Workboat Finish Part Two

Workboat Finish Part 2

By Preston Larus


Well, the paint job on the new (1991) Nelson Silva Simmons Sea Skiff came off pretty well, in all its Glidden Tempting Teal house paint glory. I had to work pretty steadily on it, as I was expecting my brother Mike and his girlfriend Marie-Jeanne to visit over the New Years’ weekend and wanted to show off the new boat (and Florida weather) to them.


We had had the boat out the weekend before Christmas and were delighted with its performance. It’s just amazing what 50 horsepower does for that 20-foot boat, and on very little gas. We clocked 50 miles on the GPS at about 20 knots and burned about 8 gallons of gas, if memory serves – I can’t be bothered to keep records too much. In our old Clorox-bottle fiberglass 14 footer, we couldn’t have endured that long a run, but the center-console Simmons allows for plenty of variety between sitting and standing and keeps the body from getting sore and cramped up. Our cruising range just got doubled.


So it was difficult to lay it up long enough to pull off all the deck hardware and rubrails and prep and paint, but it had to be done right away, as the top ply of the plywood foredeck and side decks was starting to crack and curl in a few spots. The weather forecast, though, was for rain throughout the week so there was going to need to be some shelter. A big blue tarp and a lot of rope did the trick, and besides, the rain turned out to be not so heavy and there was plenty of intermittent sunshine to get it done.


Now that it is done, it is a damn good-looking job from 6 feet away, just like a house would be. If you get right up on it, you can see roller marks and such, but that doesn’t bother me too much. The wood is covered and we were ready to go out again by the next weekend. As I write, I’ve already chipped the finish a bit here and there, and … it’s already fixed. No muss, no fuss.


I couldn’t resist a few modifications while I was at it, and that kept me busy in spare moments for the week between Christmas and New Years. The boat came with a big 12 gallon plastic tank chocked way up in the bow plus a pair of 6 gallon metal OE tanks in crescent-shaped chocks on either side just a bit forward of the center console. I was told that the boat likes to have weight in the bow so I wasn’t too sure about moving those tanks aft to either side of the motor well. But I was sure that they were taking up prime real estate where they were, and I have seen lots of pictures of Simmons boats with stern seats on either side of the well and the tanks hidden away underneath, so I relocated the chocks and put the tanks back there.


That was a good time to think about the fuel plumbing too. I do hate to plug and unplug fuel lines while underway as the tanks run dry – I always seem to spill some gas on my hands. So I picked up a bronze 3-way fuel valve and mounted it back on the motor well too, and now there in no more drama to the switching of tanks.


I made up some little wedge-shaped mounting pads for the gunwale to mount the Bimini top from the now-defunct Diablo skiff. I got started on making a mast for the stern running light. It’s one of my pet peeves that little short all-around lights wreck the helmsman’s night vision, and good tall ones are hard to find. I had a 48-inch one on the Diablo that plugged into a socket where two contacts provided the power, but it was always growing green corrosion and besides that, it required a fairly large hole in the boat to mount flush. Also, to drive the Simmons standing up will require a tall light indeed. I have in mind a wooden mast that will hold a light fixture at above-head height and pivot down along the gunwale during daylight, but was not able to get this done in time for my brother’s visit and will have to come back to it after the holidays. If it comes off well, I’ll send pictures and an article to MAIB. If not, I’ll see if I can bear to write about the mistakes and the (damned) learning experience.


The plan is to add bench seats forward with an insert that will make up into a vee-berth in a pinch. With a dodger and side curtains, the Simmons can become a little camper for weekend trips, but that project will have to wait a bit for more funds and free time. For now, we bought two folding camp chairs for our guests to sit on, forward of the console in the space freed up when the gas tanks moved aft.


So, with a few more odds and ends taken care of, I decided it was good enough for a family outing and fueled up – all 24 gallons — and we set off for the day. With all that gas and two extra passengers, we weren’t sure how she would perform, but there is only one way to find out, so we trailered down to Englewood, launched, and enjoyed a picnic lunch at Stump Pass. Between the car ride and the boat ride, it’s kind of a long way from home, but the water quality down in south county is so superior that you can almost imagine you’re in the Caribbean (sometimes).


The Simmons did just fine. It really does cut the chop a lot better if the forefoot is kept in the water, so I was glad to be able to draw off the stern tanks and let the 12 gallons forward be our last reserve. We’ll be running with just the two of us most of the time, so further experimentation will be needed (oh, darn).


We will need some spray rails, as it will throw up a blanket of water from time to time and wet the crew (but not the captain, who always sees it coming and ducks nimbly behind them in the nick of time). Alex Slaunwhite of the Simmons club tells me that Mr. Simmons put spray rails on some of his boats, and so did Nelson Silva, and that they were reported to be effective. I’d love to hear from any Simmons owners who have retrofitted their boats to hear how they worked out. It also seems to me that Robb White covered spray rails in one of his MAIB articles but I have not yet been able to locate it. I think it was buried within a piece about innovations to his Rescue Minor – or was it the Sport Boat?


Not that this has anything to do with boats, but it sure has to do with messing, and that is a digression about overfilling an automatic transmission. I won’t go into all the detail but as my brother and his girlfriend were departing New Years Day for Virginia, we managed to mis-read the dipstick and over-fill the transmission by a fair amount. This can cause pressure build-up that will blow seals, we are told, so we had to figure a way to get the extra fluid out.


I figured we could loosen the flare nut where the cooling lines go into the radiator and then run the engine to leak a good bit into a drain pan. No luck: the lines were attached with rubber hoses and damnable OE hose clamps that would probably not come off even if there was room to get to them and apply enough leverage. I could just see us breaking the hose nipple right off that Subaru radiator in the effort – bad idea. A little drill-operated oil-change pump would have been good but with just outboards in my family at the moment, I have no need for one of those. Unlike most modern manufactured-on-the-cheap cars, this one did have a drain plug but getting under the thing without ramps was no job for a couple of middle-aged guys.


We finally settled on using the shop vacuum to suck the fluid out of the dipstick hole. In my junk drawer I did have a bit of hose that would slip into the fill tube, but we didn’t want to ruin the vacuum with a transmission-fluid bath. We needed an intermediate vessel to catch the fluid (like you see down at the hospital … or the morgue), so we hooked up a plastic milk jug – one tube coming from the oil pan via the dipstick tube and leading into the jug through a tight-fitting hole poked into the top of the jug near the handle, and put the vacuum hose to the threaded screw hole.


The theory was good but the physics were lacking. It sucked the jug almost flat! We needed a more rigid vessel to stand up to the atmospheric pressure on the outside of the jug, and we didn’t have one at hand. Well, there were a few in the kitchen but those are Off Limits to messers such as we. We did find that the jug, even (mostly) flat, would hold a half-cup or so of fluid, so we just emptied it about 8 times to total 2 quarts. On the road again.


Our wives sympathized with all we had to do, and on a holiday at that, but the truth is, we had a great time working it out … I guess it would take a messer to understand. 

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