Jabulani Rebuild

Jabulani Rebuild

Rob Naysmith

I had JABULANI, a Billfish 23 mono hull designed by Naval Architect Bill Edwards, built for me in 1991.   Perfect for the long runs to the Tuna grounds, strong enough to withstand all the Cape seas could throw at her, and a fish attractor of note… but she had a few quirks that I could have done without.  Fishing styles and charter demands have changed so it was time for me to upgrade into the 21st century.  I scoured the country for a boat that I believed could take over from JABULANI.  After endless searching I came to one conclusion … don’t reinvent the wheel, simply make the best boat better.

The boat I needed for unpredictable and sometimes massive Cape seas had to be strong, able to run head-on into a big sea, run true down the swells, handle storms and keep the passengers dry.  She also had to be fast and comfortable, easy to skipper and economical for the long 20 to 40-mile Tuna trips.  And to make the redesign even more demanding, with the recent trend in Yellowfin fishing she should be stable in the wind and not drift too fast. 

The design began …. She had to be longer to handle the length of the swells, her width was perfect at 2.3 meters at the waterline.  She had to have a different transom angle to give better trim ability, a true tracking to eliminate any broaching.  Any ‘greenies’ (swells that run up the front of the boat before breaking on the roof … those where you see the fish swim past) should be diverted from dumping water into the back of the boat.  The gunwales should allow the angler stability and safety while stand-up fighting a big fish. She needed a bigger fish-box for the now more common 100kg plus Yellowfin while the deck needed to be uncluttered and comfortable to move around. The calculation worked out to be a 1100mm increase in length without altering the width. That was the start … but not the end.

We started the transformation by taking a sturdy fiberglass mould of the rear part of the hull, the last thing you need is flexing when laying-up, this is where the costs begin to rise as it’s really a once-off mould. Along with this process came an enormous amount of fairing, polishing and release agent, you don’t want a mould to become part of your boat.   The mould needed modification to increase stability on the drift and a change of transom angle from 7 to 12 degrees (she was originally designed for an inboard engine).  Lifting strakes were extended but not modified. 

The most gut-wrenching part was cutting off JABULANI’S transom, we had reached the point of no return.  It was also the beginning of my love affair with a Makita angle-grinder, but more of that later.  JABULANI was always a fairly heavy boat, a good thing in a strong sea, but it was only when I saw the cross-section of her hull did I realise that all those years of dodging tankers through the shipping lanes was so unnecessary, they’re the ones who should have been dodging me.

Then came the repeated waxing and polishing of the mould, finally coating with a release agent.  The job of aligning the mould with the hull must be one of absolute precision, you don’t get a second chance.  Get this part wrong and your boat will have a mind of its own … forever.  Once secured, two coats of gelcoat were applied to the mould, making sure no air was trapped, especially in the tight corners and curves.  Care was taken not to get gelcoat onto the joint and existing hull.  The sole purpose of a gelcoat is to protect the fibreglass and leave a superior finish.  Then came the laying up of the fibreglass, we used a combination of 6 layers of 450-gram chop-strand and bi-axle fibreglass with General Purpose Resin (GPR), allowing 2 weeks to cure before applying 4 layers of bi-axle mat with Epoxy. This process is vitally important to avoid delamination at a later stage.  The new transom of double 18mm Epoxy laminated marine ply was shaped, fitted and glassed in with the third layer of glass.

During the two weeks wait for the GPR to cure I had this insane urge to get creative with the angle grinder.  I waited for a day when nobody was around, took the grinder and extension lead up onto Jabulani and released the Picasso in me.  It was a day that would become known as “the great Jabulani massacre”. By sunrise the next day the cabin roof, entire front consol and fish-box were lying in a pile next to the boat, you should have seen the look on everyone’s faces … priceless.  Thereafter the plug was cut from the grinder and the rebuild began.

A mould was made for a new fish-box, longer, higher and slightly wider than the original.  The cabin roof was cut in half both laterally and longitudinally and moulds made to accommodate the extensions.   The remaining cabin sides were raised for increased internal clearance and create an all-round overhang to divert the water.  A complete redesign of the consol and dashboard was necessary to bring Jabulani into 2020 and accommodate all the new electronics we now rely on.  A far cry from my early days of a compass, a ‘fish-finder’ with a red flashing light and a little black book of landmarks.

The trailer also needed to be extended so instead of welding onto the existing structure and trying to find someone with a tank large enough to galvanise the whole thing, it was decided to build a bolt-on extension.  A pretty simple exercise for those who enjoy metalwork and hard labour.  This was galvanised separately and attached with high-tensile bolts and supports. Because of the change in weight distribution we waited until the engines were fitted before unbolting the axles and moving them back. A move and weigh exercise in which we finally got 78kg on the tow-hitch, which allowed for the weight of fuel.

