Here you go, John:
We hit a reef near Malolo Lailai in Fiji. A mark was missing, putting us on the wrong course, and the sun was low and in our eyes such that we couldn't see the reef. We shouldn't have been sailing under these conditions. Very bad judgement on my part. Anyway, we were doing about six knots when we hit hard. I'll never forget the sound. In addition to two loud bangs, the boat slammed hard and the entire rig shook noisily. The first bang was the lead keel hitting a large bomie. The second was the skeg hitting after the keel bounced over the bomie.
Once we were sure we weren't taking water, we continued on to Musket Cove. The boat felt fine. When we were moored, we dove over the side and looked at the damage. There was just a little dent and some scratches in the lead keel. I've always been a fan of bolt on keels, but this proved the matter for me. With only fiberglass as a barrier, an encapsulated lead ballast keel would have been badly crunched, probably holing the boat.
The skeg, on the other hand, was badly damaged. It was pushed in at the point where it hit and the entire leading edge from the hull to the gudgeon was split open. The split was widest at the point of impact, about an inch, then tapered to nothing at the extreme edges top and bottom. The skeg is a fiberglass laminated shell filled with a fiberglass mish mash, like from a chopper gun, with a steel bar embedded in the mish mash from the top of the skeg to the bottom.
When the skeg hit, the impact shattered the mish mash, driving it aft. As it widened, it created a wedge that forced the skeg to split. Like the crumple zone at the front of a car, it crumbled and absorbed the impact. If it hadn't, the entire skeg would have been driven aft and bent the rudder stock. As it was, the rudder and stock were undamaged. I was amazed, really. Given how hard we hit, the rudder stock should have been toast. Crealock and PSC built a winner. The steel bar was far enough aft that it did not directly hit the reef, although the mish mash all around the lower part of it was broken.
I'm sure a spade rudder would have been destroyed. This contention was proved when another boat with a spade rudder was towed into the marina after hitting a reef (Fiji is littered with them). The rudder was bent aft in the middle about 70 degrees and cracked completely through. Worse yet, the bearing and rudder shaft/apeture in the hull were also damaged. After our hit, we were able to sail, even with the damaged skeg.
As luck would have it, we were only 14 miles from one of the best yards in the tropical South Pacific, at Vuda Marina near Nadi. We sailed there the next day. When we hauled out, I cut away the cracked and broken parts of the fiberglass laminate. Then I picked out every bit of loose mish mash I could, leaving the skeg about 1/2 hollow. I rinsed the area with fresh water, then let it dry in the tropical sun. Then, I slowly filled the cavity with fiberglass mat that I picked apart to create mish mash and West System epoxy resin. I got the resin, hardener and fillers from Fiji Coffee in Suva (go figure) and the fiberglass cloths from a frIend on another cruising boat. I was able to get everything else I needed to get the job done right in Fiji (grinder, sand paper, paint primer, paint, etc.). I had to go slowly and use slow acting hardener to avoid overheating the material and laminate. I could only mix resin in the early morning and late afternoon. I used very long needle nose pliers and long screwdrivers to push the fiberglass into every part of the skeg's interior.
Once the interior of the skeg was done, I ground down the exterior to solid fiberglass. I then laid up 12 layers of bi-axial fiberglass cloth on the skeg, tapering and blending the layers well above and well forward of the orginally damaged area, into the surrounding hull area. Of course, I used West system epoxy resin. I then used West System fillers to fair up the skeg before applying three final coats of resin, priming and painting. Due to the extra layers of fiberglass, the skeg is now a little wider and the leading edge is a little thicker than originally. I wanted to satisfy myself that the skeg was at least as strong as it was in the beginning. Otherwise, it is impossible to detect a difference. I spent a lot of time fairing carefully. The job went very well, although it took a month to pull it off.
I am much more careful sailing around reefs nowadays.
s/v Swan, PSC 34 #305
PS: I'll try to post a picture of the skeg showing the split.