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Delamination is not spelled d-o-o-m

Story and photos by Bill Sandifer

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 1, Number 3, November/December 1998.

Deck delamination conjures up images of free falling straight
through to the bilge but it need not frighten the most resourceful
among us

The word “delamination” causes instant visions of a good old boat coming apart at the seams.
Worse, those visions may be equated with an unsalvageable hulk lying
in the mud of a river bank. Bad jokes have been published of a prospective
buyer falling through a deck or into the bilge. These visions and
jokes ring somewhat true sometimes, but does a delamination problem
predict the end of a good old boat? Is there useful life after delamination?
Let’s examine the causes, effects, and eventually the cure for this
common good old boat problem.

Layer below the fiberglass

The rotted core just below the fiberglass was not a pretty site.

Delamination is the separation of layers of fiberglass cloth and resin
from each other or from the core sandwiched between the layers. The
cause of delamination is usually physical stress to the fiberglass
surface. This ruptures the surface skin and allows water to enter
the laminate and migrate into the core. Delamination can also occur
from repeated surface impact even if the skin is not broken and water
does not enter.

Most delamination occurs on the decks or in the cabinhouse structure
of a boat, although it is possible for delamination to occur in the
hull itself, particularly if the hull is cored.

Some builders used cored hulls for rigidity, as well as for sound
and temperature stability. The core material (usually end-grain balsa
squares, occasionally plywood, and sometimes foam) separates from
the fiberglass skin above or below. Once the separation takes place,
the core deteriorates from water intrusion or turns to dust with repeated

When an area is delaminated, it is substantially weaker and
will feel soft when walked upon. An easy way to check for
delamination on a horizontal surface is to walk barefoot on the
surface and to dig your toes into the deck or cabinhouse. A soft or
giving feeling will indicate potential areas of delamination. These
can then be critically examined. A solid deck should feel like a rock.

Depending on the size and location of a good old boat’s
delaminated area, a cure may be possible, affordable, and prudent. It
is never cheap or easy. Commercial boatyards charge exorbitant sums
just to attempt repairs and usually will not guarantee their work.
The reason is that without totally disassembling the area, cleaning
out the damaged core, and recoring the structure, it is often
difficult to assure that all of the area has been repaired.

Easy fix?

Several technical publications recommend an “easy fix” which involves
drilling a series of holes through the top skin of the deck and
forcing epoxy resin into the holes until it fills the void and
emerges from another hole. This method is unsatisfactory for the
following reasons:

  • The delaminated area must be completely dry for the epoxy to bond to the top and bottom skin. There is no way, even if core samples are taken, to know if all of the area is dry.
  • Due to working “blind,” you cannot be certain that the epoxy completely fills all the voids./li>
  • A small solid, non-delaminated area may form a dam and restrict the epoxy from flowing into all areas of delamination.
  • The cost and physical effort required to attempt this cure are not justified, given the unknown final results.

There are two other methods to solve the problem and, though
costly in time and material, will guarantee a successful result. Depending
on the construction of the vessel, one or both of these methods may be used
to make the repair.

My own 1961 Pearson Ariel is a good example of both. In a nutshell, the
entire main deck and cabinroof were one spongy mess that gave under a person’s
weight. The foredeck aft to the chain plates had been destroyed over a number
of years by “deck apes” jumping on the deck in race conditions. The forward
cabin under the foredeck did not have a liner installed, so the underside
of the deck was fully visible. The sidedeck and main cabin area had an interior
liner which precluded direct access to the underside of thedecks and coachroof.
The side decks were delaminated as a result of improperly filled holes when
the genoa tracks were moved. The coachroof was delaminated due to the roof-mounted
winches, cam cleats, etc., being mounted, moved, and remounted without properly
sealing the original holes.

The mast was deck-stepped and had sunk three inches into the deck due to water-induced rot in the mast support beam. This was caused by poorly sealed fittings around the base of the mast.

If you have read this far, you’re probably saying, “What did this nut see in a totally destroyed boat? He must be crazy!” Well yes and no. I had very
little money (less than $2,000) and wanted a capable sailboat very badly!
The price was right. The Ariel was the boat I wanted, and I had a plan.
The boat’s past racing life, which had caused much of its problems, also
provided the method to afford the rebuild.

First the good news

The boat had eight good racing sails. I sold the six I did not
want for more than I paid for the boat. I made a $300 profit and
became the proud owner of a Pearson Ariel with an Atomic 4 engine,
(More about this in the January/ February issue of Good Old Boat),
a good mainsail, a good 120 genoa, hull, mast, boom, and rigging.
The only problem was the deck, maststep, and, oh yes, the bunk had
rotted out, and the galley area was trashed.

To get the boat home, I fixed the engine and felt I should be able
to sail (in case the engine quit). I used 4 x 4s and a hydraulic
jack to support the mast and push it back into its correct position.
And on April 1, 1990, (April Fools Day/Ship of Fools!), my wife
and I departed the New Orleans Municipal Harbor for home on the
Mississippi Gulf Coast, 11 hours away. Since I am writing this article,
we obviously succeeded in completing the voyage. Would I do it again?
Of course! There is little enough adventure in this world, and taking
the tried and true route is no adventure at all!

We were towing a dinghy with a motor to provide a third method of
propulsion (or lifeboat, if need be). We had picked a bright sunny
day with a good forecast, filed a floatplan with our children, had
a VHF radio onboard, and stayed close to shore in about eight feet
of water. We figured we could fill up but not sink below the surface.
You may be asking, “What does all that have to do with delamination?”
Everything. It shows that a boat can have an extreme problem and
yet be saved. Here’s how.

Start with the worst case

Side deck cleaned and ready

The side deck was cleaned, sanded and ready for a new core.

The first task was to remove the mast and all of the deck fittings, lifelines,
bow pulpit, and so forth. The foredeck was the worst case, so I tackled
it first. I determined what the camber (crown) of the deck was and laminated
wood beams to conform to the curvature and length required to span the
deck on the underside.

Once the beams were made, I cut out the entire underside of the deck fiberglass
laminate and core from below. I scraped all the coring off and sanded
it so only a very thin (1/16-inch) fiberglass skin remained. I cut waterproof
K-inch mahogany plywood panels into four sections in the shape of the
deck. Then I fitted new beams and plywood to the underside of the deck
and prepared to push them up against the underside of the foredeck, forming
a new wood deck beneath the old skin. I assembled the beams and panels
in the V-berth area, screwing and bonding them together with epoxy. After
a “dry fit” to assure that all was well, I coated the new deck with a
mush of epoxy mixed with chopped mill fiber (at a mayonnaise constancy),
raised it up, and propped it in position against the deck skin.

Working from a dink in the water to avoid putting any weight on the fragile
deck, I set stainless steel screws through the top skin of the deck into
the deck beam to assure complete contact between the interior wood deck
and the exterior fiberglass skin. The old deck skin was so thin it was
possible to be sure that there were no air bubbles to interfere with full

When the epoxy cured, I removed the props and taped the beams to the hull
sides for final strength. Next I removed the stainless steel screws and
filled the holes with the epoxy/chopped mill fiber mush, faired the deck
epoxy, sanded it, and painted it with non-skid paint. I used the same
method to refurbish the coachhouse overhead in the forward cabin.

Next side decks, roof

New core installed

The new core was installed on the side deck.

The sidedecks and main cabinroof area could not be worked from the
inside, due to the liner, so this time I started from the outside.
With a circular saw (carbide blade), I carefully cut the sidedecks
and roof out in one rectangular-shaped piece each. I lifted them off
as three pieces (two sidedecks and one roof). I scraped each clean of
the wet balsa core and set it aside. I removed the ruined core down
to the outside of the inner liner, sanded each area clean, and
allowed it to dry.

I cut strips of K-inch mahogany plywood about three inches
wide and the length of the area to be filled, taking care that the
strips landed on a solid support surface or bulkhead fore and aft. I
cut and fitted enough strips to build up the new area to the level of
the old roof and decks, with the exception of the “saved” pieces of
deck and roof. The strips were numbered, so they could be replaced
exactly where they had been fitted.

With all in readiness, I mixed the epoxy/mill fiber mush
mixture and coated the outside of the liner. I wet out the strips
with unmodified epoxy (no mill fiber filler), and set these into the
mush on the liner. I followed this process until I had reached the
desired height.

I coated the roof and deck panels with the mush and returned them to their
original positions on the hull. I allowed the epoxy to dry, taking care
to assure a complete bond between the strips and the underside of the
old panels.

The reason for using the old panels is twofold. First, it saves material
and, if carefully prepared, reduces fairing of the surfaces to the original
camber. Second, the roof panel incorporated the rails for the sliding
hatch which would have had to be remade in wood, bedded, and so forth.

I simply removed the mast step beam and replaced it with a new beam when
the coachhouse roof was replaced.

The final finish work was not as hard as you might imagine, due to the
reuse of the old skin panels. After a good fairing with a long board and
80-grit sandpaper, I rolled high build epoxy primer paint on the panels.
These were sanded and primed again, sanded a third time, and then painted
with three coats of polyurethane one-part deck paint, sanding between
each coat. I mixed the final coat with non-skid compound for a non-slip

More good news

Original deck piece replace

The orginal deck piece was replaced.

Did it work? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” After eight years of
12-month-a-year service, averaging three days a week, there have been
no failures, no leaks, and no soft spots. I’ve repainted the deck
once more for cosmetic and aesthetic value.

Was it worth it? Again, “Yes.” The boat became ours April 1,
1990, and we motored it out of the harbor. We have motored, sailed,
motorsailed, and used the boat ever since. The work on the deck was
done during intense weekends over a two-month period. The boat was
“out of commission” for two-week periods as each stage was
accomplished. The deck, beam, interior, and so forth were done afloat
between uses.

prioritized the work. The foredeck came first, mast beam next, bunk and
interior third, side decks and coachroof last.

Since we live in a southern climate, it was possible to complete all the
work over the span of one year. The non-structural work – replacing the
pulpit and lifelines, putting in new port lights and running lights, etc.
– was worked in as time and budget allowed.

When I review the refurbishment work done over the past eight years, the
volume seems overwhelming, but when viewed in small segments, it was achieved
and has not been onerous.

I had the assistance of family and friends some of the time, but the bulk
of it was done without help. Having the use of the boat while working
on it was a big plus and kept my spirits soaring. I believe if I had chosen
to lay the boat up until everything was complete, I would have become
discouraged and lost interest and momentum.

My wife loves the boat but hated the project “mess.” For this reason,
I kept one or two areas neat so she could feel comfortable while I messed
up the other areas. The V-berth area was torn up considerably, but the
main cabin and cockpit were usable and neat. Doing the sidedecks did not
mess up the interior, and the V-berth was completed and “neat” by that
time. The same is true for the coachroof.

Today, the boat is in excellent condition. Motor and sails are without
problems, and it looks great. Now, if I could just figure out how to stretch
the boat to a 36-footer in the same condition. Hmmmmm.

Bill Sandifer is
a marine surveyor and small boat builder who has been living, eating,
and sleeping boats since the early 1950s when he assisted at Pete Layton’s
Boat Shop, building a variety of small wooden boats. Since then Bill has
worked for Charlie Morgan (Heritage), Don Arnow (Cigarette), and owned
a commercial fiberglass boatbuilding company (Tugboats). Bill and his
wife, Genie, restored a Pearson Ariel from a total wreck. They are now
sailing an Eastward Ho 31.

A New Toe Rail For an Old Warhorse

By Hugh Owens

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 3, May/June 2001.

Beefing up a retired racer with aluminum

Racing caused wear on toerails

mate, Karlene, and I looked long and hard for a sailboat suitable for
world cruising that we could afford. I’ve become convinced that
boat speed is an important component of voyaging safety, so a major goal
in our search was to find a good old fast boat! In Tampa, Fla., we found
a neglected Cal 48 yawl.

This boat had been
raced hard and put away wet for too many years, and Karlene and I had
our doubts as we motored out into Tampa Bay for our sea trials. We hoisted
the baggy, tattered, but fully battened, main in a warm, 13-knot breeze,
and off she skipped at 7 knots. We unfurled the jib and were stunned as
she heeled gently and roared off at more than 9 knots. What fun! Concealing
our excitement, we made an appropriate offer that eventually was accepted.
In time, our Cal 48, renamed Koho, landed in Pocatello, Idaho, where we
started the refit.

