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Kaama Raceboat Restoration Moving Forward

Among the storied raceboats piloted by the late Betty Cook—the only woman to win national and world championships in offshore powerboat racing—was a 38-foot Scarab called Kaama and later Michelob Light. Cook, who ran the boat with legendary throttleman John Connor in the early 1980s, died at age 70 in 1991. But her famed 38-footer is still here and, thanks to the efforts of its current owner, Tom Jewsbury of Rochester, N.Y., could be back on the water in its close-to-original form next year.


As Rochester, N.Y., thaws out, restoration of the Kaama Scarab piloted by Betty Cook will heat up. All photos courtesy Tom Jewsbury.

A 55-year-old lineman for Rochester Gas & Electric by trade, Jewsbury has been an offshore racing fan since his pre-teen years and is no stranger to restoration projects. In the early 2000s, he restored the original 38-foot Scarab from the “Miami Vice” television show. The project took three years.

“We took off every nut and bolt and put it back on the Miami Vice boat,” he said. “We redid the interior and the exterior. The motor work was done by an outside contractor, but we did pretty much everything else.”

Jewsbury eventually sold Miami Vice and about seven years ago he purchased the iconic Kaama Scarab from Ronnie Byrd in Albita Springs, La. According to Jewsbury, Byrd had done a substantial amount of restoration work on the vintage V-bottom before he decided to part with it. From there, the 38-footer went directly to Thunder Power Boats Inc., in Fort Myers, Fla., where company principal Bob Oetringer replaced the boat’s thin, light and somewhat flimsy Kevlar deck with a sturdier fiberglass version.

“Bob owned the sister-boat of Betty Cook’s Scarab,” said Jewsbury. “So he took a mold off its deck, built a new deck and put it on my boat. He also repaired damage to the nose—the boat had hit a coral reef at some point—and replaced the fuel tanks.”

For a look at the Kaama project in its various stages as well as back in its original form, check out the slideshow above.

But with the restoration happening in Florida and Jewsbury living in New York, progress on the project was too slow for the hands-on owner.

“Bob was so busy,” Jewsbury said. “And it was such a long way for me to go down there to check on progress.”

Earlier this year, Jewsbury decided it was time to bring his 38-footer home. Chris Hefkey, one of his friends who did the restoration paint work on the Miami Vice project boat, hauled the Scarab back to Rochester.

There are three major stages left in the project: Interior replacement, engine renovation and restoring the 38-footer’s original Kaama graphics package. Hefkey will handle the paintwork and will team up with Jewsbury on renovating the boat’s simple three-person stand-up bolster—as it was originally the boat will be a full-time stand-up ride with no cabin. As for its twin 580-cubic-inch, 750-hp naturally aspirated engines, they will be converted from mechanical stack fuel injection to electronic stack fuel injection.

“I want to keep the injector stacks so the boat is ‘period-correct,’ ” said Jewsbury. “The motors are pretty much done other than the fuel injection system upgrade. Bob had them rebuilt when he had the boat. They are not the original motors—they are motors from another boat Bob had.

“I could have easily put in blowers and carburetors,” he added. “But I want it to look period-correct because it was a very popular boat.”

As for the boat’s No. 3 drives, Jewsbury said the orginals were replaced by rebuilt models from Oetringer. In a concession to manageability around the docks, the drivetrain’s original crash boxes have been replaced with standard transmissions.

If all holds to plan, the restored Kaama Scarab will be back on the water in time for the 2016 boating season. Jewsbury said that he and his wife, Libby, who currently do their boating on the St.Lawrence River and Alexandria Bay in a 43-foot Scarab, are eager to get the vintage raceboat back on the water and plan to campaign it in poker runs.

“We have a lot of money tied up in the project and want to get it done,” he said. “This time next year, I think we’ll be on the water. We can’t wait.”

When finished, the restored vintage offshore raceboat will be as close to its original form as possible.

Editor’s Note: Speedonthewater.com will provide updates on this project as it moves through its major stages. For more frequent owner-supplied updates, visits the project’s Facebook page.