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taking ownership of top cat
         
 

dec 2001

I inherited my vessel 'Top Cat' (No. 0181) from my father at the end of 2001, she had been in the family since 1989. He had become very ill in the last few years and felt he could not look after her as well as he should have. In December 2001 he offered the boat to me, she had been laid up for four years and needed a lot of work to get her back into sailing condition.

She had been broken into a few times and damage had been done, this was not an easy decision to make. I knew as a project it was going to cost a small fortune. This is why it took us a fortnight to accept. My father understood the time I took.

  Top Cat in the yard, covered in moss and muck  
         
  The London Boat Show, where we got many ideas and I was brought up to speed about yacht instruments.  

jan 2002

We travelled to London to visit the boat show, armed with ideas and plans. We had not been to the boat prior to the boat show as it was only the 5th January. This was a mistake, I had forgotten much of the way Top Cat was laid out and as with most boat shows the only comparisons we could make were to monohull vessels.

At the boat show I looked at engines, those belonging to Top Cat had always been too heavy. After visiting many manufacturers stands I had pretty much decided upon Yanmar units. My criteria was they must be simple, no electronics, easy to maintain, light in weight and able to be hand started.

 
         
  I chose raw water cooling which will make many boat owners cringe, but weight is such an issue for catamarans it was a decision I had to make. To do the maths, fresh water cooled engines cost around half as much again, so if my engines last two thirds the time of fresh water equivalents I am still in the money. I know it is not as simple as that in reality.

I bought from a company on the Isle of Wight who offered a promotional boat show price, but things were not that easy. I will mention this further on.

At the boat show we had climbed over so many boats, opened and closed hatches, cupboards, sinks, ovens you name it. We looked at flooring, teak decks (foredeck replacement) and vinyl coverings. I also looked at the modern way of using halogen lights to light the living areas, but quickly disregarded this after adding up the power usage and how big our house batteries would need to be to support this.

Top Cat has always been self sufficient living on a mooring. This means you cannot, as many do, just plug in to 240v mains on the marina pontoons. Everything we would need to fit to Top Cat would have to be scrutinised for weight and power usage. This, unfortunately, also adds somewhat to the price charged by manufacturers, plus a little bit because it is marine. Everyone knows if someone owns a boat they must be rolling in cash, no really!

 
             
  Top Cat looked very dilapidated when we took her over, moss had taken over.  

On the 20th January we arrived at the boat for the first time. Later than we had hoped but for a reason unknown to me I did something sensible.

Before setting off from Cheshire to the boat which was in the yard at Porthmadog, I decided to check the condition of our jet wash. It was dead as a doornail, it had frozen in the shed and would not even try to power up.

  Top Cat's transom all clean, a first day success.  
         
 

This meant a stop at B&Q on the way to buy another cheapy jet wash and also a chance to pick up some scrubbing brushes and detergents. We had visited the boat in October and knew she was in pretty poor condition. Though then we did not dream it would be up to us entirely to put her back to sailing condition.

We spent all the available daylight scrubbing Top Cat and removing ingrained muck with the jet wash. We had Lichen growing on the decks and wood was disintegrating as I went over with the jet. We also began to remove all the rubbish from inside and I fitted new locks to prevent any more people getting inside. We removed the rotten cockpit canopy and started a rubbish tip under the boat.

I was starting to get scared about what had let ourselves in for. Everything was going to need replacement, or at least that is how it looked. I went off to find our mast but could not find it, it had started to get dark. So we called it a day, the canopy was stuffed into the boot and we set off home, wet, cold and slightly happier when looking back to see Top Cat so much cleaner than when we started that morning.

 
         
  The old foredeck on Top Cat had rotted away.  

At home, the day after, we had a table meeting. We don't do that. But we needed to discuss our options, should we carry on, how much to spend, where to actually start this job!

The Foredeck was rotten, it seemed all the wood internally would need replacing, every floor inside was falling apart. The cockpit had no floor boards, the locker covers were rotting, the aft cabins were in a terrible condition from the damp.

She needed new engines, instruments, fabrics, carpets, foam, wiring, lights, switches, oh god! This list was unending.

We needed a focus or this might have ended up as one of those boats that never get wet as people lose hope.

 
         
 

I decided our best bet was to aim to get her seaworthy and finish her off on the mooring. The first crane-ins from the yard were in April, so that was our new target. This was an amazing decision in hindsight, but one I don't regret. It gave us hope.

