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You are here: Skip Navigation LinksHome > Articles > From the magazines > 2004 > Memories of a Seal 22

Memories of a Seal 22

By Vernon Pell

Seal 22/151 was built by John Baker (Kenton Forge) Ltd., at Starcross, Exeter, Devon, in 1974, and purchased by a Mr Harmsworth, who was a flight crewmember for an Airline, which one I can't remember and who moored the boat, which he named (I can't remember that either) at Lymington). One thing that I do remember him telling me was that he always sailed to Yarmouth for lunch on Boxing Day and would have liked me to continue the tradition! As I moored at Poole it was rather a long trip for that time of the year and I never did.

Pelican II, Back in the Water 1982
Pelican II, Back in the Water 1982
In Cherbourg August 1984
In Cherbourg August 1984

I had first seen a Seal 22 at the London boat show in about 1973 and liked what I saw, but the ownership of one then was financially far beyond me and I had to be content with dinghy sailing. I extended my cruising range by towing it to various launching places from Poole to the Solent. My first sailing boat with a cabin was an elderly plywood bilge keeler called Pelican. We had some fun with it and as it was during the period of a Labour Government with 25% inflation, I had paid £600 for it, made some improvements and sold it a couple of years later for £1500. This enabled me to look round for the craft I desired. In the spring of 1980 there were two Seal 22s for sale at the marine auctions at Tuckton, Christchurch, 149 and 151 both afloat having been sailed there, so I was able to directly compare them. Neither reached the reserve price, which I believed to be £3500, so a few days later, through the auctioneers, I made an offer for number 151, which was, to my delight, accepted. She was renamed Pelican II and came well equipped with a comprehensive set of sails and other equipment including an echo sounder.

I wrote to the Builders for advice regarding a suitable trailer and in their reply, signed by P. Kelley, mentioned that the last of the 22s had been sold recently complete with a brand new trailer and suggested that I should contact the owner with a view to taking dimensions from his existing trailer. I never did, but purchased a second hand trailer, but the point of mentioning this is that the boat is still listed as being owned by that gentleman some 22+ years. Is this a record for Seal 22 ownership? Shows what a satisfying boat a Seal 22 is to own. (In fact the longest single owner ship is Murlo Primrose Seal 22/0)

The Author on Pelican II in Cherbourg in August 1984
The Author on Pelican II in Cherbourg in August 1984
An Unusual View of a Seal 22
An Unusual View of a Seal 22

I gradually made improvements. One of the first was the washing-up arrangement that was a bowl that had to be emptied by taking it outside to dispose of the wastewater over-board. The bowl fitted in to a similar size built-in plastic module, so I obtained, from a caravan accessory shop, a suitable waste outlet with plug that was fitted with a pipe draining into the keel box. I didn't like washing in the same sink as used for washing-up, so later I fitted a folding washbasin in the forward compartment.

In 1980, I joined the Seal Sailing Association and this greatly enhanced my enjoyment and extended my cruising experience. I met some very nice people and I went to places that I would not have dreamed of going to, such as the upper reaches of Portsmouth Harbour, to a rally at Fareham; to Eling at the top of Southampton Water; to Ryde Harbour and to the top of the Beaulieu River to name but a few.

When I purchased 151 it was powered by a tiny 3 HP inboard engine, which was started on petrol and then once warmed up, it ran on paraffin. This was fine and extremely cheap to run but was it was difficult to restart if allowed to stop and cool with paraffin still in the carburetor. The engine was coupled to a variable pitch propeller, which in theory enabled the boat to reverse, but the operating mechanism was prone to becoming out of adjustment and therefore unreliable. The engine was sadly lacking in power and I well remember being pushed steadily backwards by a two-knot tide and a gentle head wind with the engine going flat out! The manufactures of the engine also produced a larger 7 HP engine that used the same stern gear but had the added advantage of electric start and charging, so I set about locating one. One became available at the afore mentioned auction and was duly fitted. This opened up a number of possibilities and the three small individually battery powered navigation lights were replaced with a 12-volt masthead tricolour, a radio telephone, a speed/distance log and, as most of my trips were single handed, joy of joys, an Autohelm was fitted.

These additions allowed longer trips to be undertaken which included the first cross Channel trip in August 1984 from Poole to Cherbourg that took 15 hours. Using dead reckoning navigation, CH 1 buoy became visible out of the haze exactly as expected, in the early evening.

The pride in my navigational ability took a severe dent during the return trip. Sailing from Cherbourg at 1600 hours, it was expected to close the Poole area at about daybreak the next morning. The wind was similar to that on the outward crossing, a westerly force three. After a long night it had been daylight for a couple of hours when a few hundred yards ahead very disturbed water was visible such that thoughts came to mind that a submarine was about to surface, and it was also realised that visibility was poor in mist. The RT came into its own and a call put out to the coast guard. They were extremely helpful and using their aerials were able to give the boats position, which was practically unbelievable, as being just off St Catherine Point, I.O.W. A few minutes after thanking the Coastguard and returning to Channel 16, the great bulk of St Catherine Point appeared out of the mist about 300 yards ahead. The choppy water seen was the result of the tidal flow round the headland.

This position meant that in the 60 mile crossing, an error in navigation or tidal allowance had put the boat some 30 miles east of where was intended. There was no GPS in those days and one slight excuse was the fact that in my eagerness to keep well clear of shipping, and there was plenty about that night, I altered course repeatedly, more concerned to avoid being run down than being on course. The boat finally was presented to Customs (it being required in those days) at Poole Quay some 28 hours after departing from Cherbourg.

