Age and Seaworthiness?
I wasn't sure where to put this...it could have been more appropriate in the "Boat reviews"
I've read of quite a few folks sailing 20, and 30+ boats with no problems and then I see critical sounding posts saying "You want to sail a 30 year-old boat where?" I'm certain that maintenance and generally how hard you sail have a lot to do with total lifespan, but what factors come into play when asking "is this boat just too old?"
My Coronado 25 was built in '69 so it's 40 years old, pushing 41. I've looked and looked and looked and it seems to be in good shape. I've poked and scratched and can't find any soft spots, only minimal cracking in the gel coat.
The worst thing I can say about it is that the wiring was a mess, but I've fixed nearly all of it, the teak and accomodations need refinishing and the thru-hulls were done in the old "wooden doughnut" method and they look kind of old.
I don't plan on blue-water sailing this boat, maybe one day I'll poke my head out of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay for a quick look, but that's about it.
I guess what I'm asking is what does time do to weaken a boat, that is unseen, that I should be concerned about? How can I tell how strong the boat is? Does the hull simply experience fatigue? The standing rigging has been replaced, but it's the original mast. Should I worry?
I hope I'm making sense here, thanks.
You're making plenty of sense. It really depends on a number of factors- here's 3:
So- in a nutshell it's almost down to a boat-by boat discussion- it's hard to generalize.
Ours is 45 years old, has a wood hull, very good build quality and good maintenance over the years. I'd feel comfortable going anywhere in her (and we're "high latitude" sailors).
Wood doesn't have a "service lifetime"
The boat was built to last
We're pretty psychotic about not letting things go.
We have the original Aluminum sticks, but they're very heavy extrusions so they're lightly loaded compared to a more "modern' rig
Some other boats that age wouldn't be safe to leave the dock (osmosis, delamination, stress fractures etc)
I have a 68' trojan Lapworth 24 foot back then they where not sure how well fiberglass worked so they put extra layers. If your boat is anything like mine she will probable handel more then you can for the next few years. I had the same problem with my electric.
I'm at 25 and still going strong!
knock on fiberglass!..
I surveyed an epoxy laminated wooden boat this week and I am transferring it to her new location. She was built in 1961 and I can clearly state that the boat is in perfect condition. No one can compare it with a newer boat. Ofcourse there are minor problems but they common on all boats. The hull is as sound as a newly built boat and will most probably will be sound after many more years. It is the material plus workmanship that makes a good boat. A good boat is a good boat in her later ages.
Ok, I couldn't find any delaminating areas or even blisters anywhere. The mast is deck-stepped. I looked for radiating stress cracks and there are none. There's a couple of light, gel coat cracks but that's about it.
I've read plenty of anecdotal evidence that says Coronado built 'em solid and I haven't had anyone speak to the contrary but there testimonials have been few because the boat is so old and there probably arent' many left.
Well, I feel better than I did. Thanks guys.
With regards to a boat like the Coronado 25, in their day these were cheaply built boats. they were the Hunters of that era. Glass work was crude and the prices cheap. At least some of the Coronado models had cast iron keels with galvanized steel keel bolts and and outward facing flange hull to deck joints with too small a faying area that were glued together with a slurry of thickened Polyester resin.
I've repaired these boats at various times in my life and they were not all that robust as new boats and and as you point out, they are now 40 years old. Chainplates were not that robust, the sail handling hardware was high friction and not really up to the loads in terms of ease of use. The bulkheads on some years were formica covered and the plywood was not marine plywood and so would delaminate or rot out behind the formica. The tabbing (skip tabbed as it was called back then) was discontinuous and bulkheads and flats could come loose over time.
Their actual design was not all that bad for that era, but we have learned a huge amount about what it takes to produce a seaworthy, seakindly, easily handled design, and few of those lessons apply to the Coronado 25.
Still and all these boats sail reasonable well and had a lot of room on board. They can be bought cheap and owned pretty cheaply, as long as you don't fall in love with the old girl and try to restore her to 'like-new'. Boats like these are a good way to dip your toes into the sailing pond without getting in over your head. They will never be great boats but one in decent shape isn't a bad boat either.
I wrote this for another purpose and recently dredged it up for a similar discussion, but some of it would seem to apply to your question as well.
I would not think that a well- constructed fiberglass has a life span per se. Neither concrete nor fiberglass inherently breaks down or loses strength simply on their own without other factors coming into play. They require other causes. In the case of fiberglass loss of strength can result from one or more of the following,
-The surface resins will UV degrade.
-Prolonged saturation with water will affect the byproducts formed in the hardening process turning some into acids. These acids can break down the bond between the glass reinforcing and the resin.
-Fiberglass is prone to fatigue in areas repetitively loaded and unloaded at the point where it is repetitively deflected. High load concentration areas such as at bulkheads, hull/deck joints and keel joints are particularly prone.
