From John Dunsmoor:
[Instead of fiberglass,] consider steel.
While not pretty the number of deep water sailors that switch is high.
There is nothing stronger than steel and it can be
fixed, low tech any place in the planet. And the resell price of steel is
low, compared to fiberglass. These are usually custom builds and many will
be laid out as deep water boats, more so than production fiberglass.
If you want a sturdy, built without compromise hull from fiberglass you have to
go pre-1973, nearly thirty years. This is the time of the first oil embargo
and that is when bean counter types enter the shop and said, "come on, we
have to build these for less".
[Robert Perry says this is not true; I asked him.
But Bill Shaw says this is
's 3/2000 issue.
Captain Hugenot of SFSailing says it is true.
And Ian Nicolson in "Improve Your Own Boat" seems to say it is true,
at least of fittings.]
Not that there does not exist some fine
examples of boat building post 1973, but these are usually high dollar vessels ...
From Jim on Cruising World
Most boats built of fiberglass before 1971
were heavily built (fiberglass was cheap) and have stood the test of time.
Boats after 1971 often had cored decks and hulls (balsa) instead of
plywood or solid laminations.
From Jeff H on Cruising World
Actually, mid 1970's was the beginning of the worst period for blisters.
While blisters can occur in fiberglass boats of any age,
the worst problem boats start in the early to mid 1970's when
polyester resin formulations were changed due to the fuel crisis.
It was also aggravated by a change in gelcoat type to a thinner
but more shiny formulation.
From Captain Hugenot of SFSailing:
The hulls built before the 1972-73 oil crisis usually
have very few blisters. The blistering problem came when they began to
experiment with different petroleum products used in the lay up process.
Most of the problems with older hulls
will come in the wooden cores of the stringers. They appear to
be solid on the outside, but if moisture has gotten into the coring it may
all be rotted away. Today we use Airex or other PVC coring which will not rot.
During a survey you might want to drill all of your structural framing
and see if there is solid wood inside. You can reseal the drilled holes
From Tommy in Benner Bay: builders started skimping on the amount of fiberglass cloth
and thickness in the hulls in the later 70's; it wasn't a resin change.
From Gary Elder:
Some people believe that the older fiberglass boats are better than the new ones, even though many of them sail slower than the new ones. Also,
most of the newer ones are lighter weight which is very difficult to
compensate for when you slam into a wave, are riding at anchor, or passing
through some large powerboat wake. Many of the older boats have less of a
blister problem than newer designs, because of the materials used, and the
fact that cost reduction methods were not as extreme as they are today (it is
necessary to be careful though). Earlier this year, we sailed to Marathon
in company of a Catalina 42...We got there first, by several hours, then
spent some time aboard the Catalina in the anchorage. When we returned to
our boat it was like stepping ashore because our boat was rock steady by
comparison...Our boat is a 1978 model. That just happened to be the year
they built the layout we wanted.
"Steel rusts, aluminum suffers from galvanic corrosion, ferrocement cracks,
fiberglass blisters and wood rots."
From Jeff H on Cruising World
If I had to rank desirable materials for a cruising
boat, under 50 feet in length,
I would rank them like this [best to worst]:
- Wood (cold molded)
- Ferro cement
If you were designing a custom boat for distance cruising then
there is no material better than Cold Molded Wood. It produces the lightest
most durable hull for the strength and puncture resistance.
Cold molded wood can be repaired anywhere in the world with simple tools and
materials easily carried aboard. If you add a couple laminates of
Kevlar you have a tough, bulletproof boat. Properly built there is no
lower maintenance material out there. Wood is quieter and
provides better insulation than most of the other choices.
Fiberglass would come next. More is known about fiberglass than any
of the other materials except perhaps wood. It shares the properties
with wood that allow the material to be oriented to the loads and
to be carefully thicked or thinned to put just the right strength and weight
where it is needed. Given that fiberglass offers the greatest strength
per weight but in its lighter forms lacks the puncture resistance and
fatigue resistance of cold molded wood.
Aluminum is a very good way to build a boat. It is comparatively light
about equal to wood, but lacks the ultimate strength, stiffness and
puncture resistance of a cold molded wooden boat of the same weight.
In small boats there is a minimum plating thickness to be easily
welded and in boats 35 feet or less aluminum tends to be heavier
than glass or wood. The big problem with aluminum construction is plate
sheering. If you hit an object with a light weight aluminum boat,
there is a problem with puncture. There is a tendency to think of aluminum
taking a hit and just bending a bit. That happens with a big wave
impact that uniformly distributed across the plate. If you take a point load
hit, like hitting a floating log, unless the impact is right on a frame,
there is a tendency to sheer the plate at the edge of the stringer or frame.
Aluminum can be formed to complex curves which is very expensive,
or can be multi chined which is a mixed blessing. On problem with
complex shapes in aluminum, besides the high labor costs, is
the amount of filler which is necessary to produce a fair hull.
This is often a significant weight in small boats. There is the
electrolysis and difficulty of getting paint to adhere to aluminum
and the difficulty and expense
of finding compatible bottom paint all of which are real problems
but can be addressed with high tech solution. If I were building a boat, I
would consider hard chine aluminum but would probably go with cold
molding because aluminum tends to be quite noisy.
Steel is a good material for big boats, 50-60 feet or so.
The problem with steel is the weight of the material that is necessary to achieve the
necessary stiffness of the other materials. You end up with
a very heavy boat at small sizes. There are designers who have done a lot to
mitigate this problem, (Tanton has a real nice little design
that looks like it works pretty well) but in the end you have a lot of weight just
where you don't want it in the hull and deck structure.
While many steel boats are built with wood decks for this reason, an all steel boat
has a tough time making sense as a distance cruiser. You may think
that we are talking about a cruising boat. Who cares about weight ?
Weight is almost more important in a cruising boat. Every pound
of weight in the hull is a pound that can not be used as ballast or in gear
and supplies. Steel boats have notoriously low angles of recovery and tend to be rolly.
I consider motion is a seaway and important issue to
crew well-being and of course angle of recovery is critical to safety.
The other big issues with steel are like aluminum, electrolysis,
paint adhesion, compatible bottom paints, cost of labor to build well, hard
chine vs soft, etc are surmountable but require bigger compromises than
I would want to make. According to an industry study a few years
back, steel was rated as having the highest long term maintenance cost,
except plank on frame wood, when viewed over a 12 year period.
Lastly there is the problems of repairing steel in remote places.
Steel takes proper equipment and electrical power to make a major repair.
There are a lot of places, even in the US, where you can't get electrical
power to repair a steel hull. One good thing about steel is that it has
a very high resistance to abrasion. If you are designing a boat to
scrape for hours on the rocks or against ice then steel is a good candidate.
A lot is said about the inherent strength of steel but the reality
is if you built a well-engineered cold molded wood or fiberglass boat they
would be far stronger than a steel boat.
I actually like Ferro more than most knowledgeable sailors that I know.
Ferro is another material that is at its best in bigger boats. There is a
minimum hull skin thickness that is sufficient to properly cover
the reinforcing steel. This thickness does not get any smaller whether you are
building a 45 footer or a 25 footer so in boats under 45 feet or so
you really take a weight penalty. In carefully designed and built boats
over 45 feet this is not a problem but in smaller boats or carelessly
built boats, this is a serious problem. Often the ferro boats end up
reducing the percent and density of the ballast to keep the boat weight
in line with some reasonable standard. This restricts sail area and
recovery angles and can ultimately produce boats that are not great sea boats.
In the best case however a well-designed, and well-built
ferrocement boat can be quite sturdy, durable and low maintenance.
