Rudder Decisions

Looks right, ish.

After scouring the interweb and reading the forums over at the Pearson Ariel Association, I think I’ve gathered enough information to start construction on the boat’s new rudder. There are two schools of thought on rebuilding the rudder on an Ariel- copy the original hardwood-plank style or encapsulate in fiberglass. I’ve been vacillating between the two, but I’ve finally decided to go with the glassed version.

The plank style rudder requires tight-grained quarter-sawn boards of either teak, mahagony, locust, or white oak cut from the north side of the tree on a full moon in December. Not really, but those wooden boat guys take that stuff pretty seriously. I found a couple of places where quarter-sawn white oak was available, but the other species are prohibitively expensive. The plank-style rudder also requires holes to be drilled edge-wise through the boards for the drift bolts that hold the rudder together; this is something that I don’t have the tools for and I’m not confident in my ability to do accurately.

The glassed rudder’s primary drawback is that the expansion rate of the bronze rudderstock and the fiberglass encapsulating the rudder is different, which results in leaks over time. I think a careful job, high-quality marine-grade plywood, and liberal application of chemicals will result in acceptable longevity.

Another advantage of fiberglass rudders is shipworms don’t eat them.

So with all that in mind I traced the old rudder, made a rough template, and tried it on for size.

Thanks Darbs! Thanks Stav!

Next I set to work removing the old rudder from the rudder stock. I fired up the skill saw and was greeted with a god-awful grinding sound, the result of a bent saw tooth rattling around in the blade guard, courtesy of my prior attempts at rudder surgery. I removed the “abscess” with the dremel tool and we were off to the races.

A few cutting discs, a bruised knuckle, a litany of profanity and blasphemy later the upper half of the rudderstock is free. I’ll get the lower half  and slap some more paint on the hull soon, just as soon as it stops raining.

A Sound Hull…Check!

In the midst of a project of this scale, I find myself easily lost in the minutia of every task. I find it helpful to take a step back, I’ll walk off to the far corner of the boatyard where I can see the boat in its entirety. Last time I did this I was reminded to focus our efforts on the elements of a seaworthy boat- a sound hull, a sound rig, and robust steering gear. Keep the water out, the rig up, and point it in the right direction. Pretty simple stuff.  We’re both pretty excited to be able to check off the first item on that list- WOOO!

As you can see, boat is sporting a brand-new coat of paint on the bottom. This ain’t just any coat of paint however, it’s a fancy new high-build epoxy barrier coat. Damn strait. This protective layer seals up the laminate and half-dead gelcoat, prevents water intrusion, osmotic blisters, and further crazing of the gelcoat. The chemistry of this stuff is pretty intense, the hull needs to be prepped with the proper proprietary solvents and stuff. This is what we did:

1. Clean the hull with Bio-Blue 92. We call it boat soap because, it’s pretty much soap, but it costs boat-prices. The point of this stuff is to remove any remaining trace of Poly-vinyl alcohol, aka mold-release. PVA is a chemical used during the construction of fiberglass boats that allows the completed hull to be removed from the female hull-mold. PVA interferes with the epoxy paint bonding with the hull, thus boat soap.

So we rolled the stuff on, then scrubbed like mad, then hosed off boat.

2. The next step is to sand the hull, again again. Epoxy needs a rough surface to provide some “tooth” for the resin to grab on. Epoxy’s main advantage is the strength of the initial, physical bond it forms with a surface. So I hit it with the orbital palm sander (thanks Trixx!) and Ryan went behind me and hand sanded the entire hull. I think I got the better deal on that one.

3.  The boat then gets rinsed again to remove the debris from sanding, then liberally doused in acetone, which helps evaporate off any remaining chemical contaminants.

4. Next we had to mix the paint- it’s a 3:1 ratio of paint to hardener, so after some higher order math we popped open the cans to find that I definitely should have put the can on the shaker while I was at the store. The paint had settled into a thick fudge the consistency of peanut butter. So after a bit of rummaging around we were able to improvise a Paint-Stir-Er.

That’s a paint-paddle duct taped to a wooden dowel chucked into a hand drill. Ryan surreptitiously filmed the thing in action. Worked pretty well!

With that we mixed up the paint and rolled it on!

I’m super-pleased with the results, and excited to check a major project off the to-do list. We celebrated with a beer and some oysters!

Not-So-Silent Spring

Did you know that the cry of an osprey is actually quite offensive? I forgive them though, they make up for emitting annoying sounds by being baddasses and ripping fish to shreds. Anyway, that’s not really the point of this post. I thought I’d talk a bit about all of the lovely compounds involved in refitting an aging fiberglass sailboat.