-Salts suspended in water will move through some of the larger capillaries within the matrix. Salts have larger molecules than water. At some point these salts cannot move further and are deposited as the water keeps moving toward an area with lower moisture content. Once dried these salt turn into a crystalline form and exert great pressure on the adjacent matrix.
-Poor construction techniques with poorly handled cloth, poorly mixed or over accelerated resins, and poor resin to fiber ratios were very typical in early fiberglass boats. These weaker areas can be actually subjected to higher stresses that result from much heavier boats. It’s not all that unusual to see small spider cracking and/or small fractures in early glass boats.
-Of course beyond the simple fiberglass degradation there is core deterioration, and the deterioration of such things as the plywood bulkheads and flats that form a part of the boat’s structure.
Earlier boats had heavier hulls for a lot of reasons beyond the myth that designers did not know how strong fiberglass was. Designers knew exactly how strong the fiberglass of that era actually was. The ffice:smarttags" />lace w:st="on">US</ST1:place> government had spent a fortune developing fiberglass information during WWII and by the early 1950’s designers had easy access to the design characteristics of fiberglass. (Alberg, for example, was working for the US Government designing F.G. composite items when he designed the Triton and Alberg 35) The reason that the hulls on the early boats were as thick as they were had more to do with the early approach to the design of fiberglass boats and the limitations of the materials and handling methods used in early fiberglass boats. Early designers and builders had hoped to use fiberglass as a monocoque structure using an absolute minimal amount (if any) framing which they felt occupied otherwise usable interior space.
On its own, fiberglass laminate does not develop much stiffness (by which I mean resistance to flexure) and it is very dense. If you try to create the kind of stiffness in fiberglass that designers had experienced in wooden boats, it takes a whole lot of thickness which in turn means a whole lot of weight. Early fiberglass boat designers tried to simply use the skin of the boat for stiffness with wide spread supports from bulkheads and bunk flats. This lead to incredibly heavy boats and boats that were still comparably flexible compared to earlier wooden boats or more modern designs. (In early designs that were built in both wood and fiberglass, the wooden boats typically weighed the same as the fiberglass boats but were stiffer, stronger, and had higher ballast ratios)
The large amount of flexure in these old boats was a real problem over the life of the boat. Fiberglass hates to be flexed. Fiberglass is a highly fatigue prone material and over time it looses strength through flexing cycles. A flexible boat may have plenty of reserve strength when new but over time through flexure fiberglass loses this reserve. There are really several things that determine the overall strength of the hull itself. In simple terms it is the strength of the unsupported hull panel itself (by 'panel' I mean the area of the hull or deck between supporting structures), the size of the unsupported panel, the connections to supporting structures and the strength of the supporting structures. These early boats had huge panel sizes compared to those seen as appropriate today and the connections were often lightly done.
This fatigue issue is not a minor one. In a study performed by the marine insurance industry looking at the high cost of claims made on older boats relative to newer boats and actually doing destructive testing on actual portions of older hulls, it was found that many of these earlier boats have suffered a significant loss of ductility and impact resistance. This problem is especially prevalent in heavier uncored boats constructed even as late as the 1980's before internal structural framing systems became the norm. The study noted that boats built during the early years of boat building tended to use a lot more resin accelerators than are used today. Boat builders would bulk up the matrix with resin rich laminations (approaching 50/50 ratios rather than the idea 30/70), and typically used proportionately high ratios of non-directional fabrics (mat or chopped glass) in order to achieve a desired hull thickness. Resin rich laminates and non-directional materials have been shown to reduce impact resistance and to further increase the tendency towards fatigue. The absence of internal framing means that there is greater flexure in these older boats and that this flexure increases fatigue further. Apparently, there are an increasing number of marine insurance underwriters refusing to insure older boats because of these issues.
I have been looking at a lot of older fiberglass boats in the past few years. One thing that has struck me is the sheer amount of noticeable flexure cracking in areas of high stress, such as bulkheads, chainplate attachment points, hull to deck joints, cabin to deck lines, engine beds and rudder posts, and other high load hardware positions.
There are probably other forms of hull degradation that I have not mentioned, but I think that the real end of the life of a boat is going to be economic. In other words the cost to maintain and repair an old boat will get to be far beyond what it is worth in the marketplace. I would guess this was the end of more wooden boats than rot. I can give you a bit of an example from land structures. When I was doing my thesis in college, I came across a government statistic, which if I remember it correctly suggested that in the years between 1948 and 1973 more houses had been built in America than in all of history before that time. In another study these houses were estimated to have a useful life span of 35 years or so. As an architect today I see a lot of thirty five year old houses that need new bathrooms, kitchens, heating systems, modern insulation, floor finishes, etc. But beyond the physical problems of these houses, tastes have changes so that today these houses in perfect shape still has proportionately small market value. With such a small market value it often does not make sense from a resale point of view to rebuild and these houses are therefore often sold for little more than land value. At some level, this drives me crazy, since we are tearing down perfectly solid structures that 35 years ago was perfectly adequate for the people who built it, but today does not meet the “modern” standards.