If you examine enough
old classic plastic, you will find recurrent flaws and problems that span
a range of manufacturers. Our Cal 48 was no different. She was plagued
with stanchion and hull-to-deck leaks, as well as untabbed and broken
bulkheads, which are especially prevalent in older racers like Koho. Nevertheless,
we felt that our time and money would be better spent restoring a swift,
old, racing sailboat than a slower, more traditional, cruiser. We hoped
the payoff would be in sparkling noon-to-noon runs. The refit of Koho
has been total, but I’d like to focus on the structural solutions
changes that we made to the toerail and hull-to-deck joint.

Sealed holes

We stripped every piece of hardware off the hull and deck and sealed all
the holes with epoxy. Nevertheless, steady rains revealed persistent leaks
from one end of the boat to the other that were coming from the toerail.
Our toerail was an attractive piece of teak, 1 1/4 inches by 2 1/2 inches,
laid on edge and secured every 4 to 6 inches with 5/16-inch stainless
steel machine screws covered with teak bungs. The teak toerail also covered
the hull-to-deck lap joint. A first-generation mystery sealant bedded
the joint.

Near the cockpit,
a genoa track was bolted to the top of the toerail and secured by nuts
and washers below deck. Under the genoa track, virtually every bolt leaked
because of the substantial loads on the track from the huge sail. Reluctantly
we took the Sawzall to our beautiful toerail. We made attempts to save
the 4-inch stainless steel bolts, but most of them were severely corroded
in the anoxic environment of the leaky toerail. We then lifted the deck
off the hull, using dozens of wedges. Most of the bulkheads released the
deck with minimal fuss.

Once the joint was
free and the deck was lifted up a few inches, we could clean and blow
out the gap and apply 3M 5200 marine adhesive sealant, rebolt the hull
to the deck, and reattach the bulkheads with multiple layers of biaxial
cloth and epoxy resin on both sides of the bulkhead. Critical, highly
stressed bulkheads – such as the main bulkhead near the cap shrouds
and the ones under the lowers – were given additional layers of
fiberglass and epoxy.

Overkill, perhaps

Brackets used

Some of the brackets used, above. Clamping up prior to final mounting, below.

Clamping prior to final mounting

On the main bulkhead, a laminated deckbeam was epoxied and bolted to the
upper face of the bulkhead and epoxied to the underside of the deck. Stainless
steel carriage bolts from the top of the deck were then fastened through
this laminated beam. Strong? You betcha! Overkill? Perhaps, but I used
this technique on a 39-foot boat I built some years ago. During a bad
blow that boat was thrown sideways off a large wave and landed with a
shattering crash on her port side and sustained no structural damage.
The only downside to this technique is the time it takes.

The critical bulkheads
also received additional aluminum angle reinforcement where they contacted
the hull/deck joint, and bolts with backing plates and/or washers were
placed around the perimeter of the bulkhead to mechanically reinforce
the joint.

We next turned our
attention to strengthening and sealing the hull-to-deck joint. The upper
hull and decks on these Cals are thinly constructed, in keeping with their
racing heritage. We concluded that the only feasible fix was to fiberglass
the joint from the outside. To do this, the watertight but rough-appearing
hull/deck joint was faired with filled epoxy and sanded, then multiple
overlapping layers of biaxial cloth and mat were laid over the hull and
deck joint to a thickness of nearly a quarter-inch. More fairing, compounding,
and sanding was done to ease the transition between old and new glass.

Prohibitive cost

The next task was to design and build a new toerail. We looked at many
options. Commercial aluminum toerail was feasible but the cost was prohibitive
and what about all those holes every few inches in our now watertight
deck? Hal and Margaret Roth, on Whisper, used a clever method detailed
in their book After 50,000 Miles. They brazed Everdur (silicon bronze)
plates to the outside of the stanchion bases and then attached a 1-inch
by 4-inch teak toerail outside the stanchions to the Everdur plates. They
raised the teak 3/4 inch off the deck for water drainage. This seemed
like a good idea. Reapplying a wood toerail or bulwark remained an option,
but I wanted to avoid the leaks and maintenance associated with wood.

Years ago I worked
on commercial salmon boats in Alaska. I remembered how the aluminum gillnetters
used 1/2-inch by 2-inch flat bar stock as a toerail. It was welded edge-up
to an angle extrusion at the deck edge to stiffen that vulnerable area
from impacts with tenders and rough docks. I have long believed that aluminum
is the best material for cruising boats, but we were unable to find a
suitable aluminum boat that we could afford, and I began to wonder if
aluminum and fiberglass could be married during Koho’s refit, thereby
gaining the advantages of both materials.

We considered having
aluminum angle bent to match the outside curve of our hull and deck. We
had different angle extrusions bent at a local fabrication shop, but the
differing and constantly changing angles of the hull and deck made this
idea unworkable. We rejected welding as well.

Screwed and bolted

Scrrewed and bolted overlapping flat bar diagram

Eventually we settled on overlapping flat bar stock screwed and bolted
together. In some areas, the aluminum was prepped and epoxied together,
but the bulk of the construction used 3M 5200, 1/4-inch screws, and stainless
steel bolts attaching the plates to each other and to the hull. The most
useful and crucial part of the design is the 1/2-inch by 2-inch flat bar
stock that becomes the toerail. The sections are 12 feet long with 1/8-inch
gaps on the ends for expansion in the severe climatic changes we experience
in the Rockies. The toerail is stiffened at the joints where these flat
bar sections meet with brackets made from 1/4-inch aluminum angle, bandsawed
and sanded to a pleasing shape, and bolted to the toerail and deck using
oversized holes.

Holes are drilled
in this flatbar in key areas in a manner similar to the commercially available
perforated aluminum toerail. The toerail is supported at about 3-foot
intervals by the support brackets. Every other support bracket has a stanchion
base. Bolts fasten through the stanchion base, toerail bracket, and the
deck to aluminum backing plates beneath. Once bolted or tapped and fastened
together with machine screws and 5200, the whole assembly is astonishingly
stiff and robust.

After installing the
toerail, we attached a 1/4-inch by 4-inch aluminum plate to the hull so
that it fit directly under the toerail and in contact with it. This served
to cover the fiberglass overlap and strengthen the joint. We called this
piece the “hull plate.”


A final 1/4-inch by 2-inch flat plate was tapped and screwed to the toerail
above and the 1/4-inch by 4-inch hull plate below. This effectively joined
the toerail to the hull plate, making a very rigid structure that could
not have been cold formed in place if it had been a single piece.

A 3/4-inch by 2-inch
section of white UHMW (ultra-high molecular weight) polyethylene was fastened
with flat-head machine screws into tapped holes in this bar to form a
rubbing strake.

Tapping the aluminum
allows replacement or repair of the UHMW in the future. I considered wood,
aluminum, and PVC. We felt that UHMW offered a durable material that was
a more friendly surface against the tender topsides of fellow yachties.
I have high regard for UHMW. I’ve used it wherever friction needs
to be reduced. For example, I lined a chute with UHMW to feed our anchor
chain into the chain locker. The anchor chain glides into the locker as
if sliding on Teflon. We also used it in front of our deck cleats in lieu
of deck chocks to reduce chafe on the lines.

The aluminum bar
stock and extruded angles that I used were alloy 6061, which is the normally
available alloy for extrusions. This 6061 is commonly used in aluminum
yacht and workboat construction, but it is best used in above-water applications.
It has less corrosion resistance than the true saltwater alloys such as
the 5000 series. We plan to paint the aluminum for the sake of an improved

Plastic spacers

Plastic spacers keep copper alloys away from aluminum

We took great care to make sure no copper containing alloys came in contact
with the aluminum. Our stanchion bases are made of either bronze or 316
stainless steel. They were made locally and they have a thin plastic (UHMW)
spacer isolating the stanchion bases from the aluminum bracket beneath.
The aluminum was painted with epoxy and linear polyurethane paint, and
while that is probably sufficient isolation from stainless, it’s
not that much more work to put in a little polyethylene spacer.
We attached the genoa track to a 2-inch by 2-inch by 1/4-inch length of
aluminum angle bolted to the inside of our aluminum toerail. This tactic
alone saved almost 100 holes through the deck. The aluminum angle was
bent using a plywood template by a local steel shop to conform exactly
to the curvature of the deck. The track angle is braced additionally every
4 feet with aluminum angle bolted to the deck and glued with 5200. The
finished track seems sturdy and superior to what it replaced.

In our most heavily
loaded bulkheads I placed the toerail aluminum angle brackets over the
interior structural bulkheads. Additional aluminum angle pieces were bolted
to the bulkheads and fastened to the angle toerail brackets above to tie
all these components together. The oversized deck cleats were bolted over
the bulkheads to the aluminum angles below. This is considerably stronger
than just using conventional backing plates.

The majority of vessels
I’d examined weren’t husky enough to cope with the boisterous
high-latitude offshore sailing conditions we expect Koho to encounter.
I think that aluminum construction is superior to all other boatbuilding
methods if you want to wed lightness and strength. My concept during this
refit was to use this superb material to strengthen and stiffen an older
fiberglass sailboat, utilizing one of the most abundant elements in the
earth’s crust.

Hugh, an anesthesiologist
in Idaho, is completing a total refit of
Koho, a 1966 Cal 48. He and his
wife, Karlene, formerly lived and sailed in Alaska on their 40-foot home-built
Endurance. They are preparing Koho for a voyage to Antarctica
and New Zealand.

Stanchion Repair

Stanchion repair

By Norman Ralph

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 6, November/December 1999.

Bent stanchions and delaminated decks

Stanchion pulled away from the deck

When we were unloading our boat following a recent week-long cruise,
I noticed the midship stanchion on the port side was slightly bent
toward the stern. It was about an inch out of plumb at the top. While
docking in gusty conditions, the stanchion had taken the weight of
the boat, and something had to give. When I examined it closely, I
discovered that the stanchion was bent and the deck under the stanchion
was flexing. Clearly there was also structural damage to the deck.
Repairs were in order.

A bent stanchion requires replacement or straightening.
In this case, it was possible to have it straightened. Removing the
stanchion required
access to the backing plate, nuts, and lockwashers holding it. I
had to remove an overhead panel below the sidedeck. Another approach
have been to cut a hole in the panel slightly larger than the stanchion
base and patch it after the repair was finished. The structural repair
to the deck area under the stanchion was much more involved.

As a general
rule, boats built before the days of modern composites and high-tech
layup techniques are overbuilt. An exception to this
rule, however, is in the area of deck reinforcement in high-stress
areas. Where holes were drilled to mount hardware and stanchions in
a balsa-cored deck, it’s quite possible that moisture has invaded
the core. Even if adequate bedding compound was applied, the hardware
will have worked under stress, and moisture may have invaded the core,
resulting in delamination.

Dry below the stanchion?

Filling the hole in the deck with epoxy resin

Once I had removed our bent stanchion, I examined the damage to the
deck area. I was faced with two possible approaches to the repair,
depending on the condition of the balsa core under the stanchion. If
the core was dry and sound, the area around the mounting holes could
be repaired. This involves putting a bent nail in an electric hand
drill and enlarging the area in the balsa core around the holes. Do
not enlarge the holes in the top or bottom laminates.

Once the debris is cleaned out, you can begin strengthening the area.
Cover the holes below deck with duct tape. Mix up a small quantity
of epoxy resin/ hardener and add some high-density filler. Mix this
to a mayonnaise consistency. Using a plastic syringe (available where
epoxy materials are sold), inject this mixture into the holes from
above, filling the voids completely. This mixture will bond to the
surrounding core area and add structural strength while it seals the
core from any moisture. When the mixture has hardened, the surface
can be sanded smooth. Remove the tape from the bottom holes. Now you
can drill new holes and remount the stanchion. Don’t forget
to use bedding compound.

Wet under there?

Replace the core under the stanchion

However, if the impact caused the deck under the stanchion to delaminate
from the balsa core, or if the core has absorbed moisture, more extensive
repairs are necessary. The most satisfactory way to repair the deck
under a stanchion when the balsa core is wet is to replace the core
under the stanchion.

