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Difficulty understanding the specifics of fiberglass repair
So this is my first post ever on this site. I've been doing a lot of browsing, learning a lot of new things about sailing I hadn't known before. Truth be told... I've never been sailing. I'd LOVE to. In fact, it's definately high up on my list of things to do when I get home. I'm currently in Afghanistan and saving every penny I can.
I've purchased a few books on sailing, purchasing your first, and some restoration stuff. I'm hoping to purchase a cruiser in the 25-30ft area with a shoal draft and adequate living area for 1-2 (I'm used to not living in the lap of luxury, so by "adequate," I mean, not in disgusting disrepair). My top pick would be a Cal 25, any input on that? I'm from Florida, and Carribean sailing is my ultimate goal. Is the keel too shallow for more than coastal sailing? Or is that all on my ability to sail? I've got no problem putting a little bit of work into a boat, in fact I'd prefer it that way. However, I'm hitting a brick wall when it comes to fiberglass and hull repair and maintenance.
I'm reading conflicting information about exactly how it all works. I understand (at least I hope I do) that a fiberglass hull is made of several layers of fiberglass mat glued together by resin, and coated on the exterior by gelcoat. I got that. What I'm confused about is most of the books I'm reading say use epoxy for fiberglass repairs (the bonding agent, the resin, is this correct?). Are most boats from the factory manufactured using polyester resin? I've read it doesn't handle water as well should it have prolonged exposure to it, through the gelcoat.
And the other thing: gelcoat. I know this is the exterior layer that keeps water out (in theory, I know... I understand blisters). Is this also the paint? Does gelcoat come in different colors, or is paint added on top, AFTER the gelcoat is applied?
Anyway, I know I'm new to all this, and I don't plan on jumping into this blindly. This is going to be a slow learning process, but I'm trying to understand the general principles behind all this first. If I'm way out in left field about everything I've said, please let me know and I'll work at getting it right. :-) Any and all input would be greatly appreciated. There we a lot of questions, but I'm highly motivated. Thank you very much.
P.S.: Besides lessons, what would be the best way to gain experience actually sailing?