With a couple of mentions of Seagull outboard motors in this Log, it is appropriate to include an article sent to me by Ian Primrose. It comes from John Vigor’s Blog (see “Web Watch” below). Ian said that John’s perceptive and honest writing shines through in this article about Seagull outboards although a member (or two) of the WBAQ might not agree! To test that view, I sent the article to our resident Seagull tragic Chris Treloar, who was kind enough to provide a detailed and considered response. So following is John Vigor’s article then Chris’ response – Ed.
“The dreaded British Seagull” I’m still running in a new outboard motor I bought recently, and every time I pull the starter cord I’m reminded of how much outboard motors have improved over the years. My Tohatsu 6-hp Sail-Pro single- cylinder four-stroke is not as smooth-running as a silky 1975 6-hp Evinrude twin I once owned but when I compare it with that extraordinary Rube Goldberg device known as the British Seagull, I bless every engineer and designer who contributed in any way to the improvement that is evident on the evolutionary path from Seagull to Sail-Pro. For those of you lucky enough never to have had the misfortune to own or operate a Seagull, I should explain that it was rudimentary in the extreme – a single cylinder containing a very sloppy piston, topped by a spinning disc allegedly making electricity for the spark plug. Tacked on to one side was a simple carburettor. The float bowl had a small button sticking out of the top that you pressed down with a finger until the whole thing flooded and overflowed with gasoline. A spreading rainbow sheen on the water around you was your signal to wind the starter cord around the spinning disc on top and pull like mad.
It was a two-stroke, of course, and you had to mix thick, gooey engine oil in with the gasoline so that the clunky bits inside received adequate lubrication. If I remember right, the ratio of oil to gas was 1 : 25, or about four times as much oil as modern two-strokes used before they were deemed unacceptably polluting. The Seagull was the ultimate polluting machine.
After you had flooded the carburettor, flicked closed the crude metal slide that served as a choke, and been hit on the back of the neck by the starter cord as it came off the disc on top, there were two ways to tell if the motor had started or not.
The first was a great gurgling roar, a noise fit to wake the dead. You could hear a Seagull coming from miles away.
The second was a great cloud of blue-white smoke rising from the water astern. That was the exhaust, which consisted of 50 percent burned gasoline and 50 percent lubricating oil just slightly singed by the bronze-age combustion process. The exhaust added its own smear of oil to the water around the stern, of course, though smear might be too wimpish a word to describe the fearful results of a Seagull’s passage through the water. It was often said that you couldn’t get lost if you had a Seagull. You just followed the smoking oil streaks back home.
With that much oil in the gas, the spark plug was bound to oil up and cease functioning every 20 minutes or so. The owners of Seagulls learned to carry spare plugs and they developed heat-proof horny calluses on their finger tips from removing red-hot plugs from the cylinder head.
To be fair, there were some advantages to the Seagull. It did make other people laugh. And you could throw it away in a fit of rage without feeling any sorrow. It made a dandy anchor, with all those bits sticking out”.
Chris Treloar’s response: I find this article very interesting and would like to correct a few errors of insight.
I like Tohatsu outboards, they are my next favourite motor to the seagull so I have nothing to find fault about them.
This well written article by John Vigor has grossly misstated a lot about the infamous seagull outboard. He was so wrong about them running on 25:1, they actually run on 10:1.
For one, the bit about the oil slick is true. This was developed especially by the seagull outboard engineers to assist all those people in third world countries that had malaria problems to help to stem the breeding of mosquitoes.
The bit about the 2 stroke smoke is also true – it was a special ploy for the Normandy landings as it was a cheap and efficient way of putting up a smoke screen to fool the enemy. Hence the beginning of the idea for a stealth fighter. They were purposefully made noisy to fool the enemy that there were tanks and big machinery landing.
Anyway if it’s too loud, you’re too old.
As for the reliability, only specially trained special force commandos knew how to operate them so if they fell into enemy hands it would frustrate and fool the uninitiated into thinking the Allies weren’t very advanced with their technology. Also the bit about the starter cord hitting the back of the head was actually a secret weapon of which the secret still cannot be divulged.
Now in all the years I have owned my Seagulls I have found them to be the absolute pinnacle of reliability, over the years mine has never let me down – I mean never ever. Except once (or was it twice) when the carby tried to fall off. Another time when the nut holding the flywheel on came loose and it tried to come off. Oh yes, the time when the mount for the fuel tank broke and I had to tie it on with a piece of rope. And of course when the water tube came undone and fell off the cylinder – but I continued on using the pee bucket as an emergency engine cooler by pouring water (not pee) over the cylinder. And not to mention the plug lead falling off numerous times. Plus the clamp holding the exhaust coming loose and falling down. And the 2 bolts holding the gear box on coming loose and the gearbox tried to fall off. Ah yes, and the vibrations causing a shackle on the main sheet to vibrate loose and fall over the side and also something fell off the rigging once. I never did know what that was. But apart from these minor and completely forgivable indiscretions, the Seagull is absolutely reliable.
So I personally think if John Vigor wishes to ever try to say bad things about the mighty seagull again he should contact me for proper facts.
Yours truly, Chris Treloar