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Is a Fibreglass boat built in 1964 at the end of it's life?

10796 Views 11 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Wiley1

I recently inquired about a yacht built in 1964 out of Fibreglass.

I would have thought it would have been at the end of its working life given its age and the seller has advised that it has stripped back and epoxied two years ago.

I would like to learn what this really means in terms of the life left in the hull... how good expoxies are or if this boat should be avoided althogether.

Thoughts welcomed!
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I am not chemical engineer and I have come to understand epoxies and composites later in my life so I can't give you a reasonable critique of epoxy resins used in 1964.
I can tell you that I own a Tartan 27' from 1967 that is still quite sound of hull and a 14' day sailor that is from circa 1950+ that are both in pretty good shape. All the non-fiberglass parts are the ones needing the most attention, IMHO.
In the 1960's engineers did not know how to rate the strength of fiberglass composite laminates. Therefore they made them thicker then they do nowadays. There have been many breakthroughs in this technology over the years that have encouraged boat makers to skimp on the thickness of the hulls they produced starting around the mid 1970's.
Older boats require more TLC (perhaps) then some newer ones. They now make 'barrier coat' epoxy resins that can be applied to hulls that are designed to extend the life of an older boat. One of the biggest enemies of FRP/GRP (fiberglass) hulls is water intrusion (aka, blisters) but a good barrier coat job can extend the life of an old hull for quite a while in years.
I would love if you could rescue an old 'plastic classic' but I will not advocate that you do so. You need to be as well informed as you can.
That said, you should check out this website (lots of reading material): Yacht Survey Online: David Pascoe, Marine Surveyor
as well as this one: Don Casey Library
among others you may find by just using a search engine on the web.

One answer is that epoxies are better in more recent as scientific/engineering standards have been perfected but another answer is that they just do not build stuff like they used to.

Feel free to avoid or heed this advice.
Welcome to Sailnet where with every 5 sailors there are at least 7 opinions.
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Most FG hulls built back then up to mid 70's were solid FG, I would think that with it being stripped and epoxied, you'll get a few more decades out of it

but another answer is that they just do not build stuff like they used to.
Would a good surveyor be able to help assess the life expectancy of the hull and what should I ask them for...

I am guessing I will need to know the type of resin used etc.

Thanks for the great posts guys
The first fiberglass composite boats were charting unknown territories in design requirements. The designers and builders followed traditional wooden thickness requirements and ended up with thick hulls and decks that made the boats much heavier than they needed. Traditionally they were solid core, compared to composite cored boats of today. Yes, the years of exposure have allowed the exterior to have taken a beating from the environment but even this is treatable. 2 part polyurethanes, like Perfection can be applied above the water-line to restore the topsides and hull. Below the waterline it can be stripped and checked for moisture content, allowed to dry if necessary prior to sealing and bottom paint application. There are many old early 60's boats that have been gutted and rebuilt by those that just love the lines and can't stand the classic ladies going to waste. Surf the internet if you have interest and you can find the stories of several restorations. It is not short from miraculous the transformations that have been done.
Is there an expected end of life? Yes, when to quit taking care of her.
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my understanding of f/glass back in those days is that quality control with regards to chemical ratios, etc was vital (still is) but not all builders would have used accurate equipment to ensure this. If it was built by a large, reputable yard and is still sound today then with proper care it should out live me ( I'm about the same age as it and I'm hopeing to be around for a while yet!)
My dockmates '64 Tartan is good as new, the 1960 something or other at the other end of the dock is a POS. The type/location/recent use of the boat would help a lot to guess if it's worth a survey, does it float? is it afloat? does the engine run now? not "a couple years ago"?.
My boat was built of fiberglass in 1972. She may have issues but hull strength and integrity of materials is not one of them :)

I performed some un-scientifc strength testing on a few pieces of fiberglass that I have removed (including a piece of cockpit seat cut out for the LPG locker). They appear to be as strong as similar newly laid fiberglass. Incidentally, cockpit seat thickness on my boat is a little thicker than a bottom of a hull of my old Beneteau :)

Generally speaking a boats do have "useful life" but it seems to depend heavily on how they are maintained and, in general, it is limited by various other factors a lot more than by fiberglass longevity.
This topic comes up frequently. Here is my response from a similar thread comparing older to newer boats:

Obviously, one of the most obvious differences between early fiberglass boats and more modern fiberglass construction is sheer amount of weight and how it is distributed. but there are also big differences in how they were built.

There is a very popular myth that early fiberglass boats are as heavy as they are because early designers did not know how strong fiberglass actually was. That''s bunk!