Once the final layers of epoxy soaked bi-axle mat had been applied and overlapped the existing hull by 1500 mm, the construction of the internal 8mm Nida-core honeycomb support began.  This internal structure gave both lateral and longitudinal strength whilst providing a lightweight, waterproof support for the deck and separate watertight compartments for the floatation that was later pumped in.  This honey-comb was epoxied and glassed to the hull and gunwales before the mould was removed, ensuring that there was no structural flexing.  There are various stages of excitement when making changes to a boat but the removal of the mould to reveal the new JABULANI was the all-time high.

Then came the moulding and fitting of the motor-well and false transom.  Now when you make a female mould you must visualise everything backwards … don’t go there.  All the complexities, measurements, shapes and fitting takes place in reverse, something you often need to get your head around. I moved the engine placement from 600mm apart, centre to centre, out to 750mm apart, and with a cavitation plate height of 250mm to the bottom of the hull, we were able to raise the overall transom height. This gave improved steering control and stopped excessive water flowing into the motor-well.

Next, each compartment of the honey-comb structure was filled with polyurethane, two-part, expanding foam, a job with its own level of fun if you get your mix quantities wrong.  Once smoothed and levelled the deck was laid, 13mm Nida-core laminated with two layers of 450-gram glass on both sides for strength and epoxied to the ribs.  The entire deck was then covered with two layers of epoxied bi-axle mat to withstand the heavy work of gumboots and tuna fishing.  A covering of 2K soaked deck sand was then applied for super grip and easy cleaning.  I have found that although carpeting is nice, it’s not suitable for Tuna fishing boats.  Firstly, it holds the blood and becomes super slippery and secondly, we seldom fish barefoot so never need to cool the deck, and I have yet to find a carpet that lasts more than two years with our sun.

With the roof back on and laborious hours of fitting, manufacturing, fairing and sanding, the consol and dash were finally in place … and looking good as well as being practical.  With years of boating experience, you learn the little things that make your time on the water more pleasurable, especially if everything has its place and is accessible.  To this end there wasn’t a place or structure on the new JABULANI that wasn’t thought through many times. From the internal shape of the gunwales to battery boxes, dryness of the trim hydraulics to building in a 6-day cooler box for bait and ice, from easy access to the water separators, fuel shut-off valves and fuel tanks to angler safety while fighting a fish, and most importantly, ease of movement around the deck and passenger comfort.

Lastly, the external joining of the new and old hulls, a technique that requires serious attention to detail.  This is the other side of the join which sandwiches the old hull into the new construction and completes the structural integrity of the entire hull.

Finally came the hanging of the engines, a pair of 150hp MERCURY SeaPro outboards with 19” pitch Revolution 4, stainless steel props.  Fitted with a complete array of Smartcraft gauges to monitor everything about the engines, including the rate of fuel flow so important with todays prices.  In support, the new ActiveTrim system was installed to enhance the fuel efficiency.   Then came the Garmin touchscreen network supporting the plotter, radar, AIS and engines through an NMEA 2000 backbone. Icom radios and a Hyteria Kavicom completed the communications part of the electronics.

Months in completion and a massive amount of learning in every aspect, Jabulani was finally complete.  Now for the biggest question of all,” would she be what I had envisioned, or would she be the biggest disappointment of my life”

Towing her was a breeze and she felt no heavier that what she was before reconstruction.  Launching her was just like the old days, and there we were floating, and she immediately felt different, sturdier and more comfortable.  A slow ride through the harbour area while we checked and double checked the integrity of the construction, the pumps, fittings and electronics, all felt good.  Then came the real test, acceleration and ride. 

The only words I could mutter were “this is insane”.  On the plane within a few meters and flying along at over 40 knots within seconds with finger-light steering, it was insane.  To say I’m ecstatic would be an understatement, JABULANI turned out way better than I could have wished for.  At just over 1 mile per litre for both engines and 26 knots at 3300 RPM, I have never seen a 26-foot boat perform like she does.  Around Cape Point and head-on into a 4-meter swell with 15 knots of wind is not for the faint hearted but she felt extremely safe and capable.  With the improved bow control, she rode perfectly dry at a steady 18 knots into the sea with only the occasional bump.  Drifting side-on to the sea with a slow roll and no jerking, was a pleasure and a turn into or with the swells was effortless.  Finally, a run at 24 knots with a 4-meter swell, over the top and down the front, she ran true, no broaching or lagging.

Then back into the calmer waters to see how she handled tight turns and find the RPM at wide open throttle to check whether we had selected the correct pitch props. At 18 knots she turned a circle twice her length which, although quite intimidating, was impressive.  The Quicksilver Revolution 4 props bit deep into the water and showed no sign of cavitation.  As for the wide-open throttle, when we reached 52 knots with still quarter throttle to go, we decided it best to slow down.  So, the propping will have to wait for a perfectly flat day.

Would I do it all again? You bet I would. The pleasure and result I achieved from the project prompted me to open DOWN SOUTH MARINE, a workshop where we repair and rebuild boats, service all types of outboard engines, supply and fit marine electronics and best of all, we are an authorised dealer and service centre for MERCURY OUTBOARDS in the Cape.