Comfortable motor cruiser with an interesting engine

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Prolific boat owner Clive Marsh shares his experiences with the Freeman 22 Mk2 and what owning one has taught him about engine maintenance…

Motorboats have never really appealed to me, simply because I can’t fix them when they go bad, which they inevitably will. The idea of ​​being stuck at sea with your head in the engine compartment of a rolling boat never appealed.

But Brenda, my wife, prefers a motor cruiser with plenty of headroom and all the amenities. So one day, while visiting Mike Roud’s shipyard in Rye, I bought an old 22ft Freeman Mk2. I never intended to take her to sea.

Appointed white dove, she had spent most of her life since 1968 on the Medway. Now, 50 years later, she had somehow found her way to Rye and needed some TLC.

With no cockpit cover, the stock Ford WaterMota engine and electrics sat in a rusty puddle and I thought running this lot would be beyond my skill set. But Brenda liked the boat and we set about making it seaworthy.

We needed a balaclava and found a wedding seamstress called Sylvia in Rye who had a side business making boat covers and awnings. She made us a fantastic and complex structure, which kept the boat dry.

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Then there was this piece of rusty engine. Beyond me, but Mike completely rewired the boat and found the motor to run fine. But Mike is an engineer and he just has to look at an engine and it works. A bit like the chief engineers when I was at sea.

Learn the Basics of Engineering on a Freeman 22

However, my budget wasn’t enough to hire a full-time engineer, so I needed to at least learn some basics of engine maintenance. Strangely, I was looking forward to this. A few days before Christmas, the planets aligned for us to take white dove upstream of the river. A good tide, time and favorable weather.

The plan was to take her from the tidal Rother through the sea lock in the non-tidal part of the river to an anchorage at Whitersham. This involved a critical moment on the tidal side of the lock to pass under two low bridges while there was sufficient air draft.

The lock was only operated by Barry the caretaker from his control room and he had managed to be there. It was a beautiful day but the decks were covered in thick ice. The rising tide had us floating in the mud but the engine wouldn’t start for me like it would for Mike! He was at a wedding so his son came to our rescue.

A near miss

All together we headed up the river with a strong following tide and in a cloud of smoke partly due to condensation on a freezing day. Just squeezing under the bridges with thumbs to spare, we approached the large concrete open tide lock.

I needed to slow down but the long gear lever wouldn’t engage in reverse and the next high tide was heading straight for a collision. Too late to turn, I put it in neutral and lost some steering. It was only the lock’s undercurrent and a quick attachment of a stern line that prevented a 4 knot spin with thick concrete.

An hour after leaving the lock, we reached our new anchorage and retired to the comfortable cabin for a well-deserved soup and warm-up.

It was getting dark and we had succeeded. I shut off the engine and out of curiosity tried to restart it. Of course it wouldn’t and I needed to pay tuition. Over the years that followed, I learned quite a bit about old gas engines and how to maintain them.

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The simple Ford engine – easy to access and maintain

Freeman 22 petrol engine maintenance

First comes the quality of the gasoline. Clean the gas tank, carburetor and all lines. Fill the tank completely with good quality gasoline and keep it full to avoid water/condensation. There are various gasoline additives that can help. Make sure you have the right grade of gasoline.

Make sure the carburetor is clean and adjusted. Replace any jets that need to be replaced. Make sure the throttle and choke cables are working properly. For advice, the Freeman Cruiser Owners Group on Facebook has a host of experienced owners offering free help and advice. There is also Sheridan Marine who can advise you and supply you with all the parts you need.

Once you’re happy with the fuel/air mixture, do the electrical sorting. New spark plugs and check that all wires are clean, replace coil if necessary.

Is the distributor contacting correctly? I had mine replaced with a low cost and reliable electronic ignition device. Does the starter operate efficiently? I had white doveis replaced. The battery should be fully charged and a portable charger is useful if the boat is sitting still for a while.

Next comes cooling. Make sure there is a good flow of water being pumped out of the rear exhaust. The water pump was easy for me to replace, but I had a competent engineer overhaul the entire water cooling system.

Antifreeze is essential for the winter. If you don’t get it right, freezing/thawing can cause a center plug to explode. Although they are easy for an engineer to replace, they can be very difficult to access.

Instructions on how to apply antifreeze are available from the Freeman group on Facebook and you should ensure you use a brand that is environmentally acceptable to the river authority. If you can’t use antifreeze, you’ll need to figure out how to drain the system and deal with the water intake valves.

There is no radiator, so antifreeze is pumped in immediately on start-up – this means the application of antifreeze during the winter must be carefully planned.

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Spacious five-seat cockpit

The hull valves need to be serviced, as does the stern gland. And engine and gearbox oil. Did I forget something? Most likely. But if you’re a fan of old motors, these are simple classic motors that are easy to understand and can be reliable if properly maintained. I liked learning the basics.

Once well maintained, this motor has never let me down, however I wouldn’t take white dove to the sea. Even the narrow tidal stretch of the river at Rye with its steep banks and submerged posts/walls is no place to crash.

Mooring without tide

A word of warning about going without tide for your mooring. Rain isn’t as predictable as tides and can cause you all sorts of trouble.

If you’re moored along a non-tidal shore, you might be in for a surprise if heavy rain kicks up the water enough to float your boat on the shore on the grass. When the rain recedes, the boat may run aground or capsize. This often happens on the Rother.

To avoid this, I had a mooring with very high posts and a small floating pontoon made to keep the boat far out in the river.

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Screen lowered to pass under bridges

Sailing the River Rother on a Freeman 22

The River Rother is navigable by small boats from Rye to Bodiam. There is only one lock (the tidal lock) but there are bridges on both sides. My Freeman 22 could get under most of them with the screen down, but that depended on the rainfall and when Barry the lock keeper was able to pull the catch.

I never made it all the way to Bodiam in white dove but we settled for Newenden a little downriver which has an excellent restaurant and pub. I have also taken shallow draft boats to Bodiam. If you want to launch a boat to explore the Rother, there is a small fee slipway at Rye Harbor and a free, non-tidal slipway near the lock.

Freeman 22: Comfortable layout

Down below, the Freeman 22 has headroom for me, a dinette with two sofas, a stove and a sink. A short passage leads to a wardrobe and a toilet compartment and to a forward cabin with berths. I must say that it is very comfortable compared to my sailboats.

Access to the engine is under the steps. The raised helm station with bridge has a full-length bench seat aft and raised seats for the helm. The screen can be lowered to fit under low decks, bringing the air draft down to 5ft 3in. Other models are larger than this.

Freeman made boats of varying lengths and widths, narrow ones for passing locks and larger ones for longer passages. As the first GRP boats, they are heavily built and the interior layout is better than many boats.

Most of them go up and down our rivers but I have heard of at least one crossing the English Channel down the canals to the Mediterranean. They are certainly more suitable for inland and river navigation than a yacht and are quickly becoming a classic. If you have the time to pick one up, they can be very rewarding and fun to own.

Freeman 22 Mk 2 Specifications

Length: 6.7 m (22 ft 0 in)
Disorganized: 0.61 m (2 ft 0 in)
Lester: 1,320 kg (26 quintals)
Clearance: 1.78 m (5 feet 10 inches)
Construction: GRP
Fuel capacity: 68 liters (15 gallons)
water capacity: 68lt (15gal)
Engine: WaterMota Mk1 or Mk2 or other
Top speed: 8 knots


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This feature first appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Practical boat owner. For more articles like this, including DIY, money-saving tips, great boat projects, expert advice and ways to improve your boat’s performance, subscribe to Britain’s best-selling sailing magazine.

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