Placing the stanchion over the existing holes, outline the stanchion
base with a felt tip pen. Next, using a Dremel tool, remove the top
laminate by cutting around the outline. When the laminate has been
removed, dig out the wet balsa core material, digging back under the
edge of the laminate around the hole. Try to dig back to dry balsa.
Clean out the area of the debris and allow the area to dry thoroughly.
There are several ways to hasten the drying:

  • Use a hair dryer to blow in the cleaned-out area, being careful
    not to use too much heat.
  • Cover the area with plastic, held in place
    with duct tape, and cover the holes under the area with duct tape.
    Cut a hole in the plastic
    and insert and tape the nozzle of a shop vacuum cleaner to the plastic. Now turn the vacuum on and allow it to draw out the moisture from the core material. Be careful not to overheat the vacuum cleaner motor.
  • Flood
    the area with denatured alcohol. The alcohol will absorb the moisture
    and when the alcohol evaporates, the moisture will evaporate
    with it.

You can use any or all of these, but be careful that the alcohol
has thoroughly evaporated before using either the hair dryer or the
cleaner to avoid any risk of the alcohol igniting from the heat of
the dryer or the sparks of the vacuum cleaner motor.

When the area
is dry, cut a piece of marine-grade plywood the same size as the
cut-out hole in the laminate. The plywood should be slightly
thinner than the core material removed. You can use exterior grade
plywood, but be sure there are no voids in it. Cover the holes
in the bottom laminate from below with duct tape. Mix a small amount
of epoxy/
hardener. The amount to mix will depend on the air temperature
pot life of the mixture. Using an acid brush, thoroughly wet out
the repair area, making sure the edges of the balsa core material
are saturated
with the mixture. Wet out the piece of plywood to seal it from moisture.

Pourit in

Drill new holes to hold the stanchion

Mix some more epoxy and add some high-density filler to make a mayonnaise
consistency. Pour some of this into the repair area and spread it
evenly to about a quarter of the depth of the area. Force the piece
of plywood
into the area, displacing the epoxy putty into the area beyond the
edge of the hole under the top laminate. The top of the plywood should
be below the bottom level of the top laminate. Using a plastic syringe,
inject the epoxy/putty mixture into the area around the edge of the
plywood to fill any voids under the top laminate. Cover the top of
the plywood with the mixture but only to the bottom level of the
top laminate.

When the epoxy mixture has hardened, grind the edge of the hole with
a pad sander and 80-grit sandpaper. Grind the edge on a bevel back
about 1 1/2 inches from the edge of the hole. This will give an approximate
1:12 ratio (1/8-inch thickness of the laminate to 1 1/2-inch bevel).
Now cut a piece of fiberglass cloth the size of the outside of the
beveled area around the hole. Next, cut more pieces in decreasing
sizes down to the size of the hole in the deck. The combined thickness
total the thickness of the top laminate or slightly less. On a piece
of plastic, such as a heavy garbage bag, wet out the pieces of fiberglass
cloth with an epoxy/hardener mixture.

Stanchion reattached to deck

Starting with the
largest piece, first wet the cloth using an acid brush and a spreader.
Place the
next smaller piece on top of the previous
one until all the pieces are stacked and saturated, with any excess
squeegeed out with the spreader. Now wet the bevel and hole area
with the epoxy mixture and lay the saturated cloth over the hole, largest
piece down. This is important because if the cloth is damaged during
the final finishing and sanding, the largest piece, which ties the
whole patch together, will not be compromised. The layers of cloth
should bring the surface of the patch slightly lower than the level
of the surrounding deck. When the epoxy has hardened, the area can
be lightly sanded and leveled with a mixture of epoxy/hardener and
a fairing filler such as micro-balloons. After that has cured, the
area can be sanded smooth. I painted my repair with one-part polyurethane
to match the color of the deck.

Replacing the stanchion

I was now ready to reattach the stanchion. I
placed it in its proper location and marked the location of the
four mounting holes on the
deck. I then placed the stanchion aside and drilled the holes in
the deck. The bolt size was 1/4 inch, and I drilled the holes 3/8
in diameter. I then covered the below-deck holes with duct tape
and, using the syringe, filled the holes from above with a mixture
epoxy/hardener and high-density filler. This added strength to
the area and sealed
the plywood core from any moisture should the bedding compound
later fail. When the epoxy mixture had cured, I drilled the holes
to 1/4-inch diameter and installed the stanchion with a bedding
compound and the backing plate below. The resulting repair left
the deck under
the stanchion much stronger than when the boat was new.

A few closing notes and instructions

Use latex gloves when using epoxy. Over
a period of time you can develop an allergy to it. Also, be careful
not to breathe epoxy dust when sanding. Use a mask and goggles. The
same techniques can be used to repair or strengthen the cored laminate
under other deck hardware such as winches, halyard clutches, and
cleats. It is not only possible to repair your boat, but to make it
than new.

Building your own classic hatch


Building your own (leakproof!) classic hatch

By Armand Stephens

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 4, Number 6, November/December 2001.

When Mary and I bought our 1965 Alberg 30 we knew that replacing the forward hatch was going to be one of many projects. Down below there was no indication that the old hatch was leaking, but it was certainly an eyesore when viewed from on deck.

A classic hatch

One day at the Oakland Yacht Club we saw a very beautiful all-wood sailboat
that had an extraordinarily beautiful butterfly hatch made of teak and glass.
We know that the classic butterfly hatch has a nasty reputation of leaking
like a sieve, so we decided to design and build a hatch that captured the beauty
of the old butterfly hatch but had the integrity of a one-piece unit.

Regrettably, the Alberg 30 hatch
opening was neither a square nor a rectangle, but a trapezoid shape. This
required a lot of hand-filing on the box joints.
Any boatowner who has a square or rectangular hatch opening will find the job
much easier, but building a “sacrificial goat” experimental hatch
out of pine is still a good idea. Who needs to ruin eight board feet of teak
at $15 per board foot?

This project cost about $200 to build and took us 24 hours to construct. It
was worth every dime and every hour.

Steps 1-3, cut to size Steps 4-7, assemble top
Steps 8-10, mounting hardware
Step 11, special notes

Armand is a retired
schoolteacher (high school woodworking). Immediately after they retired,
he and Mary bought
Quest, their Alberg 30, and spent 10 months
bringing her to a better-than-new state. They’ve sailed on San Francisco
Bay for more than 30 years. That’s Armand in the photo at top.

Blister Bottom


Singing the boat bottom blisters blues

By Brian Cleverly

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 5, September/October 1999.

Whether a cosmetic or structural issue, a thorough investigation of any blister problem is warranted

A good looking hull

often ask whether gelcoat osmosis problems – generically called “blisters”
– are just cosmetic blemishes or a source of damage to the hull laminate.
Since I recently completed a blister repair job on Second Wind,
a 1979 Cal 2-25, and began another on Can Do II, a 1971 Ericson 27, I
put pen to paper to present my findings, methods, and opinions for others
contemplating such work. Not all blister problems are as bad as those
recounted here, but I do feel strongly that a thorough investigation of
any blister problem is warranted in the long run.

While researching the causes and effects of blisters, I found more than
one explanation of the cause and many opinions as to whether they actually
damage laminate. The most common explanation of the cause of blisters
is that polyester resin (gelcoat) is susceptible to osmosis, and the absorbed
water reacts with any solutes remaining in the laminate to create an acidic
solution. This solution is under pressure and causes the gelcoat to blister.
Certainly, any solution present is acidic, but I’m not certain whether
it causes laminate damage.

With regard to effects, there are those who claim that, given time, the
solution will attack the laminate, while others are adamant that the effect
is simply a “cosmetic” issue. In my opinion, both arguments
are correct. It seems to me that the laminate problems on Second Wind may well have caused the blisters and were not caused by the blisters.
More about that later.

Gelcoat removalGelcoat removed

Blisters filled

Second Wind‘s progress: during gelcoat removal (note holes in blue gelcoat); with the gelcoat removed (note light-colored voids); blisters and voids filled and roughly faired (note large filled area at the waterline).

However on Can Do II, the gelcoat in a number of areas was actually starting to lift off
the laminate. The first layer of laminate could be easily peeled off for
a distance of 1/4 inch around the larger blisters. In fact, some of the
larger blisters were surrounded by rotten laminate which extended through
the entire thickness of the hull. This was most evident in one area of
the encapsulated keel. I eventually drained four and a half gallons of
salt water from the keel housing! Obviously Can Do II had laminate damage, but was it a result of the blister reaction or of extremely poor lay-up in the first place? I am not able to answer that question.

I feel that blisters should be looked on as potentially damaging, and
it is dangerous to make a statement that they are just a “cosmetic”
nuisance without having first removed all the bottom paint and carefully
inspected them.

Survey says

When I purchased Second Wind, I relied on a year-old survey regarding
the condition of the underwater portion of the hull and my own observations
for the rest of the boat. The surveyor stated (I added the highlighting
for emphasis): “The majority of the hull surface below the waterline
shows extensive osmotic blistering. The blisters are approximately 1/4- to 1/2-inch in diameter. Several of the blisters were punctured.
The punctured blisters emitted a foul smelling, sour liquid. Some of the
blisters appeared to have formed over a dark colored fairing compound, indicating the hull may have had previous blister repairs. The
blisters, opened and probed, showed no involvement with the underlying
glass laminate.”

I called the surveyor and questioned his definition of “extensive.”
He told me that meant around 200 or so blisters on the hull.


Once I had Second Wind in my yard, I was able to confirm that
the reported blisters had not worsened. There were, however, signs of
additional blistering. The bottom paint was very thick, old, and in need
of complete removal.

Since I had read a number of favorable reviews of the Peel Away product,
I decided to give it a try. After experimenting on a few small patches,
I found I could apply it in sufficient thickness (1/8 inch) by laying
it on using a 6-inch paintbrush and that between 8 and 12 hours working
time was sufficient to soften the paint. The softened paint was easily
removed with a wide-blade putty knife.

For those who
have not seen or used Peel Away, it is a paste that, once applied, is
covered with a plastic material and left to work for a period of time.
If it is left too long, it will dry out and become nearly impossible to
remove. I have heard that it will not work very well at temperatures lower
than 70oF. If you do decide to use it, experiment with small test areas
to determine the working time needed. Also keep in mind that it needs
to be applied thickly. Use too little, and it will dry out before the
paint is softened.

When the paint is softened sufficiently, you can peel off the covering
while lifting the paint with a putty knife. This results in the paint
staying on the covering but, as I found, the removed material will get
very heavy, so it is best to have an extra pair of hands to assist with

The Peel Away people market an excellent spray liquid for residue removal,
but I found that the household 409 cleaner was equally as good at a fraction
of the cost. I also found that household waxed paper was as effective
a covering as the original plastic product, with the added advantage of
lower cost and, due to its narrower width, being much easier to use.

Once the paint was
completely removed, I was astounded at the number of small blisters that
had been uncovered. There were thousands! I popped a number in one area
and realized that there would be so little gelcoat left after popping
all of them, I would be better off to completely remove the underwater

Gelcoat removal

Having made the decision to remove the gelcoat, I was left with the question
of how to accomplish the task. I contacted a company in a neighboring
town that used a Gelcoat Peeler, but they were not interested in doing
the job unless it was in their yard (50 miles away). None of the local
sandblasting outfits had experience with gelcoat removal, so I was left
with the final option: doing the job myself.

First I tried a high-speed 6-inch orbital sander using 100-grit disks.
Then I changed to 80-grit and finally to 50-grit. It didn’t take too long
to realize that that method was slow and dirty and that I would be spending
a lot of money for disks. Next I tried a 6-inch rotary sander which was
too heavy for the overhead work. Then I used a 4 1/2-inch rotary sander,
using 36-grit disks. This was faster than the orbital, but it was also
extremely easy to accidentally grind into the laminate.

So what to try? Chemicals? I left messages on the Internet and didn’t
receive any replies specifically about chemical removal. My local marine
supplier said, “Nobody chemically removes gelcoat.” Browsing
in my favorite hardware store, I noticed Jasco Premium Paint and Epoxy
Remover. The words “epoxy remover” caught my eye, and I decided
to purchase a pint can and give it a try.

