A 31 foot, Gar Wood Speedster

Mike Michaud - owner/builder

Michauds Inboard Marine

A Dream Boat - those were the words that fellow boat builder Geoff Magnuson used when Mike Michaud told him about his latest boat building project “Murlen”. When Geoff asked Mike what he was working on this winter, Mike told him it was a boat of his own design. Oh, Geoff said, “A dream boat”.


Actually, the boat started as a 1946 Gar Wood deluxe utility, hull number 7116. Mike found the boat and thought of a Gar Wood speedster he liked named Obsession owned by Vintage Race Boat Shop owner, Bill John. But this Gar Wood was in terrible shape. It became “a dream boat” as Mike began to visualize how to rebuild it into a speedster like “Obsession”.


The story begins following Mike’s successful project building a replica of “Miss Detroit III”. In reality, the story begins even earlier than that. Mike has always been a builder and lover of speed. At age 13, Mike built a Sting Ray chopper bicycle. At 16, his first car. In the 1970’s Mike raced hot rods. A few years ago, Mike built a P-40 custom motorcycle. That project was featured in a story written by his 19 year old daughter, Shelby Michaud, in the September/October, 2005 issue of Iron Works, the magazine for Harley enthusiasts.  



Mike grew up, in and around Square Pond in Acton, Maine. It was there that he developed a love of boats and speed. Having reclaimed some old growth Douglas fir lumber from several sports stadiums that were being demolished, Mike wondered how he might use that wood. Douglas fir has been a preferred wood for boats because of its strength and high rot resistance. Even though Mike has to patch some of the screw and nail holes in the wood, he still has enough wood for four more boats.


Miss Detroit III grew out of the love of boats, speed and the good fortune of having that wonderful Douglas fir. “Miss Detroit III” was constructed during the 2004-2005 winter. Fortunately, Mike has a work shop in a 30 x 80 foot building on the same property as his house. One of the first things you notice in his shop is the double rows of clamps lined up on either side of one of the windows in the building. A rough count shows that he has at least 50 clamps ready for use.


Miss Detroit III was constructed following the original design used by Gar Wood. The original boat won the 1918 Gold Cup in Detroit. Gar Wood was the first to successfully use an aircraft engine, a 1916 Curtiss V-12, in a race boat. Mike says that the original Miss Detroit III was very complex in design. His current project is a lot simpler.


Miss Detroit III debuted at the NH Vintage Race Boat Regatta last September. After Miss Detroit III was completed and ran well in Wolfeboro, Mike decided he would take on no winter projects in 2006. He spent a few weeks at home, making dinner, watching TV, but getting a bit fidgety. Mike did not realize he was acting strangely until his wife, Erin said, “Mike, you’ve got to find something to do.” And so, “Murlen” began.


When asked why another vintage race boat, Mike said, “It gives you a kick. When I ran Miss Detroit III at Wolfeboro, I had such a feeling of freedom. When you work on a project like Miss Detroit III, look at all the old photographs, and read about the guys who built the original boat, you get to know the guys. I wanted to relive what they had done. To feel what they felt. That’s why I decided to do it again.”


Although “Murlen” may have a simpler design than Miss Detroit III, there are plenty of challenges associated with this boat. First off, the original boat. It had so much rotted wood that it was near to impossible to rebuild the original hull. So, Mike designed a new hull. The original utility was 18-1/2 feet. Mike needed to find some new stringers at least 21 feet in length to recreate that hull.



Unfortunately, no lumber yard had any Douglas fir like that. Mike did find some 28 foot pieces from a lumber yard that had been ordered by someone else, long in the past. The lumber yard, being eager to rid itself of such custom wood, offered the wood to Mike at cost. Another serendipitous receipt of old wood. Of course, Mike accepted.


As Mike contemplated cutting the 28 foot pieces, he just could not bring himself to carve up the wood. So, he changed his design to a 31 foot hull. After he put the bottom together, he proudly showed it off to his wife, Erin. Always practical, Erin asked, “Is there enough room for a 31 foot boat?” Mike replied that his shop is 50 feet long. But Erin reminded him that the storage part of his building is only 30 feet long. Oops! Mike’s answer: “I guess I’ll have to store it on an angle.”



Mike incorporated a bow frame member and a bow nose piece from the original Gar Wood utility in the bottom of “Murlen”. So, this boat is considered a restoration of an original boat, not a replica like “Miss Detroit III”. All of the original hardware will also be included in the final boat. Mike has the original nose piece, the Gar Wood logo shield, and the other chrome plated brass pieces, which he will attach after completion.




Murlen will be a twin cockpit speedster. Mike used offsets from the original hull which had 13 frames. He continued the theme until he got the length he wanted. “Once you design some good lines, you can get what you want in building a boat,” Mike explains. In describing the boat, he gestures that “From here to about here is Bill’s boat (Obsession), and thereon, it becomes a lengthened version of a speedster".



Mike also intends to construct the transom to be convex, both ways. In 1937 or so, Gar Wood transoms were constructed to roll over the deck. Mike is expanding on this theme.


As for the engine, the original boat had a 6 cylinder Chrysler marine engine. The new engine will be a 572 cubic inch Chevrolet monster motor. As for now, “Murlen” is upside down on saw horses. The first part of the bottom is done. Two steps will be added next, the frame is exposed, and the sides are still yet to come.


How long will it take to finish? Bill John says, “It all depends on whether Mike stays on the project or gets distracted". On 3/18/2006, Mike invited Bill's Saturday morning crew to his shop in Acton Maine for lunch and a shop tour. Free food will get them every time, and they were impressed. Mike's workmanship on his 31 foot Gar Wood Speedster was awesome and the hot dogs were superb - thanks Mike ???!!! 



My daughter Shelby was home from college this past weekend and lent a hand as she always has, we put the final layer of plywood down. She has always been the helping and talented hand that no one saw.


Then the bottom was painted - blue.



On 2/10/2007, Mike again invited Bill's Saturday Morning Gathering crew to his shop in Acton Maine for lunch and a shop tour. The free food will get them every time, and they were impressed. Mike's workmanship on his 31 foot Gar Wood Speedster was awesome and the hot dogs were just superb - thanks again Mike !!!







As for the name of the boat, Murlen Fellows was Gar Wood’s wife, so “Murlen” just fits this boat perfectly. I also want to thank Geoff Magnuson for getting me started and involved with the construction of vintage race boats - for people to see, touch, and ride in.

Here is the completed "Murlen". Only a handful of people have seen her, and she has only been run on our small lake, Square Pond in Shapleigh Maine.

Kinda Miss America looking.....right ???



Will see you on the water !!!

Mike Michaud

Acton, Maine


Michauds Inboard Marine


This boat is currently for sale !!!

Gar Wood original hull number 7148

70% original Gar Wood hardware

Mark IV 4 bolt Cross Rammed 454 CI Edlebrock fortified to 450 HP

Kill switch and Safety stop collars

Borge Warner 1.5:1 Velvet Drive Transmission

Hull Construction:  cold molded with West System

Construction Materials: Honduran Mahogany and Douglas fir

Fasteners: Silicon Bronze, Stainless steel, Brass

Custom trailer with electric brakes

Custom storage cover


Click here for Mike's previous project - Miss Detroit III