Joe Fossey Sr.


Following a long restoration hiatus, the 1950s Raceboat Skylark will be returning to the 2012 ACBS Gravenhurst Boat Show. Owned and restored by Joe Fossey Jr. of Orillia, its ten year restoration process is a story in itself. For space and recreational time limits, Joe was only able to work on the boat outside, in good weather, and on weekends of the summer months.

Definitely not a glamorous and famous International raceboat such as Miss Canada IV or Gold Cup Racer Baby Bootlegger, this popular Canadian One Design Inboard Racing Runabout Class was ultra competitive with dozens of DIY (do it yourself) home builder owners competing in ten to twelve Joint Sanctioned CBF - APBA Regattas per summer at Ontario and Quebec regatta locations.

With their five-mile course speeds then averaging in the mid-50 mph range, large numbers of these boats competed and were always a “Wild and Wooly” crowd pleaser. In rough racing water they spent a lot of “time in the air” or “chine walking” like the fast Jersey Speed Skiff’s action of today.a 0016

Skylark was the name given to this Canadian One Design Racing Inboard Runabout home built circa 1955 by Lloyd A. Smith (1919-2011) of Highland Creek. With the name commonly shortened to C.O.D.’s they were widely know as the “Workingman’s Raceboat” and a popular Limited Class Inboard Raceboat in 1950s and ‘60s Canadian Boating Federation Regattas. The CBF was Canada’s National Boating Authority and Canadian counterpart of the A.P.B.A American Power Boat Association and UIM Union of International Motor-boating in the UK and Europe.

To promote the sport of Inboard boat racing, this 15’ two-man (Driver and Riding Mechanic) DIY home build raceboat was custom designed in 1950 for the Canadian Boating Federation by Muskoka Naval Architect Earl C. Barnes N.A. Earl Barnes was a well known Muskoka boat builder and designer who began his career as a boatbuilding apprentice with Bert Minett.

The COD Class Rules were very simple.
• Must have a driver and a riding mechanic onboard.
• Must be powered with stock 100 hp. Ford V/8 Flathead motor of 239 cu. in. displacement.
• Must weigh 1200 lb. certified minimum weight ready to race with fuel and battery.
• Hull must conform dimensionally within one quarter inch of the plan offsets and scantling sizes.
• Direct drive or marine transmission optional.
• Motor cover optional.

Over a ten-year period of the 1950s, almost one hundred sets of COD plans and racing numbers were issued by the Canadian Boating Federation Head Office in Toronto. Records show more than forty COD Class boats competed in official CBF racing. Please Note: The Canadian COD design was not related in any way to then popular American A.P.B.A. “Crackerbox” Class.

a 0017Lloyd Smith was the original riding mechanic for his brother-in- law Joe Fossey Sr. in Joe’s circa 1953-54 home built COD Miss Highland # CE-73. With several years of racing experience and technical improvements, Miss Highland went on to become the National Highpoint Champion in 1958 and 1959.

When Lloyd tired of being the riding mechanic with Joe, he decided to build his own boat and make his own driver racing decisions. In 1955 -56 he built Skylark # CE-82 in the basement of his home in Highland Creek, Scarborough, Ontario. He then started on the long and often trying journey of refining the boat’s racing performance to become a serious Class contender and race winner. There was always lots of very close competition with 20 or more active COD Class competitors also doing their best to be the first one over the finish line and ”take the checkered flag”.

Skylark ran well with the Flat head Ford, but in 1959 a COD Class Rule change allowed the use of 283 cubic inch (cu. in.) Chev and 291 cu. in. Ford OHV motors. Lloyd switched to the 283 Chev, and, after some trial-and-error teething problems, the 283-powered Skylark took a commanding lead and never looked back. Skylark set a record in COD Class racing history by winning the National Highpoint Championship for four years in 1960-61 & 1963-64.

Inherited by Joe Jr. in 1991, a decision was made to attend the first Joint ACBS-APBA Antique Raceboat Show held at Clayton, NY in 1992. With help from Joe Sr. he made the necessary safety repairs and a cosmetic clean up of the well worn raceboat. Things worked well and Skylark attended more Clayton Antique Raceboat Shows and participated in the Gravenhurst Boat Show.

Suffering from the effects of age and many patched up early racing repairs, Skylark leaked badly both at rest and underway. There was no getting away from it and a decision had to be made to scrap the boat, completely restore it, or build a new one. There was no in-between choice. Joe was firm on the process of restoring “Uncle Lloyd’s boat”, the only known remaining example of this famous class of “Workingman’s Raceboat”.

