Small boating enthusiast Graeme Pullen usually takes out rental boats, but he entered the world of the boat owner with something of a bang, as he purchased not one, but two boats inside a month. It must have been the cold weather and dark nights with nothing to do, but if you are thinking of doing the same read on, and see how he managed his first project “Drifter”, together with all the problems associated with being a boat owner. And promise you won’t laugh at some of his problems….

PROJECT DRIFTER…A  Boat too far ??”

When sanding always wear a dust mask

Ok, Ok, so I was a bit bored. Christmas and the New Year can be a bit tedious, what with trying to get going with projects of fishing for the new season, and the dark nights don’t help either. I’m certainly no computer head case, but I started poking around on the internet one evening, and was looking to see how a previous boat I had fished from, with all its handling problems, could be improved. I won’t say it’s a wet boat, but I used to call it “Head and Shoulders!” To get even 10knots I had to climb up on the bow to keep the nose down, and even then it would be touch and go whether we nose dived under a wave or actually topped 10 knots ! Plus of course I wanted to put all the problems right with the vessel and that can’t happen on someone else’s boat without causing offence. So I started poking through the boatsandoutboards site, which has probably turned into the most expensive click of the mouse I have ever made. I was amazed to see how many boats were on offer, how many engines up for sale, and how much chandlery you could get involved in. Night after night I would click away, scrolling down row upon row of boat listings. Some were worse than the one I had been fishing in, and I decided there was no alternative if things were to improve….I just had to have my own boat project. Thus it came to pass that I started departing on dark nights, viewing with a torch somebody’s boat sale, and what I saw by torchlight

After sanding,the hull was given a thick coat of Blake's Marine paint.

bore no resemblance to anything I saw in the photo. Rubbish just wasn’t the word. Yet you would look on the site a week later and the boat had the “SOLD” sign on it. Just how many small boaters are there out there? Obviously a lot. I also realised that within the advertising columns were dealers of sorts who simply put a boat on a trailer, slapped on an old outboard and passed it off as a “rig”. Wrong trailer, and many times the engine was nothing to do with that type of boat. Some I even mistakenly offered money on, and I thank my lucky feathers that my “low ball” offers were refused. I drove from Dorset to Berkshire, even down to the Southsea boat compound, and still nobody wanted my folding material. Eventually I found a rig down near the Hamble River area, that sounded kosher, but when I got there the guy turned out to have several boats in his garden .The cul-de-sac looked like a marine chandlery so I sussed he was some sort of dealer, and the rig comprised a 13ft 5inch “Tidal Marine” boat on a black painted trailer, with 5hp Mariner on the back. To be fair he was an enthusiast and I placed a hand on the engine as soon as I got there to see if it was cold before asking for a test. It soon fired up, sending blue/grey smoke through three gardens.”You don’t notice it on the water” he said. I wiggled the wheels on the trailer to see the play on the bearings. He would take £550 for the lot and not a penny less as there were buyers lining up.Right.But they weren’t there that night, and I was. So I counted it out, and as we hitched up, I asked him if the trailer really was roadworthy for a motorway on a winter night.”Sure” he said, “it’s as good as gold”. There should have been a warning there somewhere, and I needed no alarm bells as I got into third gear to go down the M27 slip road. The alarm came with a strange deep vibrating noise that made me wonder if the trailer either had a handbrake locked, or maybe I had snagged his wheelie bin with my mudguard. I kept to 40 mph all the 50 miles home, as the droning and vibration got louder. With relief I pulled into the drive.

Fill in any keel band holes where screws might be loose

Two days later with time for a hub strip down you would have laughed yourself off the pier. One side had bearings crumbled into chips, with the shell casing welded to the stalk of the hub. I spent days trying to file it down. Wheel on, wheel off, hub on, hub off, a dozen times. I decided on a launch, so a trip to Hayling Island was organised. Hitched up, lights working we sped off, with rods everywhere. I cogged down to third to punch up the steep Beacon Hill, and we hit 50.At that stage there was a loud bang, a graunching sound, and a trailer wheel overtook me and sped headlong through two lanes of oncoming traffic. Looking in the mirror I could see the boat half over, grinding up the hill at 45 degrees!!Getting out it transpired with bent wheel studs that some bright spark had taken the wheel off so many times to file the hub he forgot the nuts were only finger tight. As we stood staring at the buckled studs who should happen along, but yes, you’ve guessed it, everybody’s friend with the blue flashing light. He coned off the boat, thankfully thought we had just a puncture and left us. It took a 12 mile drive and change of hub before we left, but guess what; we eventually arrived home that night after a successful “floatation” and six schoolie bass to boot! First blood or what .

I used wood stain first,then yacht varnish

Right… assuming you have stopped smiling, here’s how I renovated “Drifter” into the comfortable bass boat it now is. First job was to get it inverted in the garage so I could sand and check the hull. Its winter, so you tend to have the door shut. If sanding always wear a facial mask for the dust. With the hull sanded back I started on the wood keel band. The screw holes needed filling, so I used Araldite rapid, placing the tubes in a cup of hot water to soften them before mixing and applying. That way I figured the runny mixture would settle into the screw holes better and fill all the cracks. If it’s cold it’s less pliable. I used three coats of wood stain for the wooden keel band, but as I write now at the end of the season I notice its peeling. Next time I’ll use Yacht varnish, which is harder. For the hull paint over the sanded glass I used Blake’s Paint, a marine colouring that is hard, and designed specifically for boats.            

