Association for flatwater racing or American Canoe Association for whitewater racing.
One the Caribou canoe builder ‘s many tricks or hacks that I thought was quite interesting, was the use of solder wire for transferring the size and shape of a racing canoe onto paper. Cyr would run the wire close to the skin on the boat he was using for a model. He then would very carefully transfer the shape onto large sheets of graph paper. He would next move along a few inches and take the next solder “tracing”.
Cyr described the method, “I start at the widest portion of the hull and mark it every foot. Plot the width and depth of the canoe on to graph paper. Then after getting the shape with the solder, use the points I plotted on the paper as a reference. You plot only half the hull, from the centerline to the gunwale,”
After acquiring enough points, either on an actual traced model or from his fertile imagination, a series of cross-sectional bulkheads emerged on his drawings. The drawings would next be placed on ½ inch particle board and the shape transferred. The bulkhead would be cut out, sanded smooth, and made ready to be added to the “strongback” jig in his shop.
The assortment of bulkheads that went into making an individual model are stored on shelves ready to be put back into action should the need arise to build a particular model once again.
The typical recreational cedar strip canoe is constructed with a hundred or so 1/4-inch-thick white cedar strips. White cedar, a native species in northern Maine, is the wood of choice for his builds, although he has used red cedar as highlight strips or the inside of the gunnels.in sone canoes
For his racer models, “I’ve used 1/8 inch on a flatwater canoe before, I probably wouldn’t do it again. I like 5/32 or 3/16. Inch.”
“The strips are fastened to the forms with staples. A bead of glue is used to bond the strips to each other. When the hull is completely stripped, you pull the staples out and then sand down the hull. I use 80 grit with a random orbital sander.”
“Knowing autobody techniques would be an advantage when sanding the hull as you are giving the canoe it’s final shape as you sand…. taking a flat strip and rounding them off like much a fender of an old VW Beetle.”
“The strips are generally 3/4 to one inch wide. How many strips you use depends on the length of the canoe, the length of the strips and of course the width of the strips. The strips I use range in length from 4 feet to 10 feet. I’d guess about 100 for a build.”
Those strips are cut very carefully with a table saw. Cyr mentioned that he needs to pay close attention to what he is doing and not allow himself to get bored while cutting the strips to avoid any accidents. A pleasant side effect while sawing white cedar is the pleasant smell of freshly cut wood. While sanding he wears a respirator for protection from dust.
After the sanding, fiberglas is added to the inside and outside to tie the tie the boat together. It also makes the boat watertight. The amount of fiberglass and resin is minimized to reduce the weight.
Mystery of the Scat Cat restoration next week
One of the essentials of a good restoration story is to dig into the background of the restorer, whether it is a piece of fine furniture or a vintage hydroplane racer, Fran Cyr’s story seemed to build from a humble beginning of fishing on the Machias River with his brother to having the confidence to faithfully restore an irreplaceable piece of motorsports history in the County.
I think you will enjoy the next part of the mystery hydroplane restoration. Of course, any knowledge about the original builder would be welcome. That would fill in the missing piece of this puzzle. Feel free to email me at email@example.com
North Woods Excursions Off-Road Club to tour former airbase
The North Woods Excursions Off-Road Club started by Johanna and Justin Fickett in July 2020 announced their latest event, an exclusive tour of the former SAC Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. The private group’s mission statement states their reason for the group. “We exist in Aroostook County Maine as a group of Jeep and off-road vehicle enthusiasts to partake in group rides and great conversation around a common interest.”
Justin Fickett described the Loring event, which now has between 30-40 vehicles registered for the event as of Friday, October 2, 2020. “We have been granted unprecedented access to the former Loring Air Force Base grounds and nuclear weapons storage facility to tour it as an off-road group convoy. It’s a huge deal not only for the historical aspect of the base but over the years, many parts have been broken up into different ownerships, gated off, or marked not for trespass due to aircraft use.”
“After working closely with the Loring Development Authority, the government Department of Fish & Wildlife, and other landowners, we have been given the keys to the castle so to speak for this one-day event.”
“I am super excited myself not only for the event but also how much interest it has brought from off road enthusiasts all across the state and even beyond. We even were approached by a former military police officer who was stationed at Loring when it was active who has offered to come and share his knowledge with us as we tour the property.”
“Though this type of event is not typical for an off-road community, the base is a common interest for us all. We also are viewing this as a huge opportunity to build positive relationships within our community as many people have visions of torn up property and a general disregard of rules when off road vehicles are mentioned. Our club was founded on the principles of leaving no trace behind, obeying all posted signage, and obtaining special permission whenever needed when our events take us through an unknown area.”
Colby Martin wins Halloween Howler season finale
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)