Max Liberson adopts a down at heel Seadog – blown up in a gas explosion – and decides to give the boat a new lease of life
Restoring a Seadog blown up in a gas explosion
Cutting through the Voyager Boatyard in Millbrook, Cornwall, on my way to work, I found my brother Matt Black looking perturbed.
“What’s up,” I asked. “I’ve just landed another job in another yard, and I have 20 years’ worth of stuff to get rid of, including the Seadog, and it’s got to go now,” was his reply.
The vessel in question was quietly floating alongside a pontoon, having just been relaunched.
I’d not been aboard, although I had seen the wreck ashore. The yard had been asked to break it up by the insurance company; a gas explosion on board meant it had been declared a total loss.
But Matt felt the Seadog could be restored rather than destroyed.
He had planned to put it on a beach mooring, but the boat wasn’t rainproof and would soon fill with water and dead leaves; I suspected that if that boat was moved to the beach, then it would be a death sentence for the craft.
I went on board; there was a lot more room than I was used to on my 85-year-old gaff cutter, Wendy May.
Also on the plus side, the saloon had not been wrecked in the explosion.
But the aft cabin was stripped out, there were four great splits that had been crudely repaired so the aft coachroof was back in its correct position, the masts were out and stripped off, and a steering wheel that didn’t fit was floppily attached.
The engine had not been started since the accident, which luckily had not killed the previous owner.
With a sinking feeling, I realised I was going to adopt the poor thing; it was potentially a very good boat, and I liked the shape.
Unlike modern boats, the Seadog has nice curves.
They’re not fast sailing boats but are strong and steady – sort of the Land Rover of the sailing world.
However, I already had my hands full looking after Wendy May, working on a 50ft trimaran at the Multihull Centre in Torpoint and trying to keep my wife happy, who lives in Wolverhampton, 200 miles away.
“How much do you want for it?” I asked Matt. “You’d be doing me a big favour if you just took it, you could have it for nothing,” he replied.
“OK, if you are sure, I’ll take it. Pull it out and I’ll start paying for the storage”.
We shook hands, and I dashed off to work.
Seadog job list
My work colleague, Will, came to see the Seadog at lunchtime to give me his opinion.
He came over all enthusiastic when he saw the vessel and told me I was the luckiest man alive.
He helped me find the masts and carry them to the Seadog’s new location, safely ashore tucked away around the back of the yard.
I started work on the vessel that September evening, making a list of jobs and then prioritising what to do first.
The Perkins engine was my biggest concern. The previous owner had been trying to start it when the Seadog blew.
The engine was normally easy to start, but that day it just kept turning over and would not fire up; then it did, in a big way.
There’d been a gas leak. The aft cabin went up and the mizzen mast had come crashing down.
If the engine was shot, I would have big problems.
Matt dropped off a 12V cranking battery that was showing fully charged but that was physically a bit small.
I connected it up, the engine turned over, but slowly, smoke came out of the engine compartment. I hastily disconnected the battery.
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I ordered a new battery of the correct size, investigated the engine compartment and found the exhaust hose was disconnected.
Suspecting the smoke I’d seen was exhaust smoke, I connected it all up again with a new section of pipe and when the new battery arrived, tried again.
This time the engine burst into life, sounding absolutely beautiful. I checked the gauges: we had good oil pressure, the engine was charging, and the water circulation was good.
A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders.
I’d sent photos of the Seadog to my wife, Eva. She was enthusiastic; as much as she loved Wendy May, that boat is only 26ft on deck, and below she is pretty small.
With us and our dog, Luna, on board, things became pretty tight.
Some weeks before, an artist called Oscar, who lived in Honfleur, had left a note on Wendy saying if I ever wanted to sell her I should let him know. I sent him an email and negotiations began.
Moving on board
While working in Millbrook I’d been living on Wendy. Now, I had to get the gaff cutter ready to sell, which meant moving myself and all my possessions onto the Seadog.
With winter rapidly approaching, I started thinking about heating my new boat.
Matt just happened to have a Boat Boy solid fuel stove in his workshop. It was rusty, the glass was broken and when I tried to shut the door, one of the hinge pins broke.
But, it was a nice size, so I claimed it, ordered the glass and pipe work to fit and some matt black heat proof paint.
It didn’t take long to get it installed on board.
Rather than chop the head lining around, I sent the chimney out through a nice little ventilation hatch that was already there.
Matt started bringing the Seadog’s equipment over, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the full set of sails were clean and in good condition.
I found a pushpit among the broken up boats which were destined for scrap.
In the evenings, I got on with making the aft cabin strong again. I beefed it up with some carbon fibre offcuts left over from the trimaran work. Soon it was strong again.
Matt gave me some beautiful ports from an old mahogany yacht that had been cut up.
They didn’t fit and I’d have to make the holes smaller for them to work – which I didn’t have time for – so I covered the holes with cheap Perspex and stowed the four ports below for another day.
The cushions arrived and the boat started looking cosy.
There was a very good quality gas cooker, but I couldn’t bring myself to fit it.
Looking at the damage the explosion had caused, it was easy to imagine the violence of that moment.
Instead, I took the advice of Nick Skeates (a salty sailor who has spent the last 50 years or so lapping the world on Wylo2, a small steel yacht he designed and built in New Zealand in 1978) and built a sort of open box that was gimballed and had two compartments that held a brass Primus in each one.
