I am thinking of purchasing an Achilles dinghy that has been stored in a basement for almost 20 years. Should I worry that the material may have become brittle, even though it has never been exposed to the sun or water?
Tom Wood responds:
To my knowledge, the Achilles brand dinghies of that vintage were all constructed of a proprietary Neoprene-coated, laminated fabric material named Hypalon. This fabric has been around since World War II and has a reputation for great ruggedness and longevity. But it is not indestructible.
Listed below are the greatest fears associated with older Hypalon boats that have been stored for long periods:
- Rodents love to chew holes in this stuff.
- Tightly rolling the boats and storing them in very high or very low temperatures causes the fabric to "weld" to itself.
- Fabric delamination.
- Glue seam and accessory failure.
Make sure to unroll the boat and inspect it in detail. Then blow it up and leave it for at least 24 hours to check for air retention. Look for bulges or soft spots that might indicate fabric delamination. Inspect again to ensure that all seam doublers, rub rail, oarlocks, and other glued-on accessories are well bonded tug on them lightly. Inspect the plywood transom and floorboards with special care for dry rot or fabric delamination, and ensure that all floorboard stringers, transom plug, oars, and other loose parts are available.
If the boat passes these tests, even if it needs some minor doubler glue repairs, I wouldn't hesitate to own it and use it. We just sold a 15-year-old Hypalon boat that had served us with hard usage, but only because we wanted more space in the dink. And a friend of ours just bought one nearly 25 years old. Hopefully, the small risk you might take will be offset by an attractively low price.