PROJECT BOAT Part 3 - Back to the Future

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There’s been a meeting of minds over our 1976-model Mariner Pacer 760 project boat, now back at home under its original builder Bill Barry-Cotter’s watchful eye. DAVID LOCKWOOD reveals the exciting plan

PROJECT BOAT Part 3 - Back to the Future
PROJECT BOAT <I>Ralfy IV</I> - Back to the Future

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Boats are funny creatures. They can be the bane of your life. And the love of it. After falling for Ralfy IV in a love-at-first-sight moment as she swung on her mooring in Middle Harbour, after towing her by water across town to Sydney City Marine for the first haul-out in several years, and then slipping back for subsequent dalliances, we were suddenly missing our beloved boat.

Where was Ralfy IV? Our project boat had been trucked to Maritimo’s fitout premises at Hope Harbour on the banks of the Gold Coast’s mighty Coomera River. As a result, we were desperate and boatless. So we winged it north to reacquaint ourselves with Trade-a-boat’s first-ever project boat. The plan was to work out the rebuild with Ralfy IV’s original builder and father, Bill Barry-Cotter, now the head of Maritimo, of course. We have partnered with Bill to do a very special job.

The flight was brief, the drive was rushed, the hire car was parked askew and the doors hurriedly slammed shut. Off we scuttled to find Ralfy IV in the corner of one very tall shed, keeping company with a line of million-dollar Maritimos, their flying bridges towering skywards, as shipwrights busily sanded teak decks.

While these gleaming white boats would soon be the apple of their new owners’ eyes, we had eyes only for Ralfy IV. And in a strange way, our 1976-model Mariner 760 — all $16,000 of it sans its original Chrysler V8 petrol inboard engine with 700hrs on the clock — looked at home amid the big Maritimos, and in the care of its original builder, some 34 years since the day it was launched.

We were very happy that Bill Barry-Cotter was enamoured by Ralfy IV’s good condition — "I’m very surprised by it," he said. No osmosis, a great spread of original fittings, even the old chipboard cabinet doors were in great nick. "You couldn’t rely on today’s chipboard to last a week within cooee of saltwater," Bill added. The only issues are the slightly sagging gunwales and coamings, but we intend to prop them up.

Now, first things first. It didn’t take long to see that work on our project boat had ground to a halt. This was quite by design after a call from Maritimo a week earlier. They wanted to know just how far we wanted to go with the rebuild. We were thinking of stripping the boat bare and fashioning a new interior using the yard’s new-age materials and our collective mindsets. Admittedly, we were thinking — all the way.

However, after lolling about in the boat for some Sundays in Middle Harbour months previously, there was now a little voice inside our head saying: "Can you do it better?" Step aboard a Mariner Pacer 760 or 780 (aka a 25 or 26) and you will know what I mean. Bill Barry-Cotter has managed to make the most of the interior space and everything is provided for the weekend pleasureboater with young family in tow.

Ralfy IV has a vee-berth with infill in the bow, a galley with stove to port, a dinette that converts to a second double berth opposite, and an enclosed hot shower and toilet. Add a big cockpit with covers and shade and that is your Mariner Pacer 760. In so many ways, this boat had us wondering just how far we have —
or haven’t —
come. And that led to some interesting discussions.

As he stood before Ralfy IV, Bill Barry-Cotter proffered that he’s still awaiting the next big boating breakthrough. Hulls like the variable-deadrise design on our Pacer 760 are still perfectly valid today, especially after a repower (more on that later). "Frankly, I’m hard-pressed to improve on the layout," Bill told us.

SOME BACKGROUND
As we’ve said before, the Mariner Pacer in its various guises really did introduce Australians to production boating. Bill used a Clive Caporn hull —
the timber-boatbuilder and racing-boat man was revered in his day —
and built some 38 wooden version before he moved to fibreglass and fitted them internally with GRP mouldings, some of which we have now learnt were made in Taiwan, along with some deck fittings on future boats. He really was ahead of his time.

With a full boat liner, Bill could suddenly turn out a Pacer in just a week and "crucified" Savage on price with their time-consuming fitouts and twin engines, he said. It was all about volume, which was achieved by offering few options, and he turned a profit of about $1000 per Pacer.

Our 1976-model Pacer 760 was built at the bustling Mariner yard at Mona Vale on Sydney’s northern beaches using chopper gun, handlaid woven rovings with glass-encapsulated Oregon stringers. Two men did the GRP work and, says Bill, all the boats weighed within 10kg of each other.

Another person was responsible for the engine fitouts and there were two staff on the joinery. The covers were eventually made by an in-house seamstress for huge savings compared with outsourced trimmers. You can see the boatbuilder in Bill when he recounts these kinds of details.

His staff became specialists at their job and Bill says that strategy at Maritimo today leads to superior boats. Another thing about buying Australian-made is that you get local warranties. Speaking of which, the original Clark kitchen sink in Ralfy IV is as good as the day it was fitted. Later, Mr Clark bought a Mariner 34 from Bill. Indeed, a big part of Bill’s success was the fact he could up-sell Pacer owners into bigger boats in years to come.

