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New Life For Old Boats

Published By: Craig Ritchie

As the host of a television fishing show, Gary Cooper is no stranger to logging a lot of time on the water. For the last 20 years, the amicable host of television’s Nice Fish has traveled all over the globe in search of the next trophy catch. Yet Cooper still shoots a lot of his shows close to home, and who can blame him? Being based in Victoria, BC, he has some of the best fishing in the world right at his doorstep. As often as not, Cooper will tape his television shows from his 28-foot, 1976 Slickcraft. Its large, protected cabin keeps expensive camera gear safe from the elements while the open, clear stern gives Cooper and his guests plenty of room to fight big fish. “I really do love this boat,” he says with obvious pride. “This particular vessel was made in Ontario by Grew, under license to Slickcraft, and is one of only two that were ever completed. This one was purchased by the Ontario Provincial Police, who had it for a while, then sold it at auction to a gentleman from Kelowna, British Columbia. I subsequently bought it from him.” The Slickcraft’s fibreglass hull was in mint condition, but by the time Cooper acquired it, the original, 327-cubic-inch V8 engines were breaking down on a fairly regular basis. “It got to the point you were replacing something all the time,” he says. Replacing the 327s with twin 350 cubic-inch V8s provided the boat with more power and greater reliability, but did little to improve its fuel economy. Further, because the new engines did not feature counter-rotating propellers, Cooper began to worry about cavitation problems and potential hull erosion. “This is a very heavy boat, probably in the 10,000 pound range,” he says. “It’s built on 14 layers of hand-laid fiberglass, so the hull is about a half-inch thick. That makes it very strong and incredibly stable, but it would cost me a couple of hundred dollars to take it out fishing for the day, and that was back when gas was 50 cents a litre! It was a major fuel hog.” Cooper initially considered replacing the Slickcraft with a newer boat, but soon changed his mind. “To get what I wanted would have cost a couple of hundred-thousand dollars,” he says. “Beyond that, I really like this boat, and I doubted I would be able to find another one quite like it. A survey showed it was in excellent condition, so I wasn’t ready to give up on it.” After talking with other boaters and performing a considerable amount of research, he elected to repower the Slickcraft with four-stroke outboards, and contacted Sea Power Marine Centre, in Sidney, BC. Technicians there began the conversion by completely gutting the entire stern area. The engines, fuel tanks and electrical systems were all removed, creating a huge, clear space. The boat’s original, twin 50 US gallon gas tanks were replaced by a pair of 100 Imperial gallon tanks, more than doubling its fuel capacity. Sea Power Marine then reinforced the transom from within and installed a custom-built aluminum pod across the stern to accept the new engines. The pod lengthened the boat by approximately 18 inches, taking it from 28 feet to almost 30. Finally, they mounted a pair of 250 horsepower Suzuki four-stroke outboards. From start to finish, it took approximately ?? weeks to complete the conversion. Cooper couldn’t wait to pick the boat up and take it for a run. “The change that resulted from converting to outboards was simply miraculous,” he says. “The outboards improved my cruising speed from 18 knots or so to about 25 knots, and give me a top-end speed of nearly 40 knots, or almost 50 mph. And the fuel economy is just mind-boggling. Even though the price of gas has basically doubled, today I’m only spending about half of what I did back when it sold for 50 cents a litre! It’s not a scientific analysis by any means, but going by what it costs me to run the boat today, I figure by switching to four-stroke outboards I have probably reduced my fuel consumption by 75 percent. It’s just amazing. And with the bigger fuel tanks, now the boat has absolutely incredible range.” Further, the twin four-stroke outboards allowed Cooper to get rid of his kicker engine. “Back when I had the inboards I also had a 9.9 horsepower kicker mounted on a transom bracket, which I would use to troll with,” says Cooper. “But now I just shut down one engine and troll with the other one, and it works great. I don’t have to contend with the noise and vibration from the kicker, not having it hanging on one side of the stern improves the boat’s overall balance, and it’s a lot easier to steer at trolling speed. At 1,000 rpm or so, the big four-stroke doesn’t use any more fuel than the little 9.9 did, so I found I just didn’t need the kicker at all.” Cooper says yet another unexpected bonus was finding he could tilt the engines clear out of the water when docked, a huge plus for boats operating in salt water. His engines stay clean and do not suffer corrosion from electrolysis, providing another advantage over inboards or even stern drives. In all Cooper spent between $80,000 and $90,000 to complete the outboard power conversion, including the cost of the new Suzuki 250s. “That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but it’s a lot less than what it would have cost me to replace the boat altogether, and I couldn’t be happier with the result.”