We also decided upon a budget for the re-launch. I took a personal loan in February, coincidentally at the same time that my existing car loan had finished. This was great, I would keep the car and invest in the boat, usually it would have been a time for a change of vehicle, I suppose it was.

The money arrived in my bank account and the first investment was plywood for the floors and fibreglass materials to start repairing bulkheads and the rotten steps on the starboard side.

  New floor fitted, now to rebuild the steps  
         
 

The next weekend we took the electric heater and kettle and set about clearing the saloon and making a start on the task of rebuilding. We managed to get all the new floors fitted and the step repaired. We found the table stuffed into one of aft cabins, no mean I feat I can assure you. It took negotiation to get the bugger back out of there.

I also emptied the lockers and started to sort everything into boxes; What's needed, don't know, to go home. I also wandered around the boat making a list of all the needs. A list that has made me understand why new boats are so expensive. I have spent hundreds just on stainless steel fixings.

I also found the mast, stuffed up into the corner of the yard. Between us we managed to drag it out of the trees, many of which had started to take a grip of it. We had to use a knife to cut the mast out, then laid it carefully on trestles and had a good look.

The port crosstree bracket had been broken, all the turnbuckles had been stolen, the tri-light had also been pilfered. I jet washed the mast and left the old halyards in place for reference. The standing rigging was complete and although old would have to do us for the time being. I removed the bracket and we went home in the dark.

 
         
  The new stainless foredeck got comments from everyone in the yard, it really transformed the way she looked.  

feb 2002

Money was in the account and we started buying the things we would need to get Top Cat seaworthy. Online shopping became a preoccupation and money was slipping out quite quickly. Though we did manage it quite well in reality.

I had been agonising over how to repair the foredeck, I did not fancy just replacing the teak slats as to be honest I never liked them. I toyed with the idea of using a sheet of marine ply with a teak deck effect laminate glued to the top. This would give Top Cat a solid foredeck like the mk4 Heavenly Twins, I liked the idea of that. But could I do a good enough job to do her justice, would wood on the bow area be a bad idea, have you seen the price of teak effect decking?!

 
         
 

I had been asking a few lads in work if they knew anyone who could weld stainless steel, to get the crosstree bracket repaired. I was given a recommendation for a company in Buckley, North Wales. I stopped in one evening after work and chatted to the foreman. We went to the workshop were one of the lads welded up the bracket.

While waiting, I noticed some stainless steel mesh leaning against the wall. This would be ideal to build the new foredeck with. I then arranged to come back with the dimensions and they would give a quote for the work.

 

The work was finished and I took the new deck to Porthmadog on the 23 February. To be fair this was the date that things really started to happen.

  Top Cat's new stainless foredeck, weighs less than the wood deck we removed.  
         
 

It was this weekend at the end of February that we had finally made one of the aft cabins habitable and were able to start staying over on the boat. We were sleeping among sheets of plywood, sawdust and other junk awaiting a place, but we were working, it was not the Ritz.

Working from around 0800 to 2200 under our angle pose lamps and inspection light which kept blowing bulbs. We finally started to feel good about the work we had achieved as we left on Sunday nights. Before this time, at the end of a days work we would have a look and not feel anything had been achieved at all.

We diligently worked every weekend, people in work stopped asking about my weekend come Monday mornings, it became a stock answer. Tanya had never been on a boat in her life. Her learning curve was enormous, but I have to say I am really proud of her, she totally got stuck in to the project and enjoyed the work.

 
         
  The Starboard engine in the process of being fitted, all new and shiny.  

mar 2002

The engines had arrived. We had got a better price than we had been first offered at the London Boat Show. I had decided to have a quick ring around some local marine engineers to see what they could offer and they beat the price I had been given. I called back the original company from the Isle of Wight, being polite, no orders had been made at this point but to say I was ordering locally as it would be handier for me to collect the engines.

He beat the price including delivery, I felt slightly cheated as he had tried it on at first, but alas, I made the order. The image on the right shows the starboard engine being lined up. We have now painted the engine room and the beds are 'glassed' in.

This was the start of another headache.

 
         
 

When I had chosen Yanmar engines I was slightly comforted to know that where the 3GM30 had been in the starboard hull, the 1GM10 would just drop in. How wrong I was. The 1GM10 has a 45mm diameter exhaust hose, the 3GM has a 50mm. On the port side where the old Vetus lump had been, the fitted exhaust was 40mm. I felt like I couldn't win.