LAID BARE
While our rendezvous with Ralfy IV reignited our passion for the project, we weren’t the only ones smitten. The expert Maritimo team had begun the refit with gusto. They had dedicated one person to strip it down already. But wait! Why was every part carefully removed, lined up and labelled, grouped together as though awaiting a similar fate? Something much bigger than we imagined was going on…

While we weren’t quite sure which way we to go with Ralfy IV — gut the boat and refit it with all the new-age flash materials being used by Maritimo, or keep a few of the original fittings and the patina of the oiled plywood bulkheads —
Bill Barry-Cotter was adamant. So too Phil Frazer, the production manager responsible for the build schedule on all the new Maritimos and now Ralfy IV.

Drum-roll, wait for it — we are keeping our 1976-model Mariner as original as possible. This is not a refit but a restoration! How cool is that. Hence the fact every key part is being numbered and labelled for future re-assembly and Maritimo is making a list of what needs replacing. Oh, what fun! But wait, there’s more…

THE PROJECT
There are several Mariner Pacers kicking about after shipwrights have undertaken terrific refits. Where plywood bulkheads once stood they now sport slick gelcoat finishes. Tired old deck fittings have been replaced with new ones. And in some cases, the hulls have been resprayed black or blue. As good as they are — and we plan to raft-up with some of these boats in a Pacer get-together in due course — what we are doing is truer to form.

Our 1976 Mariner is being given a new lease on life to create a near-new original boat as testimony to the fact Barry-Cotter’s boats have stood the test of time. The hull is being stripped bare and then resprayed white using two-pack Awlgrip paint, perhaps the premium 2000 series stuff, while the boot line might be navy blue.

Thankfully, the sturdy bronze bollards are being re-chromed and refitted like new. We are also keeping the galley’s teak two-bottle wine rack and dedicated matchbox holder. The original kettle that came with the boat, which has doubtless made hundreds of cuppas over the years, will be put back into service.

But the chipboard cabinet doors will be replaced with new teak veneer plywood doors and jambs, and the bulkheads will also likely be fitted with a new satin teak veneer. The teak swimplatform that was damaged even before transit will be rebuilt so it’s deeper and more accommodating, and we’ll also fit a safer, fully-welded stainless steel bowrail.

Of course, some stuff isn’t worth saving: the pin-rail around the vee-berth and cabin interior dates the boat in the same way as the Formica top to the dinette. Both will be replaced in complementary satin-finished teak. After all, as Bill told us, the old Pacer joinery was "bare teak sanded back and oiled in Dutch hiding cream in all of 20 minutes".

I thought the varnished timber slats on the cabin sole were original, but Bill says no way and he should know. Out they come and, with carpet in place instead (and outdoor carpet in the cockpit), we’ll derive an even greater sense of headroom in the cabin. It will be easier to clean, too.

As for electronics, we’re not yet sorted on that front. But the original depthsounder, a flasher called the Seafarer 700 made in England, is well past its used-by date. We’re keeping the same dash design, but will fit new engine gauges and, later, our chosen electronics kit.

I imagine we’ll carry a roll-up tender for inflating and paddling to shore, whereupon it might ride on the boat’s hardtop when moving from anchorage to anchorage. A couple of crab traps and a fishing rod or two, the latest Trade-a-boat and the weekend will be complete.

There will be hot water via the engine, but my grandiose ideas for a microwave oven, inverter and bowthruster probably won’t be realised. The toilet will be a new manual pump model (not electric) and the bathroom space will be resprayed white.

Instead of a windlass or anchor winch, which would necessitate a bowsprit being built, we’re going manual CQR deployment instead. Back to basics, you see. The idea is to keep the cost down and, moreover, return to the simple tried-and-tested boating pleasures.

CSI PACER
Where parts were missing, Bill Barry-Cotter had already begun hunting them down. The aluminium windows, for example, were without a couple of key tracks. Bill had contacted Alfab, who have made his boat windows and doors for years, and they had inherited the original Qualicraft jigs used to make the safety-glass windows on our 1976 Mariner.

Bob Littler Agencies, which Bill intends using for parts’ kits for his Mustangs in future, had replacement engine vents and foredeck grabrails in keeping with the originals (the teak ones on Ralfy IV were ring-ins). It’s really quite amazing to think, 34 years later, that many of the fittings are still available.

The engineroom will be flow-coated and, unlike the original Pacers, it will have a watertight bulkhead forward. This will help keep bilge water and engine smells out of the cabin and improve safety, too. With a blower, gas detector and tanks vented overboard, Ralfy IV will a reliable petrol-powered cruiser. Twin lead-acid M70 batteries will take care of our limited, mainly lighting, onboard needs and engine cranking.

