By Charles Plueddeman
Raveau Restoration: A Classic Runabout Returns
A classic outboard racing runabout is revived by an original builder.
The incoming email said simply, “My Dad’s new boat.” When I opened the attached file, there was an image of what appeared to be a wonderful restoration of a vintage wooden runabout that looked vaguely familiar. Then I noticed the “Raveau” logo in red script on the hull side, and knew where I’d seen this boat before – in archive photos from Lake X, the legendary Mercury Marine test facility in central Florida.
I called my friend, Orlando-based photographer Tom King, who had sent the email, and found out that his father was the proud owner not of a restored Raveau runabout, but of a brand new “second-generation” Raveau. Here’s the story.
Marcel Raveau was a highly-regarded builder based in Long Island, whose boats were very successful in the Albany-to-New York races staged on the Hudson River in the 1940s. In 1957, Raveau was hired by Mercury founder Carl Kiekhaefer to build boats for a top-secret project Kiekhaefer called Operation Atlas, a stunt that would have two boats powered by Mercury Mark 75 outboards run non-stop for 25,000 miles. Raveau built four 15-foot runabouts. Two were rigged with 30-gallon fuel tanks and headlights for Operation Atlas. The boats were to be re-fueled on the run, and stopped only for routine maintenance. The attempt commenced at 6:58 a.m. on Sept. 11, 1958, and 34 days, 11 hours, 47 minutes and 5.4 seconds later, the lead boat had covered 25,003.2 miles. The project earned Mercury lots of national publicity, and the same motors were used to make a second 25,000 run, this time on 16-foot Raveau boats.
In 1959, Kiekhaefer signed Raveau to a one-year contract to build boats in Sarasota he would enter as an unofficial factory team in the new American Power Boat Association (APBA) Outboard Pleasure Craft racing classes. One of the men hired to help build, test and race these boats was 20-year-old Bob Walwork. Walwork had recently moved to Florida with his family after his parents sold a marina in Penn Yan, N.Y., where Bob had worked since he was a boy, and had started racing boats at age seven. Walwork worked with Raveau until the contact was fulfilled. The pair teamed up again in the early 1960s, when Walwork won several off-shore endurance races in the Miami area in Raveau hulls. Raveau retired to his native France in 1963, and Walwork enjoyed a career working at several boat companies, and later as an independent design consultant based in Palmetto, Fla.
Long active in the antique outboard and boat hobby, Walwork was inspired in 1995 to build replicas of a 15-foot Raveau runabout and a 13-foot Class D Utility Raveau race hull for display at shows, “because it’s a lot easier to find an old outboard than it is an old boat to put hang it on.” In 1996, Walwork was shown a photo of a 1961 16-foot Raveau “Bomb” race boat, and was asked if a boat like this could be built again. Realizing that he’d generated a new-found interest in the Raveau legacy, Walwork decided to build a “continuation” of the 16-foot Raveau with a modern V bottom. That first model debuted at the 1997 Sunnyland Chapter Antique and Classic Boat Society show at Mt. Dora, Fla.
Soon Walwork was taking orders for copies of this beautiful Raveau 16, and for a 20-foot example, each priced between $20,00 and $30,000. With a six-month lead time required to build each boat, Walwork started a waiting list that grew to include 17 names. To date he’s built 30 boats, and only three orders remain on the list, to which no more names will be added. One of the latest went to his friend and dentist, Dr. Bill King of Bradenton, Fla.
As it floats in the water, the Raveau 16 Dr. King received in February appears to be an exact replica of the 1961 model that was its inspiration, right down to the concave hull sides and the side spray rails. The exceptions are a modern steering wheel and the lack of once-stylish “fins” on the aft gunwales. The bottom, however, is radically different.
“The original boats had a flat bottom,” says Walwork, who spoke to me from his shop this week. “These continuation boats have a deep vee bottom with a variable deadrise that’s about 20 degrees at the transom. It makes the boat easier to drive and more comfortable.”
I find it amazing that Walwork is building these new Raveau boats completely from memory.
“There are no plans, and I don’t think there ever were, other than some notes on a legal pad,” said Walwork, who has spent much of his career working in fiberglass. “I remember just how we did it.”
Walwork is using many of the same materials Raveau taught him to shape and form 50 years ago. A spruce framework is covered with mahogany marine plywood, assembled with silicon bronze ring barbed nails and “the same Weldwood glue we used back in the day,” says Walwork. The finish on the foredeck is accomplished with stain color and inlay. The graceful bow handle is a stainless steel reproduction Walwork found at a boat show.
Dr. King chose to power his 600-pound boat with a 1988 Mercury 115, rebuilt and finished with 1973-style graphics.
“We don’t quite have it optimized yet, but it will run about 54 mph,” says King. “Trim it out and she runs on about the last foot of the bottom. The bow floats around in the air a bit, but you feel in control. It’s a lot of fun.” And beautiful to look at. King says the workmanship is “unimpeachable” and multiple layers of automotive clear coat give the finish incredible depth.
Other owners are more interested in pushing their second-generation Raveau to the limit, says Walwork. “Some of the 20-footers are rigged with a 225-horsepower motor and will run 75 miles per hour,” he says. “You get a lot of air under the hull at that speed. It’s not a toy with that much power.”
Born to race, it seems only fitting that a second-generation Raveau is pushed to the limit.
To see more images, including vintage shots of Marcel Raveau, classic Raveau race and pleasure boats, and pictures of other generation two Raveau boats, visit Raveau Boats.
Charles Plueddeman is Boats.com’s outboard, trailer, and PWC expert. He is a former editor at Boating Magazine and contributor to many national publications since 1986.
- Charles Plueddeman is Boats.com's outboard, trailer, and PWC expert. He is a former editor at Boating Magazine and contributor to many national publications since 1986.