Lifelong sailors explain why they bought a Nelson 38 motor yacht

Lifelong sailors Cas and Dave Peace cast aside their prejudice and take the first tentative steps towards a new life afloat in the warmth and comfort of their first proper motor boat.

We are Cas and Dave, a pair of married sea shanty and folk singers who just love messing around on the water. Over the 30-plus years we have been together, we have been lucky enough to own a wide variety of boats from one-man sailing dinghies to narrow boats, but for the last 10 years we have been committed sailors, crewing for a friend then buying our own Mystery 35 sailing yacht.

Recently, though, Cas started to find sailing a bit much, especially the leaning over bit. Initially, we resolved this by sticking to motoring and only going out on calm days but the addition of two crazy lurcher-type dogs to our family, on top of our three grown-up children and seven granddaughters, meant space was also at a premium. So over the last few years, as we both increased in age and decreased in physical capability, we began thinking the unthinkable – changing sail for power.

Sail or power?

Sailing is huge fun but often rather frustrating, especially when you want to get somewhere and the weather means you don’t or can’t. We have always wanted to undertake longer trips around the UK; the Scottish Isles and parts of Ireland – perhaps a grand tour over to Norway via Holland and the canals, not forgetting northern France and Brittany either. Was now the time to reconsider our boating and change to power?

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A couple of years back we had visited the Southampton Boat Show and ended up looking at a few motor boats just for fun, particularly Nelson types, which appeal to yachties like us due to their inherent seaworthiness.

They look good too – I mean, who wants to look back from the dinghy and see an ugly boat? We didn’t progress with the idea at the time due to some temporary medical issues. Besides, I was still enjoying my sailing too much.

Slow forward a couple of years, though, and with our medical issues sorted, we decided to go to the Southampton Boat Show again. We had our usual quick wander round to see what was there and somehow found ourselves back at the Dale-Nelson and Seaward stands.

Dave at the helm of his former love – a Mystery 35 sailing yacht

We thought we ought to have a look at their latest models, even though we had no idea if we could afford one – not a chance! But while we looked, feelings started to flow through us in a most unexpected way.

We found ourselves agreeing with the salesman that, ‘Yes, it would be nice to be tucked away at a cosy inside helm when the weather’s bad outside’ and ‘That is indeed a comfortable-looking mattress on that big double bed.’

The hunt is on

Before we realised what was happening, we had made the mental jump from sail to power. The salesman even invited us back to sea trial a Seaward 39 a few days later. The boat was immaculate and we were very impressed by how easy two engines made it to get out of an awkward berth even with a spring tide.

The couple also had a narrow boat on the canals for a while

We went out and played in the western Solent for an hour or so, which confirmed why we loved the semi-displacement hull shape and the confidence it gave us at sea. Sadly, it also confirmed that our budget was way below the cost of even half a new one. Now all we had to do was find “our” boat at a price we could afford.

We cast around for a used Nelson 38 and found three for sale. Of these, one was rather old and in need of work, one was too expensive but the third looked promising. She was for sale locally through James Dickens Marine and located in Hythe. Named Victory by her first owner, she was built in 2003 and had been kept in very good condition by her second and current owner, who was downsizing to a smaller boat – another Nelson of course!

Apart from a few minor blemishes inside, you would never know she was 15 years old. Her twin 440hp Yanmar engines had only done 780 hours, she came with loads of extras and she felt so solid, safe and seaworthy that we were pretty sure we had found our next boat.

Victory is lifted out for the all important survey and hull checks

James Dickens and the owner Paul were very helpful as we crawled all over her asking questions. She was so much more complex and had 860hp more than our sailing boat! This was going to be a steep learning curve.

There were dual gauges for everything; oil pressure, gearbox pressure, turbo pressure, volts, temperature, engine hours and revs not to mention thrusters bow and aft, VHF, plotter, depth gauges, wind gauges, wipers, heated screens, throttles with flashing red and green lights and the most amazingly complicated stereo system we’d ever seen. And don’t forget the bilge pumps, horn, outside lights, nav lights, searchlight, fuel gauges… help!

I went down into the engine room for the first time. It was nicely lit and the twin 6.0-litre 6-cylinder Yanmars looked enormous compared to our sailing boat’s little 20hp Yanmar 3-cylinder.

The roomy, seaworthy Nelson 38 that finally convinced them to make the change

It all looked very clean and tidy with spill mats everywhere but there was so much other stuff in there that we didn’t recognise – generators, water tanks, pipes of all different sizes, so many seacocks I lost count and then a battery box, chargers, pumps, ultrasonic antifouling pingers… my brain started to overload.

But, and it was a huge but, it all felt really good. We were just going to have to take it slowly and learn everything bit by bit. We like to think we are pretty competent at sea, we even have several certificates to prove it, but this was a very different sort of yacht – patience and prudence would be needed.

James arranged a sea trial for us to see how she handled and more importantly how we would handle her. It was a gloomy November day (some would say a typical Solent day) but at least it wasn’t raining. Off we went down Southampton Water, first slowly, then gathering speed up to her maximum of around 25-26 knots. It felt good. Great, actually.

Cas quickly adapted to helming a bigger but more manouevrable twin-engined boat

We both played around with the steering. Then James gave us a lesson in manoeuvrability, learning how to stop, read the water/tide/wind, decide where we were going and then how to moor her up.

