Brian still uses the same FLYER mould for the 17 ft version

Having dipped his toe into the world of small boat ownership and its attendant problems, Hampshire’s Graeme Pullen, for some strange reason, wanted more. Not content with exploding hubs and wheels careering into oncoming traffic, he went one step further from the renovation of his 13 foot Bass boat “Drifter”. He went larger, this time with a bigger, faster vessel, catching monstrous fish. Nobody can say he hasn’t done his bit to promote small boat angling. But which boat did he get ? Where did he get it? And who was the builder? It all looks like another case for…..

Interview with a legend-

                                  “The Wilson Flyer story”

“What the hell do you want a second boat for?”

 The first comments from the trouble and strife having learned that Project Two was quietly simmering in my brain.

”You’ve only just finished the last one, how is having another one going to improve things?” I wasn’t sure whether “improve things” meant our marital relationship, or my catch rate, so I assumed it to be the latter. She was correct of course, as I had just finished renovating “Drifter”, a 13ft 5inch bass boat by Tidal Marine. First trip out on a boat test and I couldn’t resists ordering some ragworm. Result? 6 schoolie bass. But that got me looking at that internet boat site again, and I thought of all the big fish I could catch if only I had a bigger boat, a faster engine, and a cuddy. After several weeks of perusing the adverts, and after taking into account all the work involved in bringing “Drifter” up to speed, I decided second-hand on a bigger boat really wasn’t the way to go. I am part retired anyway, so I can do what I want with my time, and with the years ticking along in apparent overdrive I thought I might as well have what I want….right now.Secondhand meant more work, and that alone meant less fishing time. More problems with an ageing boat means more hassle generally, and don’t even go towards second-hand engines, you never know what you are going to end up with. I fished a lot from a 14-footer going through the surf at Bude in Cornwall for the big Tope and Porbeagle. The thought of an engine dying halfway up a “perfect storm” wave didn’t bear thinking about. New was the only way to go. And if I was paying full whack I might as well get the most customised shark tagging boat I could afford. I would fit it out how I wanted, not have anyone whingeing about where they could put their rods. I started by going heavily towards Shetlands, and almost bought one. Thank the Lord I didn’t as I would never have been able to move it. Having fished for about thirty years in Florida Boston Whalers I have always had a soft spot for them. After several “near miss” purchases I thought better of it and had to phone the ultimate small boat man with the knowledge of two telephone directories. Phil Williams may be familiar to you all as Britain’s leading small boat writer, and I figured what he didn’t know about the different models wasn’t worth knowing. So poor Phil got continually bombarded with the “should I? …shouldn’t  I”? questions, until I finally settled on a hull. It was the traditional Wilson Flyer, which I believe was one of Phil’s earlier boats.


The Wilson factory is based in Bedhampton in Hampshire

  Down here in the south, and further afield as well, there is one make that always gets the tongue’s wagging. A manufacturer that has more than stood the test of time with his boats, and who, even now, is cranking them out just about as fast as he can go. Brian Wilson of Bedhampton, near Hayling Island. Tried and tested, lots of people knew their plus and minus points, and there was always a ready market for them second-hand. It was winter, and I hassled Brian for a speed up build. I got it. Around six weeks from ordering I was down in his yard lovingly stroking a sleek 17 footer, customised to my specifications. Let me tell you, that is a moment to savour, as the financial world as you know it, is about to change forever. For some reason I thought once you had the hull and cabin you were ready to go fishing. The rigging etc was easy….How wrong can a person be.


The transom is glued together with big clamps

  Not one to give many interviews, or even allow factory shots I did at least get a couple of trips down during the build to watch my boat take shape, and pick up on some of his history. Brian builds many sizes of his famous “Flyer”, from 14 footers, right up to 22 plussers.To be honest you aren’t going to get many modifications from him. You get the boat. That’s it. He can hardly build them fast enough with all the orders he gets. The “Flyer” is a piece of history. Not perfect, but like the British Spitfire, it has that certain something about it. Ask any Wilson owner, and you find them invariably loyal to the make. So here’s the history of the Wilson Flyer, and the build of “Hi Sea Drifter”.

