We're shopping for our first large sailboat and we saw a 39-foot O'Day that was pretty impressive except for one thing.When looking at the hull-keel joint, we observed the following:
(1) One long continuous crack indicating exactly where the keel meets the hull. The crack is larger forward as opposed to aft.
(2) In some locations along the crack, streaks of rust are evident.
(3) At some points on the hull side of the crack, the hull is "spongy."
Do these things indicate serious issues? We plan on getting a survey of any boat we are serious about, but would prefer not to spend the money on it if this is a problem that screams 'Run away as fast as you can.'
Thanks for your question. It sounds as though you're taking a wise approach to the matter. The rust by itself isn't too disconcerting, but the fact that there's a crack that is larger forward than aft is a strong indication that something is amiss. Perhaps the boat has hit the bottom one or more times underway or suffered some other debilitating stress. In a worse-case scenario, the crack indicates that structural damage has taken place. A lesser evil would be that saltwater has worked its way into at least one of the keel bolt holes and penetrated the surrounding material. Because you describe the hull here as "spongy" in spots, that appears to be likely, and that too is bad news.
The problem is, you can't be sure of the severity of the situation unless you investigate further. Maybe the following information will help you determine whether to pursue this with a surveyor's assistance: SailNet's maintenance maven Don Casey says that galvanized keel bolts shouldn't be expected to last more than 15 years, and that they should be checked every five years. If the owner of this boat can verify that the bolts have been replaced, you might want to go ahead with the survey.
While you've got a moment, check the heads of the bolts to see what condition those parts are in. But before you do that, take a few moments to further familiarize yourselves with the topic of hull-keel joints by reading the article that Don Casey wrote about them for SailNet "Keel Bolt Concerns." Reading that should give you a better idea whether or not you want to pursue this boat. If you do, but you suspect that you'll be in for some keel-bolt replacement or repairs, take a look at another Don Casey article: "Keel Bolt Repairs."
Another step you can take to get more information regarding these boats and any nuances they might possess is to log on to the O'Day Discussion List here at SailNet and find out if other owners have experienced any similar problems. To do that just log on to the homepage and click on the option "Join E-Mail Lists," which is listed on the left hand rail under Members' Center. If you're a SailNet Member that will take you to the index page and you simply need to click "O" for O'Day. If you're not a SailNet Member, you can sign up in about two minutes and it doesn't cost anything.