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  #1  
Old 08-15-2009
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phlebas is on a distinguished road
Talking Steel Hull Project

I decided to renovate a 1960s fibreglass motorboat this summer (19 ft).

It marked the beginning of countless trips to the Chandlery, numerous sandwiches and lots of flasks of tea on the hard standing.

When the boat arrived at the Marina it was in such a bad state it caused almost universal amusement.

Everyone had something to laugh about, and that was actually rather nice.

The project was fun right from the start.

Yes there were weeks of sanding and painting. Yes the sanding was horribly dusty.

I was careful not to sand the old anti-foul paint from beneath the waterline. It might have contained cyanide which is highly toxic. I just painted over it after using a pressure hose.

The rotten wood in the boat (eg all the wood) was removed and replaced with new marine plywood.

Electrical wiring and more trips to the Chandlery. It seemed as though the work would go on for ever.

4 coats of paint, internal carpeting and speakers etc.

7 weeks after the sorry sight of the boat arrived, I stood inside a gleaming white carpeted pendulum, swinging gently from the tendrils of the fork lift.


On a lovely summers day in July, the boat sat on the water for the first time in 40 years and floated.

The engine started first time, a 120hp Force outboard. I have before and after photos I shall try to attach.

The idea was to have a boat for the Thames river in London. The marine engineer, at my request, fitted the Force 120hp to the transom (it was the only engine I had even though it is enormously powerful for such a small boat).

I checked to see if there was any water in the transom. So far so good.

The next weekend, after testing it for 2 days in the safe confines of the marina, I found myself in the lock.

I was heading away from the playpen into the tidal Thames itself, holding onto a rope in the lock with a grin on my face.

Out on the river, I applied some power. At that point the transom started vibrating badly. It was obvious the boat was overpowered and that the transom was in danger of being weakened.

Having told the lock-keeper I would be back in 4 hours, it was sad to limp back 20 minutes later, but nonetheless, and despite the hours of sanding and painting and woodwork, I went back with a smile on my face and knew then that I had to begin another project.

I have had some nice trips up the river past the Thames barrier and up to Tower Bridge (then past the Houses of Parliament and up to Hampton Court where Henry VIII lived).

The Clipper passenger boats cause me some concern because they are large fast tourist clippers and when you are in a small boat they are unnerving.

There is a turn on the River by the Millenium Dome in Greenwich where there is a Clipper boat depot and they come roaring away from the depot behind you.

The renovation project or renovation 'journey' was as important as any 'objective', such as being able to travel safely on the tidal Thames.

Dancers do not aim for a certain spot on the dancefloor and imagine they have 'arrived' when they get there. So too with the renovation project. It was the journey that was as much fun as any 'final objective'.

I should very much like to renovate something else. A 34 foot steel (full displacement) hull has tempted me. It is a complete wreck.

I should love to sandblast it, and then apply epoxy foam or foam panels (not sure which is best) and move on from there with good marine paint and a diesel engine installation. It is a complete shell.

Dover to Calais. That is what is pushing me to renovate something more substantial.

From Calais, a series of coastal hops to Le Havre lead to the golden Estuary at the mouth of the Seine.

A 75 mile trip from the estuary leads to Rouen, a route wide and deep enough for container ships.

The container ships have to stop at Rouen, and from there only passenger boats and pleasure craft can go further.

The Paris Arsenal Marina awaits and indeed the many magnificant canals throughout France (but you have to be very patient as there are many hundreds of locks if you want to go all the way to the Med).

I have lots of questions about steel full displacement hulls but first I want to see what information is already available on this wonderful site

Thank you for reading. I look forward to reading your many stories and excellent advice.
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Old 08-22-2009
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gringa is on a distinguished road
Hi phlebas,
very interesting your posting. With my husband we built a 34 footer in steel. Let us know what you need and we will try to answer. We are in London and in the process of dismantling the whole interior and re-doing it from scratch.
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Old 08-30-2009
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phlebas is on a distinguished road
Steel Hull

I hope you have lots of fun renovating the boat

I confess that a friend of mine persuaded me not to go for the steel hull.

I would have valued the feeling of safety and solidity, but on the particular facts of the hull in question, he rightly pointed out it would cost me more to renovate than buying a ready to go second hand boat and that it would take many months.

I suppose the critical factor...Stapleton's Power Boat Bible. His view is that steel hulls are great in terms of strength (eg for icebreaking) and provide a feeling of assurance in heavy weather, but on the flip side tend to suffer (as do more rare aluminium hulls) from deterioration by electrolysis unless knowledgeably maintained.

As well as that, Stapleton observed extra hull weight leads to greater fuel consumption and I think that was the deciding factor.

I started to look at old 'ready to go' fibreglass boats.

I think the steel hull could have been wonderful, and I expect your boat will be fantastic when its finished. But out of an abundance of caution I chickened out.

I would be most interested to know how your project is going and whether you think I have opted out for the wrong reasons

Kind regards,
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