There were a lot of excellent ferrocement boats built in Australia and
New Zealand. In the states ferrocement suffers from the stigma of the
"Hippie" boats of the Seventies and since high quality workmanship
and construction procedures are so critical to ferrocement it is
next to impossible to tell if you have a good one. Ferro like steel is a material
that seems to be much stronger than it is. Again if you built a
cold molded wood, aluminum or a glass boat with the weight of a ferrocement
boat the cold molded wood, aluminum or a glass boat would be much stronger.
More from Jeff H on Cruising World
Frankly, I am not a fan of metal boats.
Compared to wood or glass I think they are way too heavy
for the strength achieved and too difficult to maintain.
They are noisy and prone to have problems that are not
easy to get to and repair. For the distance cruiser any
bonehead can carry and use glass or wood to repair wood
or glass boats anywhere in the world.
Welding a metal boat is another story.
There is a relatively small market in this country for metal boats;
a bit in ignorance and a bit because metal boats really do not make
sense for the venues that most of us sail in. While cruising people
are a bit more open minded toward metal boats, I think metal boats
will be a hard sell in this country for a long time making resale
a bit difficult. Many of the metal boats that we see over here
are crudely built hardchine affairs. The chines are often laid
out without care for their visual impact. Cabin and deck
structures are often rather primitive. Hardware is often
painted galvanized steel. As they age they develop areas
that have been dented in between ribs and other framing.
It is not to say that there are not well-built metal boats,
but the perception of metal boats comes from the poor examples.
Amongst the proponents of Metal boats, much has been made of
the ability of metal boats to bend rather than puncture.
I think this is a little bit bogus. That may be true of the
extremely heavy boats designed to workboat standards, but not
really true of boats built to meet yacht standards which tend
to be much lighter. If they weren't lighter they would hardly
sail at all. These lighter weight metal boats use lighter
weight skins spanning between a more closely spaced frame
and stringer system. If the impact is on a frame you are more
likely to bend the boat than puncture the skin but an impact
next to a frame or between a frame is more likely to sheer
the skin than bend it in any impact that would be hard enough
to puncture the average fiberglass boat.
The one advantage of steel is a higher abrasion resistance.
In the unlikely event that you end up rubbing against a rock
for hours on end without puncturing the skin, a steel skin can
withstand abrasion better than glass. If you sail in an area
where abrading against rocks is a serious problem then steel
may make sense. It doesn't for me.
Metal boats are seen as being very durable, but again in the
weights of materials used in yachts I seriously question that
idea. All boats flex; it is only a mater of degrees.
Over time this flexing work hardens and fatigues the steel
especially the skins at frames and other hard spots.
Rust, mostly from the interior makes the skin thinner.
Like any other material each boat has a real lifespan.
It may exceed our own but it may not.
It is true that fiberglass will also fatigue and weaken
over time especially non-cored hulls which tend to flex more.
It is true that cored f.g. hulls may eventually delaminate
from the core or the core itself may sheer but in well-built
boats this is a very long-term process.
In a number of studies that I have seen over the years,
steel is generally seen as being the most maintenance prone
material out there, both long and short term.
This is slightly offset by some of the exotic steels being
used in the last couple years but for the most part,
just like wood you need to keep the actual hull and framing
protected from water and air. Unlike wood this means both inside and out.
There are areas on a steel hull that are inaccessible but just
because you can't see them that does not mean that they aren't
deteriorating. Rust never sleeps and metal boats actually
deteriorate mostly from the interior out.
Then there is electrolysis. This used to be the kind of
problem that was a compelling reason not to own a steel boat.
In the early 1970's I worked in a boat yard that had to do
an emergency hauling of a steel power boat to prevent it from sinking.
This boat which had been launched weeks earlier in perfect
shape had changed slips and was tied up next to a boat with
an improperly grounded 110 electrical system and in a matter
of days the bottom of the power boat in question had lost
sufficient thickness and was covered with small pin holes
that the boat needed entirely bottom plating.
This kind of loss was not covered by insurance.
Today there are some ways to combat this kind of problem
but they are bandaids and not solutions in my mind.
My biggest gripe comes down to sailing ability and how this
affects deck and cabin materials. Some of this goes away
as the boat gets to be 45 feet or bigger.
In boats under 45 feet, steel hulls are just plain heavier
for a given strength than any other material except perhaps ferrocement.
Weight in and of itself has no advantage at all.
More weight means that you need to have more sail area for a
given speed and a given sailing ability.
More sail area means that a boat needs more stability to be
able to stand to this bigger rig which means more ballast
which means more weight which means more sail area.
The problem gets worse because steel boats often have steel topsides,
steel decks and steel deckhouses.
This is weight high above the center of buoyancy and as such
reduces stability further making it hard to carry a decent
sail area to weight ratio. In the ultimate bad sailing day,
it also means that once inverted you are more likely to remain
inverted longer. This problem is often addressed by the use of
wooden deck and cabin structures.
Deck and cabin structures are the area of greatest maintenance
in a wooden boat and so you are just upping the amount of
maintenance even further.
In fairness, I must point out that puncture resistance has never
been a criterion by which I select a boat. My personal taste
leans toward lighter boats. My current boat is a 4100-lb. 28 footer
made of Kevlar over high density closed cell foam.
I have always been a proponent of buying a boat suited to your
anticipated sailing conditions and in my case my sailing conditions
are strictly coastal and do not include passages to remote areas.
If you are looking at passages to the remote areas of the
Pacific Southern Ocean, then puncture resistance becomes more
critical and the ability to make repairs in a remote area becomes
even more critical still. You may also sail in a windier environment
that I and maybe able to tolerate a heavier boat.
No matter what material you use, workmanship and quality
materials will be critical. I do not believe that steel
tolerates poor quality any better than any other material
and since so much depends on the welds the welding needs
to be top notch. Steel is not just one material but a
family of iron based materials. How the metal is made,
purified and alloyed affects initial strength,
fatigue qualities and its resistance to corrosion.
You often hear that steel can be built cheaply.
Quality metal construction never was cheap.
You could build a quality boat in almost any other material
as cheaply or for less. With advent of computer driven
cutters and the more common availability of some of the
newer (last 15 years) welding techniques steel has come
down in price to the point that custom steel boats maybe
less expensive than custom boats in many other materials.
The problem in saying steel is cheap is that simple hard
chine steel boats with workboat levels of finish are often
compared to yacht quality boats of other finishes.
Probably a comparable and less expensive construction
is glass over sheet plywood. Properly done this can actually
be a far stronger and more puncture resistant material than steel.
Glassed inside and out with quality laminates and epoxy resins,
the plywood boat would have far and away less maintenance costs
and would have a much lighter hull weight than steel,
thereby having considerably better sailing characteristics in all ways.
I think much of the answer in picking a metal boat comes
from picking the right designer. If I had to list designers
of metal boats that I like, I think that Van de Stadt from
Holland does a nice job. Some of their designs seem to be IOR based,
and as such, do not appeal to me as much as Van de Stadt's
more straightforward cruising designs. Their design 46A is
very appealing to me. Van de Stadt has a very strong reputation
for quality engineering and has designed some very fast boats
in their day. I think they offer some of their designs on disk
so that they can be computer cut saving a lot of time and
perhaps money. From what I gather they are a class act.
Yves Tanton in Newport Rhode Island does some very nice work.
I think he is a very creative designer with a very nice eye
for visual proportions. He is a sometimes participant on
this board and I have seen his catalog and it is really
an impressive body of work.
Dudley Dix from South Africa is a very interesting designer to me.
I have never seen any of his boats in real life (that I know of) but
he is terribly creative and seems to understand what it takes
to design a nice performing boat that is also a comfortable cruiser.
I like his Black Cat 38, which is a wooden boat.
