Sailing adventure on minimal outlay.

Westerly 25 – Macavity (2011).

This was the big one. After rebuilding and enjoying a few old dinghys and having completed my day skipper course with the wonderful Wendy Langdon at Start Point Sailing. I sold anything I owned that hadn’t seen use for a while, and started shopping for a proper boat. The boat I had spent my course on had been a Westerly, and Wendy really seemed to rate them, so a Westerly was top of the list along with various Hurleys and Snapdragons. Problem was I still had only just over a thousand to spend despite a lot of wheeling, dealing, trading and saving. It just didn’t look like it was going to be enough. That is until the recession really started to bite down here in the west and a few sorry, neglected looking examples started to appear on ebay. Now I hate to see anyone in a bad financial spot, I’ve been there myself, but these boats were for sale anyway and I was a potential buyer. The game was on. Christ they were rough though. Even I couldn’t see the point in wasting any effort on some of them. I particularly remember a poor old Silhouette whose owner had chopped out most of the internal woodwork to create a feeling of space. Bulkheads, supports and all. Honestly.

Anyway, the recession turned out to be a double edged sword, for as more crap boats turned up on the market, I had less work coming in to pay for them with. A final bit of dismal, grimey sub contract work in a potato processing factory saw my funds grow to a mighty £1500! And then as if by the will of the gods, this turned up.


Westerly 25. £1500, needs work. Yep, a whole lot of work.


What a beauty! Can’t help but notice the sinister black sky hanging around though, and…. is that a piece of old string holding her against those famous roaring Bristol channel tides?


Ah yes, I thought so, and…. is that a razor sharp edge of half pulled away bow fitting there beside it? I shouldn’t be at all surprised if she were to break free and wash up on a nearby beach as soon as my back is turned, eh? Yep, that’s what happened. The very night after I’d handed over the dosh, she was making a run for it. Not for the first time either as I was to find out much later on.

I will carry on with the story of this running restoration as and when I get the time. I know that £1500 is a hell of a lot of money to find for most people, and indeed it was for me, but this sum was saved up over a couple of years of making do. I did sacrifice a lot of holiday time, weekends, cinema trips and nights out to afford it. Having now owned the old girl for a further three years and spent a bit more cash plus a massive amount of time on her, I can honestly say I don’t regret it one bit. She has taught me more about boat handling and upkeep than I could ever have learnt any other way and it’s been a lot of fun.


Having experienced the sheer horror of finding the physical representation of my dream (not to mention £1500 worth of hard savings) gone, I decided that I needed to rethink my original plan of leaving Macavity on her old mooring. The previous owner was a fine fellow and had offered it to me until I found a way to get her home. This had seemed a splendid idea and would have saved me a good deal of extra worry and expense. But now I could see that it was all a bit ragged and needing attention, as was the boat herself. We found her easily, relaxing outside the pub on Instow seafront, she had come to no harm and her anchor had been laid out towards the water by her slightly embarrassed former keeper. Problem was, we knew little about the tides at that stage and had no idea if she would float off this week or the next. Scraping the three inches of mussels, crabs, and seaweed from her hull killed some time until the pub opened, then we killed some more time in there.


Tidying up after our first glorious sail around the Taw/Torridge estuary.


Suzy approved of our new floating holiday home, mainly because…..


….she had noticed there was a handy device for cooking her sausages.

By the time the water returned we were in a much better mood altogether, and set about hauling her off the sand and going for our first ever sail on my own boat. We only went up the river towards Barnstable for a bit on the rising tide, and then back to our mooring where we cobbled together a much stronger tether for our wandering o.a.p. We started off under power for around ten minutes until the ancient Mercury 7.5 had an asthma attack and died. This gave us the motivation to conquer the tangled sail handling system and actually use her as we intended. This was a big learning curve for me and to say she didn’t sail well would be a massive understatement. She was slow, wouldn’t point anymore than 65 degrees to windward, and wouldn’t tack her bows through the breeze. [Most of this I can now attribute to a handful of things that I’ve cured or improved through experimentation over the years, not least of which my own inexperience.] I loved every minute of that first sail though, she was mine.

Being the end of August, I had to start thinking about where I was going to work on her over the dark winter months. I had no storage space at this time even if I had the money to have her transported. Which I didn’t. So I asked some of the other boat owners on the beach (to whose unofficial gang I now felt a sort of kindred sense of belonging) for their advise. It seemed that the North Devon Yacht Club was where they all had their boats craned out and stored for winter. I could do the same if I joined the club and booked the crane in time. This was an aspect of sailing I hadn’t reckoned on at all. Joining clubs? Booking cranes? It was all beginning to sound very expensive.


The start of nearly six months of winter weekend van camping.

I had a bit of time to work things out before winter really set in. On the one hand I could just leave my new project boat on her mooring over winter, as she had been for the previous three years, and accept whatever damage be done. On the other hand I could look at it as money well invested on ensuring many years of happy sailing fun in the future. Tricky. First to find out how much money was required. The sailing club were really helpful and offered me “country membership” which was heavily discounted due to my home being more than 60 miles away on the south coast. Pete Short, at Instow Marine, gave me a very reasonable price for his crane services which ultimately made up my mind to try to complete as much work there in the yard as I could that winter. In total I believe I paid around £200 for membership, yard storage, and craneage. Less than I would have paid to transport her home, with the added bonus of having great facilities and knowledgeable mentors close at hand. Excellent! I was positively looking forward to getting stuck in. Little did I know what a long, cold, wet winter it was going to be!


Utter filth. Got rid of all that flaky, hanging, mildewed paint though.


                           Wet days= inside work.                                Dry days= outside work.

