1. A superior build quality boat has still not been clearly defined beyond fibreglass handling, and while I'll give you the single study (although I've still not seen it or the data), you seem to have come around to my point of view that these are all handmade and used variably over the years, so one that started out as superior may now be more used up than one that started as moderate. I'm going to put words in your mouth here and paraphrase what I see as your major thrust, which is that NO boat of this era is likely to be up to hard use any longer. I'm not sure that I disagree with that, but I also don't see that there is definitive data to that effect.
I think that the above thread should be useful in exploring the issues surrounding early fiberglass boats constructed during the 1950’s through the early 1970’s. At this point, reading your comments, I agree that your view of this has ended up much closer to mine than when this thread began.
In the quote above, I definitely would not say that there are “that NO boat of this era is likely to be up to hard use any longer.” What I would say that the majority of boats in this era (like in most eras) were built to be affordable rather than of a high quality, and that to keep costs down the larger builders of this era cut corners that impacted the strength and overall lifespan of the boat. While some of these cost saving measures can be reversed, albeit at a cost which might not make these ‘bargain boats’ much of a bargain, some of these issues are ‘baked in’ in ways that cannot be reversed.
I do think that the emphasis on the term “hand-made” may present an incomplete understanding of this issue. While it is true that the lamination of these boats was predominantly ‘by hand’, in the better factories of the era resin formulations were carefully measured out, and quantities of resins were carefully monitored as well. Lay-up procedures were standardized and performed carefully by skilled technicians, vs factories who employed the lowest cost labor and poorly monitored the quality of their work. Even within a hand-made item, there can be very large differences in the level of care and the quality of the item produced.
And while even a higher quality boat may have been subjected to harder use and poorer care than a inferior made boat, and therefore not have much life left in it, as a broad generality, more expensive boats tend to be bought by people who can afford to put a little more care into their maintenance and updating and so may actually be in better shape than for no other reason than that. Which gets to my central point in most of these discussions. If a person is looking to purchase a boat in any given general price range there are better built, better laid out and sailing designs, and better maintained boats. Given the options, in my mind it only makes sense to steer away from the more poorly constructed, inferior designed, or badly worn out versions.
But to get to the thrust of your question, I think it may be helpful to differentiate ‘better practices’ vs. ‘questionable practices’ and sort them into categories of ‘those which cannot be reversed’ vs. ‘those which are very hard to reverse’, vs. ’those which may be considered long term maintenance or updating’. And while not all of these may apply to any single boat, some may apply to most boats from this era, and all may apply to the worst examples.
Questionable practices which cannot be reversed:
• Carelessly mixed resin and catalyst:
Mixing procedures varied but they were pretty casual in many of the value oriented plants. Not enough catalyst was not a problem long term, but too much resulted in a brittle matrix. I have no information on which factories were careful and which were careless other than a single story that I heard from a fellow who did laminating at Columbia who claimed that they were careless enough that they literally had a pot catch fire it got so hot (too much accelerator). That is not a verifiable story and so I would not hang my hat on it, but when I worked at the boat show in 1965, I was privy to a discussion between the folks at Hinterhoeller and Grampian about measures they were going through to be more precise in their metering procedures in which they were talking about sloppy practices at Paceship.
Accelerators were very common during the 1960’s and into the 1970. The popular accelerators helped the manufacturer in two ways, they retard the initial reaction of the resin to allow a longer working time and also cause the resin to achieve a higher portion of its ultimate compressive strength sooner. To explain this second aspect, resins cure over a comparatively long period of time and the sooner they reach a higher portion of their ultimate strength the sooner the boat can be removed from the molds. Molds are a significant portion of the cost of producing a boat so the quicker the boat can be removed from the mold the quicker the mold could be reused. Ironically, accelerators actually gave the workers a longer pot life to do the lay-up since they altered the cure curve on the set time.
• Resin rich/ resin lean laminate:
The importance of proper resin ratios was not fully accepted in this era. It took time, skill, and care too properly wet out the laminate with just the right amount of resin. When there is too little resin, (lean or dry glass) the laminate was not properly adhered creating an area with minimal compressive strength and ripe for delamination due to horizontal sheer, impact, or fatigue. But the good news is that dry glass was fairly obvious visually and so was comparatively rare. More common was resin that was resin rich. Resin does poorly in sheer and tension, so resin rich laminates tend to brittle, create a failure plane for a sheer failure, are more prone to fatigue, further reducing the strength of the laminate. When resin was cheap, resin rich lay-ups were common since they were a quick way to bulk up the laminate and assure that there was a complete saturation with less expensive, less skilled, and less motivated workers.