The restoration began by making a strong and rigid building dolly. It was bolted together from seasoned 2” x 10” lumber to retain the boats original shape during the restoration. The dolly was then bolted directly on the boat’s original backbone of full length motor stringers ensuring its shape would not be changed. It had 10” industrial castering wheels on it and rolled easily in and out of its work place hundreds of times over the restoration years.

Stripping off the old G1S (Good One Side) fir plywood bottom and transom allowed complete removal of the time damaged keel and full length battens. Worn or cracked oak frame bottoms could then be removed a 0018one at a time and replaced with new oak frames.

A new 16 mm. (5/8 inch) x five-ply marine mahogany plywood transom with oak framing, a new full length oak keel and new oak battens were then added to provide a brand new bottom structure.

High quality 9 mm. x seven-ply marine mahogany plywood was cut to the bottom shape. It was attached with Sikaflex adhesive and hundreds of #8 x 1” FH. Stainless Steel Robertson screws to the chines, battens, frames and keel. Six ounce fibreglass cloth was set in East System Epoxy giving a high quality clear surface that Joe now jokes as being not only waterproof, but “bullet-proof”.

This work brought the restoration schedule up to 2009 and the boat was ready to remove from the building jig. Skylark’s original 1950s homebuilt wood frame highway trailer had rotted over time, and a decision was made to build a new replica of original trailer.

In the 1950s few, if any, commercial trailer companies existed, so most DIY home builders also made their own trailers. White oak was used instead of common spruce lumber for framing and all components such as tires, wheels, wheel bearings, and lights were replaced. Ready to roll, the trailer also incorporated two original cast iron beer-bottle openers used in former after-race camaraderie. There were no “easy off screw caps” provided in those days.

All Inboard racing boats were required to have sufficient foam floatation material installed to support them in event of collision, upset, or accident. COD Class Rules demanded the closed area forward of 4th frame (watertight?) bulkhead had to be completely filled with Styrofoam. For safety reasons, this replacement was made using modern fire and water resistant foam material.

In the spring of 2011, Joe overhauled the 283 Chev motor and rebuilt the fuel pump, carburetor, and distributor in the process. The direct drive roller chain motor to prop shaft coupling was also replaced. Running hardware such as strut, propeller shaft, shaft log, turning fin, and cavitation plate was then re-installed. A turning fin is absolutely necessary on COD boats to help keep them going on a straight line at high speeds and also to help its relatively flat bottom from “skidding out” in the turns.

skylarkThe heavy duty building dolly was modified to bolt the motor on 2 x 6” wood stringers replicating the actual boat construction. It became a very effective run in and test stand for the motor before re-installing it in the boat. With temporary water and fuel supply attached, the motor’s ignition timing was set and checked for fuel, oil or water leaks. After 20 minutes run in-time, the cylinder heads, manifolds and accessories were all re-torqued to specifications.

It was truly “music to our ears” to hear the 283 Chev motor roar back to its loud and un-muffled life after being silent for so long. With this came the reality and dreams of getting behind the wheel again and the boat’s future fun. It was hoped to have had a ride in the fall of 2011, but weather and the season’s ending closed in too quickly. Skylark was once again stored away for the winter.

With the motor re-installed and drive line connected, for spring of 2012 there remains only some wiring, fuel and water line plumbing left to do. Along with paint and name lettering touch ups, it will be ready for the 2012 Gravenhurst Boat Show. The long restoration process and often difficult journey were very rewarding for both father and son. It has been a wonderful opportunity to share together in this important technical information and to preserve this special boat and its racing history from “the good old days”. It’s great to see Skylark back and ready for action again.

On the “What’s in a Name“question? Multiple answers of the word Skylark can be related to common European song birds, frivolous actions, a 1940’s Glen Miller Orchestra hit record, or Buick automobiles. We suggest the latter is the logical answer as Lloyd Smith was a Tool and Die maker at Frigidaire Canada and a loyal GM Management employee.

To celebrate the 50thAnniversary of Buick automobile production, in 1953 General Motors introduced the Buick Skylark, a special model that ran successfully until 1998. Lloyd proudly owned a Buick Skylark at that time and used it to tow his boat Skylark to CBF Inboard racing regattas. This would seem to be the right answer, but unfortunately we will never know for sure.

Separate box if space allows:
Racing “Scuttlebutt”. Although desirable, there was no pre-requisite of mechanical skill required to be a “Riding Mechanic”. Simply put, it took a lot of nerve and daring attitude to participate. In COD racing his most important job was to be vigilant of any racing dangers seen and warn the driver; hold down his side of the boat; hang on for dear life; and, lean over and help keep the driver from bouncing out of the boat when maneuvering around crowded rough turns and jumping converging boat wakes. A good riding mechanic could make or break the boat’s racing results and was a very important member of the team.