Cut cardboard template first before using ply.And don't forget to cut a hatch.

Turning “Drifter” over, I started on the inside. There was an open well up the front, and I could see there was no real dry storage, and anything put up there would just slide back again. I needed to board it over, so cut a cardboard template, matched it over some plywood, cut it to size, and added a flap door, using brass hinges and screws. Now I could use it as a dry storage area for spare rope, jackets, flares, flask etc. One thing I hate in boats is having rod butts cluttering the deck, getting in amongst your feet. So I bought some plastic, flush-mounted rod holders, but added end caps to the two I sunk in the bow covering, otherwise and spray or rain would make the dry storage wet. I drilled other two rod holders into the centre seat, angling them outwards, and another two on the stern seat. That gave me six rod holders, but be careful of the angle and positioning of the stern holders. The Mariner has a tiller arm and my first problem was any rod would block full movement of this and I had a reduced turning angle. By cutting them closer to the gunnle I overcame this and the tiller goes full sweep. Make sure you cut some matching plywood supports for the screws or bolts to bite into and spread the load, rather than take it straight onto the fibreglass, although this Tidal Marine is an old boat, with thicker fibreglass.

Add access flap to bow,brass hinges,handle and butterfly catch.

There were some hairlines crazes in the hull inside, I guess created from age and stress movement, so using Isopon 40 I filled them in and sanded back. I also used Isopon P40 Glass fibre compound for bridging the gap around the board making the forward hatch compartment. For the smaller cracks and dings, non of which appeared majorly structural, I used Isopon P38 ”Easy Sand” compound filler .With the interior roughly sanded back to provide a key, I applied a coat of cream gloss paint. I had been told this would simply peel straight off, but it hasn’t yet, so that was a saving over marine paint. I also wanted cream to make the inside of the boat brighter. I got off cuts of carpet from a shop’s skip, and cut it into the floor well, letting it creep up the sides. If it gets wet I just dry it out in the greenhouse. Simple, yet effective.

                 Then came the infamous trailer. After the wheel-off episode I had learned my lesson. I ground off the old suspension units, re-drilled, and invested in new suspension units, hubs and bearings. I rebuilt the winch assembly with new lock-down strap. Using a grinder I cut off what paint and rust I could from the frame, and then repainted in black Hammerite, including the wheels. I fitted better tyres from one of my trailers, and invested in a new running board. In retrospect I should have done this immediately, but made the mistake of listening to the sales pitch, and not asking for a drive of the trailer and boat before I parted with the money. Lesson learned. I also paid another thirty quid to have a few spots tack welded as a booster. Then came the engine.

cut holes for rod holders by drilling space to get the jigsaw blade in.

I found some old bits of 4” by 2” and made up an engine mounting frame, as I had seen the guy selling it had. I found an old plastic dustbin, filled it with water, and I was ready for any engine tests or flushing. The engine mount is dead handy as it gives me somewhere to hang the engine in the garage. The engine was already running, but died a bit on full gas, or ran sort of flat. Thus, Mr Mariner found his way up to the engineer dept of Kings Marine in Chertsey, where for the princely sum of about £60 they got it running smoothly, and assured me I would get a good running time from it if I flushed at the end of each session, and used only fresh fuel mixes, rather than keeping old stuff for months. I now use the old stuff for other Pyrotechnics. I’ve got to be honest; once you learn the pernickityness of an outboard you are OK. Pump the fuel bulb. Undo the air valve on the tank. Throttle on “start”. Three pulls with no choke. Next two pulls on full choke, but close it immediately it coughs into action otherwise it floods. Blip the throttle a couple of times and you are away. Let it warm up for a couple of minutes and go fishing. At least it’s that way for the first season.

                      With everything fully functioning, I ordered up the nameplate, a stick on “Drifter” from Puxley signs that is a vinyl, laser cut peel-off, put -on type of label. No it hasn’t come off in the saltwater or even started peeling yet. And at £25 for both sides I don’t mind changing it every couple of years. With everything in order, the next mouse click

Make sure rod holders are angled outwards,enlarge holes with rasp or file

discovered…..BOAT JUMBLES!….Oh my God, it gets even worse. There are hundreds of boat nuts out there, selling, buying, trading, and all getting hold of goodies that they want but don’t really need. I know, as I’m doing the same, but what the heck, it saves money and is fun. So with an estate car half full of rope, buoys, anchors, fenders, chain and “stuff”, I eventually found myself bobbing contentedly in Emsworth channel at the back of Hayling Island, catching Mackerel, Bass and Eels. I’m my own captain, and can say when to move and when to pack up. All this, for just the cost of the original rig…dead cheap at £550. Eeeerrr, well, of course there’s the trailer hubs, and the new suspension units. The tyres and the welding plus new running board of course. The rod holders? No, they were extra, as was the paint for inside and out, anchors, chains, rope, and I nearly forgot….the £60 for the Mariner 5hp service. Oh dear. Maybe I’ve spent more than I thought. But it was great fun, and I look forward to the new season’s launch and those big Plaice I’ve been thinking about. And if you think this was traumatic, wait till I tell you about the project that followed. It was a brand new Wilson Flyer 17 footer, and has emptied my bank account faster than a Bank’s Fund Manager, but boy, did I get some big fish in that one. Watch out for the story……..


I paid £25 for both sides of laser cut vinyl name.

COPYRIGHT: Graeme Pullen. All rights reserved.