There are things we like (a lot) about our boat.. the layout below, the rig, the look (from most angles) but one of the things I discovered about the boat after we bought her was that this version (Fast/Brazilian built rather than Nicholson built) had a reputation for having a substandard floor grid/reinforcement. At the time of purchase ours looked pretty average for a 20-year-old boat and did not appear to have ‘that issue’.
However as time went on and we tweaked the rig, sailed her a few years (not harshly but not babying her either) it became evident that there was in fact a weakness in that area. There was a tabbed-in fiberglass molded grid that supported the cabin sole, and allegedly provided longitudinal and lateral support as well. In that latter role it was woefully inadequate. We noticed after a couple of seasons that what had appeared to be crazing was now opening into real cracks, and things were moving.
As a result of that situation (pictured above) about 4 years ago I attempted some localized/mast step remediation, it did not prove to be adequate though it did stabilize the situation. This past spring we tried to sell her, thinking to move to something a few years newer with a better cockpit and walkthrough. We had some serious interest, but nothing developed and I knew that if it ever came to a survey that the visible issues with the grid structure were going to be a big deal. The manufacturer had poured copious amounts of gel coat around the tabbed in grid and over the years (and one relatively gentle bump against a rock) this had developed some cracks as well. Also, we were reconsidering selling in any event and in the end I decided this issue had to be dealt with whether we kept or sold.
So at the end of our season this summer I tackled the job. There were a number of considerations that I needed to ponder and come up with what I felt would be the best of options in terms of materials and methods, compatible with what I felt my capabilities (as, at best, an experienced amateur) were and what course would be my best guarantee of some success. Based on all of that this became the plan:
I didn’t want to ‘lock in’ an unnatural shape and was concerned about being able to ensure that the original shape was precisely retained on jackstands. In the end I decided to do the job afloat where I felt the hull support to be uniform and the hull shape as close to design as could be. This also avoided the considerable expense of what would’ve turned out to be a 5-6 week haulout. We were lucky to have an extraordinarily warm and dry fall so humidity was not an issue.
I did not want to rely on my own glasswork alone for strength (this is a fractional, swept spreader rig and when tuned up the forces are considerable) so decided to go with wooden stringers and floors for strength. I bonded these in place with 3M 5200, but followed that up with some serious tabbing and encapsulation with 1708 biaxial fabric and epoxy resin. I felt that the double bonding system would give me most peace of mind.
The area under replacement is shown in the red box on the profile drawing.
And so the job began. Fortunately this is a ‘stick built’ boat with minimal liners and I was able to remove the settees and tanks with relative ease My trusty angle grinder and a zip blade took out my previous repair and the inadequate grid. The grinding wheel then went to work on the ridiculous amount of gel coat everywhere to get down to good glass. I was encouraged that the actual glass beneath the gel coat cracks appeared sound and solid. A long day in paper coveralls and dust masks got us down to a bare hull save the original athwartships’ reinforcement laid up into the hull proper, which we retained.
Then came the tedious job of shaping and matching the new grid sections (4 stringers and 3 floors) to the contours of the hull while maintaining a flat, level platform for the cabin sole plates. I used clear ($$$) Douglas Fir 2x8s, creating two full length stringers, notched and interlocked with the floor sections, and in turn notched and interlocked with the outboard stringers for what I hope will be an immensely strong ‘egg crate’ design. As mentioned, these were bonded to each other and down onto the hull with 5200.
Sorry for the poor phone photo, here showing the wood grid in place after fitting and shaping:
After the bond cure, my wife and I spent 4 hours precutting cloth, and the next day she mixed resin, our son pre-wetted out the fabric, and I placed the pieces in a more or less continuous process, squeeging excess resin as we moved. It was a 6 hour marathon (on our Thanksgiving Sunday!) but the result looked pretty good.
Again another poor picture, with the glass work done.
By now the temperatures had dropped from the unseasonal warmth and the cure times were slowing down.. anyhow once it was workable we started drilling limber holes and planning the plumbing (auto bilge pump, water lines, manual bilge pump and drains for the ice box, stuffing box area and shower sump) I decided to use some hard PVC pipe in places to avoid a messy array of hoses laying in the bilge. I found that Forstner bits did the nicest job drilling holes through the stringers and the glass encapsulation.
The ‘hallelujah’ moment came when the first coat of paint went on the new structure.. I knew then we were on the road back.
The original grid, inadequate in any case, had been further compromised by the hacking of holes and cutouts for hoses and clearance over the keelbolt backing channel pieces, etc. I moved the center spacing outboard a couple of inches to clear those backing plates and allow a solid, single piece stringer from bulkhead to engine bed (the original grid was not even full length) This, though, required the addition of some ledges so that the floor pieces would be supported on the original lines. These were bonded, screwed and epoxy coated prior to painting.
Tackling such a job as a DIY is probably not going to be everyone’s (anyones??) cup of tea… my reasons for doing so were primarily cost saving, but I thought I had a shot at ending up with something that, while most certainly not a ‘professional’ job, would be at least adequate and for sure better than what we already had. Working weekends and evenings, pretty well steady for 6 weeks with small breaks between for cure times here and there has taken a bit of a toll.. clearly I'm not 30 anymore..
Once everything is reassembled, a major cleanup will be required (despite all the plastic hoarding dust gets ‘everywhere’, some varnish touch-ups where the inevitable scars are, then we can return all the stuff that’s currently stuffed in all corners of our condo. Today I got the settee fronts back in place. Next is reinstalling the tanks, then cleaning up the varnish. Here the floor is down too, and all that work is out of sight... sigh.....
So… time will tell if this structure is adequately strong or if I’ve made a bad error in judgement deciding to tackle this myself. At this point I’m feeling pretty good about it, but the test will come when the boat’s tuned up and sailing again. I’m not terribly worried about devaluing the boat. It would seem that near 30 year old boats aren’t worth much anymore anyhow, judging by the market, regardless of condition or equipment.
With this issue laid to rest I’ll feel better owning the boat, and also feel better about offering it for sale if that comes to pass. Thanks go to my family for the help and support, and to George at UltraLux plastics in Richmond BC, for service, prices and advice..