During WWII the US government had done a lot of research on fiberglass composites and that information was pretty readily available. The properties were really pretty well understood. Carl Alberg was working for the Government designing fiberglass military gear when the Pearson''s hired him to design the Triton. He knew how fiberglass worked. What he knew, and as most designers of that era and as we know today, is that while fiberglass reinforced polyester laminates are pretty strong in bending, they are not very stiff. This means that when loaded like a beam, fiberglass laminates can with stand a large loading and bend without breaking but will bend farther than other materials such as the same weight piece of wood with the same loading. (That is why fiberglass fishing rods became so popular in the early 1950''s)

But they also understood that fiberglass is a pretty fatigue prone material and that flexing greatly weakens fiberglass over time and so building a flexible boat will greatly reduce the laminate''s strength over time.

Early designers understood stood all of this about fiberglass. In order to try to get fiberglass boats with close to the same stiffness as wooden boats, fiberglass hull thicknesses were increased beyond what was needed strictly for bending strength. That is why they were as thick as they were.

What was not understood very well was how to handle the raw materials, resins and fabrics, during construction to maintain the Fiberglass''s inherent strength. To achieve the full inherent strength of the various materials in fiberglass used in a fiberglass hull requires:
-Careful mixing of the resins,
-A surprisingly long cure time,
-Careful handling of the reinforcing fabrics (For example folding fiberglass mat or cloths weaken the individual fibers)
-And a proper proportion of resin to reinforcing fiber.

The difference in strength and durability between an ideal laminate and one that was laid up less than ideally can be enormous, especially if allowed to flex a lot over time (perhaps as much as 50% on a unit basis). The extra thickness in the hull might add as much as 30% to the overall bending strength of the hull but substantially less (perhaps between 5% and 10%) to its resistance to puncture (sheer).

One of the really striking things about early fiberglass boats is the almost total lack of internal framing compared to more modern design. Early fiberglass boats were a wonder in their simplicity of design and construction. Early designers viewed the fiberglass hull and deck as a monocoque structure and so really did not try to brace it with a systematic layout of longitudinal or athwartships framing.

Whatever internal framing there was used on these early boats was not tabbed into the hull with the same attention that was given to tabbing by the 1970''s. When I worked in boatyards in the 1970''s it was not all that unusual to see these 60''s era boats come in ''banana''d'', (as it was called which meant flexed until the tabbing on bulkheads, flats and risers had been loosened) by the extremely high rigging loads of that era. I spent a lot of times re-tabbing boats in those days.

Also when you work on these boats it is not unusual to find very resin rich laminations. Resin really adds almost no strength to fiberglass. It is really there to hold the fibers. In early boats, lots of resin was used because it made it easy to wet out the cloth and to get compartively smooth surfaces for layup to layup bonding. These resin rich laminates results in lower initial strength and a more fatigue prone laminate. In the 1970''s this became better understood and today even pretty inexpensive boats are careful to use better ballanced resin to fiber contents. It is quite routine to see vaccuum bagged (or injection/ vaccuum techniques like Scrimp) that produce very light, dense and strong parts within the industry.

While there were some internal elements glassed to the hull they occurred where convenient to the design and allowed shockingly large unsupported panels. When you sailed these older boats and a wave hit the hull, you would feel the vibration of the panel flexing. While this flexure does not equate to weakness, it does equate to the likelihood of more fatigue over time.

On a point by point basis I would compare early fiberglass to newer fiberglass this way:

Resins: Early boat builders tended to use a lot of accelerators in an effort to decrease curing time. The use of accelerators tends to produce a more brittle and fatigue prone laminate. In the Mid-1970''s and early 1980''s resin formulations changed producing resins that are especially prone to osmotic blistering. By the mid to late 1980''s resins were changed again reducing the likelihood of blistering. Today, it is not unusual to find more exotic resins (vinylester and epoxy) used in even mass production boats. Vinylester in particular offers a lot if used in outer laminates. Vinylester is nearly as water impermeable as Epoxy but is far less expensive. VE offers superior fatigue, and blister resistance. When used with higher tech fabrics (even higher tech fiberglass fabrics), VE dramatically increases the strength of lay-up. Boats like the new C&C 99 are using epoxy resins as well.

Reinforcing fabrics:
Early fiberglass fabrics have comparatively short fiber lengths and lower fiber strengths than current materials resulting in less strength. Beyond that they were often handled poorly (folded and stacked) so that the strength of the fibers were reduced further. In the 1970''s as better stress mapping was understood, directional fabrics were developed and even conventional materials were more properly oriented to improve their load capacities.

