Prolific boat owner Clive Marsh shares his experiences with the Freeman 22 Mk2 and explains what owning one taught him about engine maintenance…


Motor boats have never really appealed to me, simply because I can’t fix them when they go wrong, which inevitably they will. The idea of being stuck out at sea with my head down an engine compartment in a rolling boat has never appealed.

But Brenda, my wife, prefers a motor cruiser with plenty of headroom and all the facilities. So, one day when visiting Mike Roud’s boat yard at Rye I bought an old 22ft Freeman Mk2. I never intended to take it to sea.

Named White Dove, she had spent most of her life since 1968 on the Medway. Now, 50 years later, she had somehow found her way to Rye and required some TLC.

With no cockpit cover the original Ford WaterMota engine and electrics sat in a puddle of rusty water and I thought that making this lot work would be beyond my skills. But Brenda liked the boat and we set about making her seaworthy-ish.

We needed a hood and found a wedding dressmaker called Sylvia in Rye who had a sideline making boat covers and canopies. She made us a fantastic, complex structure, that kept the boat bone dry.

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Next was that rusting lump of an engine. Beyond me, but Mike completely re-wired the boat and found that the engine worked fine. But Mike is an engineer and he only has to look at an engine and it works. A bit like the chief engineers when I was at sea.

Learning the engineering basics on a Freeman 22

However, my budget did not run to engaging a full time engineer and so I’d have to learn some engine maintenance basics at least. Strangely I was looking forward to this. A few days before Christmas the planets aligned for us to take White Dove up river. A good tide, time and favourable weather.

The plan was to take her from the tidal Rother through the sea lock into the non-tidal part of the river to a mooring at Whitersham. This involved critical timing on the tidal side of the lock to get under two low bridges while there was sufficient air draught.

The lock was operated only by Barry the keeper from his control room and he had arranged to be there. It was a fine day but the decks were covered in thick ice. The flood tide floated us off the mud but the engine would not start for me as it would for Mike! He was at a wedding so his son came to our rescue.

A near miss

All set, we headed up river with a strong following tide and in a cloud of smoke partly due to condensation on a freezing day. Just squeezing under the bridges with inches to spare we approached the large concrete open tidal lock.

I needed to slow down but the long gear stick would not engage reverse and the strong following tide was taking us straight towards a collision. Too late to turn I put her into neutral and lost some steerage. It was only the backwash from the lock and a quick fixing of a stern line that helped avoid a 4 knot head on with thick concrete.

An hour after exiting the lock we reached our new mooring and retired below to the cosy cabin for some well deserved soup and a warm up.

It was now getting dark and we had made it. I shut the engine down and out of curiosity tried to start it again. Of course, it would not and I needed to get some tuition.  Over the years that followed I learned a little about old petrol engines and how to maintain them.


The simple Ford engine – easy to access and maintain

Freeman 22 petrol engine upkeep

First of all comes the quality of the petrol. Clean out the petrol tank, carburettor and all lines. Fill the tank entirely with good quality petrol and keep it full to avoid any water/condensation. There are various petrol additives that can help. Make sure you have the correct grade of petrol.

Make sure that the carb is clean and adjusted. Replace any jets that need replacing. Ensure that the throttle and choke cables are working properly. For advice the Freeman Cruiser Owners Group on Facebook has a wealth of experienced owners offering free help and tips. There’s also Sheridan Marine who can advise and supply any parts you need.

Once you’re happy with the petrol/air mix, get the electrics sorted. New spark plugs and check all leads are clean, replace coil if necessary.

Is the distributor contacting properly? I had mine replaced with a low cost electronic ignition device which is reliable. Is the starter motor working efficiently? I had White Dove’s replaced. The battery should be fully charged and a portable charger is useful if the boat is left standing for a while.

Next comes cooling. Ensure there is good flow of water pumping out of the stern exhaust. The water pump was easy for me to replace but I got a proper engineer to give the whole water cooling system a once over.

Antifreeze is essential for the winter. If you don’t get this right the freeze/thaw might result in blowing a core plug. While these are easy for an engineer to replace they can be very difficult to access.

Instructions on how to apply antifreeze are available from the Freeman group on Facebook and you should ensure you use a make environmentally acceptable to the river authority. If you cannot use antifreeze then you’ll need to find out how to drain the system and manage seacocks.

There’s no radiator so antifreeze is immediately pumped out when starting – this means the application of antifreeze during the winter needs careful planning.


Spacious cockpit seats five

Seacocks need to be maintained as does the stern gland. And the engine and gearbox oil. Have I forgotten anything? Probably. But if you’re an old engine enthusiast these are simple classic engines that are easy to understand and can be reliable if properly maintained. I enjoyed learning the basics.

Once properly maintained, this engine never let me down, however I would not take White Dove to sea. Even the narrow tidal stretch of river at Rye with its steep banks and submerged posts/walls is not a place to break down.

Non-tidal mooring

One word of warning about going non-tidal for your mooring. Rain is not as predictable as tides and can get you into all sorts of trouble.

If you’re tied up alongside a non-tidal bank you might get a surprise if heavy rain raises the water enough to float your boat over the bank, onto the grass. When the rain retreats the boat can be stranded or capsized. It happens a lot on the Rother.

To avoid this I had a mooring with very high posts and a small floating pontoon made to keep the boat well out into the river.


Screen lowered for getting under bridges

Navigating the River Rother on a Freeman 22

The River Rother is navigable by small boats from Rye to Bodiam. There is only one lock (the tidal lock) but there are bridges on both sides.  My Freeman 22 could get under most of these with the screen lowered, but it depended on rainfall and when Barry the lock keeper was able to take the plug out.

I never made it all the way to Bodiam in White Dove but settled for Newenden a little way downriver which has an excellent restaurant and pub. I have taken lower air draught boats to Bodiam too. If you want to launch a boat to explore the Rother there is a tidal slipway with a small fee at Rye Harbour and a free, non-tidal slipway by the lock.

Freeman 22: Comfortable layout

Down below the Freeman 22 has standing headroom for me, a dinette with two sofas, stove and sink. A short passage leads to a wardrobe and heads compartment and a forward cabin with berths. I have to say it is very comfortable compared to my sail boats.

Engine access is under the steps. The raised cockpit-cum-bridge has a full length bench seat at the stern and raised seating for the helm. The screen can be lowered to pass under low bridges, which brought the air draught down to 5ft 3in. Other models are taller than this.

Freeman made boats of varying lengths and widths, narrow ones for passing through locks and larger ones for longer passages. As early GRP boats they are heavily constructed and the interior fit out is better than many boats.

Most of them ply up and down our rivers but I have heard of at least one crossing the English Channel to take the canals down to the Mediterranean. They are certainly more suited to inland and canal cruising than a yacht and are fast becoming a classic. If you have the time to take one on, they can be very rewarding and fun to own.

Freeman 22 Mk 2 specifications

Length: 6.7m (22ft 0in)
Draught: 0.61m (2ft 0in)
Weight: 1,320kg (26cwt)
Headroom: 1.78m (5ft 10in)
Construction: GRP
Fuel capacity: 68lt (15gal)
Water capacity: 68lt (15gal)
Engine: WaterMota Mk1 or Mk2 or other
Top speed: 8 knots

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This feature appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Practical Boat Owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving advice, great boat projects, expert tips and ways to improve your boat’s performance, take out a magazine subscription to Britain’s best-selling boating magazine.

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