Sailing in 1983
Sailing in 1983
Pelican II Being Launched
Pelican II Being Launched

A few years later when I was confident that as long as winds of force four or less were forecast things would be OK. I decided to nip across to Cherbourg for the weekend. I stayed in Studland Bay on the Friday night and set of at 0400 hours on Saturday. The forecast was for southerly 2 to 3 with westerly 3/4 the following day. Ideal. The spinnaker was set and a good speed was being made, so at the halfway point I decided to continue. However a couple of hours later the wind died completely. I was not concerned and as it was very hot and a calm sea I tied a rope attached to the boat round my waist and went for a swim. Not many people can claim to have had a solitary swim in mid-channel! I started the engine and resumed my course. Approximately two hours later the engine seemed to be slowing a little so I opened the throttle more and it picked up, then there was a sudden bang and the engine stopped dead. I tried to restart but it would not turn. I went over the stern and discovered twigs and plastic sheeting firmly wound around the prop. (I found later that French fishermen use them in place of floats for their nets). When the debris had been removed the engine still would not turn over, and to my horror I discovered that the engine, which had an air cooled block with water-cooled exhaust had overheated and seized solid. Try as I might I could not get the engine to turn, there was not a breath of wind, I was an estimated 12 mile north of the Cherbourg Peninsular and night was fast approaching.

I called the Solent Coastguard, who replied immediately, and told them of my predicament, that I was in no danger nor in need of assistance but that I was concerned that my wife would be expecting me to phone from Cherbourg and if she did not hear from me could instigate vessel overdue procedures. They asked for my home number and said they would let her know. I then prepared myself for a long lonely night. As light failed I could make out a ferry coming towards me from a southerly direction. On channel 161 called,Car ferry heading north from Cherbourg, this is Pelican 11, over. Immediately I received a reply. We changed to a working channel and I told them that they appeared to be heading towards me, and why I could not get out of their way. I was told that they saw me on Radar as they left Port and would go around me. They gave me an accurate position as 10 miles north of the ??? vessels came near, which happened only three or four times. The tide took me the 14 miles or so southeast so that I was not far off Barfleur Point and as I was aware of the rocks in the area prepared to make use of the inflatable if I hit anything. I began to wonder what would happen if I was swept round the corner, but luck and the fact that it was a period of neaps tides was in my favour and at last I realised that I was drifting westwards and away from immediate danger. As dawn broke I was an estimated 5 to 6 miles north of the Port of Cherbourg based on the fact that I could see yachts leaving port. There was still no wind and I thought you need to get away from here and when through binoculars I could see a largish motorsailer under power coming in my general direction I gave a call on channel l6 describing it and its position and direction and obtained a response. The skipper was an auxiliary coastguard who immediately sympathised with my problem and offered to tow me towards the English coast. As it turned out there was no wind all day and he finally released the tow the Solent side of Hurst Castle, from where I sailed to my mooring in Poole the following day.

Pelican II in 1985.
Showing first version of the Hardtop
Pelican II in 1985.
Showing first version of the Hardtop
Pelican II in 1987, Showing Hardtop
Pelican II in 1987, Showing Hardtop
May 1991. The keel is lowered for examination
May 1991. The keel is lowered for examination

Talking of Hurst, I was sailing eastwards in a light wind under spinnaker one day when the boat was caught byone of the whirlpools which form there and spun round through 360 degrees. The spinnaker was wrapped around the forestayand the tidal flow had taken me past the entrance to Lymington before I had sorted it out

While adrift and out of control off Cherbourg, I had decided that if I got out OK I would obtain the best available engine for the boat, with two batteries and plenty of fuel capacity. A diesel was rather heavy, I thought, so decided on a new Dolphin 12 HP twin cylinder petrol engine. It proved to be smooth and quiet and with a six gallon tank gave a range of 18+ hours with a good turn of speed. It had a built in starter/generator with its own battery, and I fitted a separate belt driven dynamo and battery for the other electrical items.

One problem that I experienced was that the effort to raise the keel steadily increased which was caused by the wearing of the bearing that is forward of the winding handle. Details of how to replace the bearing are in Newsletter 4/1986.

I decided that the design of the Seal 22 cried out for a hard top and considered making one in marine ply similar to the idea of Geoff Tollet, see Newsletter September 1980. It was thought that a more rounded shape could be achieved if made in glass fibre, so a mould was made from pieces of driftwood, chicken wire, plaster of Paris etc. When it was ready it looked fine so glass fibre matting, resin and hardener were purchased and the mould covered and believe it or not it looked very good. However I waited and waited, even applied extra heat, but it would not go hard. After complaints to the supplier they admitted that there was some problem with the hardener and replaced the matting, resin and hardener. It was impossible to remove the sticky mess from the mould so it was all destroyed, and I was back to square one! Later I fashioned a new mould and completed a hardtop with windows, washboards and sliding hatch. By the time it was finished the season had started and the boat was back in the water so I floated it out on the inflatable and lifted it aboard using the boom as a crane.

One day I was on the way to a S.S.A. rally and rendezvous with Walter Brown off Hegistbury Head. He was in his Seal 26 and he slackened off his sails and we sailed in company for a short time. He hardened up the sails and Ard Righ just seemed to rocket away. 1 thought, I want some of that, so decided there and then to become the owner of a Super Seal. After 12 years of ownership I was still very happy with my 22, we had been through quite a lot together, so did not want to sell until I had purchased a 26. I eventually found and bought one. Number 151 was put up for sale and so ended some 12 years of happy ownership.

Vernon Pell

Dream, Parker275/2