                      Brian Wilson started building the boat back in 1963, and actually has the same 17 foot mould, and over the years expanded his workshops in Bedhampton to the size they are today. He actually started by providing roofing slats from the site with SSA Fire grade roof sheets. When he was 12 years old his father had a houseboat on Hayling Island, and his first boat was a sailing dinghy.From here he moved to Cod fishing off Selsey, and has always been keen on Smoothhound and Tope. His best spot was a run near Dunnose Head at the back of the Isle of Wight. Now he spends more time building boats than fishing, and I questioned him about the start to finish “Flyer”.


Multiple clamps are used to bond the hull to the top sectio

First, they clean the mould and wax with Mirroglaze, a non-grease wax. Then they catalyse the gelcoat (I opted for white hull and yellow top), to get the colour mix. They roll and brush out the gelcoat onto the mould, where it has a working time of about an hour to get it on. An hour later and it has already started to cure. They then put a second coat on. Following this they use 1 ½ ounce glass fibre mat and put this onto the mould in clear resin, where it sets on top of the gelcoat. It takes a day to cure. A couple of days later they lay up with 2 ounce fibreglass matt with the darker colour resin to prevent the light coming through so you get a strong colour of your choice, rather than wishy-washy. This takes a day to cure, and it is then double lapped through the hull area to give a total of 6 ounces of layup glass for the keel. Having been down to photograph the mould and keel I had to wait until he was ready for me to see the next phase. That would be the cuddy.


Best part of the Wilson is the flybride. STAY DRY OUT THERE

The cuddy is made from another mould, with the same production line, wax, gelcoat (I paid extra for bright yellow), giving a final 5 ounce of layout mat for the cuddy. One adaption he has made with the latest hull mould is to alter the nose forward so it takes the seas better. The lifting performance is wider so it comes up on the plane better, and faster. When the hull comes out of the mould it is set up square on the floor, and the transom board in damp proof 2” timber is fitted, and cramped back onto the bonding plate to give a good fix and glued over. Every two feet a ¾” ply rib is put across the boat, taking up the shape of the hull and levelling off the floor. These are glued in with two 2 ounce mat layers. Then down goes the ¾” ply flooring, screwing to the ply ribs. They then start glassing over the floor. All the “knees” are put in around the gunnle for extra strength, again, ¾” ply, plus bulkheads are linked to the front. Then the hull is clamped to the gunnle and overlaid using two 2 ounce strips of fibreglass with polyester resin, which cures in 24 hours. Under the gunnels it is firmed up. The flooring is finished with two layers of glass, plus a gel and wax additive to make it easy to wash the floor. That’s the basic boat, but you get the choice of a full cabin which sleeps two, or a half cabin. I opted for the half cabin, but although I had more space, there was no extra moulding along the gunnle, so there is nowhere for the throttle control to fix. I had to pay extra with King’s Marine to have a stainless steel plate made, bolted to the floor and the gunnle, so the control system could be fitted. Bit of a design fault here, but I overcame it. I also opted for a ¼ bulkhead to the cabin as I could see lots of problems in a tossing boat trying to get a cabin door open, and banging my head. It was open deck space I really wanted, as I was thinking 300lb sharks, not 2lb Plaice. Now I rapidly found out that you won’t get a lot of advice from Brian about anything in the way of fixtures and fittings. If you want things done, make sure you tell him right at the start, as he doesn’t like faffing around making changes. One item I did worry about was that I had no steel keel band for graunching up the beach.”Don’t have one” said Brian, “the screws will eventually move, and you’ll get water ingress. I could have moulded extra glass along the keel, but you didn’t ask me for it, besides which, the idea with a boat is NOT to graunch it up the beach!” Good point. So with as much care as I can I have avoided fitting a steel band, and talking to others they have indeed experienced problems on their boats with water ingress exactly as Brian said, and thereby require extra checking..


The Wilson FLYER mould is a sea angler's classic hull.