In metal I think the Dix 43 looks like a pretty nice piece of work.
I have been drawing a blank on the name of the guy who has
designed the Deerfoot series. I don't especially like his earlier
designs but I think the designs have been evolving into more
powerful hull forms closer in shape to my own thinking.
How could I forget Charlie Wittholz? I actually worked for
Charlie Wittholz in the early 1980's. Charlie did some very nice,
very interesting traditional designs in steel.
Charlie was a neat guy. He actually worked for Alden and Rhodes
before opening his own shop. I liked his work. His boats had a
certain simplicity that was very elegant. He had a nice eye for
proportion and a sweet line. Hard chine boats are actually very
hard to design so that they look right. The chine forms a strong
accent line that has to work with the desired hull shape, the physical
properties of the plating and the other visual lines of the boat.
Charlie was able to keep these sometimes-contradictory lines under
control to produce attractive traditional craft. While I liked most
of Charlie's work, one of my least favorite boats of his was a bilge
keel cruising boat. (I drew many of the drawings for her.)
This was a purpose built boat for the European canals and as such
was a good boat for its purpose but was not my kind of boat.
Charlie and I would have lively lunch time discussions on our
divergent points of view on modern lightweight boats.
We both loved wood as a building material.
I loved his stories of Alden and Rhodes.
Rhodes was very much a patrician gentleman but Alden
was a very colorful character.
Bruce Roberts is popular but I am not a fan of his work.
It is not so much that I do not like his work per se.
I think that for the most part Roberts designs conservative
simple boats, but to me they are dated.
His Spray series have less than no appeal to me.
Having read about the original Spray and the sailing
ability of some of the so-called copies of her, I have come
to believe that Josh Slocum made it around the world despite
the short comings of Spray rather than because of her sterling
virtues. Josh Slocum was the consummate seaman.
Spray was a coastal oyster boat. Why anyone in this day
and age would want to use her as a model for a whole line
of boats is completely beyond me. But I emphasize this is
only my opinion and Roberts has sold a bunch of these things
so my opinion is not shared by everyone on this.
Roberts more modern designs were probably good designs in
the 1970's but a lot has happened since then. To me his
design ideas have not advanced as well. That said, Roberts
has a boat he calls a 434 that someone built as a long
range single-hander that looks like a nice boat but slightly
dated to my eye. Still in all these are very heavy boats and
I strongly believe that weight, in and of itself, has no
inherent virtue and is a very serious liability.
From Dave on Cruising World
I have been a wooden boat man for many years, having built and owned several.
When I retire (many years down the track) I will own a timber
Concordia Yawl or similar, and absolutely revel in lavishing much attention on it.
I now own a steel boat, and have no (well...few) regrets - it suits
my lifestyle because it is EXTREMELY LOW MAINTENANCE and was the right
boat in the right place when I had the money to upgrade.
She was 10 years old when I bought her, and the survey showed
up 1 (yes ONE) small patch of rust in the anchor well.
This was easily treated in the first year, and the beast (rust) has
been sleeping ever since.
People try to build a sliding scale of maintenance requirements
that often goes something like timber (most maintenance) - steel - glass.
(or as Jeff would suggest Steel - Timber - Glass).
This may have been the case in the past, but today it is too broad
a generalisation. A modern timber strip planked or cold molded boat
sheathed in epoxies etc will be no more maintenance than a glass
one (often less due to lack of osmosis problems).
Similarly, a steel boat treated with modern epoxy paints will be
no more (possibly less) than a glass one.
Sure you have to be vigilant, but as soon as there is the slightest problem,
you are aware of it. My boat is basically white all over,
including in the bilge, so any rust would show up
instantly (a very good reason NOT to paint your steel boat black).
How many times have I seen on newsgroups etc people desperately
looking for advice on how to re-core their decks because water has
been seeping in around deck fittings and they haven't known - this
may present a big safety
issue, and at best major work is now required.
Steel will tell you straight away, before any damage is done.
With steel, it all comes down to the boat being set up properly
in the first place. I would be the last person to go out and buy
an old rusty steel boat as a 'fixer-upper' - that is seriously hard work.
However, I think Jeff is being far too harsh when modern finishing
techniques are considered. As with epoxy/timber composite construction,
the epoxy used on steel should be considered part of the construction
material, rather than a surface paint.
As for the looks, Jeff has ignored round-bilge steel.
There are a lot of steel boats lurking out there amongst the
moorings (at least here in Oz) that no one actually realises are steel.
They look just as sweet as any other building method.
Hard chines ? - yes I agree. Not the most beautiful things on the planet,
and sure my timber boats were prettier than my steel one.
My current boat is a Roberts 34 (with a re-designed cruising-fin keel),
and while not a head turner, looks nice enough and is a very capable
and seaworthy cruiser with a surprising turn of speed at times.
She is no heavier than the next well-outfitted cruiser at
16000 lbs (not lightweight like Jeff's 4500 lbs by any stretch,
but no heavier than a glass equivalent).
Other regrets ? - it took me a while to get accustomed to the
noise in a less-than-perfect anchorage. Waves slapping the hull
at night are definitely louder than in a glass or timber boat,
but I don't hear it any more. Condensation is not a problem
as the boat is well-insulated. The only drips on cold Tasmanian
winter mornings come from stainless skylight and hatch coamings,
and that happens on any boat.
From TrueMettle on the
WorldCruising mailing list
about steel boats:
The first thing to look for is a properly coated interior.
This is critical to a steel boat as they rust from inside out.
The second thing to look for is the quality of the welds.
If the welds look like a poor soldering job, all lumpy and potted then walk away.
If they look like the bottom of a shallow lake with smooth evenly
spaced ridges in the welds, you know that care has been taken.
Make sure the limber holes are not obstructed and that water
can drain from the bow into the bilge.
Hire a surveyor who knows steel boats.
He will point out the good and the bad.
There is a number of books on steel boatbuilding,
the best is "Steel Away" by Smith and Moir
It covers building from soup to nuts.
From Lee Huddleston on The Live-Aboard List:
I preached earlier on the advantages of a steel hull, so I will not repeat
that sermon. You asked about the obverse of the coin, "What are the
disadvantages?" Here are some thoughts. As a perspective, I own a
steel-hulled boat (43 feet) and a fiberglass-hulled boat (25 feet).
A possible disadvantage of steel is that each hull is built individually
(except for rare production facilities in Europe, so I hear). As a result,
you have to look more carefully to see if the specific hull you are
considering was built well. Of course, designers and builders of steel
hulls do develope a reputation for quality that you can rely on to some
extent, but there is not the exact-same-ness you can expect in fiberglass.
This requires you to be lucky (as I was) or perhaps a little more
knowledgeable to make sure that your steel-hulled boat was one of the many
that was well built. This is not as daunting as it might sound. A poorly
constructed steel hull is usually very obvious, even if you don't have any
prior knowledge of steel-hull construction.
Another possible disadvantage of steel is the former constraints on
construction and design. It apparently used to be very difficult and
expensive to build rounded hulls for modest-sized steel boats. This
resulted in designs with a series of hard chines. Some people do not like
the appearance this gives a boat. More often than not, however, people
don't even notice the hard chines until you draw their attention.
Personally, I like the multiple hard chine style. Now it is relatively
easy to bend and weld steel sheets to create any curve that a designer
might like. So, if you buy a newer used boat or have one built, you can
choose a rounded hull if that is your taste.