I made the open box out of an old epoxy glass cover for a marine ply battery box I’d taken out of the trimaran.
For one of the Primuses, I paid £8 at a garage sale and the other I paid £53 including postage from ebay.
The gimbals I took off the gas stove.
Work progresses By January, I’d sold Wendy May and was having a break from working on the trimaran. I could now get back to the Seadog.
After lining the roof with quilted insulation, I put the internals back in the aft cabin. I also fitted two Victron lithium batteries with a BMS (battery management system).
With this system, I can have 230V AC any time without the need for shore power.
All this equipment had been generously donated to me by the trimaran owner.
The next job was to recreate the cabin hatch that had been turned into match wood.
Once that job was done, I fitted the mizzen tabernacle and made it all strong.
I then turned my attention to the steering wheel. I had some eye-watering quotes for a new wheel, so found a used one.
For £11, I was able to buy a converter that fitted the ¾in taper on the steering shaft and brought it up to a 1in taper.
This would have been perfect if the wheel had a 1in tapered hole. It didn’t. The hole was straight cut.
So I put it all together, laid it on a sheet of plastic then used epoxy resin thickened with silicone powder to fill in the gaps.
When that hardened off, I fitted the wheel. I then cut a key from a lump of steel with a hacksaw and filed it to fit.
This little hack worked and saved me about £400.
By now, the yard needed the space the Seadog was occupying; launch day was fast approaching.
I put several long days in and rigged the masts, and spent £90 on antifoul. It was extremely thick, but I did manage one complete coat.
Getting the Seadog back on the water
Later on, when the tide came in, the Seadog was hoisted and gently driven to the water. The boat floated, I checked around and didn’t see any major leaks.
Turning the key fired the engine into life; it sounded sweet, so I let it warm up.
I shut off the engine and tried the bilge pump. It took 70 pumps to clear the bilge!
Looking around, I realised I’d not tightened up the weed trap properly. Once it was secure, the leak slowed but did not disappear.
There were two Blakes seacocks forward – both were leaking.
When the tide dropped and we dried out, I disassembled them to clean and lightly grease them.
They still dripped when the tide came back, so the next day I stripped them and, using some polishing paste, lapped them in using abrasive paste until a shiny ring appeared all around the inside.
With a bit of grease, they were perfectly watertight when refitted.
Now, I had a floating boat that steered and motored: it was time to get the Seadog ready for sailing.
I went over the rig with a critical eye. It’s one thing throwing masts up so they’re not cluttering up the deck, it’s quite another getting them in a condition to take the stresses of sailing. I made a new list of jobs.
After getting the main mast in the correct position, I had to address the problem I’d been putting off.
This was the triatic stay, which runs from the top of the main mast to the top of the mizzen. It was missing from the pile of rigging.
I bought 6m of Dyneema, a couple of thimbles and a bottle screw. Then, I slacked off the main mast backstay, and hardened up on the main sheet to keep the mast supported.
I then dug out my single-handed mast climbing gear. This consists of an old four part mainsheet tackle, a bosun’s chair, made from a bit of 18mm exterior plywood and some 10mm three-strand nylon rope, and 100m of 10mm braided polyester rope on a handy plastic drum.
I put a boathook through the centre and it fits on the pulpit so that pulling on the rope allows it to run out.
With this set up, I was able to haul myself up to the masthead.
The first job was to take off the backstay and refit it to its correct location underneath the clevis pin of what was going to be the triatic stay.
Having accomplished this, I lowered myself down and re-tensioned the backstay.
I’d already spliced in an eye and a thimble on one end of the Dyneema, and hauled myself up again to fit it.
I then moved onto the mizzen mast, the long fall of the tackle was easily rolled away on the drum and redeployed in the cockpit on a boathook spanned across the cockpit seats.
I used the mizzen halyard to haul the tackle’s top block to the masthead.
I caught the loose end of the triatic stay that was dangling from the top of the main mast and tied it with a bucket full of tools, including a blowlamp and the new bottle screw, to the bosun’s chair and hauled myself aloft.
Once there, I realised I was not close enough to splice an eye in exactly the right place.
I came back down and dug out a spare Tufnol block. Ascending the mizzen again, I fitted the block and led the Dyneema stay through it to the cross-trees.
I measured it, and where the eye had to go, I made an eye around the thimble and worked a splice in.
With the bit that was left over, I carefully used the blowlamp to melt through.
I was then able to fit the bottle screw and put a bit of tension on.
The job was done, and I was glad because my hands and forearms were cramping and pumping up by then.
The Seadog was ready for sailing.
Russel Ferriday came over with the name plate I’d asked him to make for me.
He’s an artist whose medium is wood. He used to make guitars for top musicians and has, in the past, built some serious boats.
Now long in the tooth, time and hard graft has taken its toll on his body and he cannot work on big projects, so his love for woodworking is somewhat satisfied by small sculptures.
He made the most exquisite name plate to screw onto the Seadog’s broad transom, carved and curved to fit exactly.
I wanted to name the Seadog after our very own sea dog, Luna, but when I contacted the Seadog Owners Association, I discovered there already was a Seadog named Luna.
Instead, I asked Russel to carve the name Lunatoo. It seemed, in its nearness to insanity, to be rather fitting.
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