West System 1o5 Epoxy Resin
The star of the show right here boys and girls. Epoxy resin is about twice as expensive as polyester resin, which is what is used in most fiberglass lay-up, but it makes a much stronger physical bond with the area being repaired. West System is the industry standard, I’ve found it to be easy to work with.

West System 205 Fast Hardener
Epoxy is a two-part resin, this is the stuff that’s mixed in to kick off the chemical reaction. The fast hardener is good down to about 40 degrees F, once it gets warmer I’ll switch over to the slow hardener.

407 Fairing Filler
Red-ish purple dust looking stuff, you mix it in with epoxy to form a putty. Sands easily.

404 High Density Filler and 406 Colloidal Silica
These are more epoxy additives, used when you want the repair to be a bit stronger.


Solvent used to clean brushes and prep surfaces for epoxy work.

Methyl ethyl ketone
Does pretty much the same thing as acetone, evaporates a bit slower.

Tri-sodium phosphate

Hard-core cleaning agent. Haven’t actually used this stuff yet but probably will when it comes time to paint the topsides.

Paint Stripper
I wrote about this a bit in Better Living Through Chemistry , the “green” version doesn’t have methylene chloride in it so it’s safe to use on fiberglass. It also doesn’t work all that well, probably because there are almost 50 years worth of paint to cut through.

PB Blaster

Loosener of stuck screws. Like WD-40 on steroids.

Wasp Spray

Included in the purchase of the boat! Used to kill wasps. Apparently also useful as an alternative to pepper spray.

Spring is here folks, hopefully it warms up quick. Warmer temperatures mean setting epoxy and setting oyster larvae! Can you tell I’m excited for the change of seasons? Until next time.

Sandin in the Rain…

Got all set up to fair the hull this evening after work, and I got a good bit done when it started to rain. I managed to stay mostly dry by hiding beneath the turn of the bilge. Eventually the precipitation and my increasing desire for dinner drove me to call it quits. Spring is definitely nigh if it’s not too miserable to work in the rain!

As I was putting everything up for the night, I had a thought: sometimes being a bit on the short side ain’t such a bad thing. Randy Newman might disagree, but I can just stand up in the main cabin of the Pearson Ariel without bumping my head. Silver lining folks.

Money is No Object

When asked how much it cost to outfit a boat and set off voyaging, the famous French sailor Bernard Moitissier quipped “everything you have.” Jerome Fitzgerald, a lesser-known sailor/writer says that sailboats aren’t powered by the wind, they are powered by money. There are innumerable true-isms along these lines- Bring Out Another Thousand, a hole in the water into which one pours money, etc. And it’s all a load of crap. Let me explain.

This guy sailed from New England to Florida with sails made of blue tarps. capn_freddy_tarp

These folks build boats smaller than my van and regularly cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.

Joshua Slocum rebuilt a tired old fishing boat and sailed around the world. Alone. Before people did that sort of thing.

The point is money doesn’t move sailboats, or anything for that matter. Desire does, boots on the ground. Pulling the trigger, going for it. You just have to want it bad enough and make choices that consistently move you towards your goal.

Purple Goop

Despite the fact that it’s blowing 25-30 and Monday it was snowing, this past Sunday was beautiful and more importantly the temperature was within the range suitable for mixing epoxy. We’re getting more efficient at applying this stuff, we’ve got about 75% of the hull covered in sticky, purple goop. The plan is to fill in all the cracks in the gel coat, sand it fair, then cover everything with a high-build epoxy paint to seal it up. Originally I was planning on doing the same to the top sides, but after taking the paint off the transom with a grinder I discovered that A) the gel coat is in pretty good shape above the waterline and B) the amount of fairing required after I tear everything up with the grinder would be substantial.

With the weather deteriorating we’re back in a holding pattern, and I’m trying to make patterns for the rudder. More on that when I have something to show. Until then, here’s a photo of Ryan showing off some chemicals.

The Ra Sessions

Music is how Ryan and I met and in many ways is what brought us together. The two of us have been making music together in various iterations for nearly ten years. We’d like to introduce you to our new project, The Ra Sessions. We have not in fact decided to start worshiping an ancient Egyptian deity, but have decided to begin performing under the name “The Bonnie Boat.” Here we’ll be posting videos of both original tunes and some favorite covers. Much of it will be thematically linked to the ocean and nautical endeavors, some of it will simply be tunes we like to play. Hopefully we’ll rope some of our very talented musical friends into joining us . Thanks for checking us out, hit us up with requests, and stay tuned for more!

Watch the video and see if you can figure out why we decided to call these movies the Ra Sessions…