The DIY Restoration of a Small Yacht: An Introduction (#1)

Given Gael Force’s position in the leisure marine industry, when a colleague mentioned that he had recently bought a small yacht and planned to restore it, I jumped at the opportunity to follow his progress and see the result of all his hard work!

seb-profile-photo-ytSeb, originally from Portsmouth in Hampshire, is the Sales Supervisor for the Gael Force Marine Megastore here in Inverness.

He has been with us for almost three years and has kindly agreed to write a series of posts following him and the restoration of his boat.

So without further ado, let’s hear from Seb!

BLOG POST #1: The Boat and I: An Introduction

On the 5th of February 2018, I purchased a 26 foot, 54-year-old fibreglass yacht in need of some serious TLC. My plans are to spend the next year or so (probably more like 2!) restoring the yacht and documenting its restoration in this blog post.

I have some experience working on boats, but I’m not a professional, so this blog will be from a DIYers point of view with lots of product testing and learning on the go.

In this first post, I’ll talk a little bit about my own sailing/boat repair experience and also introduce the yacht, giving a brief outline of the work that will eventually be completed.

I grew up sailing with my dad on the south coast of England on various boats, all mono-hull sloops from 18-36ft. We competed in club races in the Solent and took the occasional trip to France, the Scilly Isles and the Channel Islands. These multi-day sailing holidays are what inspired me to get my own boat and sail off into the distance.

My first boat, Maya, was a 25 foot GRP Folkboat variant – a Folksong 25.1.first-boat-maya-25ft-GRP-folksong25She was purchased for just £1000 but needed a lot of work and investment: a new mast (new to her at least); wind vane self-steering gear; a complete interior refit; push-pit; spray hood; new companionway hatch…the list could go on…

After 18 months of blood, sweat and tears she was ready to go. My first single-handed voyage was about to commence!

Over a period of 4 months, I took her from Portsmouth to Ibiza, which included knockdowns in the Bay of Biscay, trade wind sailing down the Portuguese coast and seemingly endless, scorching hot days of calms off the Mediterranean coast of Morocco.

She was a great boat – heavily canvassed so she was great in light airs, but she wasn’t set up for the still heat of the Mediterranean. No central hatch or wind-scoop meant that she turned into an oven on hot days and with no real shade outside, I was getting either baked or fried! She was eventually sold and last sighted in Malta:

My second boat was a much more comfortable affair. I inherited a High Tension 36, a 1980’s high volume cruiser racer. I had to collect her at short notice from a small island off of Rhodes and sail to a marina in Crete, where she was paid up for the winter.


My wife and I then took time out of work and spent 18 months sailing her around the Med and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, where we had an amazing time sailing around the Lesser Antilles. The voyage was finished off with me sailing her back to England single-handed – an experience that I will never forget!

Compared to Maya she was a luxurious boat, equipped with a fridge, a shower, hot water, solar and wind power, etc. Having to maintain those relatively complex and diverse systems for 18 months of continuous sailing taught me a lot about boat maintenance.

Things tend to fail at the most inopportune moments and without the knowledge, tools and spares to fix them your dream voyage can easily become a nightmare.

Once safely back in the UK, the boat was sold and several years of landlubbing (plus baby) followed.

This leads us on to the next project – Sunfire – an Invicta 26.

She’s been on the hard for two years and is certainly showing it. I plan to strip her back and start again – inside and out – with the aim of taking her across the North Sea to Norway, up to Shetland and beyond.

She was designed by Van De Stadt in 1964 and was one of the early production boats built in GRP. Designed as a Folkboat variant, she has a long encapsulated keel, narrow lines and carries quite a lot of canvas. She’s actually very similar to Maya (the Folksong 25)…just a little longer, heavier and quite a bit older.

The list of work to be done will inevitably grow arms and legs, but this initial list will give an idea of the contents of future blog posts:

  • Gut the boat down below.
  • Recommission and service the inboard diesel engine.
  • Get the mast down.
  • Remove the engine.
  • Remove and restore the rudder.
  • Strip back and repaint the deck.
  • Strip back and repaint the hull.
  • Replace all ageing exterior wood, including washboards and toe rail.
  • Design, build and fit the new interior.
  • A full re-wire.

On top of this, I’m also seriously (and controversially) considering converting the rig to a junk rig. I’ve always been drawn to the simplicity of junk rigs and given that the current mast on Sunfire is of a dubious condition anyway, she could be the perfect guinea pig.

Till next time!

COMING UP NEXT TIME: Getting up close and personal with the inboard engine, a Yanmar 1GM10, for a service and to get it up and running!

If you have any questions for Seb regarding this post, please feel free to comment below.

