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Sunday, 10 April 2011

Bell Woodworking Seagull and Seamew


Two rare birds 'Sabine' and 'Steffi' (alas no longer with us)

rafted up, Scottish West Coast May 1991

Sabine dried out Piel Is Aug 1992 An attempt to show hull profile

courtesy Edwin Dewhirst




Sabine sailing in Caernarvon Bay with Snowdonia as a backdrop Aug 2007

courtesy Edwin Dewhirst





Jerry English and his Bell Seagull at Milford Haven, Wales

courtesy Wikipedia




C. Fetz Seagull first sail

courtesy Chris Fetz

It was love at first sight for me with these boats. The slight reverse sheer and angular hull just all seem to hang together so well, and they have a reputation for speed and seaworthiness. The picture of the Chris Fetz boat above is of particular personal interest because this boat resides close to me and has recently become available. I am trying to figure out the $ and logistics.

From Edwin Dewhirst,
In the mid 1950s the Bell Woodworking commissioned Ian Proctor to design a small sailing cruiser suitable for coastal,estuary and inland water cruising that could be supplied in kit form for home completion by anyone with reasonable woodworking ability. He used the same 4 planks a side form of construction that he had used for the successful 16ft Osprey racing dinghy.. The result was the Seagull which is 18ft 6in in length, 6ft 9in beam and 1ft 5 in draft with the keel up and 3ft 8in with it down.There are 2 berths in the cabin with room for 2 children to be accommodated under a boom tent in the cockpit. (See specification pages for details of both Gull and Mew). The first boat was launched in 1956 and proved to be both fast and seaworthy and kits and completed boats sold in numbers.

Following the success of the Seagull, Bells then commissioned Proctor to design a larger sailing cruiser to cater for the demand for a boat with more facilities for families. The result was the Seamew which is of the same construction as the Seagull but at 22ft in length she could be fitted with a small inboard engine, 4 or 5 berths and a marine toilet. The first boat was launched in 1962 and again proved to be fast and seaworthy. She went into production in 1963, again selling in numbers.



There was a thriving Bell Seagull and Seamew Association but due to competition from, and the availablity of larger fibreglass cruisers in the 1970s the numbers fell and the asociation was wound up in 1983 through lack of interest. Now it is just one man banging his drum to try to rouse interest in keeping these grand little cruisers sailing.


My own involvement with the Seagull began in 1980 when looking for something a bit bigger than my 14ft Tarpon camping/cruising dinghy. After looking at several other small yachts I came upon Seagull no 145. She had been badly neglected in the 70s but the current owner had had her fitted with new decks and coachroof by a boat builder, then decided to sell. She was sat on a 4 wheel trailer and the hull had been given a coat of paint, but there was a lot of work to do. I took one look at her lines and decided that she was the boat for me and after a bit of haggling over the price she was mine.



My first task was to remove a rusty old Coventry Victor inboard engine and replace the bulkhead into the cabin that had been cut away to accommodate it, but which allowed all the water getting into the cockpit to have a free run through the cabin. The cockpit locker sides and most of the lids needed replacing and while I was at it I built a 'bridge deck' locker against the new cabin bulkhead ...

Over the years I have refurbished the keel which now gets a regular overhaul, re built the lower part of the keel case and scarphed in a new section of deadwood, re fitted the cockpit and made it self draining with 3in. coamings for the locker lids and built a pick a back trailer to my own design.



At the same time I have been cruising twice a year(mostly single handed) and have now logged in excess of 18000 miles, sailing most of the South coast with 2 trips to Scilly,. All the West coast from Lands End to Cape Wrath, cruising the Inner Hebrides many times with 5 crossings of the Minch have sailed all the East coast of the Outer Hebrides from Barra to Stornoway . I have trailed to the Moray Firth twice, sailing to Orkney each time. Further south I have been across to the I.o.M about 15 times and across to Ireland 5, sailing all the East coast and the South coast as far as Kinsale. During that time I have met some pretty rough conditions but never doubted the seakeeping qualities of my little Seagull.



Meanwhile I had only ever seen 2 Seagulls and 2 Seamews afloat and a few laid up, most in varying degrees of dilapidation, which led me to decide to try to find out how many of the 400 or so that were built are actually surviving. In the autumn of 2000 I wrote to the boating magazines asking for a letter to be published in which I invited Gull and Mew owners to contact me, the result was that I was able to compile a list of the owners of 18 Gulls and 12 Mews. Since then I have produced an annual newsletter which I have sent to all the owners on my list, some of whom have kept in touch with me.

. I can be contacted by phone on 01254 830678 or by email at dewhirste@supanet.com or e.dewhirst@yahoo.com

Edwin hosts a website about these boats here. It's worthy of your attention, and note especially the logs of his annual cuises in Sabine, a window into the capabilities of these small gems.

Wiki is here.

I wrote a piece on these boats for 70.8% here.

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