What I found was that it would soften the gelcoat, so it could be scraped
off. It worked within two to three minutes, but when left on longer, the
active ingredients evaporated and the gelcoat rehardened. The only problem
was that the gelcoat was not softened to its full depth. I found that
most areas required two applications, with some requiring three. I also
noticed that if any of the chemical reached the laminate, it ate into
it. So I decided to stop applying it once I could see signs of the laminate
through the blue gelcoat. The scraper I used was one of those long-handled
paint scraper jobs that have a replaceable four-sided blade.

Armed with this knowledge, I set about removing the bulk of the underwater
gelcoat. This went much better: no noise, no dust, just a pile of dried
up scrapings to clean up. One item I caution about here: while it does
not actually harm or mark the skin, if you get any of the chemical on
your bare skin, it really lets you know with a severe burning sensation.
If you use this preparation, make sure you are well covered or, as I did,
keep a bucket of water handy to wash in. Why didn’t I cover up? It was
early summer and above 90°F.

The final film of gelcoat was removed with the orbital sander, using 50-grit
disks. This proved to be an easy task as, even though the gelcoat had
hardened again, it was not as hard as it had been, and it turned to dust
easily. During the removal, I noticed:

  • The gelcoat was
    in two distinct layers: an outer white layer and an inner blue one.
  • Three out of 10
    blisters larger than 1/2-inch diameter contained liquid.
  • One out of 100
    blisters smaller than 1/2-inch diameter contained liquid.
  • The blue layer
    contained a huge number of perfectly round holes that were not the result
    of visible blisters in the white layer. I’m not certain whether these
    holes would have eventually resulted in blisters, but I am inclined
    to think they would. The only other explanation for these holes is that
    they were a result of improper lay-up originally. Even if this were
    so, I still think they would be prime candidates for future blister
Hull sealed with epoxyFairing mix applied

First coat of tinted epoxy

Six coats of tinted epoxy

Second Wind‘s story continues: sealed with penetrating epoxy; the final fairing mix applied with notched spreader; first coat of tinted epoxy; and the results of six coats of tinted epoxy.

To recap, the chemical
removal process was probably no faster than sanding or grinding, but it
was easier, cleaner, and cost less. The main benefit was that, in the main,
I hadn’t destroyed the fairness of the hull, a very important factor. Now
that the laminate was bared, I cleaned it thoroughly using a high-pressure
water sprayer.


Careful inspection of the bared laminate revealed a few areas where it was
slightly damaged and a disturbing number of areas where voids were visible
just under the first laminate layer. A lot of these voids were directly
beneath areas where the larger blisters had been. The presence of a void
is immediately obvious when looking at bared laminate. Good laminate is
usually a uniform dark color, and voids stand out as a much lighter color.
The color is lighter where the void is closer to the outer layer.

One void that did not have blisters above it was in the keel housing. Its
position was at the lower portside leading edge, 18 inches up from the bottom
and 1 inch aft of the leading edge. It extended aft for 6 inches and was
3/8-inch deep. The most disturbing thing about this void is that I spoke
with another Cal 2-25 owner who found the same void in his keel housing.

All that was nothing when you consider the many voids, although small in
size, at the waterline around the full circumference of the hull. I make
the observation that these voids were a result of improper original lay-up
based on the fact that they were all under the outer layer of laminate.

Perhaps the worst of these voids was in the shape of a sideways T, 14 inches
long on the horizontal, 8 inches on the vertical, and approximately 1 1/2
inches wide, right where the original surveyor had detected a patch of high
moisture content. I probed this area and found it contained the dreaded
acidic solution.

I carefully cut away the top of this void, washed it out, and inspected
it further. It was 3/16- to 1/4-inch deep, and the laminate surface was
glossy. This tells me that this void was an air bubble, a result of improper
lay-up, which probably always contained an amount of unevaporated solute.


Using a small bullnosed stone mounted in a drill, I ground out the few areas
of laminate where blisters had left their mark and opened up the remaining
void areas with the 4 1/2-inch sander and 36-grit disks. Then I pressure-washed
the hull again and left it to dry out for a full Sacramento summer with
its 100°F heat and low humidity.


That fall I applied two coats of a thin, penetrating, epoxy to the hull.
This serves (by capillary action) to seal any bare fiberglass ends and
to close any minute indentations in the laminate. I let this coating fully
cure for two weeks. Then I sanded the hull with the orbital sander, using
100-grit disks. This sanding is required to give the epoxy coatings that
follow a firm-toothed base on which to adhere. It also serves the purpose
of highlighting any areas which are not fair. The opened voids were tapered
out and filled with epoxy and layers of bi-axial plus mat fiberglass material.
I filled areas in need of fairing with an epoxy-microballoon-silica mix

After curing and sanding down these areas, I carefully inspected the hull
for fairness. I filled areas that still were not fair with the putty mix,
using a notched spreader. The purpose of using a notched spreader is so
that when you use a long-board to sand them fair, you are only sanding
the ridges. This saves a great deal of sweat. You are then left to fill
the valleys with putty, up to the top of the ridges. A final touch-up
with the long-board, and you are done. There is one field of thought that,
to build up thickness and assist in fairing, you should plaster the hull
with fairing mix and then long-board the whole thing. Fortunately, because
I was careful in removing the gelcoat, the hull was generally fair and
required little additional filling work, so I didn’t fully coat it with
fairing compound.

Closing up

Blisters before paint removed

Blisters after paint removed

Opened blisters after gelcoat removed

Blisters in keel housing

After five coats of epoxy

Can Do II‘s progress: blisters before the bottom paint was removed; blisters after the bottom paint was removed; opened blisters after the gelcoat was removed; blisters in keel housing (note holes through laminate and damaged laminate around the blisters); and finally after five coats of epoxy.

Due to the thickness of the original gelcoat, I was unsure about how many
coats of epoxy would be needed, but I decided on at least five. Using
two people, with one rolling and one tipping, we were able to do one coat
of epoxy in less than two hours, by which time the first areas had set
up enough so we could immediately apply another coat. I applied nine coats
of epoxy. This allowed me sufficient leeway for a sanding to provide a
key for the final finish.

Each of these coats was tinted white. I varied the tint amount for each
coating. This made it much easier to see where I was placing the new coating,
otherwise there is a very real possibility that you will miss areas with
subsequent coatings.

Though it probably
wasn’t really necessary, I then applied two coats of Interlux 3000/3001
barrier system. This was done just to minimize the possibility of future
problems. While epoxy is not as susceptible to osmosis as polyester is,
it is not impervious, and the 3000/3001 reportedly has additional solids
(platelets) to assist in osmosis prevention.

Materials used

The following is not meant to be a recommendation of one product over
another; it is purely a list of what I used and the reasons for doing

All epoxy products were from System Three in Seattle. I used their Clear
Coat product for hull sealing and their Laminating Epoxy for all other

I evaluated West System products and, while I could not fault them, I
decided on System Three mainly because of price, delivery, and the recommendations
of some yards in my area. Another reason for choosing System Three was
their claim that subsequent coats of epoxy would chemically bond to the
under layer if applied within 72 hours. This certainly was a big consideration
as, otherwise, I would have been faced with occasionally sanding between

I also evaluated some of the lower-cost epoxy products and rejected them
because I felt they were lacking in solids for this kind of job. The System
Three product has certainly done all I’ve asked of it and seems to be
very forgiving with regard to very small variations in mix ratios. I also
used a microballoon-silica mix from System Three because it was easy to
have them include it in epoxy deliveries.

The silica I used was West System Colloidal Silica (cab-o-sil), which
I obtained locally. Silica, by the way, prevents sagging of the mix and
provides greater strength. However, if you use too much of it, you are
in for a hard time in areas where sanding is necessary. I took advantage
of this fact to apply a layer of epoxy-silica mix to the keel bottom.
It definitely resulted in a strong, hard, surface. But it was a bear to
sand to shape.

The fiberglass cloth I used was Knytex, a bi-axial/chopped strand material,
23-ounce weight, which I purchased locally. It has the advantage of bulk
(mat) plus strength (bi-axial). The three layers are sewn together and,
because it is not woven, it results in a reasonably smooth finish.


To quote
from System Three’s The Epoxy Book: “Blister repair, being an inexact
science, is one where you pays your money and takes your chances.”
The extent of the chances is entirely up to you and your willingness to
do the job correctly. I am still unsure whether blisters cause laminate
damage or if blisters are a direct result of poor laminate lay-up. Either
way, I would strongly urge you to carefully inspect blistered areas. It
is not sufficient to simply correct those that are visible through the
anti-fouling layer. Where you have some blisters showing, there is a good
possibility that there are many more covered by the anti-fouling.

My good friend, Bob Larsen, (Dutchtreat, also a Cal 2-25) has reminded
me that his boat had some blistering when he purchased it. When the bottom
paint was removed, there were thousands of very small, less than 1/8-inch
diameter, blisters. Bob had the gelcoat lightly sandblasted. This opened
all the blisters. He then thoroughly cleaned them, skirted the hull with
plastic, and allowed it to dry out.

He next filled all
the blisters with two-part fairing compound, sanded them fair, and applied
five coats of Interlux 2000/2001 barrier system. He reports no sign of
recurring blisters in the two years since he did the job. The job was
completed over five months of off-season weekends. So, fortunately, not
all blister problems are as bad as the ones I encountered. It is a matter
of inspection to decide the severity of the problem. Inspect for blistering
immediately when the boat is hauled. If left to dry out, many blisters
will disappear, only to re-appear once the boat is back in the water.

Periodically remove all the old bottom paint. Check for small cracks in
the gelcoat. If any are found, you can be assured that there are small
blisters that have drained through the crack. Be wary of using a sand
blast process to remove the bottom paint. Prior owners of Can Do II had
used blasting, and the underwater gelcoat was so thin in places that I
initially thought it was just a coat of paint.

Any concentrated areas of blistering may indicate laminate voids and damage.
I recommend that you remove the gelcoat in that area and carefully inspect
the laminate.

If you do have a blistering problem and intend to correct it, make sure
you allow sufficient time for the hull to dry out. Also make sure you
sand the hull properly before you apply any barrier coating. Failure to
do so will certainly mean you have to redo it in a very short period of

Never has the old saying, “If you don’t have time to do it correctly
now, how will you find time to redo it later?” had more meaning than
when it comes to the job of blister repair.

Brian Cleverly runs Anzam Yacht Refurbishing in Sacramento, Calif. When
not working on client boats, he buys insurance write-offs for refurbishing
and eventual resale. An Australian national, Brian learned to sail while
working in New Zealand.

Blister repair was cheap. . . all things considered

By Norman Ralph

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 2, March/April 1999.

A bad case of blisters made the boat affordable; upgrades were the expensive part

Bluebonnet awaits launch

Bluebonnet appears to be at peace in her rural setting as she awaits her launch date.

It all started innocently
enough. It was mid-October of 1990, and we were going to Texas anyway to
visit cousins in San Antonio and then on to the Clear Lake area near Houston.
I had seen ads in sailing magazines for Valiant Yachts and noticed their
facilities were located in Gordonville, Texas. We would be going right by
on Interstate 35 and thought it would be great to visit the factory. I had
read about Valiants and their reputation as offshore cruising boats and
had admired their looks from afar. A letter to Valiant brought a prompt
response and invitation to stop by.

We were taken on a tour of the factory by Stan Dabney, who, with his wife,
Sylvia, was working at the factory while their Valiant 40, Native Sun,
was being repaired after being damaged in Hurricane Hugo. They were among
the founders of Valiant. (That story was related by Sylvia in the September
1998 issue of Good Old Boat.
) We were very impressed with the boat and
the factory operation. If we were “rich instead of good looking,”
as the saying goes, we would have signed up to buy a new Valiant 40 on the
spot. But as I was cheated on both counts, we couldn’t afford even the used
ones we saw among the brokerage boats there.

While touring the facility, we noticed several used Valiants on jack stands
with the gelcoat stripped. Stan explained they had been purchased to be
refurbished during the slack season but the area had suffered severe flooding
so repairs on these boats had been put on hold.


