From The Boatshop
by Ron Magen

“Let this be a warning to YOU!!“

All of us are building boats, or dreaming about building boats. For some it’s a business, others a hobby, and still others - an addiction! Sometimes it’s ‘all of the above’ in different proportions. In most cases it is also a scenario of no more that one {or two, at the outside 3} on the premises at a time. Therefore, the ‘offspring’ are given away, or sold. If it’s to friends or family, then some contact or knowledge is likely. Some ‘guidenence’ is either asked or accepted. However when something is ‘sold’ rather outright, then that’s it. You’ve done the best job you can, informed the buyer that it’s a WOODEN boat and requires certain maintenance as such. It’s up to you, as the builder, to offer any ‘guarantees of workmanship’ or whatever.

In 1997 I built a Rubens Nymph. It was for a gentleman who’s wife had MS, was not exactly up to scampering about on a dinghy and therefore needed a bit more stable platform. Because this was to be a tender to a larger boat, I built her SOLID and gave her a ‘Yacht’ finish. The transoms were 3/4 ply, Mahogany stained, sealed with epoxy, and sheathed with an extra layer of 6 ounce glass. In addition, ½ inch ‘top plates’ {with bronze screws for easy replacement} were bedded on to protect the edges. To protect the epoxy, 4 coats of Spar varnish were applied. The framing was almost as stout - ½ inch ply solidly filleted in place - with draining limber hole openings cut at the hull ‘knuckle’. The ‘for & aft’ thwart was 12 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick Philippine Mahogany. This got 6 coats of a UV resistant varnish. The ‘mid section’ was cut out so when boarding you could step right down on the hull. The hull itself was the ‘standard’ 1/4 inch ply. Gunnels were two layers of plain pine, for easy replacement, and oiled. The finish was 2 coats of white primer, and 2 coats of Pettit EasyPoxy White. It was ‘wrapped’ around the transoms to a 2 inch border on the ‘Mahogany’.

Earlier this month I got a strange telephone call. Turned out to be the gentleman who had purchased the Rubens Nymph!! He loved the boat, and it had preformed it’s function beautifully. With this, that, and the other, it turned out that he had been required to move rather quickly. During the relocation, the movers had somehow broken off the skeg, could it be replaced ? When I gave a qualified, “yes” {I hadn’t seen the boat yet} we became involved in a nice discussion. It seems his move had him living about 30 minutes away from me. He offered to bring the boat over the next day. I begged off because I wanted to make room in the shop, plus our area was having torrential rain storms. We arranged that I would call him in a couple of days and make arrangements to come out on Saturday morning & inspect the boat & damage.

A few days later - when I called to arrange a time - the owner was ‘heartsick’ when he described further, and VERY EXTENSIVE, damage.

The boat had normally been stored, I was told, up on cinder/cement blocks, at least a foot above the ground, with a tarp thrown over it. In this instance, the boat was placed {upside down} directly on the ground - a heavy, damp, clay soil. The outcome was that, although appearing simply dirty on the exterior, BOTH TRANSOMS were ROTTED OUT on the inside. Even completely missing in about 25% of the area. Of the ‘top plates’ there is no indication. Either they rotted completely away, or they may have been removed some time age. {In fact, it was in looking over my notes & original photos that I noticed them !!}

There is almost no strength or integrity left in the wood. However, the sides and bottom {sheathed 1/4 inch Mahogany ply}, plus the fillets at the transoms, are holding the hull form/shape. So much so that the boat can be turned over, or on it’s side, and moved. It is this that gives me an idea for a possible method of repair.

First, I would recommend the use of 3/4 inch MDO - Double Sided. 1 to 2 inch thick spacers would be placed on the INSIDE SURFACES of what is left of the existing transoms. Dimensions and angles will be taken off the existing interior sides/bottom surfaces, at the level of the spacers. NEW transoms will cut to these measurements. The mating surfaces will be prepped and the new ones fastened & filleted in place. After the epoxy has cured, the original transoms - and the ends of the side/bottom panels - will be cut off. The remaining material will be trimmed flush with the NEW transoms. Epoxy & fiberglass sheathing will be applied, and integrated into the existing sides/bottom panels.

In addition to the transom repair I will propose a re-furbishment project to Clean, Sand and Re-Paint the hull. Remove and Replace the gunnels {which seem a bit ‘soft’}. Also, the ‘original’ problem - Replace the missing Skeg - I would use OAK, properly Sealed & Bedded.

This process will shorten the LOA by about 4 inches. I contacted both Phil Bolger and Dynamite Payson. Phil considers the effect of this “negligible” for either rowing or sailing {the owners present desire}. However, they are both in agreement - “. . . a lot of time & work . . . {more economical} to simply build a new Rubens Nymph”. {Granted, even if effectively repaired, the increased stress of a leeboard and rudder in the water may NOT be the best thing for a hull that has been neglected !}

One of the things I noticed was that the owner had installed lifting handles and a bow eye {see photos}. He had neither sealed the holes or bedded the fittings. I have a feeling that some of the rot fungus entered here. I also got the impression that the transoms were placed DIRECTLY on the cinder blocks - no intervening wood block or padding. I didn’t ask, but the ‘thrown over’ tarp may have draped over onto the ground. I mention this because the rough surface of the blocks would scrape through any finish, moisture would have wicked up through the blocks right into the wood. The placement of the tarp made the situation even worse - it would not allow air circulation.

As opposed to this, here is how I ‘dry store’ a South Haven Dory. There is no padding on the ‘horses - it’s awaiting work and the gunnels will be refurbished. Besides, in this case, rug scraps {cheap & good for ‘long term use’}would hold rain water in contact. Note that it is NOT sitting on the trailer {what looks like fencing is actually the side & back frames} - there is spacing to allow complete air circulation. While the trailer was folded up & wrapped up during the winter, the dory was simply covered with a green ‘Farm Tarp’. Padding was placed on the ‘horses and the tarp was arranged to leave the ends and ‘bottom’ {inside} open. No place for water or melting snow to get in, but plenty of dry air. Plus I frequently looked at her and brushed snow off. She is ‘dry as a bone’ and ‘solid as a rock’ . . . even the broken ‘Tombstone’ transom has no rot.

Yes, it’s still August. Of course we’re still ‘on the water’ or in ‘Building Mode’. However, I just RSVP’d for the Dragon’s Labor Day Picnic . . . a day late because THIS Saturday snuck up on me. Yesterday we gave the ‘pups’ their Fall bath, but you people with 2-legged children are involved with the on-going panic of back-to-school preparation. Next thing you know it will replacing that broken leaf rake or blower - “. . . their collecting the leaves WHEN !! “.

Hey, don’t mean to sound like the ‘Grinch’. I try to wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts right up until I have to put on the insulated ‘jump suit’ coveralls. Just a friendly reminder, from an inveterate procrastinator, take care of your babies.

Don’t wait until that one morning when you wake up, look out the window, and see about 6 inches of ‘a dusting’, and say . . . “Damn !! I should have / meant to / was going to . . . “. That’s O.K. - send me an ‘e-note’. I’ll be here, my feet up, in old deck shoes, a ‘boat drink’ in hand, a slight smile on my face, and a smart-ass “I told you so” on my lips.