Sailing with a Seagull

Dad preferred Seagulls. In the 1960s this was not unusual, that Great British piece of Engineering hung from the transoms of most boats under 20’. By the mid 1970s like our motorbikes British outboard motors were giving way to cool hooded and painted Japanese engines.  Why did Dad stick with his uncool Seagulls? “Because it works and if it doesn’t I can fix it with a screwdriver, pliers and the right spanners”. Dad’s well stocked toolbox took pride of place at the foot of the companion way on each of his boats.  “Yeh right Dad”.

Like this we sailed much of the year on Ullswater with a Seagull 40+ hanging off the transom of our 20’ sailing cruiser. In the summer we sailed for 2-3 weeks at a time and around the Clyde and Inner Hebrides with a family of five on board and a Seagull Silver Century Plus (with clutch) hanging off the back. 

My own boats came with more modern outboards until I became the keeper of Gnat a Mirror dinghy I had helped Dad to build in 1973, which through another keeper had gained a 1961 Seagull 40+ with its original manual, workshop notes and was still stored in its original factory packing case. And there the little Seagull remained for many years, only opened up to view as a curio.

Enter Daisy, our Cornish Shrimper complete with a quiet, powerful Mariner 8 (with generator).  The beast filled the well, the hood had been modified to not quite fit under the tiller. Its immense weight affected trim and nose weight when towing unless it was lifted and stowed in the cockpit or the car. With dodgy backs this was not an operation to be undertaken lightly and avoided if possible. So the Anglesey mud and barnacles got to do their worst, blocking waterways and encrusting the prop. The Beast rebelled and became mutinous. Lavish and expensive servicing by professionals had little effect.

The little Seagull was exhumed from its box and given a wipe over. The manual was read. This priceless little book came from an age when the nearest a lad could expect from his Dad in the way of sex advice was along the lines “Now son, always remember after a ride to give your bike a wipe over with an oily rag. Don’t matter what the girlfriend is mithering for, this will set up a patina for life”.

The author’s Navy Plug wafts through the intervening half century of enforced political correctness since gems like this were penned.

After 30+ years lying asleep in its box the little old Seagull started second pull. First attempts to use it on the inflatable were less successful. It was set too deep in the water. Back to the manual. Too much back pressure on the exhaust. Raising the engine bracket on the inflatable did the trick. A bit wobbly but it worked.

Heading for Scotland the little Seagull was slipped into a corner of the aft locker. (See “Daisy’s Cruise to the Commonwealth Games” The Shrimper autumn 2014). A few weeks later I had a call for help from Gordon. The Beast would not start and he had missed the tide. Aged petrol gumming the carb and excessive pulling on the starter cord leading to flooding was diagnosed as the problem. The option of dropping the Beast over the side and fitting the little Seagull was only just avoided when next morning the Beast was coaxed into life and behaved for the rest of the trip up Loch Fyne and back to Port Bannatyne. But patience with the Beast had finally evaporated like the biofuel to leave a nasty residue. A new 6hp Mariner with a high thrust prop was contemplated, but after anti fouling, varnishing the mast and replacing the 25 year old standing rigging and mouldy cushions the annual maintenance budget was pleading poverty. An interim solution was called for. £100 “won” us “The best outboard motor for the world” a British Seagull “Silver Century (with clutch)” courtesy of E Bay.

The “new” Seagull emerged from the darker recesses of a garage on the Wirral covered in dust, oil and the flaking remains of an attempt to manage corrosion on the drive shaft and flywheel. It was dropped into a green wheelybin “test tank” and started first pull. A pencil thick stream of lukewarm rusty cooling water ran from the cylinder block. The starter cord, a widow making block of wood on the end of a frayed bit of nylon, was politely declined. The engine fitted in Daisy’s engine well. Cash was passed over and we headed off to Anglesey to launch Daisy.  

