Confession: A weighty issue arises during Ford Cortina tow trip

In this month’s Confession, we learn that in the battle between car and boat, there can be only one winner

It was on a visit to the Port Authority compound in 1980 that I discovered Phoenix. She was a sorry-looking Sea Nymph open launch almost broken in half.

I poked around her for a while, unsure if I had the ability to repair her because she was so far gone. Phoenix was a small harbour workboat of GRP construction, which had fallen from the slings whilst being craned out of the dock.

The welding bottles she was carrying had exited through her hull making a large hole and breaking open her buoyancy tanks. Deemed written-off, she had been languishing in the yard now for some time.

Summoning up the courage to make an offer, I went to see the man in charge. My offer of £20 was met with a sharp intake of breath and a long silence before he uttered his reply, “Give me a tenner and she’s yours”.

A friend who owned a recovery truck helped shore up the damage with a Dexion angle iron. On return to the recovery yard the mechanics mocked, “Are the holes in the sides for giving hand signals?”

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I spent the next two years repairing the hull, adding an extra nine inches of freeboard together with a small cabin. Finally, after building a trailer and fitting an outboard, she was ready to go.

Setting off on holiday to Scotland, we hitched her behind my 1600 Ford Cortina company car and upon arrival up north, put the champagne on ice for her launch the next day.

The morning dawned with a group of onlookers on hand to witness the champagne being poured over her bows. Phoenix slipped gently off the trailer and glided into the water. There was
a loud cheer and then, to my horror, she listed over to port about fifteen degrees.

To make matters worse, she also sat dangerously high in the water. Once the jeering crowd had disappeared, I jumped on board with my toolbox. As I shifted my weight from side to side, she started to level.

Encouraged by this, I moved the toolbox to starboard and jumped off onto the jetty where thankfully she remained level. I took the toolbox back to our holiday lodge, weighed it on the bathroom scales, then set off in search of ballast.

Finding the local boatyard owner, he sold me a pair of bilge keels off an old sailing boat. As they were too long and heavy we took them to a engineering workshop nearby who cut them to size with their power hacksaw.

I opened up the midships starboard buoyancy chamber and wedged in the billet. Satisfied this had cured the list, I added the remainder forward of midships.

She went down on her marks, settled into the water nice and safe and performed really well for the rest of our holiday.

The trouble started when we came to return home. While attempting to trail her out of the water, she was too heavy for the Cortina to recover, so we ended up having to call over the nearest owner of a larger car and pulled her out with a Land Rover.

As I set off again in the Cortina, the whole outfit felt really sluggish and after about 30 miles, the engine gradually began to lose power. The extra weight was killing the car, so retaining only the ballast in the starboard buoyancy, we jettisoned the rest to lose weight.

The engine meanwhile only became worse and I just managed to pull up on my drive before the valves started rattling.

Shortly after arriving home, someone offered me a good price for Phoenix, so I sold her. I didn’t mention the list or the missing ballast, and neither did I tell the boss how the company car engine went pop whilst on holiday.

The author of every confession we print wins the original Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine Transceiver handheld VHF radio worth £165.

For your chance to win, spill the beans on your funniest boating moments in 650 words. Email your story to:


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