As with some other Aussie wooden boat builders, Graham Howard is unassuming and amazingly modest about his achievements. Yet, in designing and building both Mr Teach and Dusty II, he has created just two examples of his outstanding craftsmanship.
Graham started his career as a 15-year-old apprentice with Glideaway Marine in Bankstown, where various types of craft, such as row boats, sail boats, speedboats and launches, were built. Next, he went to work for Bindley and Roberts at Menai, where commercial workboats up to around 40-feet were built for use in the Pacific islands.
By age 22, Graham had started his own business, initially working from under his home in East Hills. He designed and built early tunnel boats, skiffs and runabouts — “anything that came along really”. Later he moved with his wife Mary to the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry where he has been building boats ever since, including top level hydro raceboats running up to 6-litre V8s and capable of speeds up to 225km/h.
Graham raced himself, and back in the late 1960s he had success in the 155 cubic inch class with a 13ft 6in (4.1m) skiff called Dusty that was uniquely powered by a six-cylinder cross-flow-head Fiat 2300 engine. Graham and Dusty competed at famous venues such as Silverwater, St George, Cabarita and Deepwater. More recently, memories of those fabulous times led Graham to the idea of building a replica.
Dusty was based on a Lewis Bros design of the time, and Graham’s new 15ft (4.6 metre) Dusty II has elements of that along with aspects of an Everingham racing skiff, all topped off with refinements by Graham who used meranti and mountain ash timbers in the construction. Another Fiat 2300 has been used although this time with six motorbike carbies that look magnificent lined up along the port side of the engine — the combination takes the boat to around 105km/h at 6200rpm. An early model straight-drive Haynes and Hellyer transmission takes the power to the prop, and Dusty II simply looks superb whether on its trailer or spearing across the water.
Before his Dusty II project, though, Graham decided that he’d like to create an ‘old-fashioned’ boat for himself and the result became Mr Teach — a marvellous example of a 1920s speedboat or ‘gentleman’s runabout’. It was based on a boat of this style by the famous American naval architect John Hacker, who produced countless speed and race boats from the early 1900s to the 1950s, all of which had a flowing, well-balanced and truly beautiful appearance as well as outstanding performance.
Graham is a designer in his own right, so he adapted the lines of the Hacker by taking some of the rocker out of the bottom, adding a little extra beam and changing the deck line — really, the result can be called a Graham Howard 21ft (6.4m) original.
On and off over four years, the boat took shape with Graham using West System epoxy to assemble timbers, including mahogany, silver ash, meranti and kauri pine, plus laminated oregon and ply for the keel. The glorious finish of the exterior was achieved with two-pack International Perfection varnish of which seven coats were brushed and sprayed.
For fittings such as the windscreen frames and engine hatch hinges, Graham fabricated patterns and had them made in chrome-plated brass to suit the style of the boat. His good friend Ron Filsell was making vents for a boat that he was building, and Graham used those patterns to produce the vents along the forward topsides of Mr Teach. He also designed and built the trailer.
The engine for Mr Teach is a 4.5-litre side-valve Chrysler straight-six of a type that was used in US Army landing barges. Graham originally intended to use a Kew Dodge and asked Jim Broadley of Diablo Motors fame if he had one. Jim, however, suggested Graham look at one of the 30 Chryslers he had in various states with missing parts. He told Graham to take a pallet with two of the Chryslers, advising there’d be enough parts between both to get a good running engine. So that’s what Graham did, and the result has been an ideal power match for the hull.
The Chrysler has been fitted with triple 1.5in SU carbies, for which Graham fabricated an inlet manifold, and he found a water-cooled exhaust manifold of a type that was used years ago on Dodge engines. That manifold feeds into twin stainless pipes that run discreetly, vertically stacked, down the port side of the cockpit and through the transom via a custom-fabricated flapper-protected dual outlet.
The transmission is a Borg Warner Velvet Drive FNR unit with a 1:1 ratio that spins a four-blade 12 x 14in prop. Other props have been tried, but this one gives optimum performance. Cruising along at a relaxed 19km/h, the Chrysler is turning 1500rpm, while 2500rpm brings a faster cruise at 40km/h. Top speed is about 64km/h with the straight-six spinning 3500rpm — a good throttle setting for the comparatively long-stroke Chrysler.
The name for the boat came about through respect for Charlie Sutton, an old friend of Graham’s. Charlie taught Graham a great deal about boats and engines — taught him so much in fact that Graham started to call him ‘Mr Teach’, and so it became an appropriate name for this superb runabout.
Mr Teach featured in a major film too. A chap who had bought a boat to be restored mentioned to Graham that he was looking for a runabout from around 1927 to go in a movie. Graham said he’d just finished Mr Teach and it turned out that its style was exactly what was needed. Graham was asked if he’d take Mr Teach to the movie studios as shooting was due to happen within a few days.
He agreed and towed his masterpiece to the studios where it was craned into an indoor pond that had been set up with a wharf and a jetty, complete with oysters on the posts for realism. The whole affair looked like a typical outdoor waterfront boating location. The boat stayed in the pond, stationary, for a few days while scenes were shot around it, and then later towed some skiers on Botany Bay for the movie.
While not quite at the same level as starring in a wide-screen movie, the photo shoot for this feature was quite a special event in its own right. Blessed by a perfect day on the Hawkesbury River, Mr Teach with Graham and Mary onboard looked stunning and the gleam of the sun highlighted both the craftsmanship and the finish of the mahogany and silver ash timbers. The chromed-brass screen frame and other fittings, as well as the cockpit upholstery and helm position controls, all looked perfect too.