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The Sailboat Diaries: Fiberglass-By-Numbers

Posted May 30, 2017 12:54 PM by HUSH

Summer is almost here which means sailing is kicking into high gear. Alas, my 1970 Matilda and I are still on the hard, at least for the next couple months while I finish her refitting. A cold winter made it unbearable to do much for her between late November to March.

For new readers and old readers alike, at the end of last boating season I bought a sailboat. She’s pushing 50 years old and although she’s structurally sound, there are many, many things, both mechanical and cosmetic, that I’d like to refurbish before she is rechristened and relaunched.

Autumn ended just a little early last year and I didn’t get around to my transom reinforcement. Instead that had to wait until early April. I elected to use System Three Epoxy Resin along with fiberglass roving to reinforce the area. Colloidal silica was added as resin filler to give a more peanut butter-like consistency, so it could be spread into the crack and not run as much on the inclined wall.

To begin I measured out and cut five sections of fiberglass roving and I labelled them 1-4 in order of application, which is also smallest to largest. Before applying the epoxy, I held these pieces dry against the repair area and numbered where I thought they should fit. Because it was a warm day and the epoxy sets in about 20 minutes, I needed to work efficiently and this ‘fiberglass-by-numbers’ technique seemed appropriate.

The first piece of roving was thoroughly wetted and wedged into the crack with the help of a putty knife. I did my best to prepare the area inside the crack by passing some sandpaper through it first. Subsequent glass cloth sections had their outline painted with epoxy and then were wetted on top with more epoxy.

Something I didn’t anticipate was the glass cloth roving conforming to the subtle rise in the transom wall where an original metal plate is fiberglassed in. In the middle of this process I cut a new third layer out of the cloth and made some cuts to the middle of the cloth the help with this. By this time the cloth layers were starting to tack and I had to put the fourth layer on immediately. (When the epoxy mixed up in the mixing container starts to smoke, you know you don’t have much time left!) The result is a final layer of fiberglass that doesn’t conform to the wall as well as the two layers before it (as the first layer is underneath the crack). Laminate reinforcement is messy work but is an essential skill for many DIY boat owners.

In the original transom reinforcement thread from last year, there was some discussion about adding an additional metal or wood bracket to this section. I was initially in favor of this idea, but had to abandon it for a few reasons. First, the largest bracket I could fit was 29 inches long, due to the working space of the lazarette and space availability of the transom wall. I also needed space to the left of this repair area to mount components for my bilge system (the next project). Lastly, I also bought the sailor DIY Bible, AKA Don Casey’s Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual. After reading the sections on epoxy laminates, I was comfortable moving forward without the brace.

From the beginning this was a peace of mind fix and not a critical repair. During the first few times that I fire up the outboard on the water I’ll watch this area for flexing and will also inspect throughout the season for evidence of increased cracking.

Ultimately this was just the first checkmark in a long list of projects, both ongoing and impending. Updates on my progress and questions for the community will be faster going forward.

3 comments; last comment on 05/31/2017
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The Sailboat Diaries: Ahoy!

Posted October 12, 2016 8:00 AM by HUSH

Welcome to the first blog post in what will be a long series of blog posts, entitled The Sailboat Diaries. The title is a bit romantic, but so is this project. And ‘Captain’s Log’ was just too cliché.

I had a few experiences sailing on square-rigged ships as a kid and teenager, and a handful more on beach catamarans. I’m also 100% a summer person—and I can’t think of a better way to spend a hot summer day than with family and friends on a boat in a New York lake or along the Connecticut coast. So after a year of late nights on Craigslist (looking only for boats, I swear), I finally found a small sailboat for sale at a nearby marina that suited me.

Anything in my price range was going to need a little work, and it was something I actually preferred. Not only could I make it my own, but I’d also have an excellent grasp on all the boat’s systems. And because this is being completed on a shoestring budget, I virtually cannot hire professionals. I’m not going to disregard safety in the name of time or money, but I at least need to try all repairs or refurbishment before going back to the marina.

So, with this prologue, I introduce my newest prize: a 1970, 20-foot, fractional-rigged sloop, model type Matilda, produced by Ouyang Boat Works in Whitby, Ontario. This type of boat is somewhat rare in the United States, but the designer, Robert Tucker, is a renowned boat designer with many other of his successful 16-25 foot designs taken into production. Since my boat isn’t officially named, she’ll be called Matilda until I’m finally ready to pick a name and apply the vinyl decal.

I wouldn’t buy a lemon of a boat—the previous owner had her in the water for the past two summers, but lacked the time to sail or maintain her properly. Matilda’s hull is in great shape, though it needs some gelcoat in spots and some bottom paint too. Fiberglass boats from this era are notoriously overengineered because people were skeptical if fiberglass (I prefer calling it glass-reinforced plastic) was going to hold up as good as wood. (I think today we know which won.)

Matilda came with 10 sails, nine of which are in great shape. A 6 HP two-cycle outboard is there for when the sails aren’t enough. A trailer that should last another decade or so.

But the boat is 46 years old, so she of course has her rough spots. I know for a fact I’m at least her fourth owner. She needs some transom reinforcement, which was turned into a forum post last week. I need to check for a leak around her centerboard trunk. The centerboard needs new steel cable, as well as a limiting mechanism to prevent it from overextending. I can’t believe there isn’t a single bilge pump in this boat! The electrical system looks like a mix of 1992 and 2012.

And then there are about three dozen cosmetic/comfortability projects. New boat cushions. New lights. Replacing the 1997 car radio with something even close to modern. How about a door or at least curtain to the head? Fixing the sink plumbing. Replacing the running rigging. An awning for the cockpit might be nice. We’ll definitely need a stove or grill on the stern. This list goes on…

I have no idea how long this blog series will go on. A year? Two? Maybe more? But I do hope you’ll take this journey will Matilda and I, even if you won’t be shoving off with us in 2017.

15 comments; last comment on 10/15/2016
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