You would think it was done now, but I wanted a swivelling helm chair, so Brian ensured an extra board was glassed into the floor to take the pillar mount, and I had this strange craving for a full bench seat across the stern so I could lie down in the sun waiting for a shark run. He fitted this also. (You’ll need to drill a few holes in it for rain drainage if not covered over). As yet I just haven’t had time to lie down, but it does make a superb workbench for rigging and bait preparation. I also paid extra for full stainless bollard cleats, bow roller, bow rails and side rails, and my little luxury was Brian’s flybridge, which is like a huge spray canopy. Without a doubt this canopy was the best thing I have on the boat.  Everyone loves being out of the wind, spray and rain. Others had told me it will make the boat drift off-centre, but if it does I have contrasted that by hanging a drogue off the bow on a rope. It pulls it all round square.


Brian Wilson beside one of his famous Wilson FLYER builds.An ideal low budget sea boat.

I needed a bunked trailer, and one of these was procured from Hayling Trailers, made for the 17 footer. After towing back to North Hampshire I set about the internals, as I had quite a few of my own ideas. I phoned Brian for advice, but he assured me someone else would have all the knowledge. So I basically set about doing my own thing. Right up in the bow is a compartment for an anchor, but it had wasted space. I cut templates for two shelves each side and in here goes the flares, charts, 4 Helly Hansen lifejackets, as well as buoys and my main deepwater anchor rope. Inside the open cabin I fitted a long, four foot ply shelf, with carpet and ledge. On here go coats, and other stuff I want to keep dry. Over the cathedral tunnels, which are rounded so everything slides off, I made a plywood edge to keep cooking utensils, and fishing stuff from rolling around. On the left front I fitted a triangular, tapered ply shelf, carpeted, to take mobile phones, camera equipment, tagging box. All for easy access. Behind the cabin bulkhead I fitted a small caravan gas bottle, and have….wait for it… a double burner galley for cookups and tea. What a luxury. And I still have plenty of space left.

                                 I made a complete shelf unit for under the steering wheel, in go knives,leads,lures,rags,all the odds and sods you need out of the way. To be honest it would be great if the Wilson came with a ready-glassed in shelf unit, its ideal, and could easily be fitted. I reckon nearly all “Flyer” owners would buy one if Brian made one up. It might pay someone to look into those.

Along one side I cut templates of ply and bolted in a rack for landing net, gaffs, and tag stick.

Using the bow rails, flybridge canopy, gunnle section ands bench seat I cut and fitted….enough rod holders to carry ELEVEN Big Game rods !!! And I still haven’t touched the deck area. Under the left stern seat I had two batteries via a switch unit so I had a battery for the engine, and one to run auxiliaries like deck lights, nav lights, searchlights (1 million candlepower) and livebait tank. Under the other side I had space for not one, but twin,25 litre fuel tanks, plus by boarding over the bilge well with loose ply I cut down a plastic box to store handwipes,brush and cleaning stuff, plus another 5 litre tank, so I can carry 55 litres of fuel.

                       That’s the fun stuff, now to the expensive bits. Engines. Here’s Brian Wilson’s estimate of horsepower to speed for his 17 foot Flyer.40hp=20 knots, 50hp=25 knots, and 60hp=32knots, and of course you could always saddle up with a 70hp if you wanted to really fly. It was time to call Phil Williams again, and while I was all for a deal with the Honda 50hp, he assured me I must go for the extra size of 60hp.The balance you have to weigh up is that between increased weight from a larger engine, and fuel economy. The problem with the Wilson is that those cathedral tunnels will pound in a head sea, so there is little point in having a 70 that you rarely get the chance to open up. I had heard of speeds close to 40 knots, but that is a danger area as I can’t see how any driver would see rope or floating timber in the water at that speed. Thus I settled for the new Yamaha 60hp, 4 stroke with standard prop, electric trim/tilt/start etc and which came with a tacho and a superb hoseline flushing attachment, that actually pumps fresh water back out of the cooling system, thus clearing any weed/sand blockages, which might be sucked up on a standard induction flush in a tank. I just keep a rollaway canvas hose so I can flush the engine anywhere there is a tap. Now I looked at fitting the boat up myself, but could see a minefield of mistakes, so decided to pay the extra and had Yamaha specialists, Kings Marine of Chertsey do the entire electrical and steering fitout properly. You could obviously save yourself a packet doing it yourself, but I found out you void the warranty by not having an authorised Yam dealer do the fit out/service etc. While I had looked at Honda, it was the turnkey reliability of Yamaha that finally swung me. I had fitted an auxiliary bracket for a wing 5hp Yam/Honda, but quite honestly for the first season hoped there would be no breakdowns on a new 60hp engine. Its not until you break down that you need the wing engine, and if I was thirty miles offshore(One Tank) it would take a long time to come back in at 5hp.When I do get the wing engine it will be a 4-stroke so I can use the existing fuel on board, rather than carry a two-stroke mix.(Footnote-Have now bought the new 4hp Yamaha as backup, as most of my big Porbeagle trips are off North Cornwall where I definitely don’t need to break down!).