• Lack of internal framing:
Early value oriented fiberglass boat manufacturers avoided having internal framing largely so that they could rightly claim that their boats had larger interior volumes than similar design wooden boats. They chose to use thicker hulls to make up for some of the stiffness lost to wooden boat construction. They were trying to achieve largely ‘monocoque’ construction with the shell taking the bulk of the loads axially. Because fiberglass is so much denser than most wood planking materials, and is not all that much stronger per unit of area, and is not much stiffer per unit area, a compromise was made in the thickness of the hull that matched or slightly exceeded the strength of a fully framed wooden boat, but did not match the stiffness or lighter weight of most planking.
The net result is that the panels of these boats flex a lot more than the framed hulls on the better built boats of that era and in the eras that followed. Fiberglass is a fatigue prone material and so losses strength by the cyclical flexing which takes place in all boats, but is especially prevalent in unframed boats.
The better builders of that era included comparatively closely spaced hat-frames and hand-glassed frames that reduced the panel size and reduced flexure. This was especially popular with British boat builders and in the Commonwealth countries. It was also a very labor intensive way to build a boat.
• High ratios of non-directional fabrics:
Pretty much all production boats have some non-directional fabrics in them. Non-directional fabrics (mat) are used to hide the courser fabrics from showing through the gelcoat, but structurally more importantly to bridge between the individual layers of courser roving. It does not take much mat to bind the layers together, and the better manufacturers would use ¾ oz. mat for that purpose. But mat was a cheap way to build bulk in the laminate and cheaply get thickness without the higher cost of woven roving. Mat was seen as acting like the web in a I beam and so it was thought that its inherently greater weakness was not a problem. Value oriented factories would use 1 ½ and multiple layers of matt within the middle of the matrix.
• Poor reinforcing fabric handling practices:
• Poorer quality fiberglass: (Length of fibers, brittleness, edge condition)
Description of how these items impact the life of the boat and why they cannot be reversed.
Questionable practices which are very hard to reverse:
• Encapsulated ballast (non-structural bilge encapsulation, delamination and water intrusion)
• Plastic laminate encapsulated bulkheads
• Inadequate width, depth and continuity tabbing
• Mast supporting structure, mast step/ mast heel, deck to bulkhead tension connections, and mast hold downs on deck stepped masts
• Roll-out hull-to-deck joints and shoe box deck joints or deck joints through core materials.
• Glassed in tanks
• Lighter than currently required standards for rudder posts especially on keel hung rudders (plus fatigue, crevice corrosion, and connection issues)
• Steel and stainless steel keel bolts
• Poorly constructed deck cores and deck core materials (plywood)
• Use of non-marine grade materials on interiors
• Failed gelcoat
Items which can be relatively easily repaired, upgraded or reversed and which may be considered as long term maintenance or updating: (discuss minor and elective nature of some of these items vs. safety and long term maintainability of others)
• Chainplates and standing rigging, running rigging
• Mast hardware such as sheaves, wooden spreaders, and failing component connections on masts and booms
• Roller reefing Booms and mainsails
• Replacement and upgrading of sail handling gear and other missing or out of date hardware due to sizing, ease of use, and convenience (reefing, winch sizes and gearing, control lines and positions), and safety issues. (jack line strong points, engine fire extinguisher ports)
• End of life steering gear
• Engine installations which do not meet current Safety standards
• End of life sails, and/or engines
• Localized damage to the laminate (Lifeline bases, cleats, impact damage, etc)
• Electrical systems which do not meet current Safety standards or patterns of use
• Past their use by date plumbing systems and components or which do not meet current Safety standards or patterns of use
• Normal safety measures such as latch down hatches and lashed down batteries
• Instrumentation and other electronics
• Galley and cooking equipment
• Backing plates and reinforcing of high stress areas
• End of life exterior wooden trim items
• Aesthetic issues (Gelcoat crazing, fading, worn out non-skid, interior finishes, upholstery, etc.)
Discussion of boats with construction related damage beyond repair:
• Pearson Ariel- Torn topsides and hull joint failure
• Coronado: Keel area failure in glasswork
• Article in ‘Sail’ about the Triton whose hull tore parallel to the hull deck joint.
• Alberg bow failure
Concluding summary discussion of the economic and physical lifespan of a boat
• Physical limitations vs economic limitations on these older boats.
• First cost vs ‘improved cost’ vs long term cost
• Discussion of best bargain in the short and long run
• ‘Like working on boats’ vs buying a boat as a perceived ‘deal’ and sweat equity
• Cost of boat during restoration process (immediate restoration vs long term restoration vs use as is)
• The argument for ‘cheap boats’ vs better quality cheap boats. Given similar pricing buying the best designs, why it only makes sense to buy the boat with the best build, and best condition from an era vs buying a mediocre design with mediocre build quality, or a boat in poor condition, and why the argument that ‘I can’t afford to buy better’ rarely makes sense, except from an upfront purchase price.
• Accepting the risks vs mitigating the risks, the role of personal tastes vs the science, vs the more general marketplace.
• Painting the bilges white.