The expected disadvantage to steel hulls is rust. I have read and believe
it to be true that steel boats used to rust from the inside, not from the
outside. The steel transmits temperature rather well. Since the water is
ususally cooler than the air, condensation would form on the inside of the
steel hull. This resulted in unpleasant conditions in the boat and a
perfect breeding ground for rust. My steel-hulled boat has about two
inches of foam insulation sprayed inside the entire hull and under the
deck. Also all port lights are double-glazed. In addition to retarding
condensation and rust, the insullation makes for a very quiet, comfortable
Rust on the exterior is going to occur as well. With modern paints and
other coatings, however, the problem is very easily managed. Except for
places where I have banged something against the deck or hull (that would
have seriously cracked a fiberglass boat) and chipped the paint, I have not
had any rust develope. The water and air apparently just do not penetrate
the modern materials. When a rust spot does occur, it is a very simple
matter to sand down the spot, apply primer, then apply the finish coat of
paint. Since I own both a fiberglass boat and a steel boat, my personal
experience is that there is very little, if any, difference in the amount
of maintenance that is necessary.
A disadvantage of steel is its lower resale value. Not because it is
genuinely worth less as a result of being less seaworthy etc.; but simply
because of the lack of advertising by fiberglass production companies. Of
course, if you buy a used steel boat and eventually sell it used, the
disadvantage is largely eliminated.
Finally, a disadvantage of steel boats is that they are harder to find in
the design, quality of construction, and condition that you might want.
There are just fewer of them. The advent of the internet has made the
search much easier, but you still have to be patient and persistent to find
just the right steel boat for you.
Much later from Lee Huddleston again on The Live-Aboard List:
Steel has the advantage of bending before it breaks. Fiberglass tends to
be brittle. When a fiberglass boat hits a reef and gets a pounding, it
often breaks into pieces. A steel boat would, at worst, get dents and bent
places, but usually will hold together. And, of course, almost always
steel will be much much stronger than fiberglass to begin with. This is
why steel is prefered by cruisers who plan to go off the beaten path,
especially to places where there might be ice or floating logs.
Truelove has been hit nine times by hurricanes, so far. I have ridden out
three hurricanes on board. For hurricane Floyd I could not get to Truelove
in time. When I got to the marina several boats had been pushed up against
pylons on the north side of their slips. On the fiberglass boats their
sides were seriously damaged. On Truelove at first I thought that my lines
had held her off the pylon. Then I noticed the sawdust and splinters on
top of my two-inch thick solid steel rub rail. The paint on Truelove was
not even disturbed. The pylon was beaten badly. Steel boat versus wooden pylon
- the pylon loses.
When damage does occur to a steel hull, it is relatively easy to fix. Just
cut out the damaged area and weld in a new plate. As long as you go with a
minimum of 16 inches of diameter for the new plate (to match the stretch of
the rest of the plates), the repaired area and weld are just as strong as
the original. Also, such repairs can be done all over the world. In the
least developed areas of the world, there are still welders.
Another aspect to steel is that it does not get the pox. No blisters, no
grinding off old gelcoat and waiting for the hull to dry off before putting
on expensive layers of epoxy.
You can get a whole lot more boat for your
money with a steel boat. This is partially because steel boats are usually
custom built rather than production models. There is no large manufacturer
hyping the boat and driving the price out the roof. Another reason that
steel boats are less expensive is that it takes more thinking to
successfully buy a steel boat. Some steel boats are built by professionals
who do beautiful work. Some are built by very talented individuals who put
a lot of love as well as beauty into their boat. But, some are built by
people who have more hopes and dreams than talent. In other words, unlike
production boats, not all boats built to the same plans are equal. I was
very lucky to find a steel hull and deck built by professionals and the
rest of the boat built by a couple with exceptional ability. Such boats
are out there, but you have to look carefully and be patient. The reward is
to get a boat as large and well made as a production boat costing two or
three times as much.
When (if) you get ready to sell your steel boat later, it will probably
take you longer because you have to wait for buyers that have more
discriminating taste and requirements. Not everybody wants to be able to
sail to the Arctic.
Most steel boats are designed and built with hard chines. This makes it
easier to build them with steel plates without having to bend the plates
very much. On some boats this is pretty obvious and on others you have to
look closely to notice. Personally, I like the hard chines of Truelove,
but some people don't care for hard chines. Steel boats now come with
rounded hulls just like every other boat. Boats built by professionals,
especially in the Netherlands, are more likely to have rounded hulls.
A disadvantage to steel is that it rusts. Oddly enough, it doesn't rust on
the outside if you maintain the boat properly. Modern paints and coatings
make this task relatively easy. Predictions from friends that I would be
spending all my time chipping paint have not been true. The only
requirements for new paint on Truelove have been cosmetic, not to fight rust.
As I wrote before, the problem with rust is from the inside. Water that
gets into the boat can cause rust in hidden spots. Condensation is also a
problem. On Truelove the previous owner/builder put 2 inches of foam
insulation in the overhead and inside the hull. This makes the boat quiet
and very snug. Its main purpose is to prevent any condensation. He also
double-glazed all closed ports to prevent condensation.
Unfortunately, when I recently pulled Truelove for new bottom paint, I
found some rust spots in the hull. While the previous owner/builder did a
great job on most things, he made one bad mistake. To keep brass strainers
from touching the hull (can't mix metals, especially under water) on two
water intakes, he bolted plastic pieces to the hull. Over many years these
bolt holes allowed water to seep into the boat undetected. The water
pooled above a horizontal brace and rusted the steel from the inside. I am
going to have to cut out the rusted spots and weld in a couple of new
plates. So, if you get a steel boat, you need to be able to check all of
the inside of the hull from time-to-time to head off this kind of rust.
Keep in mind that it has taken almost twenty years for this rust to
develope. Rust is just not the big problem some people will lead you to
An advantage and a disadvantage of steel is its ability to carry current.
You may have seen the copper sheets or the Dynaplates fiberglass boats
install so that their radio has a counterpoise or ground. On steel boats
the whole boat serves that function quite well. The disadvantage is that
you have to watch for electrolysis carefully. Truelove has four
large bricks of zinc bolted to the keel and several other smaller blocks at
thru-hulls. I am going to install an isolation transformer soon to keep
shore power leaks from eating up the steel.
Steel is heavier than fiberglass. That is why steel boats are rarely
smaller than 30 feet. The larger the boat, the less difference the weight
of the steel makes. Still, steel is for the medium to heavy displacement
designs. You probably will not find a steel catamaran or ultra-light. The
weight does not make steel boats slow. The design is the primary factor on
speed and comfort at sea. Truelove has a six foot deep full keel with
forward cutaway and 32,000 pounds of displacement. Yet she has very fine
lines and sails surprisingly well in light air. In stronger wind and
waves, she heels over a little and sails fast and smooth. Since I am
hoping to do a lot of offshore sailing and expose her to weather on
occasion, I wanted a strong boat that will be comfortable at sea. If I
were going to do a lot of gunkholing in protected waters, I might have
opted for a lighter boat with less draft.
From Steve on Canals and Waterways mailing list
IMO, far more important to the resilience of a hull - far more
important than anodes, or even thickness of steel - is the quality of
that steel. There are boatbuilders, some of them premium names, who
have built boats with steel from Eastern Europe that is showing a
decade's worth of wear after just a few
years. It's always surprised me that people getting boats built will
spend hours learning about the benefits of one design of ventilation
mushroom over another, but accept their boatbuilders 'advice' without
question when it comes to what the boat is built of.
From Sandy Gurnell: "Aluminum boats don't need paint and you
can repair them with a Bernz-o-matic blow torch.
The initial cost can be recouped by lower maintenance costs."
Improper shore power connection can cause severe corrosion damage
to a metal hull in a short time.
From James Baumgart on World-Cruising mailing list
Steel makes sense for very long-term cruises to some areas, like arctic/antarctic.
In my opinion, a good solid heavy (previously-cruised) fiberglass boat makes
more sense for the traditional areas.
