It started with a pair of 17-year-old 200-hp Yamahas. Steve Johnson's friend would give him the outboards for free - on one condition.
"He said, 'I'll give them to you if you cause a scene with them - you know, stir up some trouble,' " says Johnson. The "trouble" would take place on Maine's lobster boat racing circuit this summer.
Notorious for concocting oddball vessels for the races, Johnson did not disappoint. Over a couple of beers last spring, he and his design team - a mix of lobstermen, fishermen and mechanic friends - decided to saw off the top of a 1973 26-foot Silverton, glass a deck over it, and strap a 1994 sapphire-blue convertible Pontiac Sunbird to it.
Johnson, 54, named the vessel Ca'-Boat. And it's a real boat - registered in the State of Maine, with navigation lights, GPS and a VHF radio. You operate Ca'-Boat from the driver's seat ... of the car, that is. "We just made up a coupling and put a hydraulic steering pump on the end of the steering column," says Johnson, who has run his own business, Johnson's Boatyard on Long Island, Maine, since 1993. "We just had to run hydraulic hoses back from there. We put the shifter in where the console was. It turns beautifully, like a sports car."
To secure the car to the deck, Johnson used chains lag-bolted into wood blocks fiberglassed to the deck. He mounted a fuel tank and batteries in the trunk compartment of the car and ripped out the car engine to free up storage space under the hood for life jackets. The powered convertible top even works. The Yamahas push Ca'-Boat to a top speed of 50 mph
"We beefed up the stern to hold the outboards," says Johnson.
About 450 boats from 12 to 46 feet participate each year in a series of lobster boat races held in such Maine ports as Rockland, Searsport and Stonington. There's been some mild grumbling by other participants about Johnson's Ca'-Boat falling well outside the definition of a lobster boat, even though he has mounted a faux pot hauler on the port side.
"Some guys have said that boat doesn't fish," says Jon Johansen, president of the Maine Lobster Boat Racing Association. "And I say, 'Yeah, well it generates interest in the races, and that's good.' "
How will Johnson top the Ca'-Boat? Word is he's trying to secure an Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.
Read the full story in the October issue of Soundings.