minutes of the steering committee
sails versus outboard for Dawntreader
The last few weeks have been a bit of a trial to the point where I quite missed my old sailing boat and started to wonder if Dawntreader would be better converted to a Sailing Wherry than ever trying to retro fit an outboard to a boat that wasn’t built for it. I still think arriving at Semington under 1500 foot of billowing canvas on bank holiday claiming right of way is just what the canal needs.
Ok we need quickly to look at the design of most glass fibre bathtubs – they are either built to take an inboard so have a solid transom with a hole for the z drive or prop., or they were built to take an outboard in which case they have a dedicated well it sits in. Dawncraft get full marks for simplicity of design with their inboard outboard because they just cut a gurt great hole in the engine bay floor and stuck it down there on a large lump of wood – sorted.
inboard, or outboard?
The reason they didn’t cut an outboard well in the original transom design and why other boats with inboards won’t convert that well is because there is a large structural deck beam right where the engine needs to tilt. My old Honda would just tilt with the cover off, this new 25 hp hasn’t a hope and I am beginning to give up myself. The only way forward is to mount this engine on an external bracket.
I did write 1000 words on the sheer frustration of doing this, but it was boring so here are the salient points. The word flexible cable needs quantifying – steering cables are nothing more than a spring going through a plastic cog (possibly made in china). They bend about as much as I do in my mid-fifties, and groan just as loud when overdone. Don’t put them through any more than a 9-inch radius bend. Worse than that they are rated for the size of outboard. I am now running a 25 hp and before you all scream 'that’s far too big for the canal', because of my weight problem and large bottom it’s what Dawncraft recommended in 1970. (It was also incredibly cheap and available which is always the starting point.) It did have a rudder fitted and although I am very fond of these on the canal as they give much more control at low speed, I felt the extra pressure on the steering gear would be too much for the 'made in china' cog. Any one who has sailed a dinghy and felt the rudder pressure will understand the forces involved – something worth considering if you are fitting one. What it does have is a prop guard, a simple plastic cage that bolts over the propeller and stops it hitting logs, shopping trolleys and the like. I had so many arguments in the sailing club about getting these for rescue boats – I wanted them fitted, but people said they rob power. Seeing as I have now have plenty, it's not an issue and really worth doing.
Why my fascination with how far steering gear will bend? If you are going to fit an outboard on a bracket bolted to the back of the boat, you need to take the steering gear through the transom. Remember that the said out board is now 5 inches or so backwards, so by the laws of geometry Pythagoras and crew – it won't steer on full lock. Don’t ever think it doesn’t have to - I’ve tried and failed to make a turn around before the swing bridge.
Now the fun bit, drilling a large 25mm hole through your boat and for this you will need to invest in a tank cutter drill bit. Word of advice: these come in a variety of forms from dead cheap off ebay to gulp. Sadly, buy the gulp one. You are about to drill through two layers of glass fibre and 10mm of marine ply so you need to have at least 20mm of saw blade that doesn’t heat up, bend and disappear into the canal to cool off. NEVER start drilling holes from the inside of the boat always start from the outside where you can see the water line and where the cable needs to line up. My fascination with a 9-inch radius bend? simply make a template from hardboard that will show you exactly where the hole has to be drilled to get a nice easy bend. Once you hit the inner ply you will also realise that your transom packing is probably a little damp and rotten and will spend happy hours drilling smal holes and injecting with wood hardener. However, it will remind you to purchase the correct rubber boots designed to stop water from getting in through cable holes in the first place. Don’t forget to buy similar ones for the control cables. Not only do they stop the water they also stop that horrible vibration by preventing your transom from becoming a wobble board.
Ok it was much more difficult to retro fit than I thought – I could not have done it without doing a scale drawing first and I really could do with longer control cables because they had to go through two 90-degree bends. But does it work? Yes, DT is trundling along the canal quite happily under its new engine. The fact I had to fit it wearing waders in temperatures of five degrees with snow on the ground is forgotten when the sun is out. There is some glass fibre work to do- namely glassing in wooden blocks so cables can be clipped back against the hull so I can use the lockers again without risk of snagging a control line. Don’t be tempted to glass if the temperature is below 10 degrees – it will set, but won't bond into the layer below. Also, I couldn’t have done this without some of the online boat groups and especially sourcing good used parts. Out of interest a quote from a boat yard for this job? Just shy of £800.
a nifty solution for under bunk storage
Meanwhile inside a nifty solution to under bunk storage – basically cheap plastic tubs on their sides screwed to the ply. It's brilliant - water proof, cost me nothing and still allows space below the bunks for ballast. In fact, I am so pleased with them they are sprouting up all around the boat. My desire to fit some form of hanging locker was thwarted by having far less room on board than the brochure suggests so I have installed simple wooden rails in the roof in the fore cabin – just enough to hang up bedding to air out.
My trusty hand sewing machine has been making rope bags, most sailing boats have them on to stuff lose ropes into them. The idea came to me when I tripped over one and managed to rip the locker top off and jam a loose rope around the morse lever at an inopportune moment -it's amazing how the grey matter remembers little tricks after the event.
Simon has been boating since he was 15. He's sailed everything from dinghies to tall ships. He owns a Dawncraft 25 called Dawntreader. Simon's articles show us ingenious & cheap ways to solve the many problems his boat has...
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