In seawater at the foot of the slip the engine started second pull and being in gear pushed Daisy back onto her trailer. A push down on the clutch lever disengaged the prop, a hard shove on the trailer set Daisy free (no reverse gear here) and the clutch was flipped up again to engage the prop. Exuding smoke in all directions, coughing, spluttering and creating a din fit to wake the dead we crawled around the Gallows Point back onto the mooring. The previous owner had said the carb needed cleaning which explained the uneven running. 10:1 fuel to oil mix accounted for the smoke and a slightly loose fuel tank accounted for some of the excess decibels. The relative lack of thrust was a bit concerning as the Anglesey tides set in.

I took the new Seagull home for some TLC.

Setting expectations 1950’s style

An internet search brought me to the website. From the serial code on the side of the engine I was able to identify the engine as a Seagull Silver Century made in May 1978 and delivering, when new, approximately 4HP. This was one of the first Seagulls to be fitted with the wider bearings which would allow use of a 25:1 fuel to oil mix.

A call to John Williams proprietor and high guru of Saving Old Seagulls confirmed that the engine would have been factory fitted with the right carb jets for 25:1 running and that the undersized 8” “weed less” prop was the standard fitted to these engines. John was also able to supply all the spare parts I might need to renovate the engine.

Scraping off the flaking paint revealed a clean flywheel and a rusted, formerly chromed, drive shaft. A coat of Hammerite provided renewed corrosion protection to the drive shaft. Next the carb. An adjustable spanner freed the clamp holding it to the engine. Then judicious application of grips, a vice and a bit of heat separated the major components. Following John’s advice a screwdriver handle applied to the end of the needle separated the float to reveal a thick build-up of silt and crud in the float chamber. The second stage fuel filter was missing and the jets were partially blocked. Jizer degreaser and a scraper removed the crud. Assuming problems upstream a finger into the petrol tank came out coated in silt, so out with the spanner and off with the petrol tank to give it a thorough clean. I surmised that this venerable engine had not only been “baptised” at some stage, but had also spent some time imbibing the mud of the Dee estuary.

Removing the spark plug revealed a healthy colour and the 0.5mm gap to be about right (roughly the thickness of a thumb nail if it needs to be checked in an emergency). The emulsion in the gear box was off white. Seagull never tried to keep water out of their gear boxes relying instead on grit resistant bushes, low temperatures and case hardened gears. An oil change was recommended every 15 hours running. An old can of EP140 retrieved from Dad’s garage provided fresh brown lubricant. A clean up with Jizer, a rub with some wire wool on some of the more persistent stains and a wipe over with an oily rag completed the clean-up. All reassembled with a new second stage fuel filter, new compression washers under the banjo bolt and fresh 25:1 fuel the Seagull started on second pull. So ended a very satisfying morning in the workshop.

Back on Daisy the light weight of the Seagull (25kg verses the 50+kg Mariner) makes for much better trim and allows Daisy to float even more prettily than before. The light weight also makes lifting the engine out at the end of the day a synch. The Seagull usually starts within 3 pulls. Advice from the Manual is if it does not start within 3-4 pulls then stop pulling and check the plug. 25:1 fuel mix makes for considerably less smoke, particularly once the engine has warmed up.  The engine sits well below the tiller, but with an exposed revolving fly wheel one needs to be seaman like with the sheets and keep young fingers out of the way.

4hp is a bit underpowered for fighting Anglesey’s 4-8 knot tides so reading the tides and eddies is a skill to be honed. However GPS trials with the 40+ show it can push Daisy along at 3.5knots in calm water.

With a bit more time I would go for a later Silver Century Plus (with clutch). At 5hp this should be more than capable of pushing Daisy along at displacement speeds. Yeh Dad’s right “It works and if it doesn’t I can fix it with a screwdriver, pliers and the right spanners”. 

The noise does discourage unnecessary use of the outboard. So with a Seagull on board we do much more sailing.   

A Brace of Seagulls: 1961 vintage “Forty plus” on the tender, 1978 vintage “Silver Century” in Daisy’s well.

Quotations are copied from the 23rd edition of the British Seagull Handbook c1961

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