Freedom in the yardFreedom in the patching stage

Freedom after repainting

Freedom was affordable because of the blisters on her bottom, topsides, decks, and cabintop. The photos show the boat in the yard in Texas, in the patching stage, and after repainting.

After thanking Stan for
his time, we headed for San Antonio. As we traveled, we debated and schemed
about how we could manage to own a Valiant. Our present boat was a Pacific
Seacraft Flicka. Since we have bigger dreams than bank account, we had purchased
her and refurbished her with the goal of doing some cruising. However I
am over 6 feet tall and Jeanette, my wife, is almost 5 feet 10 inches. We
soon found that the Flicka was wonderful for short trips but too confining
for an extended cruise. I would be able to take an early retirement within
five to seven years, and we had set a goal to find a boat we could have
ready to cruise by then.

In Clear Lake, we looked at a used Valiant 32. It was completely disassembled
in the midst of being refurbished. It was for sale “as is.” Looking
back, the asking price was not out of line, however I did not feel confident
in my ability to put something back together that someone else had taken
apart on his word that all the pieces were present.

While we were there, we kept thinking of the Valiant 32 we saw in the boatyard
at Cedar Mills in need of repair and refurbishing. Perhaps they would sell
it to us “as is.” At Jeanette’s urging, I called Stan with that
question. We reached an agreement on price and told him we would be stopping
by on our way back to Missouri in a couple of days to examine the boat and
close the deal.

Her name was Freedom. She had a white hull with a dark blue stripe below
the caprail and a red bootstripe above the waterline. We decided immediately
that the boat would be repainted the same colors. In honor of my wife’s
native state and the state where we found her, we would name her after the
state flower of Texas, Bluebonnet. The interior was in very good
condition, though it needed cleaning and new upholstery. The exterior, however,
was going to need a lot of work; it had blisters everywhere, not just on
the bottom. Stan explained that the previous owner of Valiant Yachts, Uniflite
of Bellingham, Wash., had constructed their Valiant sailboats and Uniflite
powerboats for a time in the late 1970s with a polyester resin that had
a fire retardant additive. The additive caused the boats to blister badly.
Uniflite dropped the fire retardant additive in the early 1980s, but by
that time it was too late. Due, in part at least, to the blistering problems,
Uniflite was sold. The new owner was not interested in sailboats and sold
the Valiant name, molds inventory, and so on to Rich Worstell. He moved
the manufacturing operation to Texas in the mid-1980s.

Stan and I made a complete inventory of the boat, its rigging, sails, and
equipment. He furnished us a copy of the owner’s manual and gave us the
history of the boat. We determined what materials we might need from the
factory and purchased them to be shipped with the boat. We signed the papers
for the boat and headed home.


Arriving home, we made arrangements to have the boat shipped to our back
yard. We lived outside Kansas City, Mo. We purchased five jack stands with
the boat. We used four at a time. The fifth one allowed us to move a stand
in order to work in the area where it had been. In preparation for the boat’s
arrival, I purchased three pressure-treated plywood sheets and two pressure-treated
4 by 4s. I also made three sturdy sawhorses to hold the mast.

It was early December when the boat arrived. The sawhorses were spaced out
evenly, and the crane picked the mast off the boat and set it on the sawhorses.
Then it picked up the boat. We spaced the plywood sheets and 4 by 4s under
the keel. Then we arranged the jack stands. The plywood and 4 by 4s prevented
the keel and jack stands from shifting due to rain or the spring thaw.

Winter weather made working on the boat impossible, so I spent the time
purchasing the necessary materials and tools to start in the spring. The
boat sat next to my workshop where I had access to an air compressor and
air orbital and jitterbug sanders. I also had an electric palm sander. I
found that a Dremel tool was indispensable for opening blisters. I removed
the teak hatchboards and replaced them with plywood, so I could refinish
the boards later. I did the same with the large opening hatches on the cabintop
and foredeck. They were made with teak frames, and as all the exterior teak
had been allowed to weather to a rough gray, the hatches needed to be disassembled,
refinished, and have the Plexiglas rebedded.

Cabin blistersBlisters patched

Blisters repainted

Blisters will continue to appear and need patching each year but never again in the numbers which Norman faced to begin with. Cabintop blisters before, patched, and after.

I also did some research
on the Valiant blistering problem. I discovered that instead of osmosis
blisters caused by water penetrating the gelcoat from the outside and setting
up a chemical reaction in the laminate to cause blisters, these blisters
are caused by the fire retardant not having kicked with the polyester resin.
This retardant then slowly wicks its way through the laminate to the surface
and forms blisters under the gelcoat. These blisters will show up on the
bottom, topsides, decks, and cabintop. They seem to be more evident in warm
climates and waters. The retardant seems to wick itself to the surface when
the laminate is warmest. Boats sailed exclusively in the cold waters of
the Pacific Northwest and Alaska were very slow to develop blisters.

Through the advice of friends and from observations at the factory, I used
West System epoxy products for the repairs. I used their epoxy and fillers
and purchased several of their booklets and a video on fiberglass repair.
The folks at Gougeon Brothers were very helpful and informative the few
times I called them with questions about a particular phase of the project.
The total cost of the epoxy materials, including resin, hardener, fillers,
additives, cloth, masks, acid brushes, stir sticks, sandpaper, and so on
was about $1,100. (See sidebar on Page 13 for a breakdown of expenses.)

The project begins

I started on the repair in spring 1991. The blisters on the hull above the
waterline and on the deck and cabintop had not been opened. I opened and
flushed them with water and left them to dry while I concentrated on the
bottom. I filled the blisters with glass cloth and epoxy resin and faired
the boat with epoxy resin mixed with fillers to make a putty the consistency
of peanut butter. The bottom had some large deep blisters, while the topside
blisters were just under the gelcoat. I left the bottom exposed to allow
the hull to dry out, and I did not cover the bottom with a barrier coat
until September the following year.

This was not highly skilled work, but it was time-consuming. At times I
felt intimidated by the unending number of blisters. A lot of the blisters
were dry; nothing was in them but a pocket of air under the gelcoat. Apparently
the fire retardant had wicked to the surface and formed the blister. Then
the porous gelcoat allowed it to evaporate. Since I was working full-time
at my job, I spent afternoons after work on the boat project. Often 30 to
45 minutes a day was all the time I had. This was sufficient to sand down
the previous day’s work and mix and fill in more areas.

The bottom received its barrier coat over the Labor Day weekend in 1992.
Most of the repair work had been a one-man job, but the barrier coat required
the additional efforts of my wife and our son. The hull must be close to
air temperature before you begin to apply the barrier coat. If it has cooled
overnight, it must be allowed to warm up, so no condensation will form on
the hull. The barrier coat consisted of one coat of clear epoxy followed
by six coats of epoxy with West System #422 barrier additive and a final
coat of epoxy with #425 additive. The #422 is an aluminum powder that increases
the epoxy’s resistance to water absorption and makes it more abrasion-resistant.
The #425 is a fine copper powder that provides a backup to bottom paint
and is extremely abrasion-resistant. The epoxy is applied with a foam roller,
and someone follows around with a foam brush to tip off the bubbles which

When the first coat is applied, you start on the next coat as the first
one has started to kick, usually in 30 to 45 minutes. You keep going around
and around taking turns with the different tasks. You have to work fairly
fast on a hot day, as the epoxy will have a short pot life. If you don’t
finish in one day, you must wash the hull with clear water and a “scrubbie”
and dry it with white paper towels. An excellent booklet, Fiberglass Boat
Repair & Maintenance, is available from Gougeon Brothers. It is a must
for anyone who works on fiberglass boats. (As a side note: the last time
we had the boat hauled, in Sept. 1997, I buffed the bronze prop and coated
it with epoxy resin with the #425 copper additive. I had some of the additive
on hand, and the intent was to prevent barnacle growth on the prop. If it
works I’ll pass that information on through Good Old Boat’s Mail Buoy column.)

After we covered
the bottom with the barrier coat, I concentrated on the topsides, cabin,
and deck. I repaired the damaged teak caprail and replaced the starboard
teak rubrail.

The many small blisters
filled with epoxy filler on the hull at times looked like zits on a teenybopper.
Upon the recommendation of Gougeon Brothers, we gave the topsides two barrier
coats of epoxy: one clear and one with the #422 additive. Looking back,
I would not coat the hull above the waterline with epoxy, because the blister
problem on a Valiant is from within, not from moisture coming from the outside.
I painted the hull with Interlux Brightside one-part polyurethane paint
with a brush. I did not have an enclosure large enough nor the experience
to spray it with a two-part polyurethane such as Awlgrip or Imron. I have
been very pleased with the result however, and touch-ups and repairs are

Related projects

Bluebonnet being launchedBluebonnet in the water

Bluebonnet was launched July 27, 1994, in Grand Rivers, Ky. Spared from an early retirement, she will squire Norman and Jeanette Ralph in style for theirs.

After repairing the blisters and filling in the holes where the old depth
and knot instruments had been, I painted the deck, cockpit, and cabintop
with the same paint. I added a flattener to the white to reduce the glare,
masked off the non-skid areas, and painted them light gray with a commercial
non-skid powder added. As some areas of the non-skid had been removed to
repair blisters, the grit in the paint gave it an even look. The two-tone
look is very pleasing to the eye.

I sanded the exterior teak, except for the hatches and Dorade boxes, and
gave it several coats of Sikkens Cetol. I varnished the rest of the teak
and covered it with Sunbrella fabric. An annual topcoat of Sikkens keeps
the teak looking great.

As I discussed in the January 1999 issue of Good Old Boat, I also had to
repair a leak in the diesel fuel tank. In addition, I made a turtle, or
hood, for the companionway sliding hatch. The Valiant factory wanted $500
for one, and I had the materials on hand anyway. I made a female mold, lined
it with waxed paper and laid up the hood with epoxy and cloth. The top has
a core of plywood. On a table saw, I made cuts in the plywood halfway through
lengthwise and 1 inch apart, and then I turned the plywood over and cut
it on the other side, staggering the cuts so the piece was very flexible.
I coated the plywood with epoxy resin and laid it in the mold, adding more
fiberglass cloth on top of it. After the hood came out of the mold, I trimmed
and faired it, then painted it to match the cabintop. I added teak trim,
and it turned out very nice. As the material was already on hand, all I
had invested in it was the time.

The holding tank was a rubber composition bladder under the V-berth. I replaced
it with a solid tank I made of 1/4-inch plywood and epoxy, using the stitch
and glue technique. The tank is covered with glass mat and cloth inside
and out and has a baffle inside for extra rigidity. It has an approximate
capacity of 20 gallons. (More on this subject in a future issue of Good
Old Boat.)

The boat had a tiller, but it was broken and delaminated. I could have ordered
one from the factory, but as I was making everything else, I decided to
make one. I bought some ash and mahogany lumber and ripped it in the table
saw in strips 1/4-inch thick by 2 1/4 inches wide and 4 feet long. I built
a jig using blocks of wood on a scrap piece of plywood. I bent the alternating
strips of ash and mahogany around the blocks of wood in a pattern that matched
the old tiller. When I was satisfied with its shape, I screwed the blocks
onto the plywood. Then I removed the strips and covered the blocks and plywood
base with waxed paper. I brushed epoxy resin on the strips, placed them
in the jig, and clamped them in place with woodworking clamps. When the
epoxy had hardened, I removed the tiller, shaped it with a belt sander,
and varnished it.

The standing rigging that came with the boat seemed to be in good shape
but was of undetermined age, so I felt it should be replaced. I considered
buying the wire and Norseman or Sta-lok fittings and doing the work myself.
However I ended up having a rigging shop do the work for less than what
it would have cost me. I had the top ends swaged and the bottom ends fitted
with Sta-lok fittings. The rationale was that the bottom end usually goes
bad from moisture running down into the swage. The sealant in the Sta-lok
would prevent this and when a problem does occur, the repair can be done
at deck level.

When I pressurized the water system, I found that the copper water lines
had not been winterized properly and had split in several places under the
cabin sole. I had to find all the split sections of copper tubing and cut
them out. I inserted flexible plastic hose in place of the missing sections
and clamped them with hose clamps. It required several attempts to pressurize
the system to find all the leaks.

