Cowichan Bay Maritime Center Boat Fest – British Seagull Racing!

British Seagull Racing

British Seagull Racing

If ever there was an unlikely candidate for powering a boat in a race, it must be the British Seagull outboard motor.

In spite of having achieved world renown for being “The Best Outboard Motor for the World” and while those who own them and regularly use them are known for the viciousness of their love/hate relationships with the things, and even though a 5 hp model can smartly handle a wooden boat or barge displacing several tons, they never were meant for going quickly.

They were especially not meant for going racing.

This is of course exactly why we enjoy doing just that and with such wild abandon.

The British Seagull, designed to move small barges along river canals, to power the fisherman’s open boat and eventually, to move rubber boats laden with soldiers and supplies across rivers during WWII, (having been sealed in containers and parachuted alongside Allied troops) can be a reliable, easy to work on and faithful bit of motive power.

The engines, even the later ones are straight out of the 1940’s. There are no oil seals in a British Seagull. A 10-1 gasoline to oil mix, (modern engines use more than 50 to 1) lubricate and seal the engine. This is why they smoke so much. Seawater enters the gear hub at the propeller turns the 140 weight oil to slurry . This is considered perfectly normal.

Bronze bushings are used throughout, none of your silly roller or needle bearings for us! The cooling water is pumped not via an impeller but instead a rotor as one would find in a washing machine. It never wears out, nor does it readily plug up with seaweed. Parts are still easy to come by even though the last seagull was made in the 1980’s.

(That isn’t precisely true actually. My engine for example, we put together by Master Gull Mechanic Don Meyer, who has written a fantastic shop manual for ‘gulls by the way. He used to have the dealership in Victoria BC. His basement is apparently crammed full of new old-stock parts, engines, bits of engines and so forth. He put together my engine, WSPC 534 CC5 (all gulls have ID numbers) two years ago and donated it to the Maritime Center, to be sold in aid of a fund raising project. I bought it from the Society. 90% of it is brand new. In fact the first time it was started, aside from a brief test when I bought it, was for the races this week.)

The engines work wonders moving heavy objects across waterways at more or less a jogging pace. In fact it’s that jogging pace for which they are so well known. Large boat or small, the seagull moves either at more or less the same rate.

Modifications, which we frown on here in Cowichan Bay, have seen these little engines perform ridiculously well, considering their size. We don’t have access to a machine shop and the thought of paying more than $5000 for what amounts to a smoking bellowing coffee can on a stick with a fan attached at the bottom, is simply too much.

So we race them as the factory never intended.

First up was the poker run, where a handful of collected cards determined the winner. It’s  great way to become familiar with the course. Going off course is one of the main reasons some boats don’t finish. Pete, my good friend and one of the “Old Farts” from the Two Old Farts and a Fat Guy stories, was my card catcher and co-pilot. Job well done, he didn’t drop  single card. Our hand consisted of one pair with a queen as high card. Not much competition against the straight another boat managed to gather.

An hour later, and with a small cannon giving the signal, the speed race was on. My wife Michelle did a great job of co-piloting and also of frightening nearby boats with threats of a water bailer dousing. Now I’m not wanting to brag, but never before have I been so thrilled at coming in second from last in anything. It was all a great deal of fun.

By the way, if you want to see world class Seagull Racing, you need to go to Bermuda. This is where it all began.

Now, as for next year, perhaps a longer hull, an 18 foot Grumman aluminum canoe with a square stern might do nicely, a slightly different propeller, synthetic marine two stroke oil, tweak the carb….. Goodness!

Seagull Racing Fever is a catching thing!

In the videos that follow, I was trying out a Contour Roam digital video camera, and was wearing the head strap mount. My Tilley hat got in the way a bit, but… well… At least you get to see what British Seagull Racing is like!

Prior to the racing, we were warming up, horsing around a bit.

The Poker Race begins at 8:20 in the Video (For those in a hurry)

The Speed Race begins at 1:45 in the Video (for those in a hurry)

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  1. July 28th, 2013 at 07:34 | #1

    An awesome race and a mighty wave, but a souped up engine… one wonders. Great sound these little seagulls have.

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