The period from October 2011 to April 2012 passed in a blur. Frantic site work during the week, followed by a swift drive up to Instow on a Friday night to sleep in my old VW van for a weekend of dedicated boat sanding, scraping, filling, and painting. It all seemed hard, endless, pointless, and incredibly cold work at times. When it frequently got too cold, wet, or dark to do anything, I would seek shelter in one of Instows fine public houses, or the sailing club, and feast on steak, chips, and Doom Bar until closing time. Next day I would be frozen out of my sleeping bag at dawn to scrape and sand another section of ancient fibreglass clean. I believe people genuinely thought I was unhinged. Gradually the old Westerly started to change colour. From multicoloured wreck full of gashes, to white with grey patches of filler, to the uniform grey of primer, to white of undercoat, and finally, to beautiful deep Mauritius blue.


Black tar epoxy below the waterline only. No antifouling or rubbing strakes yet.

I got loads of encouragement and assistance from other club members as winter slowly turned to spring, and more people began to arrive at the weekend to prepare their own boats for launch. I was very glad of their help as it was beginning to turn into a bit of a race against time situation with the yard clearance deadline approaching. Launch week came. With a freak spell of warm sunshine, the assistance of the beautiful Miss N, plus a few willing passers by, the two coats of 3M hard antifouling went on, the new Iroko rubbing rails shaped up by my good friend Mr P, were bent and fitted, plus a bit of token interior tidying up was done. This was the best I could hope for that year and she really had to go back in the water to be sailed. She looked amazing as Pete swung her over the edge and into the sea once again. It was chucking it down as usual, but nothing was going to stop me from spending that first night aboard on her freshly laid mooring, so I quickly bundled in my sleeping bag and a bottle of wine for the evening ahead, fired up the now reanimated Mercury 7.5, and chugged off.


Crane in April 2012. The rain was to last until October.


Nice. Back on her mooring ready for a summer of damp adventures.


Work completed 2011:

  • Hull scraped and sanded clean, filled where necessary, epoxy coated, primed and painted.
  • Iron keels chiseled free of rust, sanded, treated with rust preventer, epoxy coated and painted.
  • Inside cabin scrubbed clean, sanded, painted in white danboline bilge paint.
  • All terrible, d.i.y wiring and carpentry removed.
  • All inoperative or rotten original wiring and carpentry removed.
  • Deck leaks traced and repairs attempted (unsuccessfully).
  • New Iroko rubbing strips made up, bent, and fitted.
  • Exposed woodwork sanded and varnished.
  • Two coats of hard antifoul applied.

Hard lessons learnt 2011:

  • There is always a much greater area to sand and paint on a boat than you think. I had been used to refinishing cars in a previous life but I still completely miscalculated. Loads of sanding. Loads of paint. I carted up a compressor and orbital sander each weekend to do the job and probably would never have finished it otherwise. Paint is expensive stuff so look at plenty of instructional books and manufacturers guidelines to avoid a costly mistake. I used the International Perfection system as it was a two part poly paint that would be very hard. I only wanted to do this once!
  • When the dings and scrapes were filled, I put four coats of International VC tar epoxy on below the waterline. This was an additional barrier to water getting into the laminate but seeing as there was no osmosis evident after nearly fifty years of use, I now believe this was probably an unnecessary waste of money. The hard antifouling was used due to my mooring drying at low tide and being in a strong current. It still got scoured off in places though. Three coats would have been better.
  • Grind out dings and cracks brutally. Degrease using plenty of solvent panel wipe. Paint on liquid epoxy to ensure total saturation of laminate before using epoxy filler. Most areas I treated like this but a couple I didn’t. Three years on, I know which method lasts better.
  • Don’t use an epoxy based primer above the waterline. I did. I then had to sand it all off again to get a good finish on the later coats. Waste of money and time.
  • Don’t use a lump hammer to painstakingly remove all the rust scale from iron keels as I did. Just get an approved firm to come in with a sandblaster and strip all the underwater area in one hit if you can afford it. Its worth a good few days of hard graft.
  • Be polite to folk who show an interest in your insane mission. They often have good experience in your particular penance and can sometimes be persuaded to lend a much needed hand.
  • Dew will ruin a perfect paint finish so don’t paint in the early evening.
  • Flies and wind blown dust will ruin a perfect paint finish so don’t paint after around midday.
  • If its too cold, the paint will not flash off quickly enough and may run or sag.
  • If its too hot the paint will set on contact with the hot hull and wont flow out evenly.






  1. Hi, great site! Just about to take the plunge on a £500 westerly ( what could go wrong!) strangely , my mooring is over at Appledore…. Boat currently lying on the south coast…. Potentially collecting on a 16ft double axel flat bed car trailer. What do,you think? Nuts? Will sit her stern towards the 4×4 and use plenty of ratchet straps….. Comments, advise and laughter appreciated :)

  2. Hi Steve
    Awesome site mate well done.
    I am taking on similar project ( You read it on Offshore Yacht Class Owners Association Forum)
    What i didnt was that this project of mine is on a mega tight budget. I will be doing all the work my self. The piles of wood and left over fiberglass will be used.
    The boat cost me £650 that was the price the previous owner paid for the gearbox. He was basically sick of the boat. I got a bargain but this is going to be one tough struggle to get her how i want her to look.
    I know nothing about sailboats. I am pretty good at joinery. I can fiberglass not bad at electrics. Engine wise im pretty confident and a quick learner of Youtube videos. My budget for this project is maybe £100 and thats the MAX so it should be an interesting build. I have learned a few tips from your site already Thanks for that.
    I would like to have a blog/site like this to document my build,
    Can you advise on how i can do this or go about building one with a tight budget.
    All the best

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