Blisters were cheap

When it came to upgrading the equipment and outfitting the boat, it soon
became obvious that the cost of blister repairs had been very modest in
comparison. The costs of the new cabintop winches for the halyards and mainsheet,
new running rigging, new ground tackle, new depth sounder, and new knotlog
added up quickly. The list went on and on. When I painted the spars, I replaced
the wiring in the mast. The old wiring seemed to be usable, but with the
mast on sawhorses, why not? All in all, we spent about three times as much
on replacements and upgrades as we spent on the blister repairs. As there
was no rush in purchasing the equipment, we tried to find it on sale. We
were successful in this for the most part.

By Memorial Day of 1994, Jeanette was asking when the boat was going to
be finished. We set a goal for the third week in July. A date was set to
have the truck come and pick the boat up and take it to Kentucky Lake near
Paducah, Kentucky.

We wanted the boat documented, and the staff at the Valiant factory handled
it. We were thankful for this, since only they could have traced her ownership
to satisfy the U.S. Coast Guard.

We launched her July 27, 1994, at Green Turtle Bay in Grand Rivers, Ky.
That day will always be fresh in our memories. At the end of February of
1995, I took early retirement in order to spend time living on and sailing Bluebonnet. We spent several months on the boat and in the fall of
that year, we sold our home, put our furniture in storage, and motored down
the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay. From there, we sailed along
the Gulf Coast to Mandeville, La., on Lake Pontchartrain. The trip covered
more than 900 miles, and the boat performed flawlessly. The engine did not
use any oil. Raw water pump impeller replacement was the only problem. We
have purchased a home in Mandeville and sail the boat on the lake and on
the gulf.

Lessons learned

Would we do it all over again? Yes! Would we do it the same way? No! There
are many things we would change, but that is all part of life. You learn
by doing, and as you learn you try not to make the same mistakes over again.
To a couple who had been sailing a 20-foot boat on inland lakes, a 32-foot
boat seemed like the Titanic. However after we sailed her and got used to
sailing on the gulf and living aboard for longer periods, we got to thinking
that maybe a Valiant 40 would have been the “perfect boat.” However Bluebonnet is comfortable, easy to sail, and so pretty we wouldn’t
want to part with her. Besides, no boat is big enough for everything you
want from a practical standpoint. You have to make choices and learn to
compromise. I have a theory that, as your boat doubles in size, the things
you want on it square.

Bluebonnet stern

We have continued to upgrade her. We added a Bimini, refrigeration for the
icebox, and a new propane galley stove (a happy cook is a happy boat). There
was a new dodger that was worth its weight in gold on the waterway in November.
There was the new mainsheet traveler system. The old one had frozen bearings
and was an orphan when it came to parts. And there was a roller furling
system and a larger headsail. This past spring I installed Whitlock rack-and-pinion
pedestal steering. All these additions have made the boat more comfortable
and easier to sail. As you get older, this becomes more important.

When we went looking for a boat to cruise on upon retirement, we wanted
a boat that would not restrict our dreams. We wanted a boat that would take
us safely anywhere we wanted to go. We feel that we found and have such
a boat. Whatever it is that keeps us from sailing off to the islands or
New Zealand, it won’t be Bluebonnet.

Are the blisters fixed permanently? No. They won’t be fixed unless the gelcoat
and several layers of laminate are completely removed and replaced with
cloth and epoxy to completely seal in the retardant. Otherwise the retardant
will continue to wick to the surface and form blisters or find a pinhole
in the gelcoat and weep out. The blisters are not big maintenance items.
Part of the annual spring maintenance is to open the few blisters that have
cropped up and flush hem out with water. Then along with general cleaning
and topcoating the teak, I fill in the blisters, sand them down and give
them a coat of paint. A nuisance, yes, but as Stan Dabney told us, “Kiss
those blisters. Without them, you couldn’t afford the boat.”

Cost breakdown tells the tale

The following is a breakdown of the expenditures for bringing the
boat back to her former glory. They are broken down into two sections:
the cost of blister repair and the cost of upgrades, not including
the upgrades added after launching. The amount of upgrading you might
want to do would depend on the size of your bank account. There are
always new bells and whistles to buy for your boat, and you can always
convince yourself that you need them. A major source of materials
I used in the repairs was Jamestown Distributors in Jamestown, R.I.,
for epoxy products, paint, acid brushes, rubber gloves, tongue depressors,
and so on. I had previously purchased a Sailrite sewing machine and
sewed all the canvas covers for the boat. I later used the machine
to convert the headsail to roller furling.

West System
epoxy and hardeners, 15 gallons, used about 12 gallons (1991 & 92 prices)
West System
fillers and barrier coat additives
West System
6-ounce glass cloth: 15 yards, 60 inches wide
Brightside one-part polyurethane paint
and Sikkens Cetol
New teak
caprail, two pieces from Valiant
New teak
rubrail, one piece from Valiant
Miscellaneous (Sandpaper, masking paper, acid bushes, stir sticks, etc.) $125
Total $1,540

Bottom paint:
Not a blister repair cost, nor an upgrade,
but still necessary to get the boat ready to launch: Interlux
Micron CSC 4 gallons


Upgrades and replacements
Four new
Barient self-tailing winches for cabintop, 2 two-speed and 2
single-speed for halyards and staysail sheets. Old ones were
in good condition, but we wanted self-tailing. On sale when
Barient discontinued sales in U.S.
depth sounder and knotlog: $285 each
Delta plow anchor
New England
nylon anchor rode 300 feet @ .36
5/8-inch nylon line for docklines, etc., 300 feet @ .33
10 x 28
fenders 6 @ $30

Additional to rewire the mast
Coax $80
14/2 triplex
– tinned 100 feet
14/3 triplex
– tinned 100 feet
to rewire mast

Exide #SP-30H gel-cell batteries 3 @ $120

New lifelines
(I did them myself, price includes cost of the tool)
New standing
rigging (swaged top and Sta-lok bottom)

Total upgrades and replacements


These prices were current in 1991-1994. Although the totals
may differ today, the ratio of repair to upgrades and outfitting
costs is valid. If you could find a blistered Valiant that was
fully equipped with up-to-date equipment, the boat would be
an even greater value. If you didn’t have the skill, inclination,
or facilities to work on the boat yourself and had to pay a
boatyard to do the work, it would be questionable whether the
project would be practical.

Out, Out, Bad Pox!

By Jack Owen

Article taken from Good Old Boat magazine: Volume 2, Number 5, September/October 1999.

“The shock of discovering bubbles on your boat’s
bottom is merely the prelude to a prolonged pain in the assets.”

Boat pox, osmosis, or blisters . . . call it what you will. Most fiberglass
boatowners prefix the blight with a salty expletive deleted. The shock
of discovering bubbles on your boat’s bottom is merely the prelude to
a prolonged pain in the assets.

Parnassus, my beamy Montego 25 sloop, was built by Universal Marine
in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1980. That was just about the time I had sworn
off boat ownership in favor of crewing aboard OP (other people’s) craft.
But last year I lapsed. My reaction to a 40th school reunion in a room
filled with geezers jockeying for parking space for their walkers propelled
me to recapture the spirit of adventure I vaguely recalled from my youth
. . . that of owning a boat.

The sticker price of Parnassus removed most of the lumps from under
my mattress. And the discovery of a badly blistered bottom has siphoned
off the balance.

Twenty years ago the annual haulout to scrape, sand, and bottom paint
an earlier boat was a week-long project. My land-lubberly lifestyle during
the interim had not exposed me to the blister blight, which apparently
hit its zenith a decade ago when fiberglass, the panacea for all boat
hull maintenance woes, mutinied.

Today, many boat owners
– including me, now – are aware of the cancerous reaction of water collecting
under the hull gelcoat to create an odoriferous vinegary bubble of acid
formed when moisture – from the ocean outside, or bilge water inside –
reacts to solvents, resin, or additives in porous pockets beneath the
gel surface. Those voids, perhaps no bigger than a pinhead, may have been
created by just one speck of dust in the builder’s boatyard – so you can
imagine the possibilities. Or perhaps it was the failure of boatbuilders
to totally resin-soak every last fiber of chopped strand mat between the
gelcoat and woven-roving laminated layers. That inner skin of chopped
matting supposedly prevents the woven roving pattern from emerging on
the surface of the gelcoat, making the hull look like a floating waffle
. . . whereas the surface of a blistered bottom – once the pustules have
been pricked – resemble the pocked face of the moon.

Unfortunately, the aesthetics of what, primarily, would be the boat’s
profile under the waterline, is a minimal problem compared to the dire
predictions of fiberglass layers de-laminating, structural failure, a
cracked seeping hull, and death by drowning.

All this and much more, I learned from leather-skinned liveaboards and
margarita mariners lined up at the boatlift as Parnassus was hauled
out last June. After that, the boatyard manager, Jason Sprague, told me
my carefully estimated haulout and bottom job bill would have to be revised
upward . . . somewhere near the stratosphere.

A professional labor/cost guesstimate, quoted in one of the many magazines,
newspapers, and books about blisters I devoured researching the repair
process, projected a $350-plus-per-foot price tag. That included peeling
the bottom to the first layer of woven roving, re-glassing, fairing, and
barrier coating, then repainting the bottom with anti-fouling bottom paint.

Forking out the best part of $10,000 to float my boat, was not an option.
Fortunately, Old Slip Marine, Riviera Beach, Fla., is a “do-it-yourself”
yard. UN-fortunately, despite abbreviated classes at the Eastbourne Technical
School, England – 40 years ago – my handyman skills would make Rosie the
Riveter blanch. But, faced with a boatyard hourglass dumping dollars by
the day just for storage, I was shocked into becoming a semi-shipwright.

Jason explained the yard’s procedure for curing the ills, after waltzing
around Parnassus with a moisture meter which pegged off the scale
(25 percent) from the keel to the rubrail. The moisture meter indicates
how much potential liquid is trapped under the gelcoat, poised to provide
more blisters.

The blisters needed
to be popped then ground off down to the roving. Ideally, Jason said,
the hull should be professionally peeled to the roving. Then the boat
should sit and dry out until water drained out or evaporated, and the
moisture meter lowered to about five percent. To encourage that, the hull
should be pressure washed with a hot-water machine.

Estimated time: two to three months! Florida in the summer is not the
most pleasant place in which to don full protective dust-suit, mask, head
sock, and filter-respirator. All this prior to entering a still-air cavern
created by the environmentally-correct tarpaulin-shrouded hull of Parnassus in which to begin grinding.
During the summer of 1998, while Florida went up in flames, boatyard temperatures
and humidity readings competed to break the 100-degree barrier. It was
a tad nastier under the tarps, where the grinder created intrusive toxic
dust clouds of multi-layered old bottom-paint, gelcoat, and fiberglass.

Parnassus' rudder with blisters
Rudder with blisters marked and dated

Parnassus in Phases One and Two. The first shots show the blisters shortly after Parnassus was hauled out. The second set of shots show Parnassus with blister locations, dates and moisture meter readings marked.

There were more than 100 blisters, from pinhead to half-dollar size, for the grinder to eviscerate. I circled a dozen locations with a waterproof felt-tipped marker and marked them with date and moisture meter readings. Twice during the next two months, her hull was pressure washed with hot water to encourage the trapped water and acid to seek the surface.

After two months, no new blisters appeared, but there was barely any downward movement in the moisture meter readings. According to some experts, the hull must be totally dry before repairs can begin. On the other hand, there are those who have little faith in moisture meter results and prefer to patch and plop dinged hulls – wood or fiberglass – after an eyeball, feel, and balance determination.

The balance part of the equation is weighing whether the Band-Aid approach or boatyard advice method will leave a positive-dollar balance in the old bank account. Like all things connected with boats, it’s a compromise.

We opted to work within
the guidelines offered by the boatyard boss, plus snippets garnered from
old salts in their slips, marine hardware store employees – most working
to keep their own boats afloat – and published pundits, from boating journalists
to marine surveyors.

The following list of procedures worked for Parnassus and, today, knock-on-wood, she’s blister-free and floating.