We had a go taking her in and out of the Hamble moorings using just forward and reverse tickover speed on the engines and no thrusters. We were both very encouraged by how manoeuvrable she was in close quarters even with the tide running, helping to convince Cas that we could handle all 12 tonnes of the boat on our own.

Survey surprise

Dale recommended a surveyor called Ben Sutcliffe who knew Nelsons better than most. Victory was taken out of the water so he could have a good look at the underside and running gear and test the hull for moisture content.

There was very little fouling on the hull, props or shafts but Ben couldn’t be sure whether this was due to the slightly brackish water in Hythe Marina, the ultrasonic system or just good antifouling paint. Time will tell.

All spruced up and ready for the first season under new ownership

The shaft’s P-bracket cutlass bearings and the through hull bearings had around 2mm of play in them but Ben reckoned they would be OK for the moment if we replaced them at the end of the year. Other than that, the hull was in extremely good condition for her 15 years.

Satisfied with his inspection of the underwater sections, Victory was returned to the water where Ben and I spent another whole day going over her decks and interior. Paul, the owner, was very patient with us as Ben worked his way through every nook and cranny with me standing by trying to remember everything he said.

The only major issue he could find were that the seacocks were pretty much shot – a salutary lesson to all of us who like to think we keep our boats in tip-top condition that it’s almost impossible to keep on top of everything. Paul was extremely good about this unexpected discovery and agreed to renew all the seacocks before we had even made an offer – what a gentleman!

Proof that their new boat really is just as happy in rain or sun

Survey complete, we went out for one last sea trial so Ben could ask all sorts of questions about the engines and test everything in sight. We went fast and slow, then fast on one engine with tickover on the other and vice versa, checking for smoke and leaks and odd noises and the other 101 things that needed checking.

Back on the mooring we turned our attention to the interior. To cut a long story short, Ben went through it like a sniffer dog looking for illegal contraband. Suffice to say he couldn’t fault it.

The price is right

Now we just had to agree on a price. She was a bit more expensive than the other Nelsons I’d seen for sale but once I added up all the extras fitted to her, it pretty much accounted for the difference.

Lifted out for her first winter ashore in her new home

We jumped in with what seemed like a fair offer and after a brief haggle settled on a price that was acceptable to both parties. Wow, we had nearly bought our new boat!

The actual purchase process was really quite simple. We checked the ownership and VAT status as she had initially been sold to the Channel Islands.

Everything was in order so James drew up the bill of sale, we checked it over, then parted with our life’s savings via a few clicks of the wrist. Finally, she was ours!

Even the soft toys enjoy the warmth and comfort of the Nelson’s inside helm

We even inherited a file full of service records and receipts plus several boxes of assorted spares. The last step was to update her ownership records with the MCA and the Small Ships Register, change the MMSI/VHF/AIS/ details with Ofcom and Falmouth, and re-register our personal locator beacons (PLBs) both of which needed servicing at a wicked cost.

Home sweet home

By now Christmas was only a couple of weeks away and winter had set in so we were keen to move her to her new home in Gosport as soon as possible.

We arranged to spend a final few hours with Paul prior to handover so he could show us the ropes once more and remind us exactly how everything worked as it all takes on a very different meaning when it’s you driving her away.

Their long limbed lurchers now have all the space they need to stretch out on deck

I’d already spent the last few nights lying in bed running through what I would need to do to get her safely from Hythe to Gosport and this was my last chance to check things over.

Delivery day dawned, just, dragging itself out of its wintry coma and never quite recovering. Grey, overcast, raining, 25 knots of wind – a typical British winter’s day.

We got to Hythe at around 11am and had a last coffee with Paul. James had come along to lend a hand (we suspect he was under orders not to let us ding the boat) and provide moral support.

Look, no hands! Cas is much happier on a boat that doesn’t tip over

The engines fired up as they should, the nav gear agreed we were in Hythe and wet weather clothes were donned – there was no backing out now. A touch of astern on the outside engine, let the bows drift out, a bit more starboard astern then stop and wait as she pirouetted round.

Port engine forward, swing the bow round and point towards the lock. Both engines into neutral while she glides towards the lock, tickover reverse for a couple of seconds to slow things down then nudge her gently into the lock. First epic 200-yard voyage completed. Phew!

The Hythe lock folks were very helpful and we made a smooth exit out into a grey and drizzly Southampton Water. We cranked her up to a gentle 14 knots and shared a smile, grateful to be sat inside the wheelhouse in the warm rather than shivering on the deck of our sailing boat.

“We parted with our life’s savings via a few clicks of the wrist. Finally, she was ours!”

Once past the Hamble, the strong SW wind started to make itself felt as we bore off left towards Gilkicker and Portsmouth. The sea was throwing up some good-sized waves, rolling us around a bit but all felt good.

Other than a couple of coasters there were barely any other boats around as we made our way past Spitbank fort before heading in towards Portsmouth with waves bouncing over the boat.

It was only when we left the safety of the wheelhouse to put the fenders on that we realised just how strong the wind had become.

All went well with our first solo berthing manoeuvre until the last few feet when an extra big gust tried to push us onto some neighbouring boats but a blip of throttle and a squirt of thruster saved the day.

We had done it. Victory was safely home, we’d survived our first encounter in suitably challenging conditions and if it weren’t for having to put the ropes and fenders out we’d still be 100% dry.

Time for a stiff drink from Victory’s well stocked bar to calm the nerves while enjoying the comfort of her warm and cosy saloon. I think we could get used to this motor boating lark!

First published in the June 2021 issue of MBY.

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