Pros of Fiberglass:
Cheaper to buy, survey, outfit.
Lower maintenance on your voyage.
Easy to work in fiberglass if something breaks.
Easier to sell when the voyage is over.
Well-known cruising boats have predictable performance.
Cons of fiberglass:
Deck delamination (take care of these 3 in survey).
Greater catastrophic damage potential upon hard grounding, hitting reefs,
rocks, or floating containers.
Pros of steel:
Stronger hull, pound for pound.
You can make the rigging and deck hardware bulletproof.
Easier to repair serious damage (holing).
Easier to engineer watertight bulkheads, etc.
Cons of steel:
More expensive to buy, survey, and outfit.
You'd better learn to weld (anyone can work with fiberglass).
Paint, paint, paint, 7 coats per year, inside and out!
Special hull coatings and bottom paint required (can not use copper bottom paint).
Zinc anode protection is critical.
Rust inside the hull in places you can't see or paint.
Many of the available boats have been backyard built - construction and
seaworthiness maybe good, maybe not.
Steel boats usually do not have as deep a keel, and are usually heavier
displacement, not known for upwind abilities or speed.
Can't really build a small steel boat. Usually steel sailboats are in the
40 - 45 foot range. Usually, cruising sailboats are in the 34 - 38 foot
range (in my experience).
From Dan Walsh on World-Cruising mailing list
In purchasing a steel vessel of any kind (sail or power), there are some
very important things you should know. The first thing is in my opinion over
all else is how corrosion has been managed. In my view it would be a plus if
the vessel had been sprayed with urethane foam from the time it was
constructed. In my view foam is the greatest extender of life of a steel
hull. First it completely seals off moisture and oxygen from the steel. Rust
can't begin unless those two element are present. Further it fills all voids
where water can sit and begin the corrosion process process. The type of
foam you use is also important. Using a 3 lb closed cell foam in the bilge
will give you a very impervious coating to any kind of air or water
penetration. It is normally applied to complete exteriors of homes in
arctic. As far as checking the condition of the steel under the
foam ... that is hard to do without actually chiseling out a section and
looking at the steel. If the vessel is old and the foam recently applied
then I would worry about it. Sounding the hull? I think if the vessel is well
cared for and shows no signs or very little signs of corrosion I would not
worry about it. You can't put foam everywhere so look around the stern tube,
down under the water tanks if you can. ...
From Brent Swain on Cruising World
Re: Steel or Aluminum:
A steel hull is more likely to have corrosion above the waterline where you can see it.
An aluminium one is far more likely to have corrosion below the waterline where you can't
so easily see it, and it can progress much more quickly. It is hard to find an antifouling
paint that is compatible with aluminium.
Steel welds are easly obtained that have 100% the strength of the surrounding metal.
Aluminium, 60% or less. It is far easier to screw up an aluminium weld and be unaware of it.
From Osiris on Cruising World
Re: Steel or Aluminum:
Aluminum hulls are much lighter and faster than comparable steel hulls and have similar
strengths - but - the electrolysis problem is a killer with aluminum. Owners of aluminum hulls
are "anal retentive" about anybody bringing anything onboard that can cause electrolysis
if dropped into the bilge. And you need a reputable builder like the French or Canadians
to make sure the proper aluminum allow and procedures are following during construction.
Steel is much more "user friendly" and repair is easier - - if - - the boat is new
or the previous owner kept the insides dry and protected. Buying "used steel" is dangerous
if the previous owner is selling because they could not keep the boat dry inside and
let the boat corrode. If the inside frames and stringers are corroded then the boat is
worthless. So be very careful either way and really get down into the bilges and see what
is really there if you are buying a used boat.
Summarized from letter by Peter Nicolle to
about ferro-cement boats:
- Ferro-cement is a cheaper material, but all other boat
systems (engine, rigging, sails, etc) cost the same,
so the overall boat cost is not much cheaper.
- FC boats don't have to be much heavier.
- A well-made FC boat looks just like a GRP or wood boat.
- FC boats are harder to finance, insure, find surveyor for.
But finding a good surveyor can make the
finance and insure parts much easier.
- FC takes 30 to 50 years to cure completely.
It "gasses" and forms small
blisters between cement and epoxy
for the first 15 years.
- If the boat is 15 to 20 years old and is not
"spalling" (losing big chunks),
it is a good one.
- FC is strong, good noise and temperature insulator,
easy to repair, cheap to buy.
From Jeff H on Cruising World
My take on Ferrocement is that it is, in fact, pound for pound
the weakest of all of the commonly used boat building materials.
Ferro operates by the same principle as fiberglass, in other words,
a high tensile strength reinforcing held by a high compressive strength,
low tension cement. The cement in Ferro ideally is a high strength
portland cement. The cement in f.g. is polyester, vinylester or epoxy resin.
The tensile reinforcing material in Ferro is steel (sometimes with glass fiber,
and in fiberglass its glass in a variety of forms, kevlar, carbon and all
kinds of new variations on these materials.
Ferro's weight comes from a number of sources. First of all, no matter
how small the boat, there is a practical limit to how thin ferro can be.
Ferro needs to have a minimum thickness in order to have sufficient depth
of material to protect the reinforcement from moisture.
Because of this boats below 40 to 45 feet are generally considered
too small to use Ferro efficiently. (i.e. they weigh more than they
would in some other material.)
The implication of the weight issue is not readily obvious.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Weight in and of itself
does nothing good for a boat. It does not make it stronger, or more
comfortable or more stabile. Weight does increase the stress on
the various parts of a boat. It increases the size of a sail plan
required to achieve a particular speed. It increases drag and typically
means that for a given draft a boat will have a less efficient
keel (i.e trading off greater drag for the same amount of leeway.)
In order to carry more sail area the boat needs greater form stability,
which comes at the price of a choppier motion and greater drag,
or greater ballast or deeper ballast which adds more weight and
drag and perhaps depth.
To keep the weight down, many Ferro cement boats have reduced ballast
ratios when compared to other construction techniques.
This means that they need more sail area because of their weight
but they can't carry more sail area because of reduced ballast ratios
without using lower aspect rigs which are by their very nature less efficient.
This is further complicated by the fact that a higher proportion of
the weight in a Ferro boat is carried in the in the topsides (and
sometimes decks). This means a high center of gravity which has a
variety of implications; reduced stability, wider roll angles,
smaller angles of ultimate stability, and more prone to excitation
rolling (which may be slightly offset by the greater inertial
moments due to weight).
Then there is maintenance costs. In a study performed some years
back looking at the life costs of various materials, Ferro-cement
came out as the highest cost material (if I remember worst to best
was ferro, steel, conventional wood, aluminum, fiberglass,
cold molded wood). Of course as with any generalized study
there will be case by case exceptions.
Other problems with Ferro cement is the difficulty of connecting
things to it, and prevention of rot in wood in contact with ferro.
The difficulty in bolting to Ferro is that ferro hates localized
loadings. It's hard to glue things to ferro. secondary bonds
are greatly weaker than primary bonds.
Then there is the market value thing. Ferro does have a reputation
in the States that does not match the comparatively high regard
that it is held in other countries. Some of this is just plain
unfair prejudice but some of this comes from real shortcomings
in the materials as noted above. A well-built ferro boat can
be a good cruising boat. The real problem is telling whether
the boat that you are looking at is a god boat. It is very hard
to do non-destructive survey techniques to tell whether the
original work was done well and is in good condition.
The good condition part is very significant.
People who buy boats because they are priced well below the market,
often are overly frugal or just plain do not have the money that
it takes to properly maintain a boat.
To me the real cost of owning a boat is the difference between
what you paid for the boat, the cost of upgrades and maintenance
and the price that you can get when you sell the boat.