                          While I have the options of adding surplus electrics via the gunnle sockets, I only took aboard an aeration system called KEEPALIVE which is a professional aeration pump where air is infused with the water at the impellor, sending out clouds of micro-fine bubbles, which remain suspended in the live tank longer and thus keep bait fresher. A tip from a bass fisherman saw me with a circular tank, as sandeel and mackerel get their noses into the corners of square ones and drown. I needed a radio, and while most people I know just use the old VHF, I thought I might as well go straight for the jugular and get DSC.This resulted in the Nexus NX2000, which is a class D DSC VHF marine transceiver. When connected with a GPS it displays the position and UTC of the vessel. You can make digitally selected calls, and of course carries the Distress Alert button which indicates identity and position automatically through a distress communication on the emergency voice channel.However, having this meant I had to take a DSC Radio Operators course, which issues you with a Short Range Certificate. Fortunately I passed this first time, but you need to be aware of the latest regulations on radio operation.

                  While everyone raves about GPS, all I really wanted was a sounder to tell me the depth. However, modern GPS units are like McVitie’s Chocolate Digestive biscuits. Try them once and you can’t leave them alone! Once I got used to it I was away, and purchased the latest Lowrance HDS5 multifunction sounder/GPS. To date I have only managed a tiny proportion of what this amazing unit offers. You can even get the software to download all your marks to your computer. The split screen capability allows me to look at the plotted path to the mark, and the sounder depth at the same time. It is NMEA compliant, which means it can have linkage to the engine system, and provided you get a pro to hook you up, will run all the engine diagnostics through the GPS screen, even down to how much fuel is left in the tank in some cases. I haven’t used this yet, as I know that at 3400 revs I’m planing at 15 knots plus and get over 30 miles to a 25 litre tank. I fitted a Silva fluid mount compass, but as Phil told me the compass is really only a backup now to when the GPS might go down with an electrical fault. I have to admit if I plot in a waypoint I just run to it using the screen cursor, and rarely glance at the compass, which cannot be a good habit to form. It may be best to manually log a few bearings to/from port just in case the GPS goes down. That way at least you’ll be on the right heading.

Hi Sea Drifter finished and the Totally Awesome Crew.

So there you have the start-to-finish on “Hi Sea Drifter”, a hot yellow Wilson 17. In just five months use last year I took advantage of the new trailer and towed her about 2500 miles already, but boy did we get some good fish.(Also cost me £950 for a total new clutch system !!). It may have been a labour of love. It may have been somewhat expensive going for brand new all the way, but we have already hooked up FIFTEEN Porbeagle sharks to 170lbs and that shark was tagged right INSIDE the boat. We had mega-flatties in the shape of Common Skate to 150lbs, and Tope to 52lbs. And that’s in my first few trips. I have already had anglers wanting to charter, but I rigged it for enjoyment, not money, so anyone I take out goes for free. Already I have film people lined up for a crack at a 400lb Porbeagle, as I know exactly where they live and we’ve already had them to 550 on another dinghy. Getting that on film will be a first anywhere, so watch this space…..I’ve currently brought her back to Hampshire, where I hope to run her out through the winter and pick up a Cod or three, plus some decent conger. So if you see something in the Solent bobbing about like a bowl of custard, you’ll know its me in Brian Wilson’s “Flyer”. I know the boat is not perfect, and the head-sea slamming can be a bit tiresome at times, but once on the drift or at anchor, they still represent the best platform I have been on in the 17-foot class. Would I change it for another make of 17 footer? No way! Now whether I can get a 350lb Beagle up over the edge for a photo is quite another matter! But if I do, you’ll certainly be among the first to see it.

COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen.All Rights Reserved.