Lake Martin UFO
David McDaniel resurrects a 37-year-old British novelty CirCraft boat
Story by Austin Nelson & Photos by Kenneth Boone
A few weeks ago, when David McDaniel took his peculiar, circular boat for a test drive, it was a day 37 years in the making.
“The boat was given to me when I was 7 years old,” McDaniel said. “It had no engine then, it was just a shell.”
Without an engine or any other instrumentation McDaniel said that his dad used to pull the strange-looking craft behind the boat like an inner tube.
It was then that McDaniel would learn one of the first limitations of the craft—it has no drain plug or bilge pump.
“When we were 8 or 9, we had a bunch of us piled in there, and our dad slung us around a turn,” McDaniel said. “Well, we all leaned forward and water went over the hull and sunk it. We all popped back up, but the boat sat at the bottom of the lake for three months until the water went down.”
The craft, which McDaniel now believes is a British-made vessel called a CirCraft, would do a whole lot of sitting around for the next 30 years. After it was rescued from the depths of Lake Martin, was parked at his cabin on the lake. When the cabin was sold, it sat for another 10 years in the woods behind McDaniel Storage, before it was moved to an inside building, where once again, it sat idle.
It wasn’t until McDaniel received some friendly ribbing from his brother-in-law in Panama City that the boat would begin its resurrection.
“I sent him some photos of it, and he sort of lit the fire underneath me to get it back running again,” McDaniel said. “My brother-in-law had been working on an old SeaDoo Jetmate—he sunk a whole wad of money into that thing. He told me that he had done his part, now it was time for me to do mine.”
Most of the pieces to the CirCraft had been kept over the years, McDaniel said, but a few pieces had to be made to complete the boat.
“One of the fins was missing, but a friend of mine used the one fin as a pattern to make a matching pair,” McDaniel said.
McDaniel had to fabricate another ski as well, again using the existing ski as a template, which is mounted at the bottom rear of the boat.
“I bought a new rubber trim to go around the boat then managed to figure out how to put it back together,” McDaniel said. “I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like in the end. It was awful looking when I started. Over the years, we had knocked holes in it, and patched them back up, and of course it had sat all that time back in the woods. I figured if I got it painted and out on the water, I had done a good day’s work.”
Now that it is completed, McDaniel said the unusual boat has exceeded his expectations.
“It turned out looking extremely nice,” McDaniel said.
There isn’t much to the boat – there is no bilge pump, no drain plug, no seat and no rudder controls.
“You basically just set the throttle using the tiller handle then hold on and hope for the best,” McDaniel said.
The boat is steered by leaning, McDaniel said, which actually was easier than he expected.
“It actually handles pretty well – it turns as well as a SeaDoo, and its fairly easy to keep going straight,” McDaniel said. “You can do an easy turn, or I can kind of sit on the edge and turn it around real quick.”
Even though maneuvering the vessel is a breeze, nothing has been easy about getting the boat on the water, McDaniel explained. When he went to register the boat, he had no hull number or boat model.
“I had to fill out a form, take pictures of it and send it to Montgomery,” McDaniel said. “Then they sent it back to the marine police on Lake Martin and they had to come out and inspect it before I finally got a tag made and bolted on the back of the boat.”
Literally getting it in and out of the water is difficult, too, McDaniel said.
“It’s a lot of work,” McDaniel said. “We had no blueprints, and I had to make a trailer for it. I modified an old SeaDoo trailer by flattening the skids, but it’s not like a boat where you can just float back onto the trailer. You really have to get out, and walk it up onto the trailer. When you want to get in, you have to get it off the trailer and over to the pier to get into it.”
Once on the water, McDaniel quickly discovered that the 3.5 horsepower motor was not enough. He outfitted the circular craft with a 10 horsepower outboard engine, but still said he would like a little more power.
“It is actually rated for a 30 horsepower engine,” McDaniel said.
The maiden voyage did not end well –after getting out on the water and driving around for a while the boat struck a log, again poking holes in it. So it was off to the body shop again for more repairs.
“It’s something to waste money on, that’s what my wife says,” McDaniel said with a laugh.
Though he continues to sink money into it, he has no plans to get rid of the boat.
“It’s been in the family so long, it’s hard to think about getting rid of it,” McDaniel said. “I might consider it if someone came along with their heart right, but I’ll probably just keep it around for the kids.”
As for now, he will keep standing up, dodging logs and driving it around the lake.
“I thought about putting some colored Christmas lights around it and floating around at 2 in the morning to freak some boaters out,” McDaniel said with a chuckle. “I figure the marine police might stop me and lock me up, though.”