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Old 01-10-2008
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Cheap Construction Techniques

Hi All,

I wanted to share a few photos I took of a boat that had lost it's keel. Many 70's and 80's builders cut corners and laminated plywood into keel stubs to save money and I personally had to repair the keel stub and re-set my keel on my 1970's Catalina 30.

If you have "keel smile" or a leaking & weeping keel joint many times the culprit can be rotted plywood that was laminated into the keel joint. As we are pushing 20-30+ years, on many of these boats, the epidemic of poorly constructed keel stubs is becoming readily more apparent.

The photos below are not meant to disparage Pearson in any way. Pearson was NOT the only company to do this and O'Day, Catalina, Hunter and others also did this same type of construction. The boat below just happened to be the only boat I've come across where the whole joint was exposed and visible so I could snap a picture of it.

An easy way to tell if your keel joint is laminated with plywood is to drill a small pilot test hole. If saw dust comes out it's wood laminated. If black goo or a coffee ground looking substance comes out your plywood is beginning to rot and weaken which can lead to delamination of the keel stub.

Just because your boat has plywood in the keel stub this does NOT mean your keel is going to fall off. Many boats are out there still sailing with sopping wet keel stubs! When they will fail, or if they will, no one knows but the reports of keel's falling off are, at this point, still somewhat rare but they can and DO happen.

I remember a report of a guy in a O'Day, from last fall or so, who lost a keel on the great lakes "for no apparent reason". Now I don't know if his model even had plywood in the keel stub but it certainly could have from the descriptions I read. Wet plywood can also lead to increased keel bolt deterioration so the flexing & smile are not the only concerns.

If you test bore, and your laminate wood is dry, fill the hole with epoxy and leave it. If it's "coffee goo or grounds" you might want to consider addressing this issue.

I posted this because every week or so, on numerous forums, I see and hear people asking how to fix their keel joints and complaining that "it just keeps coming back every year". In most cases, with a plywood laminated stub, the real fix is to remove the plywood and rebuild the stub with solid glass so you minimize any flexing caused by rotted plywood and delamination. My Catalina "smile" never did come back after removing the wood...
The Boat:

The Layup:

The Sinking Keel Bolts:

The Bilge Side:

The Keel Side:
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Last edited by Maine Sail; 01-10-2008 at 12:02 PM.
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