Two regular PBO contributors describe how and why they converted from sailing to motorboating - by Gilbert Park and David Berry


Retired doctor and practical motorboat owner Gilbert Park has undertaken numerous DIY challenges on board his various motorboats, publishing several of them in PBO, including: What is AIS B+ and How to fit a rode counter and How to replace hydraulic steering controls. But he wasn’t always a powerboater. Here he describes his journey from sail to power via a series of adventures on a RIB:

For my 60th birthday my wife and I decided to go to Padstow in our campervan and tow our beloved Drascombe Lugger Mitch behind it. We hadn’t used Mitch much of late but booked a pontoon mooring for the week we were there.

As I look back now at the picture of that mooring (lead photo, above) I can see the writing was on the harbour wall. In front of us were two RIBs and they looked so easy to use and moor.

Mooring up was one of the stresses we found with Mitch. Damage to the fragile, green gelcoat was always a risk and, when it happened, it cast a cloud over the day.

We’d enjoyed sailing for many years, but while running before the wind is relaxing there is always the trip back, for which we usually started up the outboard.

Then there is the time taken to get the boat on and off the trailer and set up all the rigging.

A few months later we were in southern Ireland, again in our campervan, but this time with our 3.5m Tinker inflatable and 2hp 2-stroke outboard.

We could walk along the bay at the campsite at Eagle Point and easily see the town of Bantry, with a well marked channel leading up to it, about three miles away. An expedition was called for! We loaded up the Tinker with all we needed, donned our lifejackets and off we went in the sunshine.

We enjoyed lunch, a pint of real, heady Guinness, explored the town and then back in the boat to the van.

Five minutes after arrival we had a cup of tea and some of my mother-in-law’s cake in our hands, the boat and engine had already been washed and we were planning what to do for the rest of the day.

We were both hooked on RIBs. Where to next?

We agreed to try out RIBs seriously with a two day RYA Level II Powerboat Course at Anglia Sea Ventures in Ipswich.

We learned in a 5.2m Ribcraft with a 60hp engine. We liked the boat and decided we’d look for the slightly smaller 4.8m Ribcraft.

We saw Cobalt for sale online while driving home that evening and she was ours very soon after. Mitch, much as we loved her, had to go and was sold back to the brokerage.

We visited all over Chichester Harbour aboard Cobalt and had the use of a garage that the boat just fitted into. Our confidence grew with trips to the Isle of Wight for lunch becoming common. We even spent Christmas there.

Night nav is a very challenging part of the advanced powerboat course

I had always wanted to sail to the Isles of Scilly from Penzance, so it was a Day Skipper Course for me at Emsworth School of Navigation. Hard work, but worth all the time and every penny.

A conversation with the insurer set the limits at Force 5 winds and 2m high waves – more than we would wish to be out in.

We decided to do the RYA Intermediate Powerboat Course together in our boat. I also did the Advanced Course.

The Scilly Isles trip was a roaring success – the outward bound leg was a bit rougher than we’d have liked, but the return leg was flat calm and we only used 25lt of fuel!

After that we explored the Dorset coast going all the way along to Lyme Regis.

But I think the writing on the wall for Cobalt came in Weymouth. It was a long walk, uphill, to our B&B, carrying a load of gear and then another long walk to get petrol.

We needed a boat we could stay on.

In addition, my back had started playing me up.

An X-Ray showed a compression fracture of my thoracic spine possibly as a result of flying the boat off a few waves on the way to the Isles of Scilly.

With some regret, as we’d had a lot of adventures and never felt unsafe, Cobalt was sold. The next boat was a Seaward 25, and apart from my wife’s hatred of the diesel cooker, we coped just fine in it for several years. We went all over, Dorset, Devon as well as a month on her exploring the Channel Islands and the Cotentin Peninsular.

Cruising in company on board our Seaward 25

So after that it was onto bigger motor boats: we now have a Merry Fisher 855 in the UK.

Looking to the future we loved sailing but motorboats are more sustainable for us as we age.

Switching from sail to inland

Regular PBO contributor David Berry and his wife, Ann, describe their pandemic switch from sail to power:

David and Ann Berry eventually settled on a Norman 27 inland cruiser

One of the ramifications of the pandemic is our inability to use our Moody Eclipse 33 Aderyn Glas in Greece.

This is exacerbated by the short term visa rules from the EU which limit us to 90 days in any 180 – the same as non-Europeans such as South Africans, Australians and so on.

So what could we do to keep the webbing between our toes through the summer months?

Read more articles by David and Ann Berry

We considered buying a coastal cruising yacht for UK waters but, frankly, we’d done all that and the Bristol Channel is not such a good place to sail. So, what’s left?

We’d taken a canal boat on the Llangollen canal for a week in the summer and loved it! So we began to look around for one that suited us.

We wanted a GRP boat, not a narrow boat, since it would be easier to maintain.

We toured the local canal (Monmouthshire and Brecon) looking into all the clubs and marinas and scoured the internet brokers.

Then, we visited Goytre Wharf to view a boat we’d found online and asked the guy who was showing us around whether there was anything else that he knew of and the universe was good to us. We were shown a Dawncraft 27, which has a centre cockpit and an outboard motor.

Now normally I wouldn’t want an outboard, since, to me, controlling a boat with an outboard is like trying to control a wonky shopping trolley with one finger. But I’m always willing to learn.

She was pretty and the previous owner had obviously loved her and yet there were enough things for me to change to get me out of bed in the long, cold COVID winter.

A hire boat holiday on Llangollen Canal was a hit for David Berry and his wife, Ann, who were unable to travel to Greece where their Moody Eclipse Aderyn Glas is kept.

For a start I couldn’t stand upright in the saloon because there was a very sleek ceiling of tongue and groove pine.

For another there was no heads compartment; so ripping the T+G down and constructing a toilet went onto the jobs list.

There was so much I didn’t know about the boat, right down to things like where the starter battery lived and, oh by the way, is there a house battery and how is it charged?

There is a rear cabin which we wanted to make the Master’s so that had to be reconfigured so that we could sleep across the boat rather than in the two berths along it. And hopefully that would allow us to construct a chemical toilet compartment in the corner of the cabin.

I started a logbook and made a list.

Then we photographed everything and held our breath until the survey was completed. We paid the boatyard to service the motor in the belief that it would provide a baseline which would see us through the first year.

So gear oil, engine oil, filters, spark plug and impeller were all changed as was the anode.

Meanwhile I checked the shorepower fittings and determined to tidy up the wiring at some early opportunity (working so long for the Navy I’m a bit fussy). Ann considered a fridge and we decided we could live without one and I considered a significant solar panel and house battery. I also wanted a battery charger which would run from shorepower.

Ann looked at curtains and the cockpit cover and the jobs list grew again.

Then the survey found ‘major structural issues with the hull’ so we decided it would be sensible to pull out of that deal despite the money already spent.

Instead we carried on searching elsewhere and have now bought a centre cockpit Norman 27 that the surveyor was much happier with.

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This feature appeared in the January 2021 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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