Parnassus is my getaway
floating island, whether she’s tied up at the slip, moored in the lake,
or day-cruising when wind, tide, and time allow. There are no plans for
any solo long-distance bluewater voyages, ala Joshua Slocum or Robin
Lee Graham, in her future. She was designed to perform under MORC (Midget Ocean Racing Club) rules and as a comfortable family cruiser. There may
be moisture in her hull adding to her weight and slowing her down, but
whether she’s cruising downhill with a following wind at seven knots or less, we’ll be out on the water . . . sailing.

And a pox on all blisters!

The Process

At the time boat is hauled and pressure washed, the blisters will be most
apparent. Mark them before they drain or deflate. Wear protective goggles
when popping and scraping them. The liquid is often under pressure, and
a squirt in the eye can be harmful.

A grinding wheel should be used to smooth the cavity created by exposing
the blister pocket and to fair it down at the edges to allow epoxy filler
to meld with the contour of the hull. Sanding with coarse-grit paper does
not do the job efficiently.

Drying out
The blisters are visual indications that pockets of acid exist under the
gelcoat. But there may be more latent moisture seeping from water tanks
or bilges within the boat, trickling through or trapped between layers
of fiberglass, moving toward the gelcoat. A two- to three-month drying
out period is a prudent step to take.

Wash down
To encourage chemical liquids within the hull to leach to the surface
and to speed up the drying-out process, hot water washdowns are recommended.

Blisters on the bottomBlisters marked

The most widely touted method for patching blister damage, because of its ease of application, is the West System brand of epoxy products. However, the yard manager at Old Slip Marine claimed fewer customer complaints and a higher success rate when his experts used the Interlux two-part InterProtect Watertite compound. One can contains the base materials, a cream-colored putty-like gook, the other a blue paste containing the curing agent catalyst which binds both elements into a steel-hard set-up finish. The mix is two-parts cream to one-part blue.

Cowboy, the resident yard helper for the past decade, demonstrated the proven consistency, eyeballing amounts, texture, and color until the combination turned aquamarine. He advised only mixing sufficient material for about 20 minutes of work – depending on the temperature of the day. The approved boatyard palette is an ordinary piece of packing-box
cardboard. A wooden tongue-depressor is used for mixing.

Once the fill has set up, sand the entire hull (80 grit) to level out patched
blister cavities and rough the surface in preparation for the barrier and
bottom coats. Tip: least used is easiest removed. Because we were too liberal
in applying the mixture with a putty knife, when it set up solid as steel
on the hull surface, it added hours to the time needed to sand the fill
down fair.

Scrub the hull down, using a stiff-bristle brush and hot soapy water
to rid the surface of dust and any dormant chemical residual. Interlux recommends
using their fiberglass solvent wash 202. However, when we tried it, our
workgloves dissolved, the linen-rag disintegrated, and our hands looked
like bleached prunes.

Barrier coat

We skipped the next step: applying a barrier coat of Interprotect 2000E/2001E
which re-seals the hull and replaces the gelcoat. Although we had more than
100 blisters to repair, more than 80-percent of the original hull finish
(gelcoat) remained intact and unblemished. If, as the experts say, blistering
is formed where voids exist under the gelcoat because the water is trapped
under the skin, we reckoned the integrity of her hull – after almost 20
years – would survive a little longer.

Bottom paint
We opted for Fiberglass Bottomkote ACT antifouling paint, based on the local
knowledge of the boatyard manager. Old Slip Marine has been a family-operated
business for more than three decades and is familiar with the barnacle build-up
potential of a variety of gunkholes, marinas, and slips in the area. The
reputed advantage of ACT as a soft paint permits the surface to wash away
by water movement over the hull constantly exposing fresh and effective
biocide. It also eliminated bottom paint buildup and, I hope, will require
less sanding to prepare the hull at the next haulout. We shall see.

Parnassus was named for one of the twin mountaintops in Greece, sacred
to the Muse. Her oft-deflated tender is the party animal
Bacchus. Jack Owen
is a freelance writer and out-of-print bookshop owner on the poor side of
the lake from Palm Beach, Fla. He has crewed on corporate stinkpots and
has owned/ disowned several disastrous ragbags. He is a leading contender
for the newly created “Hard Aground Club” annual award for personally
visiting each of the sandbars in the Lake Worth Lagoon.


Levity’s rudder project, part two

The first part of this story, in which Stephen describes how he built a new rudder for Levity, a Nicholson 35, was published in the July 2014 issue.

by Stephen Perry

Levity’s new rudder

After all the setbacks we’d experienced during Levity’s 10-year repair and refit, it was a great relief when the redesigned and newly built rudder was fitted on her stern. At last, another major project on our cruising boat was nearing completion. The sculpted shape of the rudder was visually appealing and we marveled at how lovely Levity’s underbody looked once it was attached. All too soon, it was time to unship the rudder and drag it back to the shop to keep it out of the sun and so I could attend to a few areas that needed finessing. Ultraviolet light degrades epoxy, which must be painted for best long-term durability, so the rudder would have to be stored indoors for the time being.

We’d learned many lessons throughout the Levity Project and the rudder, in particular, taught more than its share about the consequences of poor communication. The ability to clearly convey information is critical when others are supplying labor, raw materials, or finished parts. I would have saved myself some time and aggravation had I made certain it was clear that the flags welded on the rudder stock should align exactly with its fore-and-aft centerline. This does not necessarily mean that a rudder stock ordered as a complete unit would have been perfect either, since I had not thought to specify this on the plans. I should have spelled out these details during each step of the process. There’s not much to add about the stock being too long in the first place. This mistake, which could have been avoided, led to a series of costly errors in the machining of the rudder stock.

Almost finished, Levity’s rudder would be going back to the shop for the winter. The original plan was to fill minor surface imperfections and taper the foot to take into account the rake of the rudder stock.

Laminate questions

There were more lessons to be learned from the rudder project. Several days after the rudder was completed, I stripped the release fabric off the rudder body. At first everything looked fine. The release fabric left behind a nicely textured surface that would allow me to add more fiberglass cloth or fairing compound, if needed, without any additional surface preparation. After checking the rudder shape with my templates, I concluded that everything was within tolerance and the surface was ready for fine-tuning with the longboard and other hand tools.

When I began sanding the surface however, I noticed small glossy dots in several places. As I continued sanding, these glossy spots disappeared but other spots simultaneously appeared elsewhere. As an experiment, I sanded through a couple of layers of cloth over a small area. The disappearance and re-emergence of the glossy areas continued. In hindsight, what I was looking at was obvious but, at the time, I did not understand why this was happening, because each tiny spot appeared to be limited to one individual cross-over of cloth weave.

The plan changed…and Stephen cut the rudder away from the frame, section by sections.

Resin drain

I became concerned enough to call Joe Merton, of Merton’s Fiberglass, for advice. Joe is one of my most trusted mentors on fiberglass construction. After listening to my description of the mysterious glossy spots, he said it sounded suspiciously like a condition he referred to as “resin drain.” The appearance of spots indicated that resin had drained out of the weave of the cloth in some areas. They appeared wherever one crossover of the cloth lost enough resin to create a small air pocket. Technically, each spot represented a failure in the laminate.

Mary and I had gained most of our fiberglass experience when we repaired Levity’s hull-to-deck joint. Most of this repair had been completed using epoxy in the horizontal plane. Constructing Levity’s rudder meant working with epoxy in the vertical plane, a first for us.

One of the most important ways in which epoxy and polyester resins differ is how well they stay in place on vertical surfaces while being worked. Polyester resins are thixotropic, meaning they tend to cling to vertical surfaces while they cure, so the resin and glass fabric work together to stay put. Epoxy resins do not cling well to vertical surfaces and, when they heat up as a result of the exotherm (the heat that’s released in the curing process), they become even less viscous and more likely to give in to gravity. As a result, cloth higher up on vertical surfaces may become resin starved.

Once he’d cut the skin and filler foam from between the frames, Stephen marked the frames where material had to be removed to allow 1/8th-inch-thick skin on the rebuilt rudder.

To avoid this, the resin must be continually rolled upward while additional resin is added to keep the cloth properly wetted out. This process should continue until just before the resin becomes tacky, at which point the resin is starting to cure and will not sag or run further. Care must be taken to avoid over-rolling, as this causes the cloth and resin combination to stick to the roller and pull away or stipple the resin.

In Joe’s opinion, the amount of resin drain I described would not compromise the integrity of the laminate because of the inherent strength of epoxy construction. I was not entirely convinced, but Levity needed other repairs before the rudder could be installed. With winter coming, those projects took precedence while I still had a weather window. After re-glassing the areas of the rudder that had been exposed, I hung it back on the skeg so I could snap a few pictures and imagine how Levity would look once her new rudder was permanently installed.

I took the rudder back to the shop and placed it on the bracket I’d used throughout the design and building process. It would remain there until spring, when I planned to reinstall the entire steering system. It was now the beginning of December. Even though suitable weather for outdoor boatyard work was coming to an end, there were many projects to do in the shop. Whenever I glanced at the rudder in its prominent place on the rear wall, I was reminded of the lessons I’d learned and the twists and turns along the way to completing it.

Stephen cut material from the stainless-steel flags and cut down the middle two frames

“Good enough” is not good enough

One requirement in the restoration of Levity was the need to do a good job . . . not just “good enough” but “good.” Somewhere along the line, I had unintentionally interpreted that to mean a perfect job. My decades of work as a carpenter and cabinetmaker taught me to be precise and I applied that precision zealously to repair work on Levity. We were probably about one year into the Levity Project when I realized that perfection is only obtainable in a perfect world. Moreover, although Mary and I love our project boat, we knew she was not perfect and most likely didn’t start out perfect either. We decided that striving for excellence would have to suffice. In our quest for excellence during the Levity refit, we endured several costly project do-overs, but we both knew when something was not good . . . in other words, when it was just “good enough.”

He then tacked the foam sheet in place on the starboard side of the rudder.

The issue of good vs. good enough came up repeatedly during the building of the rudder, as one mistake after another piled up. Did all the extra cutting and welding compromise the finished stock? Would the imperfect fiberglass work cause blisters or some unknown failure in the future? Was the added weight caused by the additional glass and resin too much for the rudder? As we pondered these questions, we reasoned that we should listen to the advice of the experts. The last welder to work on the stock had assured us that the modifications had not compromised its strength. My fiberglass mentor seemed confident in the integrity of my fiberglass work. Although I did not meet my target weight, the new rudder was quite a bit lighter than the rudder I replaced and a definite improvement. Our conclusion was to leave well enough alone and move on to the many tasks remaining on Levity’s to-do list.

I busied myself with other projects and put off the final touches on the rudder. When the day to resume work finally arrived, I used the templates I’d made from the original rudder to mark out the areas that required a little more filler or additional shaping. We were now very close to epoxy barrier coating and applying anti-fouling to the rudder. I was still not entirely pleased with the additional weight, but other than that, the rudder seemed fine. I ran my hand over the smooth body of the rudder and finally, with some reluctance, concluded that it was good enough. Wait! Did I really just say “good enough”? According to our philosophy on the entire project, that meant the work was not acceptable.

… and did the same on the lower port side.

Arriving at a fix

Months earlier, when I first realized there were problems with the new rudder, I thought about what I had learned during its construction and — since hindsight is 20-20 — what I should have done in the first place. Along with those regrets, I had devised a couple of strategies I could employ to correct those mistakes. The solution to correcting the imperfections in the glass work was straightforward although time-consuming: remove and re-glass the rudder body. Reducing the weight of the rudder was more problematic, as it would involve not only removing all the glass, but also re-working the fiberglass frames to allow for a thinner skin. This meant stripping the rudder down to its steel stock. While it was not quite starting from scratch, it would involve a significant amount of work. When I finally broached the subject with Mary, my wife, first mate, and purveyor of sanity, she replied: “As soon as you mentioned the problems with the new rudder, I knew that you were either going to fix it or do it over again. It was just a matter of time before you figured that out for yourself.”

The next morning, I explained to her how I planned to rebuild the rudder to my original, preferred specs. Since I had identified the two sources of trouble, the reconstruction seemed pretty straightforward. I also had learned quite a bit from all of the fiberglass work I had done and the mistakes I’d made along the way, so I hoped the project would go much more quickly.

