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Maine Sail 01-10-2008 09:08 AM

Cheap Construction Techniques
Hi All,

I wanted to share a few photos I took of a boat that had lost it's keel. Many 70's and 80's builders cut corners and laminated plywood into keel stubs to save money and I personally had to repair the keel stub and re-set my keel on my 1970's Catalina 30.

If you have "keel smile" or a leaking & weeping keel joint many times the culprit can be rotted plywood that was laminated into the keel joint. As we are pushing 20-30+ years, on many of these boats, the epidemic of poorly constructed keel stubs is becoming readily more apparent.

The photos below are not meant to disparage Pearson in any way. Pearson was NOT the only company to do this and O'Day, Catalina, Hunter and others also did this same type of construction. The boat below just happened to be the only boat I've come across where the whole joint was exposed and visible so I could snap a picture of it.

An easy way to tell if your keel joint is laminated with plywood is to drill a small pilot test hole. If saw dust comes out it's wood laminated. If black goo or a coffee ground looking substance comes out your plywood is beginning to rot and weaken which can lead to delamination of the keel stub.

Just because your boat has plywood in the keel stub this does NOT mean your keel is going to fall off. Many boats are out there still sailing with sopping wet keel stubs! When they will fail, or if they will, no one knows but the reports of keel's falling off are, at this point, still somewhat rare but they can and DO happen.

I remember a report of a guy in a O'Day, from last fall or so, who lost a keel on the great lakes "for no apparent reason". Now I don't know if his model even had plywood in the keel stub but it certainly could have from the descriptions I read. Wet plywood can also lead to increased keel bolt deterioration so the flexing & smile are not the only concerns.

If you test bore, and your laminate wood is dry, fill the hole with epoxy and leave it. If it's "coffee goo or grounds" you might want to consider addressing this issue.

I posted this because every week or so, on numerous forums, I see and hear people asking how to fix their keel joints and complaining that "it just keeps coming back every year". In most cases, with a plywood laminated stub, the real fix is to remove the plywood and rebuild the stub with solid glass so you minimize any flexing caused by rotted plywood and delamination. My Catalina "smile" never did come back after removing the wood...
The Boat:
The Layup:
The Sinking Keel Bolts:
The Bilge Side:
The Keel Side:

chucklesR 01-10-2008 09:14 AM

What's the fix for this? I don't have the problem (i.e., plywood, not weeping yet) but my buddy does on his 84 Catalina 30

sailingdog 01-10-2008 09:22 AM

Chuckles.. You don't have a keel.. :)


Thanks for the post and the photos. ;) Not an issue for me either though.

Maine Sail 01-10-2008 09:23 AM


Originally Posted by chucklesR (Post 248125)
What's the fix for this? I don't have the problem (i.e., plywood, not weeping yet) but my buddy does on his 84 Catalina 30

At least with Catalina they are still in business and they can and will send him detailed instructions for removing the plywood and then a re-laminating schedule. If he is not skilled I'd advise having a professional tackle this job AS DROPPING THE KEEL IS NOT FUN..

sailingdog 01-10-2008 09:46 AM

I take it that the new schedule they're recommending is a solid glass layup for the keel support area.

chucklesR 01-10-2008 09:47 AM

EEK! dang, my keel fell off already???????? That's okay, I don't sail anyway I just motor.

Granted, probably a job for professionals. His budget is doesn't include professional anything - I spent last March (and I do mean all month) with a power plane and grinder fixing his blisters with him; I'm pretty sure I'll be drafted to help when this one crops up.
Catalina owner site has a couple entries on how to do it from the inside, how weird is that.

sailingdog 01-10-2008 09:52 AM


Makes a lot more sense to do this kind of repair from the inside, rather than the outside... since you can leave the outer laminate whole and that will add quite a bit of strength to the repair, where doing it from the outside in, you'll lose that advantage.

chucklesR 01-10-2008 10:11 AM

Meanwhile, if you are in the yard (and forget me doing it while afloat to save bucks)
- your boat is resting on the very same keel you are cutting, carving, dremeling and scraping out the plywood panel that was meant to take and distribute the load for because someone with N.A. after their name said more support was need than the 1/2 of FG and dried snot the guy with C.P.A after their name allowed for.

Guys, Gals: Loose the lead mines, save a catamaran sailor from having to come by and fix your boat when the inevitable happens and the earth seeks to reclaim it's minerals.

Maine Sail 01-10-2008 10:12 AM

yes ..
This type of repair is done from the inside as the "skin" on the inside is much less structural! This should never be done from the outside if it can be avoided.

chucklesR 01-10-2008 10:13 AM

What keeps the keel from just punching on through? Hope, charity and pretty thoughts?

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