But the Rinnai stove/griller and gas bottle set-up will be removed from the galley and, chances are, we’ll fit a simple butane single-burner stove with disposable ‘gas’ canister. There are safety issues to address here and the fitout will comply with National Marine Manufacturers Association certifications, says Bill. We will likely fit a gas or charcoal barbie to the cockpit for most of our cooking duties.

ENGINE CHOICE
Those of you already following our project boat will know that we are converting Ralfy IV from petrol inboard (originally a V8 Chrysler) with shaftdrive to petrol inboard with sterndrive aka inboard/outboard (I/O). The running gear is being removed, the holes filled, but the little keel left in place.

Bill says while inboard engines will last forever, the sterndrive-powered Pacers were faster, quieter, more efficient, and just better boats. Additionally, we should add, you can trim up the sterndrive leg and get right into the beach to mooch about with the family. That counts for plenty in summer. And if you plan to transport the boat, as we will to all the major boat shows, it’s easy on a flattop truck.

Fitting a sterndrive will require substantial new support at the transom and we’ll shift the fuel and water tanks (alloy or stainless steel for the former partly to prevent potential problems with ethanol), and polypropylene for the latter, farther forward to compensate for the engines aft weight. All fuel lines and filters will be new, of course.

The moulded lounge base will be refitted to the transom, so it runs athwartships as it did originally, and there is icebox storage below this upholstered seat. But there are plenty of 12V fridge options these days from the likes of Waeco and terrific iceboxes that keep grub cool for up to a week.

ON THE PACE
Engage the bilge blower, turn the key, and our repowered Ralfy IV will fly! The engine of choice is one of MerCruiser’s remanufactured options. A Mercury remanufactured engine is completely disassembled down to its core components. Worn or damaged parts are replaced, and the engine is reassembled and tested prior to packaging. The engine is then covered by a one-year warranty.

"Everyone aspires to have a brand-new engine, but our remanufactured options save money," explains David Meehan, director of MerCruiser. "We introduced them to the Australian market in mid-2009, due to the GFC, and they’re going gangbusters. We’re selling more and more remans’ every month." The saving over a new engine is about 20 per cent

Maritimo has specified a MerCruiser 383 Stroker, a small-block 6.3lt V8 that will produce 350hp on the tail. With a Bravo III sterndrive with 2.2:1 ratio and counter-rotating props (pitch to be determined), Ralfy IV should be a sporty drive and easy docking proposition without a bowthruster. New steering will help with that, too.

Bill Barry-Cotter anticipates a top speed of 30 to 33kts (35 to 38mph). So Ralfy IV will be a Pacer by name and nature. After all, when the kids are done with Saturday sport, you don’t want to spare the horses. A new spread of white engine gauges will look the part, too.

"Ralfy IV has lasted almost 40 years. There’s no point changing it now. The boat has proven itself," said Phil Frazer, as he prepared to map a critical path with rebuild goals. The new engine was only a couple of weeks away at the time of writing and, despite strong demand for new Maritimos following the Sydney boat show, Ralfy IV was getting plenty of attention.

"I spent time over Easter on a Pacer and loved it," Frazer added. Then Ross Willaston, Maritime’s raceboat driver and sea trailer, said: "I love these boats. They’re just a great Broadwater boat. I love ’em." After which someone lamented the fact that, just maybe, all this publicity will push-up the price of second-hand Pacers. We’re guessing you’ll just have to look a little harder to find the bargains now.

"This Pacer is going through the identical factory as the Maritimos using the same people, some of whom have been with Bill for decades," Frazer says. "You’re going to get a top job."

And things are moving swiftly in that direction. Within a week the boat had been threw a new ‘deforestation’ period where all the timber was removed, in preparation for spraying the hull, and sorted in batches. By the end of the year, a wonderful Ralfy IV will be relaunched looking as dapper as the day she first hit the water. In fact, she’ll be even better.

Meantime, with the original engine number now in his hands, Bill Barry-Cotter is thumbing through his paperwork where, he’s hoping, he can find the original owner. The rebirth of Ralfy IV is getting interesting. Watch this space.

THE POWERPLANT
Mercury MerCruiser 383 Stroker

TYPE: Remanufactured fuel-injected petrol V8
DISPLACEMENT: 6.3lt
RATED HP: 350
DRIVE: Bravo III sterndrive
RATIO: 2.2:1
PROPS: Counter-rotating
NEW COMPONENTS: Camshaft, forged steel crankshaft, intake manifold and injector assembly, pistons, engine bearings, valves, oil pump, valve springs, roller rockers, wire harness, flame arrestor, dry-joint exhaust manifolds and elbows, and serpentine belt-drive system.
WARRANTY: Standard 12-month remanufacturing warranty

Photos: Ralfy IV sits alongside her glistening million-dollar siblings at Maritimo's Gold Coast factory; Trade-a-Boat's Project Boat overseers, from left, the builder Bill Barry-Cotter, editor David Lockwood, and project manager Phil Frazer; Ralfy IV's new engine, a Mercury MerCruiser 383 Stroker V8.

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