18 thoughts on “The DIY Restoration of a Small Yacht: An Introduction (#1)

  1. Derek Miller says:

    Hi Seb, looking forward to reading your blogs on progress with Sunfire. I sail an Arden 4 out of Tayport Harbour on the Tay estuary. She was launched in 1966, so 52 years old this year. A fibreglass version of a previous wooden Arden 4, she has an encapsulated keel, and a 52% ballast to weight ratio, so very forgiving and sea-kindly. I believe around 80 were built by Hulley Marine in Helensburgh. Many more lay-ups of fibreglass than today’s boats presumably because it was a relatively new material and the better safe than sorry principle was followed. Only major problem I’m experiencing is I’m beginning to see a few osmosis ‘blisters’. About the size of an old half-crown, and reasonably easy to burst, wash out, sand down, and fill. Good luck with the restoration – I’ll be following progress and looking for ideas!
    Derek Miller

    • John Beskow says:

      Hi Derek which type have you apparently there is the tiller over the aft end or under ? After I
      spoke to the son of the builder he explained the under tiller was to allow the helmsman a
      less exposed position ! I have the upper positioned tiller on my Arden, which rightly or wrongly
      I bought on a whim, doesn’t detract from the seaworthiness they provide.

    • Sebastian Sutherland says:

      Hi Derek,

      Thanks for taking an interest in the blog. It’s interesting to hear about your boat – I’ve not had to deal with the dreaded ‘boat pox’ before, and thankfully it doesn’t look as though Sunfire is suffering from it. I also appreciate the heavier layup of older boats – whilst sailing in Greece I hit some flotsam which took a half inch chunk out of the hull – I’m sure a newer boat would have been holed in that situation!

  2. Richard bourne says:

    Dear Seb,
    I have a story about your boat Sunfire.I was on the Round Mull race about twenty yea rs ago and we had some heavy weather and one boat lost its rudder and sank .All were rescued but while this was going on ,broken messages were heard from another boat which appeared to say that yacht was on fire.Later it emerged that it was Yacht Sunfire was trying to speak and Sunfire was misheard as on fire! So enunciate clearly

    • Sebastian Sutherland says:

      Gosh what a story. I will be sure to enunciate very clearly as ‘Sunfire’ is definitely a bit too close to ‘on fire’, especially when communicating with VHF in a high tension situation!

      Thanks posting this Richard.

  3. Bob Bull says:

    Blimey Zeb- how can you have done all that and kept your youthful good looks. I too learned to sale in the Solent- but those were my dinghy days. You have an amazing set of skills and put me to shame with both my sailing and maintenance skills ( partly a factor of time) with my young 47 year old Trapper 500/ C&C 27 ( whatever you like to call it)

  4. George Wallace says:

    Looking forward to your project and seeing the results.
    I have one of these yachts a Mark 2 1973 they are great sea boats .
    Crack on and I wish you all the luck.

    • Sebastian Sutherland says:

      Hi George,

      It’s great to hear from another Invicta 26 owner!

      Thanks for the comment and I hope you enjoy the future posts.

  5. John Beskow says:

    I had to remove a junk mast ( aluminium ) unfortunately at deck level. It was a through-deck
    originally however the owner saw this means as most appropriate ? At present I don’t have an
    accurate measurement as to it’s length. However I’m sure it would go a long way in helping
    your end result. Unless the cost of transporting from Dumbarton would be too extreme ? This
    could be offset against cost of the mast which is £0.0p.
    John B.

    • Sebastian Sutherland says:

      Hi John,

      Wow that’s a really great offer and one that I would definitely take you up on if the mast is the right size. I’ll have to go off and do some calculations so I know exactly how much mast Sunfire will need. Do you recall how big the boat was that the mast was on?

      Thanks again John, and thanks for reading the blog!

      • John Beskow says:

        Going through Wed will do a measurement then. Even though maybe shorter than you might
        need I’m sure you will be able to fabricate and sleeve to your requirements. Just wondered did
        you get inspiration from Ming Ming 1 and II ?
        John B.

  6. Patrick Horgan says:

    You really love a challenge Seb!
    Best of luck with the project, we look forward to learning from you.
    I have read many ‘restoration’ articles over the years. Hopefully yours will break new ground by detailing how much it costs in £ (excluding your own, or mates labour costs).
    A look at out-turn value of your craft (open market value) versus what it all cost you, would be wonderful to see for other ‘doer uppers’.

    • Sebastian Sutherland says:

      Thanks for the comment Patrick,

      I will definitely keep a ledger of all the costs of the project. Perhaps I could list all costs incurred at the end of each blog?

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