Tess: an out-of-the-ordinary Gentleman’s Racer



Bradley J Dagenais

As I recall, it was a beautiful Georgian Bay summer day in 1964. I was ten years old when I looked in awe as a sleek runabout slowly passed by our
 family cottage. It was powered by not one but two gleaming Mercury outboards! Then, with a burst of power, the boat sped out of sight.
Fast forward to early 2007, to an informal meeting with Mike Windsor at Windsor Boat Works in Gravenhurst, ON. I was trying to convince Mike to design a traditional 16’ Muskoka style Gentleman’s racer for me, to be powered by two vintage Mercury outboards. At first my design proposal was met with some reservation and then the realization of “I don’t think it has been done before”
The construction of Tess began in fall of 2008. My working career was centred on the recreational marine industry, but I had never built a wooden boat. As I spent time in Mike’s shop, the complexity and the art of wooden boat construction became very apparent.
The design of an outboard powered racer required a departure from traditional inboard powered Gentleman’s Racers construction. With the use of outboards, the hull construction can be much lighter resulting in a higher power to weight ratio, allowing for sparkling all around performance. The hull and deck construction consists of sawn Mahogany frames, covered with marine plywood and sheathed with fibreglass and epoxy. The deck is finished with mahogany planking featuring dark coloured wood seams and steam bent oak coamings.
Seven months later I proudly brought Tess home to my workshop. At this point my racer was far from complete, the hull and deck still required their final finishes and the interior was incomplete. Many an indecisive hour was spent finalizing seating, instruments, switches, controls and helm layout and locations. In the spring of 2011 the woodworking, painting and endless varnishing was finally completed. At long last my Gentleman’s Racer was ready to be rigged.

tess4Why did I choose to power this project with vintage Mercury Outboards? There are many reasons that include amazing performance, reliability, and unrivalled overall styling, and they looked really cool. Carl Kiekhaefer, the founder of Mercury, and his design and engineering teams received countless awards for styling and performance innovations. The engines I chose are 1958 Mercury, Mark 58’s, four-cylinder that produce 45 horsepower each.
My first Mark 58 came from a soon-to-be demolished barn in Brampton, ON. The second engine was much harder to secure. I was to learn that the powerhead from Mark 58s was a favourite among the race boat fraternity for years. As well, the Mark 58 cowl design was only offered for one year, making it very rare. After months of internet searching, I located a restorable engine in Fort Myers, Florida. This engine had been used on Lake Erie from new until 1978 then retired to Florida with its owner, were it resided in his garage until 2007.

Both outboards were totally disassembled and every one of the hundreds of individual parts that make up a Mercury Mark 58 was washed and media blasted to remove the old paint and plating finishes. Any non-wear parts that were suspect were replaced or refurbished. All parts subject to wear such as: oil seals, bearings, reed valves, piston rings, etc. were replaced with new or new old stock parts. My goal was to bring these two engines as close to new condition as possible. Each Mark 58 was subject to a multi-step painting process that included the cadmium plating of non-painted parts.
Many times I have been asked if the cowl colour is correct, and the answer is yes. In the 1957/58 model years Mercury offered a wide range of colour options that included: blues, greens, reds, oranges and silvers. However this rainbow of colour was discontinued for 1959 in favour of white, then Phantom Black in 1964 to present.
At long last, Tess and her engines were complete and all I had to do was put it all together. Box after box of deck fittings, steering, switches, rolls of wire and all the bits to make a childhood dream become a reality. One of my most anticipated steps was to mount the engines on the transom. What a sense of relief to discover the Mark 58s fit perfectly and looked liked they belonged together.

Rigging any powerboat, especially if it has twin engines, can become quite involved, especially when we take a moment to consider all the systems that are required to allow a power boat to operate safely and effectively. I spent many enjoyable hours installing fuel, steering, controls, and electrical systems. I would like to share the feeling of terror that I experienced when I stood poised with my electric drill trying to find the courage to drill a hole in a deck that I spent months sanding and varnishing.
Then one day as I fastened the last wire clamp I came to the realization my Gentleman’s Racer was ready to go. Everything was done; the moment of truth was at hand. On the morning of July 7, 2011 Tess slid gracefully from her trailer into the waters of Lake Simcoe. My first thought was “Mike will be pleased, the waterline is perfect”; then I took a moment to view my boat in its entirety. Strangely enough I had never really looked at the package as a whole. I looked at what needed to be finished next, and I must admit I was impressed.

Control levers in neutral, ignition safety switches connected, throttles set, turn the ignition keys and both engines came to life. As I backed away from the dock for the first time and pointed the bow to the open lake, a thousand details ran through my mind: did I forget anything? I shifted the engines into forward, advanced the throttles to half, and my racer was instantly on plane. After a hard port and starboard steering test, full throttle - Oh my! It is difficult for me to describe the sound that two four cylinder Mercury Mark 58s in synchronization produce at speed, but to me it is music.
Tess successfully passed her sea trials and managed to exceed my expectations, so to say I was pleased would be an understatement. Fortunately, I was able to display Tess this past July in Gravenhurst at the ABCS boat show, and much to my delight she was well received. I would like to thank all the people who crossed my path on this journey, especially Michel Windsor for his advice and encouragement and last but not least the driver of that sleek runabout that passed by so long ago.

To see Tess on U Tube,  johnnycgc Brad’s Gentleman’s Race