For the forward edge, he cut and shaped a single piece of foam.

The plan shaped up like this:

  • Strip the rudder down to its frame leaving intact the top section, which had a complex shape where the rudder met the hull and did not need to be redone.
  • Rework the fiberglass frames to reduce weight and allow a thinner skin. Given the overall strength of the frame, I thought a skin of 1/8 inch would suffice.
  • Reduce the size of the two intermediate frames to eliminate the hard spots that resulted in extra glass being used, mainly for ease of fairing the body of the rudder.
  • Reduce the size of the stainless-steel flags to which the fiberglass frames were attached. I realized I had overbuilt those flags from the beginning.
  • Attach two skins of 1-inch-thick rigid foam between the top and bottom frames. Fill the void between the skins with pourable foam. For consistency, I chose pourable foam of the same density as the rigid foam skins.
  • Cover the rudder body with four layers of 12-ounce biaxial cloth, working carefully to avoid resin drain. According to my calculations, this would yield a skin thickness of about 1/8 to 3/16 inch, enough to minimize the use of fillers.
  • Reconstruct the rudder foot to eliminate a few more pounds in weight and accommodate the rake of the rudder post. This time I wanted to shape the part while the main body of the rudder was in place on the boat. The foot would be sized to allow a thinner skin, about 1/16 to 1/8 inch thick, further reducing the weight of the completed rudder. Like the first rudder foot, this version would be attached with epoxy and tabbed in place with lightweight cloth.

The rebuild commences

With this plan in mind, Mary and I suited up in our safety gear and assumed our positions: I stationed myself next to the cutting and grinding tools while Mary handled the dust collectors and vacuums. Within a couple of hours, we removed the fiberglass skin and foam core and were ready for final cleanup of the remaining epoxy from the rudder stock. When I cut off the fiberglass shell, I left the trailing edge spine intact. This provided a sturdy, structural 360-degree frame that defined the outline of the rudder.

The next day, I reworked the fiberglass frames that defined the airfoil shape and cut away sections of the stainless-steel flags. Using cutting and grinding tools, I also removed the residue remaining from my previous work in order to ensure proper bonding of the new foam core.

After experimenting with the expanding foam for several hours — until I was familiar with its characteristics and felt comfortable working with it — I proceeded with my plan. I secured two sheets of 1-inch-thick rigid foam, one on each side of the rudder, with small wedges of rigid foam and duct tape.
The expanding foam bulged out the rigid foam a bit as it was poured, but I kept the overflow and expansion to a minimum. (The foam must be allowed to expand freely for it to cure to the proper density.) Achieving uniform density between the rigid and expanding foam would make sanding to the final shape easier where the two materials met. After the foam had cured for a few hours, it was ready for shaping. This step went quickly, although sanding the foam is always a messy job.

The nicely shaped body was ready for fiberglass. I applied two sealer coats of epoxy resin. While the surface was still slightly tacky, I carefully removed all remaining bumps and minor runs with coarse sandpaper. Immediately afterward, I applied four layers of the 12-ounce cloth to ensure a good chemical bond throughout. At the end of the day, while the glasswork was set up but not yet cured, I checked the rudder’s shape with the four templates. The fit was just about perfect and the rudder was ready for the sacrificial foot to be attached, followed by final fairing and paint. The annoyance of knowing that we had a soggy rudder when we bought Levity so many years ago was finally gone.

Tape on the trailing edge was intended to prevent too much foam from escaping.
Tape on the trailing edge was intended to prevent too much foam from escaping.
After the first application of foam set up, Stephen cut away the excess …
…then tacked the last rigid foam section in place. He filled the cavity with foam and held the forward section in place until the foam stopped expanding.
After trimming and shaping the foam with saws, surform tools and sandpaper …”
… Stephen sealed the foam body with clean epoxy (no fillers added), then covered it with 4 layers of 12-ounce biaxial cloth.



He eliminated most imperfections by applying and sanding three or four coats of epoxy resin with fairing filler added, then shaped the foam for the foot, allowing for a skin thickness of about 1/8 to 1/16 inch.
After checking the rudder for final fit, Stephen attached the foot with epoxy thickened with a good gap-filling filler.
Two layers of lightweight cloth finished the sacrificial foot.
The finished rudder awaits its barrier coat and bottom paint.
Done, good job! Levity no longer has a soggy rudder.


It took a combination of skill, patience, and determination to bring this project to completion. Had everything gone according to plan, my original estimate of 120 hours to construct the rudder would have been reasonably accurate. This does not include fitting, painting, and installing the finished rudder, which consumed several additional days of tedious work. I installed and removed the rudder more times than I could count before the whole system worked precisely. Coincidentally, one of the higher estimates I received to duplicate the existing rudder specified 120 hours of labor.

The time actually spent to complete the first rudder build was closer to 150 hours, proving how easily the unexpected can derail the most careful estimate. The rebuild was completed in an additional 50 hours. This included stripping off the previous work and getting back to the point of fitting it to Levity’s stern. It did not include the original layout and construction of the frames and the top and bottom sections.

The labor estimate also does not include the time I spent trying to correct the rudder stock machining errors. The final materials and machining costs of constructing the rudder stock came to $1,350. This was almost double what it would have been if all the work been done correctly the first time. Material costs for constructing the rudder body, including fiberglass cloth, epoxy resin and the various foams, totaled approximately $600, bringing the total cost of materials for the project to $1,950.

Stephen Perry and his wife, Mary Broderick, have been sailing coastal New England waters together for more than 20 years and hold USCG Masters licenses. Stephen is currently working full time on the Levity Project, with Mary’s help, and they are planning an extended cruise.

Further reading

Desirable and Undesirable Characteristics of Offshore Yachts, by the Technical Committee of the CCA, W.W. Norton and Company, 1987.
Metal Corrosion in Boats, by Nigel Warren, International Marine Publishing 1980.
The Nature of Boats – Insights and Esoterica For The Nautically Obsessed, by Dave Gerr, International Marine, 1992. Chapter 53 “Rudders, Hitting What You Aim For.”
Surveying Small Craft, by Ian Nicholson, Sheridan House 1994. Chapter 9 “Rudders and Their Gear.”
Fiberglass Boats, by Hugo Du Plessis, International Marine 1996.
The Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction, Gougeon Bros., Inc., 1985.

KiwiGrip – Getting A Grip

This is a supplement to the article printed in Good Old Boat magazine, January 2011.

by Stephen Perry

Notes and Lessons

We won’t know how well KiwiGrip holds up in use for a few years. According to the manufacturer’s guidelines, weekend sailors can expect the product to last approximately 10 years before it needs renewing, although heavy-traffic areas may need to be recoated after about five years. Our boat gets a lot of use during the sailing season and we are active on-deck sailors, so this will be a good test of the product’s longevity. Maintenance is simple because KiwiGrip is stain-resistant and cleans up with a soft brush, water, and some soap.

There’s not much we would do differently when we continue our non-skid renewal project in the spring, but we agreed to keep a few things in mind:

• KiwiGrip is not magic. As with almost all paint applications, surface prep is the key. All surfaces will require thorough cleaning and many will have to be sanded.
• KiwiGrip provides a surface with a uniform finish over areas of differing texture. Sections of factory non-skid that have been repaired and no longer match the existing non-skid will blend in easily with the adjacent surfaces.
• While the product can be applied in temperatures ranging from 50 to 90 degrees F, the ideal temperature for application is in the 60- to 70-degree range. Cooler temperatures allow more time to fine tune the application technique. In general, hot surface temperatures are not good for the application of most paints, especially acrylics.
• The rollers can be cut for use in smaller areas. Rollers cost about $11 for the 3-inch size, and $18 for the 9-inch size. I bought one 9-inch roller and cut it into 3- and 6-inch rollers. These were suitable for just about everything I encountered.
• Once the KiwiGrip has cured, any areas where the stipple pattern is too pronounced may be lightly sanded for less aggressive non-skid. Conversely, rolling the paint after it gets a little tacky will increase stipple on those areas where a grippier surface is desirable. If the initial surface is not grippy enough, a second coat may be applied after it has cured for about four hours. The second coat may be thinner than the original.
• Clean up spills before the paint dries, since it also sticks very well to unintended surfaces! When rolling close to adjacent vertical surfaces, remember that the roller can cause fine spray that you may not see at first but will feel later when you run your hand over the area. If the roller spray has time to set up, it will have to be scrubbed off or removed with rubbing compound.
• To preserve any unused portion of KiwiGrip for future use, transfer it to smaller containers — cans or jars — that can be filled completely to eliminate air.
• Thoroughly rinse rollers and brushes before the paint has a chance to dry; once the product sets up on the bristles or in the nap of the roller, it’s hard to remove. If you have to coat a large area at one time, it’s worthwhile to keep an extra roller on hand so you can immerse one in water if the paint begins to dry.
• The new non-skid surface can be walked on without shoes after about 24 hours, and in soft-sole shoes after about two days. The product continues to cure over several weeks.

One benefit of KiwiGrip is that it is water-borne, which eliminates the need for harsh solvents. That doesn’t mean you can flush everything unused down the drain. Even rinse water contains solids that should be allowed to settle out and be properly disposed of. If thinning is required, it can be done with small amounts of water. There is very little odor.

Sea Hood

This is a supplement to the article printed in Good Old Boat magazine, January 2010.

by Paul Ring

Making Magnolia more seaworthy

Alternative methods

Here are two ways to attach a sea hood that define it as a separate entity from the cabintop.

Permanent attachment

As shown in the illustration above, the sea hood is permanently affixed to the cabintop, just as in the method described in the main article, but the epoxy mush fillet between the sea hood sides and the cabintop is eliminated. Because there is no reinforcing fillet, the joint between the sea hood and cabintop is instead strengthened with ¼-inch stainless-steel bolts (with their heads cut off) or lengths of threaded rod every 6 inches or so along the joint.

Drill ¼-inch holes up into the sides and end of the sea hood, then use a pipe cleaner to coat both the bolts and the holes with unthickened epoxy. Use enough epoxy so that it will overflow a little when the bolts are inserted. Drill corresponding holes in the cabintop but oversize them to reduce alignment problems.

When you dry fit the sea hood, apply masking tape to the cabintop all along the joint. This will protect the gelcoat from squeezed-out epoxy and make cleanup easier when you epoxy the sea hood in place.

Removable seahood

This method employs a flange for attaching the sea hood to the cabintop.

Make the sea hood as described in the article, but before fiberglassing the exterior, add the flange to the bottom. Make the flange from three pieces of ¼-inch marine ply, using simple miter joints in the corners.

Place the sea hood without the flange in its exact position on the cabintop and carefully trace its outline on the cabintop with a pencil. Remove the sea hood and, measuring in from your first line, draw a line representing the inside edge of the sea hood. Guided by this line, screw the three flange pieces to the cabintop using #10 stainless-steel, self-tapping, panhead screws. Adjust the fit of the corner miters, slide waxed paper under them, and glue the corners together with epoxy.

With the flange in place on the cabintop, epoxy the sea hood to the flange, fillet and all, as decribed in the article. The thickened epoxy makes up for minor imperfections in the fit between the sea hood sides and the flange.

When the epoxy has cured, remove the sea hood, complete any final shaping of the flange, and apply two layers of fiberglass cloth to the entire exterior, including the flange. Re-bore the mounting holes in the flange, then thoroughly coat all remaining raw wood surfaces with epoxy, including the insides of the mounting holes. Mount the sea hood to the cabintop using a bedding compound, such as silicone or polysulfide, that does not permanently bond.

Finishing up

For finishing the sea hood, I suggest two-part polyurethane paint. The permanent sea hood has to be painted in place, while the flanged sea hood can be taken to a painter. In either case, it may be possible to have a professional do the spraying at a reasonable cost, if you have done all the surface preparation, such as final sanding and priming. Consult with your painter to ensure that the primer will be compatible with the topcoat.

If you decide to do your own painting, you can do a reasonably good job using the roll-and-tip method described in other publications, including Don Casey’s book Sailboat Refinishing.

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