Pretty soon after beginning to sail I noticed water coming in the bilge of the boat. The water was coming in through the swing keel cable hole in the cockpit floor. Over the years the metal cable had sawed through the fiberglass and began de-laminating the layers of fiberglass and wood that make up the deck core. I built two cradles – one for the front and one for the rear of the boat, then jacked it up with a floor jack about 3 inches at a time until I had it up high enough to fully extend the swing keel. It may look precarious, but it made it through a 5.1 earthquake centered about 25 miles away. Phew!
There are three main areas of repair: the replacement of the cockpit deck core, the re-glassing of the 200lb swing keel, and filling in some cavities and cracks made by the swing keel in the keel trunk.
Deck Core Replacement
This image shows the hole in the middle of the deck – I have just cut out the upper fiberglass skin from the cockpit deck and am getting ready to pull it up to expose the wet, rotted wood core.
In the hole you can see the layers of deck core which should be solid. The plywood core was completely saturated with water even after being out of the water for about two months.
After pulling up all of the rotten core, I cut out the middle of the lower fiberglass deck core skin to see how the water was getting into the boat. It was basically getting in through the hole and then swishing back and forth in that channel before going down towards the rear of the boat and into the bilge.
The bottom side of the glop of sealant – you can see how the water gradually crept in and expanded the gap in the sealant.
First I had to fix the hole in the top fiberglass skin. I used polyester resin for this portion of the repair because I wanted to try my hand at gel coat color matching. The rest of the repairs will be done with epoxy resin, and you can’t put gel coat on top of epoxy resin. Epoxy on polyester is ok, but not polyester on epoxy.
The color match isn’t great, but I think it’s not bad for the first try. All of this will be covered up later on in the repair process anyway – I was just practicing. All of the other pock mark looking things were small blisters that had formed as a result of the deck core being saturated with salt water. I used West System filler 407.
The hole through to the swing keel trunk then needed to be filled. Here I have beveled it with a Dremel tool as much as I can.
Originally I was going to fill this void with expanding foam, but decided on just using some plywood coring material cut out in the shape of the hole. My goal was for as solid of a deck as possible for the new swing keel cable hole to be drilled through.
I filled in the sides of the channel with milled fiber thickened epoxy, and leveled up the rest of the channel with up to 5/16″ worth of 1708 fiberglass cloth – about 5 layers.
The 5/16″ Baltic Birch plywood core – bottom view. I have sawed 1/4″ kerfs into the bottom so that the wood more easily
conforms to the camber of the cockpit floor. The circle in the middle is the approximate location of the new swing keel cable hole. The bottom of this will be wet-out with epoxy before laying it down on a bed of thickened epoxy.
The overhang of the existing upper fiberglass deck skin is filled in with milled-fiber thickened epoxy.
Dry-fit of the deck core using clamps made from plywood, pieces of an old plastic cutting board, fender washers, and screws.
Top fiberglass skin epoxied into place with clamps and fender washers. I actually screwed this part of the repair up. Somehow, despite all of the clamps and fender washers, an air pocket managed to form in the middle of the deck. I had to cut out the parts that had not been glued to the plywood underneath and re-do about 1/2 of this repair. The edges all around bonded just fine, but the middle had not.
It was actually fortunate that I screwed this step up, because I discovered some manufacturing defects in the top skin that I had not noticed when filling the original hole during the first steps.
I have ground out a small “ditch” all around the borders of where the pieces of deck skin come together in order to lay some strips of fiberglass. Otherwise the lines would print through when I painted it later. Here is a closer view of one of the manufacturing defects that I needed to grind completely down to the coring material.
All of the strips of 1708 have been laid down. It was quite a sticky mess to negotiate with the boat up in the air and the only entrance by a 5 foot ladder.
Now I have gone over all of the seams with a fairing filler (West System 410) to fill in any gaps in between the old fiberglass skin and the new fiberglass strips.
After sanding the previous 410 application, I put on a full coat in order to make the deck completely seamless.
After about 2 hours of sanding in a Tyvek full-body suit, the deck is shaped the way I want it to be.
This photo was taken after all of the steps of applying the non-skid. One coat of Easypoxy Semi-Gloss White was painted on, allowed to dry for 24 hours, and then sanded. I taped off the area that I didn’t want non-skid, then painted another coat and sprinkled the non-skid compound on top before it dried. The next day I swept up and vacuumed the excess non-skid, removed the tape and painted the whole thing with a final coat.
View of front part of deck and the keel mounts (these are pieces of aluminum angle-iron which have been cleaned of corrosion, treated with aluminum etching chemicals, and coated with epoxy).
Aft view of deck. The color of paint does not match the old oxidized gel-coat, so there may be a future project to paint the entire cockpit. Sigh….
This is my fix to the main problem of this whole endeavor – the swing keel cable sawing into the fiberglass keel. I was never really able to discern what the original design of this particular boat was, however, it appears that the only thing preventing the metal cable from sawing into the fiberglass deck was a very small stainless washer that was screwed into the top of the deck. I have replaced this with a 3/8″ stainless pipe nipple as the channel for the cable to go through secured in place with an upper and lower washer, and locknut. I also had a friend make me this custom stainless steel plate to provide extra support. The whole thing is sealed into place with some 3M 4200 Marine Adhesive. I had planned on using 5200, but the 4200 sets faster and is easier to replace or remove if need be.
