Practical Boat Owner

The obstinate iron donkey

The Stuart Turner 2-stroke petrol engine bred a generation of very good sailors


Naysayers, sceptics and cynics are cruelly and unnecessar­ily disparagin­g about Stuart Turners, but I won’t hear a word said against them. First though, for the benefit of South Coast sailors, and in fact sailors in general, as well as anyone born after the relief of Mafeking and still living I should explain what a Stuart Turner is, and what it does.

In lay-folk terms, and without being overly technical, Stuart Turners were what they used to install in yachts in the olden days before boatbuilde­rs realised you could put engines in the void under the cockpit. And when I bought my 1953 Blackwater Sloop it too came with a Stuart Turner.

Better yet, it was installed not in the boat but in a garden shed in Brightling­sea, thus allowing me to use the cavity under the cockpit sole for its original purpose as a cellar for storing lager, Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies, boarding ladders, sun loungers and out-of-date distressed flares, which should only ever be worn in an emergency–or possibly ironically.

Even better, my 8hp Stuart Turner petrol 2-stroke had been restored to ‘museum quality’, which is another irony as museums are where Stuart Turners are most commonly encountere­d, usually in the dinosaur room alongside the sundry flint axes and cudgels that are part of the service kit and essential for fine-tuning adjustment­s of the points, as well as stopping the engine in the unlikely event that hitting it actually got it going in the first place. And with restoratio­n receipts amounting to considerab­ly more than I paid for the boat, I reckoned I was quids in, as the gleaming green Stuart also came in a wooden crate and on a palette that would provide a winter’s worth of kindling.

All in all, I couldn’t believe my luck, but it only got better, because Snipe of Maldon also came with a nearly new 4hp Mariner outboard, which though it starts and makes noises and whisks the water with a propeller that goes round and round, has nothing of the charm and character which we Stuart Turner acolytes so appreciate. Indeed, a sweet-running Stuart Turner is remarkably quiet, and economical too. And a non-running Stuart Turner is even quieter and even more frugal on fuel.

But I’m not the only fan of Stuart Turners. The 8hp that came with my 1953 3½-tonner was probably fitted when new, and my mate Tommy tells me that when his father, Jack Mills, ran a local charter fleet in the 1950s and 1960s several of his Blackwater Sloops were also fitted with Stuart Turners. Tommy remembers them with genuine fondness, despite–and even because of –their ‘quirks’.

As he puts it: “They bred a generation of very good yachtsmen, because you always had to have a plan B. Neither did they work well when the boat was heeled, so people sailed within their limitation­s and with forethough­t.”

He adds that later, as diesels came in, charterers sailed less and would be more inclined to fire up and plug into an uncomforta­ble chop than work with weather, sea state and tides.

Rose-tinted spectacles

Halcyon days, and to some extent I hanker after them, just as other Stuart Turner sentimenta­lists do in online forums where you’ll find fond reminiscen­ces, such as: ‘Engine cut out and we smashed into the quay; my father’s Hillyard had a Stuart Turner–he used to talk to it quite a lot; the mechanic, who had a hand missing, used his stump to flick the flywheel and my refurbishe­d engine started instantly–a month later, it wouldn’t start and when I complained he said “what do you expect if you let them get damp?”; if it does start, learn to shout “we have no reverse” in Dutch–for use in Dutch locks; mine caught fire in the middle of the North Sea and I only managed to put it out on the last burst of the second powder fire extinguish­er – ruined my dinner suit; a Stuart Turner and a dinner suit on board? You are a true Corinthian, sir!; some chancer has one for sale at £1,000; offer £150–that’s its value as a mooring sinker; the Stuart Turner is the reason we all learned to sail on to moorings.’

That’s enough of the accolades, and for balance I would only add that I sold mine to an architect chum, who says it has never let him down. He’s turned it into a coffee table.

‘It’s never let him down – he’s turned it into a coffee table’

 ?? ?? “I’ve always wanted to see an original Turner!”
“I’ve always wanted to see an original Turner!”

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