The problem with a lot of low value boats is that the sales
price is always limited no matter how much you put into the boat.
I guess my conclusion is if you are strictly looking for an initial
up front cost boat and don't mind putting some sweat equity in,
and you can look past the sailing shortcomings, and you actually
find one that was well-built and well-maintained, a ferro boat
might work. For most of us, they do not.
From Mystique on rec.boats.cruising newsgroup:
Recently I saw what has to be one of the prettiest, best-kept, most
well-maintained 45' ferrocement boats I've ever witnessed. It had been
freshly painted with glossy topside paint on the hull and deck, and the
hardware was clean, polished where applicable, and everything appeared to be
in good repair.
Then I had a chat with the boat's owner, who was lamenting his complete
inability to sell the boat. He'd had only one potential buyer so far, and
he was turned away by a bad survey. According to the owner, the surveyor
didn't find anything wrong with the boat, but simply said it was a "very
poor risk" due to the construction material. Furthermore the potential
buyer could find absolutely no lender willing to lend money for the boat.
The owner's asking price? $25K -- super cheap for a 45' boat in near pristine
condition, I'd say.
The bottom line is that FC boats are albatrosses around their owner's necks.
They require constant monitoring to insure hull integrity, they are next to
impossible to resell, and lenders and insurers generally don't want anything
to do with them.
More from Jeff H on Cruising World
The very first Ferrocement boat still exists and is over
a hundred years old BUT very few modern ferrocement boats
will have anything like that kind of lifespan. The high
carbon content steel typically used in modern Ferrocement
boats is highly rust-prone and when it does rust the
corrosion expands the concrete and provide passages for
increased rust area. Modern ferro boats are subjected to
higher tensile stresses than this material would prefer
and so develop small hairline cracks that spread the problems.
Ferro is fatigue-prone and so flexure becomes a bit of a
problem at bulkhead and other concentrated load areas.
Glassing over Ferro with glass and epoxy, on both sides,
really extends the life of a ferro boat but also adds a
lot of weight to an already overweight building material.
The other issue is with areas beyond the hull alone.
Most ferro boats are simply wooden boats with Ferro hulls
and you have real interface problems between the two materials
that mean that you have most of the worst problems of a
wooden boat (deck and cabin) that has been poorly built.
There are ways of sound testing and impact testing Ferro
just like glass or concrete but these are not extremely reliable.
There are higher tech methods but they tend to be a little
inconclusive and quite expensive. One of the biggest problems
with ferro cement (beyond performance resale and insurance in the USA)
is this crap shoot about the condition issue when you own one.
From "Your First Atlantic Crossing" by Les Weatheritt
Petronella [C-Mist 32 double-ender loosely follwing the Colin Archer style]
has a ferro-cement hull and deck. ... Her construction gives me enormous confidence in her
integrity and her ability to withstand some hard knocks. ...
I rate ferro-cement as second only to steel for blue water sailing, and well
ahead of plastic and wood. I am not even convinced that steel is better. I know that most
of the sailing world begs to differ over the merits of ferro, and so be it. Most of
these people have never lived with a ferro boat so they don't know the real qualities of
the material. Much of the bad image of ferro comes from unfinished wrecks left rotting in the front
gardens of amateurs who started building blue water 40-footers when they would have been better off
with a reservoir dinghy. ...
All of these [hull] materials have their benefits and their drawbacks. All have evolved,
so that there are now many forms of construction for each of them. None of them are
wonder materials, as might once have been claimed. There is no perfect boatbuilding material. ...
GRP is physically the weakest of the construction materials, ... but GRP hulls at least have
the integrity of being a single moulding. ...
[Steel is strong but rusts. Some owners keep right on top of it, living aboard and chipping
and painting; others wait until holes appear and then grind and weld patches.]
Aluminium alloy was at one time the wonder material to replace steel because it didn't rust.
But nature is not to be cheated so easily. Aluminium erodes by electrolysis, which is always
a potential reaction in any salt solution. The sea is a battery, and electrolysis is unpredictable - also,
it is often invisible and deadly. ... aluminium is not easy to repair in out-of-the-way places.
Stainless steel, by the way, is a bit like aluminium. It is a metal alloy capable of rapid
rates of erosion through electrolysis. The higher the grade of marine stainless steel, the better the components
have been mixed. Even so, local concentrations can't be ruled out and these, when they occur, cause the erosion. ...
Ferro is the least common and most ignored material. ... it was cheap, required few skills, no expensive
mass-production mouldings, and could be built in a backyard. These were wonderful advantages for
the home builder, but the average home builder is such a bodger that the material got a bad reputation. Many
people were carried away by the thought that they could afford a 55-foot homemade ferro hull instead of
a 35-foot factory-moulded GRP hull. They forgot that
the hull is only about one-quarter the cost of the finished yacht, and that the cost of fittings goes up exponentially with size.
They went bust trying to fit out the bigger hull. ... [Ferro boats are cheaper to buy and harder to sell.]
Re: fiberglass on wood hulls, from the
IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
From Tom O'Meara:
... a wooden vessel that has been fiberglassed over as a panacea to
other problems is an abomination and will be a source of
From William Carter:
... whoever put fiberglass over the wood has written a
death warrant for that boat.
The glass has created an impermeable skin, trapping moisture between it and
the wood. This moisture will in time leach the oils from the wood, and rot
will then develop.
Summarized from Delwin D Fandrich:
A complete hull job with epoxy and fiberglass
over sound, dry wood can work.
Any deviation from this (partial coverage, polyester instead of epoxy,
rotted wood, wet wood) is fatal.
Summarized from Alexey Verkhovsky:
If glassed over from the beginning, and if the
glassing is done properly, it lasts almost forever.
From John McGinnis:
Done properly with the right materials and technique glass over wood is
serviceable. At its heart that is what the West Systems technique is all
about. ... polyester as
compared to epoxy has sufficient deficiencies as to warrant the extra
expense of the latter.
My father built our first boat in the backyard using plywood and poly/glass.
The result was fine so long as:
1) The glass wood interface was looked after. Allow a little water via
neglect to get under the glass and trouble is soon to follow.
2) Impact loads were kept to a minimum. We finally pitched the boat 4 years
later as the hull had indeed delaminated due to what we believe were impact
loads. The bottom had several 'stars' in the areas around where the
delamination occurred while the top sides were in perfect shape.
My overall feeling is that poly/wood combinations are long term headaches.
It has become common knowledge that polyester is a water barrier but is not
waterproof. Eventually conditions will occur where the polyester will permit
permeation of the wood underneath. At that point you are at the mercy of the
"Covering Wooden Boats with Fiberglass" by Allan H. Vaitses
From John McGinnis on the
IRBS live-aboard mailing list:
I have boats built of trees and oil.
Boats from Trees:
+ Reasonably quiet compared to oil boats.
+ Has some self-insulating properties
+ Can be worked on by a knowledgeable wood worker.
- - You have to keep maintenance up. Let it slip and stuff can go bad quickly.
- - Insurance can be harder to get.
- - Resale is not as good.
Boats from Oil:
+ Easier maintenance.
+ Easier to insure.
- - An Oil boat with the pox is worse than a wood boat with rot.
- - Dear God they all look the same.
- - Working on an oil boat requires a little more understanding of materials.
- - The smell of poly in the salon is worse than cedar in the head.