Today, we use higher strength conventional laminates, and have an arsenal of higher tech fibers range from Bi-axial and Tri- axial oriented fiberglass fabrics, to higher strength fiberglass fibers due to improved fiber manufacturing techniques, materials like Kevlar and Carbon fiber. (Even value oriented builders like Hunter and Beneteau are employing Kevlar in its newest boats for increased strength, stiffness and abrasion resistance.)

Framing, liners and Coring:
Early boats rarely had cored or framed hulls. They also rarely had either structural or cosmetic liners. This is an area that is a bit more complex with good and bad aspects to each of these options. To breifly touch on each type of construction, there is cored and non-cored and framed and non- framed with specialized types of each. You often hear people use the term ''Solid Glass Construction''. This is actually a very vague and not a terribly precise description of the structure of a FRP boat. As the term ''Solid Glass'' construction is typically used it means a boat that does not have a cored hull. A non-cored hull can be monocoque (the skin takes all of the loads and distributes them), like many small boats today and larger early fiberglass hulls. They can also be framed as most modern boats are constructed today.

A cored hull is a kind of sandwich with high strength laminate materials on both sides of the panel where they do the most good and a lighter weght center material. Pound for pound, a cored hull produces a stronger boat. Cored hulls can also be monocoque or framed construction. While cored decks are almost universally accepted in one form or another, cored hulls tend to be a very controversial way of building a boat. Done properly , pound for pound there is no stronger, stiffer, more durable way to build a boat. It''s the "done properly" that mekes coring so controversial. Ideally a hull is cored with a closed cell, non-out-gassing, high density foam, that is vacuum bagged into place. Thru-hull orface and bolting areas are predetermined and constructed of solid glass or reamed out and filled with epoxy. All of that makes proper coring expensive to construct. There is almost nothing better than a properly cored hull, and almost nothing worse than a poorly constructed cored hull.

Decks are typically cored with end grain Balsa. End grain balsa offers excellent sheer resistance for a given weight and cost. The orientation of the cells theoretically promote good adhesion with the laminate and also resists the spread of rot. Early boats often had plywood decks with glass over. This is the worst of all worlds. Because of the orientation of the cells plywood tends to distribute rot very quickly once rot starts. Plywood tends to be heavier than other deck cores and does not have as good adhesion to the laminate as other core choice. Plywood was a cheap but not very good way to go.

Framing helps to stiffen a hull, distribute concentrated loads such as keel and rigging loads, and reduce the panel size which helps to limit the size of the damage caused in a catastrophic impact. Framing can be in a number of forms. Glassed in longitudinal (stringers) and athwartship frames (floors and ring frames). Used in combination, all of which combined provide a light, strong and very durable solution but one that is expensive to manufacture and require higher construction skills to build precisely.

Molded ''force grids'' are another form of framing. In this case the manufacturer molds a set of athrwartship and longitudinal frames as a single unit in a mold in much the same manner as the rest of the boat is molded. Once the hull has been laid up the grid is glued in place. The strength of the connection depends on the contact area of the flanges on the grid and the type of adhesive used to attach the grid. This is a very good way to build a production boat but is not quite as strong or durable as a glassed in framing system.

Another popular way to build a boat is with a molded in ''pan''. This is can be thought of as force grid with an inner liner spanning between the framing. This has many of the good traits of a force grid but has its own unique set of problems. For one it adds a lot of useless weight. It is harder to properly adhere in place, and most significantly it blocks access to most of the interior of the hull. Pans can make maintenance much harder to do as every surface is a finished surface and so it is harder to run wires and plumbing. Adding to the problem with pans is that many manufacturers install electical and plumbing components before installing the pan making inspection and repair of these items nearly imposible.

Glassed-in shelves, bulkheads, bunk flats, and other interior furnishings can often serve as a part of the framing system. These items are bonded in place with fiberglass strips referred to as ''tabbing''. Tabbing can be continuous all sides (including the deck), continuous on the hull only, or occur in short sections. Continous all sides greatly increases the strength of the boat but may not be necessary depending on how the boat was originally engineered. The strength of the tabbing is also dependent on its thickness, surface area and the materials used. When these elements are wood they can often rot at the bottom of the component where the tabbing traps moisture against the wood.

Most early boats were non-cored hulls with minimal framing, this allowed a lot of flexure and really put a lot more stress on the minimal framed connections within the boats. Most had balsa or plywood cored hulls.

Hull to deck joints:
Early boats typically had a number of hull to deck joint. Most simply had an inward turning flange on the hull and that was bolted through the deck and toe rail. These thru-bolts were seen as the primary bond and varied widely in size and spacing. They rarely had backing plates even from the best builders of the era. Between the hull flange and the deck was either some form of bedding compound, such as polysulfide (like Boatlife) or organic compounds (like Dalphinite) or more commonly a polyester slurry. All of these are comparatively low adhesion and lifespan solutions.

