Steel boats with wood decks will rust. Eventually. And if your steel boat is 49 years old, as our Phoenix is, that “eventually” has come. But if there is enough good about the boat to be worth the work, even a rusting boat is recoverable, if you have the skills and the time. Interested in renovating a rusting steel boat? This is our experience.
Replacing the Shear
Whew, all the welding is finally done. The steel hull is now all good steel and with luck will last ANOTHER 50 years. Longer than us, at any rate. The top 3″ of the topsides at the deck joint and the sheer clamp have now been replaced pretty much all around the boat. The hull in the way of the counter and rudder post has also been rebuilt. Everywhere there was bad rust the bad steel was cut out and new plates welded on. Lots of new metal. Steel deck beams replaced the wooden ones which had some rot and some new stiffening beams were added in the counter as well. The steel foredeck beams were probably a mistake as they made fairing and re-decking a LOT more work than laminated wood beams would have required, though there is now no danger of the anchor winch or mooring cleats leaving the boat unexpectedly. Not that this has ever been a concern. So why did we redo the deck beams? Just another one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jon swears that (a) he will NEVER redo the steel Phoenix again, and (b) that if he had to he will do his own welding as most of the substantial delay (that which did not result from his falling off a ladder, fracturing his skull and three bones in his back) resulted from waiting on the welder. The welder did good work but just had too much else going on to keep to the schedule. Of course, the job expanded as well… (note: all boat work expands to fill just more than the time allotted).
Replacing the Deck
After the metal on the hull and the new shear clamp was complete, Jon put in all new decking on the bow and down the starboard side (the port side was done a few years ago). He used two layers of 1/4″ okoume plywood, with fiberglass cloth between them and on two layers of 6 oz fiberglass cloth set in epoxy on top. This is the first time that h had used Peel Ply (or West System Release Fabric if you’re feeling formal). This is a fabric that you press down on top of the wet epoxy/fiberglass cloth to smooth the surface, wick off excess epoxy and give a nice finish to it. It greatly reduced the amount of sanding required. You can see it in the picture at right. The next morning it just peels right off, leaving a lovely surface behind. Here’s another description:
“Excess epoxy bleeds through and is peeled from the cured laminate along with the peel ply. Peels easily and leaves a smooth textured surface ready for bonding or finishing. ” -from Chesapeake Light Craft
Next he painted the decks, preparatory to remounting the rub and toe rails. Next spring, after finish-painting the decks and cabin housing I get to apply the new non-skid – one of my favorite tasks!
We’re in our final weeks. We move out of the shed in just under four weeks.The boat needs to be waterproof by then! We hope to get all the deck hardware back on, but this is unlikely. Mast work has to be done (we need to add a strong track storm jib track since our addition of strong track for the main removed our branched track for the storm sail.) Then reinstalling the toe rails and rub rails, and getting a bit of paint on them will probably take the available time.
Three days before we leave town they truck Phoenix out to the yard and re-step the mast. One essential step will be to install auto bilge pumps (it rains a bit in Bellingham, WA in the winter). Then it sits on the hard for four months while we tend to another obligation in the Bahamas. It should be starting to warm up in Bellingham when we return to get ready to depart.
But in the meantime, there is too much to do. In addition to the boat tasks mentioned above I am also sewing a 12′ x 20′ awning. Since it’s the last time I’ll have an apartment to roll out large pieces of fabric I’m eager to finish this large task. We also have to move out of our apartment, returning borrowed furniture to friends and storing what we will need on the boat. Then pack for four months in the Bahamas. No big deal, right? And sell our car, and deal with mail and …
There are days when I understand why people retire and stay in their lovely convenient homes. I think offshore sailing is like writing – don’t do it if you don’t have to. But for those that “have to”, well, we just have to.
I want to get a nice boat, but I don’t want to have to worry about rust. It makes sense that getting one made from aluminum would be a good choice! Hopefully I wouldn’t have to renovate it this way.
A newer steel boat that has been well-maintained is a robust choice for cruising, but you do have to stay on it and understand where the problems might develop. Aluminum is great choice, too, but tends to be very expensive and they have their own maintenance issues. What I do like is you don’t have to paint them! Get a good survey from a reputable surveyor no matter what material you end up choosing. Good Luck!