A lot, from my viewpoint depends on your personality. If you are the kind of
person who dotes on your hobbies and would do the same with a wood boat you
have a good fit. If your lifestyle tends toward fits and spurts of use and
maintenance you might be better off with a fiberglass boat. My experience is
that wood is good but it fares better if it is used often and cared for by a
A wood boat in the subtropics/tropics also requires more attention to the
top deck. I had constant problems with top deck leaks until I fully replaced
the sub decking and recaulked. Maintaining a watertight seal was a constant
About wooden boats, from Tom O'Farrell on Cruising World
I had a 43' sailboat built in Norway by Anker & Jenkins in 1952, it was the most
beauteous creation of all time, in my view, when I bought it, a sight to behold,
drew raves. In extraordinary condition. Could have been the subject of magazine
articles for its inherent beauty , photographed like Cindy Crawford, slim and gorgeous.
I worked on it solidly for four years non-stop just to keep it up.
Did a bit of sailing but generally had no time as the maintenance schedule was
far more important than sailing schedules. By the time I had worked my way from
stern to bow it was time to start all over again.
If you want a working hobby, and some people do, not a sailing hobby
buy a big wooden boat. If you want a working hobby that allows some
sailing buy a small wooden boat. If you want to sail buy an aluminum
or fibreglass boat. Some work but nothing like wood.
Steel falls somewhere in between. I now have an aluminum boat,
virtually no maintenance at all, I don't have a single drop of paint on it,
anywhere, period. No pieces of wood either.
Keep it simple and aluminum or fibreglass and you can go sailing.
About wooden boats, from Gene Thompson on Cruising World
My first "big" boat was a 30' wood ketch. Spruce spars.
Everything was varnished. Imagine what it's like to varnish the masts from a bosun's chair.
How many coats? The decks were glassed over plywood (they needed major rework).
Wood boats vary a lot in quality of wood used and construction techniques.
The one most important thing to remember is that you cannot let them go.
You must keep up the maintenance or they will go downhill quickly.
It is also safe to say that you will go sailing less if you have a wooden boat.
You will be at the dock working on it. Everyone will admire it however.
They will all say "Beautiful boat, lot of work though" as
they pass by on the way to their boat to take it out sailing.
The positive side to having a wood boat is that they are quiet
and "feel" better. They smell different too.
About wooden boats, from Jeff H on Cruising World
Having owned three wooden boats, I found that they are not that much more
work than a glass boat of the same age, if they start out in good shape
and you keep them that way. Of course this assumes that the fiberglass
boat is maintained in as perfect condition as the wooden boat has
to be (which is a rarity). The big difference in a wooden boat is that
the boat sets the maintenance schedule. You can't put things off.
When a finish or a caulking goes bad it must be taken care of promptly
or the damage will expand rapidly. You can often afford to let things go
on a glass boat and they will come back with little or no expansion in the work. ...
From Jeff H on Yachtingnet's Sailboat forum:
In looking at a boat to buy, I always like to think that I am not buying
a whole model line, just the one boat that I am going to end up purchasing.
Generalities about one model boat or another, or one manufacturer to another,
are helpful in focusing on general models to consider. In the end, you are
only really looking for the one individual example of that model that is
either in good shape or priced sufficiently low to cover the cost of the
repairs, your time and your efforts to make it right. In this discussion,
I think it's a mistake to universally rule out a cored hull in preference
to either a solid glass hull with a glued in structural frame or a
solid glass hull with no frames. None of these methods are inherently
more durable, or better or worse than the others.
They all depend on proper design and engineering.
Let me explain. Lets start with the solid glass hull with no framing or coring.
If you build a solid glass hull without framing it is either very heavy or
very flexible. Since the boats you are considering were all of similar weights,
this means that a solid glass hull with no framing or coring will be considerably
more flexible. Fiberglass hates flexing, over time it results in fatigue of the
bond between the resin and laminate, and a general reduction in strength.
This problem is particularly acute adjacent to rigid structures like bulkheads
and bunk flats. I have looked at older solid glass boats where you stand on
the ground and could pick out every bulkhead and glassed in structure.
In boats that have been sailed hard, these areas are often marred by spider
cracks and other signs of distressed laminate. By the mid 1980's quality
builders of solid glass hulls placed soft material between the hull and bulkheads.
This reduced print through but does not solve the more global problem of
repetitive flexing. Increasing the hull thickness can help some but at
the price of greater weight and also greater stresses due to that greater weight.
Greater weight in the hull reduces stability and, for a given weight,
means less ballast and/or carrying capacity.
Then there are boats with solid glass hull with molded framing but no coring.
During the era in question this was very popular with boats build in England.
Ericson really popularized this construction in the States with their force grid.
Essentially this was a molded frame system consisting of longitudinal and
athwartship frames molded in a grid and then glued in.
In concept this is a very strong way to build a boat.
(It was my favorite at the time.) It reduces flex and in doing so reduces fatigue.
BUT it too has its problems. The grids were generally installed with a
polyester resin slurry. Polyester used in this manner is brittle and does
not form great secondary bonds. In normal conditions, that is no problem
but over time, or when exposed to impact, the bonds can fail and are very
hard to repair. Ericson actually experimented with using laminating resin
rather than finish resin on the inner laminate for its boats to get a better
bond between the grid and the hull. They had hoped to that the interior
painted finish would block out enough oxygen to promote a final set.
This was not a great idea, in that, years later the resins were still
soft and tacky to the touch.
Another problem is with impact in a frame and skin hull.
If we are considering boats of similar weight, the weight of the
framing by necessity is made up for by reducing the thickness of the skin.
This works fine in most ways because the thickness of a fiberglass hull
is actually determined by the need to have adequate stiffness rather
than by a requirement for absolute tensile, compression or bending strength
and the frame work provided the necessary stiffness. The smaller panel
sizes result in reduced spans for the skin so the thinner skin does not
have to resist as much bending stress as well.
The problem comes with point impact. If the impact occurs between the frames,
the skin is more prone to fail not only because the skin is thinner but
because of the sheering action between the relatively stiff frames and
the point of impact on the skin. (Sort of like a scissors).
If the impact occurs on a frame, it can break the bond between the frame
and the skin. This is often hard to detect and can be very expensive to repair.
Lastly, there is a cored hull. Cored hulls provide a lot of skin stiffness.
Cored hulls were often combined with internal framing providing the best
of both worlds (my current favorite ways to build a hull).
In theory, cored hulls have nearly the same laminate thickness as a
framed hull. In an impact a cored hull behaves a bit differently than
a solid hull. In theory, in a sold unframed hull some of the energy
of the impact is absorbed in localized flexing of the hull.
In a framed hull this does not happen as readily. In a cored hull,
the coring acts as a crush zone. So while the outer skin may puncture,
a certain amount of energy is absorbed by the core and by the compression
of the outer skin against the core. This absorption of energy may actually
result in some chance that the inner skin may remain intact, albeit delaminated,
during an impact that might have pierced an un-cored framed hull.
We are all aware of the problems with cored hulls.
If they are abused or poorly maintained they could have areas of
delamination. They have a thinner outer skin that is more easily damaged
in an impact with a sharp object. They don't like water intrusion.
This is more true of balsa coring than the higher quality-higher density
closed cell foams. That said balsa is lighter and is more sheer resistant
than foams and, if used properly, is reasonably durable.
I have owned a 25-year-old boat with cored decks
(it happened to be a 1965 C&C designed Grampian Classic 22)
that had no signs of delamination in the decks.
(Decks are more prone to problems than hulls, which have fewer
horizontal surfaces to trap water and fewer penetrations.)
This brings me back to my first point.
You are only looking for one boat in good shape.
With a cored hull, a good certified NAMS or SAMS surveyor can tell
whether or not the boat is healthy. You need to take some care to
maintain that health. On my current boat, a 15 year old cored hull,
I have the hull sounded every 4 or 5 years. Early on, I had an area
that sounded different. I actually took a couple small corings of
the suspicious area and found nothing wrong but it was easy to do and
was a great relief.