Swing Keel Re-Glassing
After grinding off the old fiberglass, I discovered that the aluminum core of the swing keel was pretty well oxidized. Originally I had hoped to save some of the glass and just patch it up a bit, but it was too far gone. I was, however, able to save most of the glass on the bottom portion that covers the 200 lbs of lead weight.
I had to prepare the aluminum by sanding/ wire brushing off the aluminum oxide and then applying West System’s 805 Aluminum Etching Kit. I painted on a coat of epoxy tinted with white pigment and faired it out with some West System 407 filler.
Next I was able to begin laying up some fiberglass. I am using the West System white pigment throughout this keel repair because my intention was to not paint it since it won’t ever be exposed to the sun. The idea was to keep everything white or light colored so that I would need to do less work at the end making the whole thing white. We’ll see how this works. I may have to paint it anyway.
There was a little learning curve for me here. The thick 1708 fiberglass matting didn’t want to conform around the sharp corners of the keel, so I had to re-do a little of this part with thinner sheeting.
After getting the top portion of the keel covered in glass, I tackled the bottom tip. The fiberglass matting also didn’t want to lay flat against the keel here, so I threw some plastic over it all and taped it down until it cured.
Rough build-up of the front part of the keel which will contact the keel trunk. I wanted to make this area larger than it originally was to spread out the impact point of the 200lb keel on the hull.
Shot of the keel with all of the glass laid. Initially I had intended to cover the whole thing with another sheet of fiberglass, but I decided that enough was enough at this point.
Applying a 3 layers of epoxy to entire surface of keel. I used white pigment in the epoxy in an effort to make the eventual painting easier – not sure it made any difference.
I glued two pieces of thick rubber to the keel with 3M 5200 Marine Adhesive to act as bumpers on each side of the keel while the boat is going through the water. A design flaw in this boat meant that the keel pretty much was bouncing around in the keel trunk while it was in motion.
Close-up of the middle section of the keel where a cable attaches and is run through the cockpit floor to a winch. This picture also gives a bit of a view of the cradle that I used to move this very unwieldy 200lb keel around.
New 3/16″ stainless cable swaged onto the keel. I now have a $25 swaging tool in my collection that only does one thing, but it’s the only thing that will get that copper sleeve to clamp around the cable. Oh well, you have to have the right tools to do the job.
View of the rubber bumpers in position in the keel trunk. Before, the keel would slam back and forth between the fiberglass sides. This should make things less noisy – and potentially damaging.
This is a beautiful sight – to me, anyway. It represents the completion of all of the repairs. The keel has been re-glassed and painted. The cockpit deck has been re-cored, painted and a non-skid coating has been applied. And finally, the cavities in the keel trunk have been completely filled in, painted, and a new concept of rubber bumpers has been applied in order to prevent future damage.
Filling in cavities in swing keel trunk
This was taken before putting the boat on blocks. At first it just looks like it needs to be cleaned up and filled in a little bit.
Some of this is caused by the de-laminated sharp aluminum edge of the swing keel banging against the fiberglass, but much of this appears to be a manufacturing defect in the form of air pockets running underneath the gel coat. As you can see the cavities go up way beyond where the keel could ever touch the glass.
This area has been ground out and filled in with milled fiber thickened epoxy – a very thick mixture so it would stick on a vertical surface.
A thick piece of rubber has been glued into place with some 3M 5200 Marine Adhesive. It is also possible to see the areas filled in with thickened epoxy and then covered with paint. Since this is a trailered boat, I went ahead and used topside paint – the same paint I used for the deck and keel. The 3M 5200 is difficult to remove from the top of the rubber. I taped a razor to the top of a stick with limited success. Eventually I gave up and figured no one was going to see this anyway. This bumper works beautifully – when the keel is lowered into place it gently nestles against the rubber and isn’t nearly as jarring as the old, fiberglass on fiberglass was.
Materials and Tools
This represents about $300 worth of fiberglass repair materials purchased from RevChem Composites in Costa Mesa (thank you Gabriel!). It was my first, but certainly not my last, trip to the store for everything from resin and fiberglass matting to boxes of chip brushes and nitrile gloves.
Ultimately, I ended up needing another container of epoxy and hardener (about $125), a total of two boxes of Harbor Freight 2″ chip brushes, about 4 boxes of nitrile gloves, a dozen or so rolls of paper towels, several plastic dropcloths, two Tyvek body suits, and 3 gallons of acetone. Additionally, to do these repairs, I ended up purchasing the following tools: A 6″ variable speed polisher/sander. A variable speed multi-tool with cutting blades, sanding attachments, etc. Although it wasn’t absolutely necessary, I went ahead and upgraded my shop with a 27 gallon air compressor and bought a few tools to help with the repair, with the most helpful tool being a self-vacuuming hand sander which I was able to jury-rig to attach to my shop vac.
This job was a can of worms, if there ever was one. I saw a boat just like mine come up for sale for about $800 at the beginning of the project, and I probably should have just gone ahead and bought it since it was in good shape except for the sails and rigging, which I have.
But then, I wouldn’t have the experience that I now have, nor the pride of knowing that I learned a completely new craft which I plan to utilize in the future.