Everything required replacement, even the stop-cocks had rotted. New exhausts, water locks, fuel pipes back to the tank, filters, anti-siphon valves, even the mounts needed to be rebuilt, did I mention flexible couplings and all new electrics in the engine bays?

I am an electronics engineer, this is very helpful, along with my interest in engines and mechanics. I had to extend the starboard engine loom to bring it to the helm which on the Heavenly Twins is on the port side.

I needed new batteries too, I needed to keep the weight down so was over the moon when I discovered Elecsol batteries. These are carbon reinforced wet batteries, they are starting and deep cycle, this means I only carry two 125Ah batteries aboard.

I strung wire about the boat to power up the different areas, nothing permanent, just to get her seaworthy. Fitted new navigation lights, new fluorescent light fittings around the boat and wired up the helm. We had a bought a wind speed and direction indicator and this was fitted, I had been running it at home and it has to be said, it was a damn fine toy on winter nights.

We got a lot of verbal support in the yard and we felt proud to make sure everyone knew Top Cat was staying in the family. We had a few idiots trying to buy her for a pittance, it felt almost insulting, but she is mine and she definitely not for sale. Top Cat had become quite an icon around the sailing fraternity as they watched her deteriorate in the yard. People were genuinely happy to see her being put back right.

 
         
 

apr 2002

Launch time was approaching, fast. We had been to two boat jumbles, and the spare room was filling up with gear. New ropes for halyards and sheets. New life jackets, new skin fittings, hoses for plumbing, screws, bolts, turnbuckles, it was starting to look like a chandlery.

We had bought a bulk amount of materials from C&J Marine and Tanya had been going in to work early and staying late so she could use the industrial sewing machine. She is a dress designer and it has to be said turns out good boat fabrics on demand. We had new cushions and covers, mattress covers and the best bit, a new cockpit canopy.

I had fitted the engines and all the through hull skin fittings had been replaced. The toilet was connected and the water tanks cleaned, they were, unfortunately, in a terrible state, it took a further six months to clear the bad tasting water from the tanks.

   
         
  Top Cat with lifting strops on ready to launch, Julian rushes about to get all those last minute jobs done.   A week before launch day my parents had come to Porthmadog and my dad helped me rig the mast. Tanya painted the antifoul with the worst straight lines in history, but we did not have time to fix that.

I was rushing like a mad man. All those last minute jobs, even re-stringing the dodgers seems to take an age when you are pressed for time.

Launch day 'eve' arrived, the cockpit canopy was fitted, this involved lining up the press-studs in situ and hammering them home on the ground. This meant tens of trips up and down the rickety ladder with what felt like a half hundred weight of canvas. I prepared the mast and found two of the new turnbuckles were metric and the rigging was imperial. A rush to the chandlers redeemed this, but it cost a fortune. The two spares would later be used so were not wasted.

 
         
 

launch day 14th april 2002

On launch day I had butterflies, would she be water tight, would the engines run ok, I had only run them for around ten minutes to prove installation.

My dad arrived and everything was made ready. When it was our turn to go in I realised I had not picked up the new mooring strops and rushed off, returning just in time to see the crane making its way to us.

We fitted the lifting strops and Top Cat was lifted into the water for the first time in four years, the mess left under the boat was terrible, it took us weeks to clear by filling the trailer and taking it home to dump. I still don't know where the local tip is in Porthmadog.

  Top Cat being launched by crane  
         
  Top Cat on her mooring after launching, it took months of hard work to get to this point, but it was worth it.   Top Cat settled in the water, there was a trickle from around the log fitting which I was able to rectify, otherwise she was dry. We then fitted the mast and that was it, she was on the water and there was no going back.

The three of us, my Dad, Tanya and I had a short run up and down the river, but as the tide was falling had to put onto her mooring shortly after. The saloon was full of wood, carpet rolls, tools, you name it. There was no carpet fitted anywhere on board and most of the headlining was falling away or gone. But she was Seaworthy and now was on the mooring, we had achieved my target and opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

This was my dads last trip aboard Top Cat as he died in July after a prolonged illness. I know he was really pleased that she was back on the water. I am glad it happened this way, had I inherited the boat after he died I would not have been able to show him how much I loved her and I was fully serious about getting her back into shape.

We went for our first sail on 05 May 2002, TOP CAT was back, prowling Tremadog Bay.

 
 
we had done it but the work still goes on