In buying a cored hull, its not that hard to tap out a hull for any
major glaring problems. You'd be surprised how easy it is to hear a
big problem and that would save the cost of a survey on a major lemon.
Of course you should still have the boat surveyed since a qualified
surveyor has the experience and equipment to catch things you or I
would tend to miss.
As to the boats that you have narrowed your choices to (early 1980's
Tartan, C&C and Pearson, Bristols, Ericsons and Morgans), they really
represent a narrow slice of fairly equal quality segment of the market
place. On general, Tartans, C&C's and Bristols of that era were
slightly better built, Pearsons, Ericsons were a step down and Morgans,
depending on the model were below the others.
But that is just a broad generality. Morgan had some Brewer
designed 32's and 38's that seemed to be better built than some of
their other boats of this era.
The early 1980's were not a great period at Ericson.
Ericson's reputation for quality comes later especially after
Pacific Seacraft purchased the tooling from the bankrupt company.
The early 1980's Ericsons were essentially early IOR based hull
forms with race rule conscious rigs (big jibs and small mainsails).
The C&C's of this era were similar in that regard, although I really
like the line of C&C's that were introduced around 1983 or 84 or so.
The real issue with boats over this age is often a death of a thousand cuts,
so to speak. I think that the real end of the life of a f.g. boat is often
going to be economic. In other words the cost to maintain and repair an old
boat will get to be far beyond what it is worth in the marketplace.
I would guess this was the end of more wooden boats than rot. I can give you
a bit of an example from land structures. When I was doing my thesis in college,
I came across a government statistic which if I remember it correctly
suggested that in the years between 1948 and 1973 more houses had been built
in America than in all of history before that time. In another study these
houses were estimated to have a useful life span of 35 years or so.
As an architect today I see a lot of thirty five year old houses that
need new bathrooms, kitchens, heating systems, modern insulation,
floor finishes, etc. But beyond the physical problems of these houses,
tastes have changed so that one of these houses, even in perfect shape
still has very small market value. With such a small market value it
often does not make sense from a resale point of view to rebuild and
so these houses are often sold for little more than land value.
At some level, this drives me crazy, since we are tearing down perfectly
solid structures that 35 years ago was perfectly adequate for the
people who built it, but today does not meet the "modern"
The same thing happens in boats. You may find a boat that has a perfectly
sound hull. Perhaps it needs sails, rigging, a bit of galley updating,
some minor electronics, the atomic 4 rebuilt, or for the big spender,
replaced with a diesel. Pretty soon you can buy a much newer boat with
all relatively new gear for less than you'd have in the old girl.
She's suddenly worth more as salvage than as a boat.
A couple years ago a couple friends of mine were given a Rainbow in
reasonable shape. Needed sails and wanted an auxiliary, but even buying
everything used the boat was worth a lot less than the cost of
the "new" parts. When they couldn't afford the slip fees
the Rainbow was disposed of. She now graces a landfill and the cast
iron was sold for scrap for more than they could sell the boat for.
From Jeff H on Cruising World
... From my experience, a good wooden boat in well-maintained condition is no harder
to maintain than a fiberglass boat if you are trying to keep both in the same condition.
The big difference between wood and fiberglass is that with wood you have to maintain
the boat on its schedule or it starts to deteriorate. Once you start the deterioration
process it becomes a race to bring the boat back before you lose more of the boat.
With fiberglass if you let the boat go, you can usually bring it back much easier.
For that reason, it is easier to live aboard and do distance cruising on a fiberglass boat.
I think that it is a misconception to say that wooden boats are less expensive than
fiberglass to buy. That used to be true but these days quality wooden boats that are
well maintained and in solid condition actually cost about the same or more than similar
vintage glass boats. The reason that wooden boat prices seem to be less expensive is
that you see a lot of tired wooden boats for sale and they are less expensive because
of their condition rather than because they are built of wood.
It's also to point out that wooden boats vary far more in building technique and materials
than a glass boat. A cedar or teak planked hull with copper rivet construction, lead ballast
with bronze keel bolts and a glassed rather than teak deck can last almost for ever.
An epoxy saturated, cold molded wooden boat can last a lot longer than fiberglass and have
less maintenance than fiberglass. BUT the run of the mill wooden boat out there was designed
for a limited lifespan and yards that could do amazing "long term maintenance".
Growing up in the 1960's it was routine to see yards wooding the topsides (stripping all
of the paint down to bare wood). It was routine to see boats being recaulked, refastened,
reframed, replanked, and even re-hulled. Today there are few yards that can do this work
and the cost of doing this kind of work can easily cost as much as buying a fiberglass
boat of the same length.
From "The Essentials of Living Aboard a Boat" by Mark Nicholas
One advantage to wooden boats is that they are cheap. An old wooden boat can be purchased
for far less than a comparably sized fiberglass boat. Consequently, you get more space for
the money. Wooden boats also tend to look and smell nice, and even an inoperable boat
might be an excellent choice for someone who does not want to leave the dock or perform much maintenance.
Wooden boats require more care than fiberglass boats. You might not be able to finance the purchase,
get the boat insured, or sell the boat. ...
Some travel lifts will not haul wooden boats because of the stresses that are placed on the hull. ...
From "Voyaging on a Small Income" by Annie Hill
... there is no such thing as the perfect material, and when you come to select
your boat for voyaging, you will, in fact, find yourself considering the Osmosis 32,
the Dry Rot 30, the Anode 35 or the Rust Bucket 31. Whatever the advertising blurb says,
none of them will be "maintenance free" and all of them will have virtues and drawbacks. ...
Fiberglass layer types
- Fiberglass == fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) == glass-reinforced plastic (GRP).
- Laminate == glass plus resin.
- Gelcoat == pure resin.
- Cloth: fibers woven into thin cloth.
- Roving: continuous fibers woven into coarse, thick cloth.
Strong, but bonding is mediocre.
- Mat: short fibers in random directions.
Bonds well, but low strength.
Fiberglass laminate == fibers (glass, Kevlar or carbon) woven into cloth, mat or roving,
then saturated and bonded together with plastic resin (polyester, epoxy or vinylester).
Factors that make a boat harder to insure: home-built; custom-built; non-fiberglass hull.
Chris Caswell's "Shifts in Fiberglass"
David Pascoe's "Are They Fiberglass Boats Anymore?"
David Pascoe's "To Buy or Not to Buy ... A Blistered Boat, That Is."
"The Good, The Bad, The Ugly" (delamination) article by Nick Bailey in issue 2000 #3 of DIY Boat Owner magazine
Metal Boat Society
SailNet - John Kretschmer's "Rust Never Sleeps"
Wooden boat construction article by Mark Smaalders in Sept/Oct 2000 issue of Good Old Boat magazine
Benford's "Boatbuilding Materials"
I would suggest dropping the ballast enough to be able to inspect the bolts.
If they look Ok then clean the adjoining surfaces and lay a good bedding
of epoxy before drawing the keel back up to the keel stub.
Do not try to draw the keel up simply by tightening the bolts.
Instead position a hydraulic jack under the keel and jack it into place,
then tighten the bolts after the keel is positioned.
[Use epoxy or 3M 5200 ?]
A friend did the 5200 thing.
He did not have a bad experience but the keel would still work and the seam
would open up every year. Not to mention my fear that the constant working
will cause fatigue to the metal of the keel bolts.
The epoxy will actually to a degree help to stiffen the keel.
Also the longer water is allowed to penetrate to the keel bolts, the more prone
that they will be to deterioration from oxidation or electrolysis.
I have dropped and rebedded the keel on several older one-designs (that are similar to a Soling).
What I found with these boats is that the keel working actually slows the boat down.
Each of the three boats that I did went back in the water considerably faster than when they came out.