In the 1970''s some offshore intended cruisers started glassing the joint from the interior but the big change was to higher adhesion caulking/ adhesives in the joint. 3M''s 5200 became a common adhesive for this purpose. Bolt spacing was increased as builders often considered the 5200 to be the primary connection. Outward facing flange connections became more popular because they permit quicker turn around time for the molds and less labor to prep the mold for the next boat. They are inherently weaker and more vulnerable.

Today, most manufacturers seem to be using any one of the earlier techniques with the ''Big Three'' using extremely high adhesion adhessives engineered for the aerospace industry. These produce extremely sturdy joints that should outlive most of the other joint types that have preceded them. You never hear of hull deck failures any more which back in the 1970''s seemed to be a fairly frequent occurance.


Early glass boats tended to use extremely stiff spars and extremely high rig tensions. Without adjustable backstays these high loads were imparted into the hull on a routine basis. They really can take a toll on a boat. It was not unusual to find these early boats so distorted by rigging loads that doors in passageways would not close on a beat.

In the late 1970''s and into 1980''s there was a real shift in turnbuckle design. Some of the more popular turnbuckle designs really had comparatively short life spans and resulted in lost rigs and rigging. By the 1990''s turnbuckle design had changed yet agaib and seemed to have moved toward a more durable engineering.

Over time rigs got lighter and more flexible. This is a mixed blessing. A slightly flexible rig imparts less load into the hull and deck and bend can be increased to depower sails. Taken to the extremes seen in late 1970''s through early 1990''s race boats, they make a rig that is hard to keep in the boat. In the early 1990''s IMS recognized this problem and shifted the ratings a bit to encourage stronger rigs and so rig losses in newer IMS type race boats are compartively uncommon these days. Some of this improvement is the use of Carbon Fiber spars. Carbon Fiber makes a really stiff and shocking light spar material but is very expensive and the jury is still out on the long term life expectancy of carbon spars.

In conclusion:
Early fiberglass boats were really engineered as if they were a wooden boat built out of fiberglass. They ended to be more flexible and although heavy, the poorer strength of materials that came from material and handling choices meant that they had very high stresses but they were not as sturdy as they appear. By the 1970''s designers better understood how to engineer fiberglass as fiberglass, but were faced with historically poor resins that resulted in real blister problems. By the 1980''s resins improved, as did fiberglass material handling techniques and rigging design and strength of materials. The blister problem was better understood and higher tech resins and fibers entered the industry. Today''s baots tend to be lighter and stronger than earlier boats. This weight savings is used to produce higher ballast ratios and to produce greater stability or carrying capacities. Hull deck joints have improved in some ways, but I hate the fact that outward flanges are becoming popular again. Blister problems have been reduced greatly and rigs are becoming easier to operate. That said I see popularity of inmast furling mainsails to be a serious negative trend.

At least that is how I see it.

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Excellent post, Jeff
Always informative Jeff
I have thought about replying to this thread for a day or so and finally came to a conclusion that I needed to make a point not made.

Jeff is correct in his history of fiberglass boats and there construction, however, as a person who made his daily bread working fiberglass and doing boat repair in yards there is the issue of quality. Each boat is different, while as a group one can say so-and-so is a good builder of boats and another not so good, even the good makers produce not so good boats occassionally; sometimes more often than occassionally. PR departments make an image, the ones building the boats sometimes have no vested interest in that which they are creating. That is why boats from the orient vary so much in quality.

And regarding boats made in the "First World", most everyone knows or has heard the story of cars made on Mondays versus cars made on Wednesdays. The same is true of boats. So many variables to consider. Just addressing all of them would take a long posting. How many companies built Islander Yachts or Cal? How many hands did the molds pass thru? Kendall became Westsail. Wayfarer Yachts (producer of the Islander series) produced boats of high enough quality that when they went bankrupt the next company who bought the molds kept the Islander name. And that continued for several manufacturers of the Islander(s). So can one say Islanders are good boats or bad boats? Were boats built while the companies were doing well better built? Did the quality suffer as lean years made for less profit? Were they built with inexperienced workers or an experienced crew who knew what they were doing?

So general statements are just that, general. Once a buyer makes a decision of a design each boat needs to be looked at as individual. Is a well built old boat better than a poorly built boat using newer technology?

And then there is also the issue of use and abuse. There is the test of time. One could assume that poorer built boats would have their flaws revealed and been culled out and therefore have less likelihood of surviving 30 plus years of use. "Use" being the key word.

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