The same thing happens in boats. You may find a boat that has a perfectly sound hull. Perhaps it needs sails, standing and running rigging, a bit of galley updating, some minor electronics, a bit of rewiring, new plumbing, upholstery, a little deck core work, an engine rebuild, or for the big spender, replacement. Pretty soon you can buy a much newer boat with all relatively new gear for less than you’d have in the old girl. Its not hard for an old boat to suddenly be worth more as salvage than as a boat. A couple years ago a couple friends of mine were given a Rainbow in reasonable shape. She just needed sails and they wanted a newer auxiliary, but even buying everything used the boat was worth a lot less than the cost of the “new” parts. When they couldn’t afford the slip fees, the Rainbow was disposed of. She now graces a landfill and the cast iron keel was sold for scrap for more than they could sell the whole boat for.
Then there is the issue of maintainable vs. durable/low maintenance design concepts. Wooden boats for example represent the difference between a maintainable construction method versus a low maintenance/ durable method. A wooden boat can be rebuilt for a nearly infinite period of time until it becomes a sailing equivalent of ‘George Washington’s axe’ (as in “that’s George Washington’s axe. It’s had a few new handles and a few new heads but that is still George Washington’s axe”.) The main structure of a fiberglass hull is reasonably durable and low maintenance but once it has begun to lose strength, there is nothing that you can do.
The best deals on older used boats are the ones that someone has lovingly restored, upgraded, and maintained. Over the years they have poured lots of money and lavished lots of time into maintaining the boat in reasonably up to date condition. No matter how much they have spent the boat will never be worth anything near what they have in it because there is a real ceiling to how much an older boat will ever be worth and they will often have several times that ceiling invested.
And finally if you buy an old fiberglass boat, paint the bilges white. It does nothing for the boat, but if you ever have to sell the boat, then someone may look in your bilge and say “Lets buy her because any owner who would love a boat so much that he went through the trouble to paint the bilge white must have enjoyed this boat and taken great care of her no matter what her age.”
No one really knows how tough the fiberglass boats really are....it's still being figured out. On my pier there is a little Sprite 21? sloop that is, according to owners, over 50 years old. The boat has been maintained and still looks sharp today.
There are certain high stress areas that do need special attention, in my opinion, and most of the other areas will be fine, even if they look like the devil. When the boat is heeled over under sail, the mast puts tremendous loads on the the shrouds and especially the tie points to the hull/bulkheads. Also, for deck stepped masts, there are usually some sort of compression post under the mast. The tie points, tangs on the mast, chainplates at the bottom, turnbuckles, and compression posts are the areas that you need to closely watch. Wood in particular tends to rot, so bulkheads that take loading need to be checked at chain plates, and where connected to hull. If you check these places and repair them properly, and don't try to sail in storms, you'll be fine in my opinion with a boat of any age. Also, fore stays and back stays and their attachment points need to be checked, but these are usually more secure in that most don't attach to wood where rot can occur.
I'm also convinced that lots of people with project boats run out and change out all the standing rigging (shrouds/stays), etc. without the least idea whether they need it. It's easy to do and sounds impressive. I believe in most cases, for the way most of us sail, they're wasting their time and money. Most boats live at a pier most of their lives with only occasional sailing trips in moderate conditions. If you are going blue water sailing on an extended cruise, that is another matter altogether and the extra caution is surely needed. But don't over do it on the inshore, occasional boats. Just my thoughts.
Keel bolts probably are another area that needs checking, but you don't really hear of many boats loosing their keels...it happens, but not all that often. Kind of like the front wheel falling off your car.
When questions such as yours come, there often come extensive answers on how it should be to be the best. And if it were the best, most of us wouldn't be able to afford it. Does a used $100 suit work as well as a new $10,000 suit? Well no, the used one looks shabby, but in truth it does the basics, cover your body, reasonably well. Same with the production boats, the older ones, the cheap ones. Not anywhere as good as the best, but we can afford them and they do what we want. Check those areas, I mentioned above, and enjoy your boat without too much mental stress.
Now this is great information. I have a new set of points to inspect.
Well actually, some of this I have looked at. I checked where the bulkheads attach to the hull. This boat has a liner so I'm having a little difficulty seeing where I want to see. The mast, the tabernacle(?), the mounting hardware on the deck seems to be just fine. I need to find and inspect the compression post though, and the chainplates and how they're mounted.
The short answer is, although I really like the boat, I know where to draw the line. I'm not going to go for a "like-new" restoration. I just want to clean her up and sail. The boat came with a nearly new Honda 9.9. I could unbolt that and sell it for more than I paid for the boat.
I know that any boat built with modern materials, and modern design science is going to be better than my boat, I just want to make sure that it's reasonably safe before I head out.
You could also check out Curlew, built in 1898, which was sailed to Antarctica more than 100 years later: Latest local news, sport, what's on, weather, travel from Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, South West - Falmouth Quay Punt coming home
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