An Old Sun Cat Lives Again
The restoration business is really interesting. Boats normally come to us to be repaired and we end up buying a boat that a customer doesnít want to pay to have it repaired. Our Clark Mills 1979 Sun Cat came to us that way. The customer said the diesel engine needed something and we were the only marine diesel mechanics close to his location. He had to drive the boat and trailer two hundred miles to have us evaluated his engine. The bad news on the engine was that it needed to be rebuilt. He didnít want to pay the estimated $3,000 for an overhauled engine so he sold the boat and trailer to us.
There were boats built in the 1970s that were quality boats. What we had back then was more time and expertise to do quality woodworking with heavy fiberglass construction. Build time and the money spent on a boat are really the same thing. This boat would be too expensive to build today. Not every boat builder created great boats and those boats are long gone. The quality ones that didnít meet some disaster along the way are still with us.
This boat was an early Clark Mills Sun Cat with a long bowsprit, a wooden gaff mast and shoal keel. After doing our research, we determined that the boat was originally built with a gasoline engine back in 1979. The boat was restored in 1998 with a new diesel engine, Al-Grip paint and new inside cushions. It spent most of it life in Connecticut under covered storage during the winter. A bad impellor and no cooling water caused the engine to fail. The boat was sitting on a cradle with a bad engine during Hurricane Sandy and did have some interior flooding. The flooding was fresh water and did little or no damage to the boat and only minor additional damage to the engine. We think someone purchased the boat from an insurance company and didnít know the engine was damaged. He or she also purchased a new trailer and took the boat south with the idea of sailing the boat on Lake Murray, SC.
After evaluating the boat, trailer and engine, we came up with an estimated cost. The minimum cost was just an engine overhaul. We estimated $3,000 to remove repair and replace the engine. The owner wasnít interested in restoration that would have included the boat and trailer. The boatís wood mast limited the boatís use to a boat in a slip. The boat couldnít be launched from a trailer because the mast needed a crane. Our solution for the mast problem would be to convert the wooden mast to a more modern configuration. The trailer had to be adjusted to fit the boat and make it suitable for launching a boat. The boat needed to be moved on the trailer and the bunk and keel boards had to be replaced. We didnít do a cost estimate for a complete restoration because the customer didnít want it done.
With the owner not interested in having the boat repaired or restored, we purchased the boat and started our restoration. The Sailboat Company restoration list included rebuilding the engine, replacing the wooden mast with a Com-Pac Horizon Cat mast, sail and rig, repairing some wood rot in the bowsprit, refinishing the teak toe rail, new bottom paint and new canvas. We also needed to modify the trailer to make launching the boat easy. The headsail was going to be a furling sail with remote controls. The cabin interior would also need some cosmetic improvements. Of course the boat needed lots of cleaning and polish.
We started restoration with engine removal. During removal we noted the engine accessories were different than most installations. We also noted that the engine was a 1998 model. The water strainer, fuel filter and stuffing box were much older in design and function. Access to some critical components were almost impossible to reach. As we removed the engine, we commented that who ever installed it must have been a very small person.
What identified this boat, "as up north boat", was its three deck pick-up points that were originally installed when the boat was built. There are very few launching ramps in our northeastern States. The tides normally prevent boats from being launched from boat ramps. The sailors in those areas use cranes to launch their boats and built-in pick-up points are typical accessories on their boats. This boat also had a drain plug installed in the keel, a manual bilge pump and didn't have an automatic bilge pump. The reason for drain plug could have been to easily drain water while the boat was on dry land. That would have saved pumping the bilge dry with the pump. I think the reason the boat didn't have an automatic bilge pump was because the boat didn't spend any time at a slip or moored at a buoy. It needs one now and one will be installed.
The engine looked good on the outside with little rust and good paint. That normally means little use and low hours. On the bench, we removed the valve cover and the overhead valve lifters to give us access to the head bolts. We turned the crank with the lifters off the head and the crank still stopped at the same spot. With the lifters off the head, all the valves are closed so the problem couldnít be valves striking a piston. The next step was to remove the head and see what was going on below the head. After removing the head and chipping some ash off the camshaft, the crank moved correctly.
What happened to the engine? The engine was run with a bad impellor and overheated. The overheated head cracked at the exhaust port and let small amounts of exhaust ash drop down into the push rod follower. When the engine was intact, turning the crank caused the camshaft to rotate to a point where it needed to push the follower up and couldnít because ash was blocking the follower's movement. The engine was going to need a new follower, push rod, and a new head with new valves, overhaul gasket set, impellor and a new starter. New heads come complete with new valves and springs. The starter had been damaged by water being in the starter for a long period of time after Sandy. A new starter was cheaper than rebuilding the old starter. Everything else on the engine checked out OK. The engine looked almost new on the outside and also on the inside. Someone had been changing his or her oil on a regular basis. All the consumables were renewed and the engine was run on our test cell. The test cell results showed a smooth engine that started and ran well.
It appears that all 1GM10 heads crack at the same place. We have had several heads crack from overheating and one cracked from freezing. Where the exhaust pipe connects to the head is the exhaust port. The head casting at that point has three things going on at the same time. It has water in the head for cooling and a cavity for the push rod to function and the exhaust port itself. All three are only separated with thin pieces of casting metal. If the water freezes, it cracks the metal. If the water is absent with no cooling, it cracks the metal. The Achilles Heel of the 1GM10 is the exhaust port head casting.
The Com-Pac Horizon Cat rig plus a jib will make this boat a little over-canvassed. However, it should handle windy situations well with a reefed mainsail or no jib. It should be perfect for lakes that have light wind conditions. The idea was to make the boat portable using a trailer. It will have a mast raising system that will make it easy for one person to handle. I could have installed a Sun Cat rig on this boat, but that wouldnít have been as exciting or as versatile as the Horizon Cat rig will be.
At this point in our restoration, we can say that this boat is well built. Apparently, 1979 was a good year for heavy construction. The wood trim journeywork in this boat is exceptional. This type of construction may no longer be available anywhere in the World. Whoever Clark Mills hired back in 1979 to do his fiberglass work knew what they were doing. The reason I know is that I purchased a similar Sun Cat from Clark almost 10 years after this boat was built. The glass wasnít as good or as thick as the glass in this boat. The cabin wood decoration in the newer boat was better. The old boat is a little plain but very functional. We will do our magic on the interior before we finish the boat.
The boat has some beautiful teak louvered hatch doors. The plan is make canvas covers for the doors. The boat has an autopilot and a depth sounder and they will be checked for satisfactory operation. All the running rigging will be operated from the cockpit. I think this boat will deserve a carport or a garage for storage when itís finished and it's not on the water sailing.
Picture of sister ship below: