RESTORATIONS - BRUNO ABBATE
Throughout the early 1990s and beyond, Bruno Abbate dominated the European Offshore Powerboat circuit, including the famous Cowes Classic considered the most glamorous powerboat race in the world. Starting in Cowes, England, the race follows a route across the English Channel and down to the south of Spain, into the Mediterranean and to the finish line at Monte Carlo.
Throughout this period Abbate created some of the most successful (and beautiful) offshore raceboats in history, experimenting at all levels of boat design including power-plants, drivetrains, and vessel shape above and below the waterline. Indeed the race version of the G41 was a brutal looking machine, with an average speed of around 80mph (69.5kts) — very quick for that era, especially for the prevailing conditions of the English Channel.
Bruno Abbate would eventually take his designing skills to the drawing board for more user-friendly powerboats. The Primatist is one of the most successful models to result from that philosophy and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. There are few examples of this model left in the world — the subject of this restoration is believed to be the only one in the southern hemisphere.
The boat in question, a Primatist 41 Offshore, has been in Sydney for around 10 years, and was originally imported by an Italian businessman, along with a collection of other exotics, including a Ferrari or two. He did not stay long. Rumour has it he left the country hastily, leaving many of his prized assets in town to be snapped up by various prudent purchasers.
I remember seeing the Primatist 41 on Sydney Harbour about five years ago. She was owned by a young, high-profile businessman and was kept in the Eastern Suburbs, but seldom seen on the harbour.
Primatist 41 Offshore project boat
Around June last year, I recognised the same boat sitting idle at d’Albora Marinas Cabarita Point, while visiting a good mate of mine at Q7 Marine. A few enquiries later, and with a bit of push and shove, I negotiated a fair price for her. I immediately rang another good mate to see if he was interested in the deal, with the view of a total restoration. I could see this sportsboat strutting her stuff in full glory on Sydney Harbour.
Within a week of the purchase and me appointed as project manager, we got stuck into the task of preparing her for the not too distant summer.
MerCruiser engine repower
Initially, it was agreed that the most important step was to assess the immediate repairs necessary to get the Primatist 41 shipshape. A full survey revealed the hull was in very good order, but it looked like we had quite a task to save the power-plants.
We commissioned Sydney Marine Boat Services (SMBS) at d’Albora Marinas Rushcutters Bay for mechanical advice and to carry out the work needed to repower her to the highest standard.
After the initial diagnosis our safest option was to start from scratch —the original MerCruiser 502s were a bit worse for wear. Although both engines were firing there was evidence of saltwater corrosion and the lack of use had led to condensation and water seepage into the valves and cylinders as well as stiffness in the crankshafts. The Holley 750 carburettors were corroded externally, however a closer inspection revealed they were in good shape internally, so they were sent off for reconditioning and nickel plating.
The Bravo One sterndrives looked like a pair of oyster leases and could have been returned to working order with a full service but after pressure testing, we decided to replace them with updated, top-quality MerCruiser gearboxes and bottom boxes.
The original 502s were high-output engines with flat-top valves and pistons producing 430hp, in very strong and reliable blocks. As these were identical to the blocks used by Abbate in his pursuit of several European championships, we opted to replace them with more of the same. DMBS, through MerCruiser, sourced a pair of blocks with the same configuration and output which were located in Miami. We disposed of the factory silent-choice exhausts and had custom 4in stainless steel exhausts made to measure in 316 marine gauge, and took the extra step of installing weighted exhaust flappers from Hardin marine in the US.
The boys then went about their business building these new blocks up with new MerCruiser parts, and meticulously assembling them to stock standard, but to very potent specifications. There is nothing more reassuring than having a factory-backed warranty when it comes to repowering. In fact, there really isn’t any other option with big horsepower.
While the mechanical work was underway we commenced the arduous task of stripping the hull, topside and superstructure.
Finding a slipway
Initially, we thought about searching for a secluded slipway in Sydney Harbour in order to keep the boat out of sight, while we reconditioned the hull inside and out. A friend suggested we use the services of an old heritage-listed shipyard in Putney that is now run as a DIY slipway for owners who want to work on their own boat with the help of a few resident professionals. We approached the owner of the slipway, cut a deal and this is where she remained for two months, while we worked through the wettest autumn on record!
Never will I do this again. We learnt quickly about being led up the garden path by tradesmen that exude an eagerness to assist but lack the real professionalism required to get the job done. We could have saved 25 per cent of the total restoration time and money had we looked before we leaped. We were eventually rescued from Gilligan’s Island by a totally professional outfit, Yachtmod Australia, headed up by Cam Smith, who we heard through the grapevine was a master painter with international testimonials.
The timber was sourced from a local shipwright, who directed us to a sensational stock of naturally cured Burmese teak from which we handpicked the planks. We had them milled, measured, shaped and handlaid throughout the boat. This included aft steps, cockpit floors, and a cabin centre-floor piece, which was made from silver ash and Brazilian mahogany. This gave the boat an element of nostalgia, which would contrast nicely with the carbon fibre elements we had already begun forming from scratch. She would be a nice mix of old-world aesthetics and new-world race technology.
Stripping and sanding the hull
After stripping the boat and sanding her back to bare glass, the decision was made to move the Primatist 41 to Sydney City Marine at Rozelle, owned by well-known sailor Sid Fischer. This was a major win for us, as the facility is widely considered the best of its kind in the southern hemisphere. It is here, that we finally started seeing results.
Over three weeks the hull was sanded, long-boarded, proof-coated and re-sanded. Finishing coats and antifoul were applied inside one of the huge paint booths, where the climate is totally controlled for a failsafe result.
Our deadline was hurtling towards us and the work was fast and furious to say the least, with up to five men on the boat at the one time. We sourced the sponson railing from Riviera, although I wasn’t happy with the breadth, so we ran the complete length through a bandsaw, cutting 10mm off the top and bottom in order for it flush. A stainless steel insert through the centre and custom-made stainless steel end produced a perfect result.
Adding carbon fibre
With the instrument panel and passenger-side console removed, a new template was designed from carbon fibre. A few retro features were added to the passenger side, including a compass and glovebox. I sourced the gauges from Livorsi in the US and had them custom made in metallic red with white graphics. The gauges were thankfully compatible with the original MerCruiser senders, so it made them easier to configure and test. The result is a showpiece.
The carbon fibre components were tricky, but we continued with our addiction and created a retractable table for the cabin with a Bruno Abbate logo inlaid under the clear coat. The screen was also laid in carbon fibre but we retained the original spine from the old screen in order to maintain the original shape, which is very unique to Bruno Abbate styling. This was the most technically difficult task to carry out, but the boys at Yachtmod really nailed it, and all the carbon fibre components fit like a glove, while lightweight and strong.
All the cabinet timber work was sanded back, primed and repainted black, mostly in a powdercoat-like finish, including the classic retro cocktail cabinets behind the front seats. The cockpit is totally European and fitted with a period Momo wheel and compass, and you guessed it, Italian air horns!
All storm covers and bimini fittings were designed and fitted out by Quality Covers at Rozelle in a superior water-repelling material including a neat little cover for the console. They even made some neoprene socks for the fenders!
Reconditioned race boat
All-in-all this project has been both a labour of love, and an incredible learning curve.
Throughout the process of reconditioning our beautiful Bruno Abbate, we have come to the realisation that there is a huge need for a professional go-to site for likeminded boat enthusiasts in Australia. A site they can visit, enquire and seek advice for any and every circumstance they may find themselves in.
We are creating a site to cater for such potential projects. It will offer advice and provide a comprehensive service to boat owners and help them realise their dreams, big or small. There are some very major dos and don’ts when it comes to reconditioning, from nipping it in the bud and saving valuable time and money, to going for broke and carrying the job out with gusto and professionalism.
For the record, the repowering and mechanicals cost approximately $50,000. The shipwrighting, painting and detailed reconditioning cost around $50,000. The fabricating and original creativity set us back some $40,000. The total time in hours and travelling expenses, not to mention the lost hours at my full-time and separate business, is unaccountable and this does not include the original purchase price of the vessel back in July.
But it was worth it…
PRIMATIST 41 OFFSHORE 41 SPECS
TYPE: Planing monohull
REC. CRUISING SPEED: 25kts
REC. MAX. SPEED: 55kts
From Trade-a-Boat Issue 424, Mar 2012.
The Primatist 41 Offshore on the hard pre-stripping.
We managed to strip the sterndrive following an oyster lease, but we decided to replace them with updated MerCruiser gearboxes and bottoms boxes.
The hull was stripped, sanded and primed with the first primer (shown).
Longboard wet and dry back to primer after first coat.
Ready for fitting screen and vents, outside Rozelle.
Almost done, detail of new rubrail shown.
Carbon fibre components pre-fitting.
Old dash compared with the new dash.
Interior fitting and installation underway, with final detail shown.
Burmese teak cockpit floor.
New engine intallation and wiring.
Thank you boys! Rozelle pre-launch.