In the movie "All is Lost", Robert Redford portrays an aging sailor who is navigating solo across the Indian Ocean. A series of unanticipated events unfold during his journey, which force him to make decisions that will either ensure his survival or result in his demise.
If you haven't seen the movie yet, I don't want to spoil it for you - but I will say that this is a story where the sailor's success or failure is dependent upon his critical thinking skills and ability to make the correct decisions when facing unfamiliar circumstances.
I found myself in a similar position with this next repair and almost convinced myself that- All was Lost...
If you refer back to my blog-post titled "Negotiation Time" , you may remember that I discovered several findings during my pre-purchase inspection. I classified these findings across three categories, "Minor Issue" , " Major Issue", or "Structural Damage".
Well, In addition to the issues that I was able to categorize, I also noticed another issue that seemed pretty weird but I wasn't quite sure as to which of the three categories it fell into.
There were two significant dents on the lower port and starboard sections of the hull located where the boat rested on the trailer bunks. I was confused as to what caused the dents and apparently so was the previous owner. He told me they were there when he acquired the boat and he wasn't sure how they got there or what to do about them either.
Between the two of us we couldn't decide whether it was simply a cosmetic issue or something more serious. Nevertheless, I didn't let it sway my decision to buy the boat because I figured I would just repair the dents when I was repairing everything else.
Especially, since everything else needed to be repaired...
It's difficult to see in the following photos but look at the upward curve of the water line stripe.
While any damage below the waterline is never a good thing, I didn't see any cracks or separation in the paint or gelcoat so I thought the dents might simply be more of an eyesore rather than a structural or major issue. The hull actually felt solid in these areas when I pushed on it so I figured I could possibly just bang them out from the inside or fill them in from the outside.
The problem was no longer a critical concern in my mind and I simply downgraded it to a "minor issue".
I was more concerned with some stress cracking that I found on the hull adjacent to the port side dent.
While, this issue looked more serious, the repair process was actually pretty clear in my mind. I was going to grind the damaged area out, reinforce it with new fiberglass and resin, fair it back and paint. There really wasn't any type of distortion to deal with and the damage was visible so I just simply needed to carry out a typical fiberglass repair.
As for the mysterious dents, a few people recommended that I simply leave the dented areas alone since they were very low on the hull and would probably not be visible in the water. Worst case would be a slight loss of performance with respect to speed and\or handling.
Though, this sounded like the easiest approach to the problem it also sounded like an easy way out which is sometimes the source of regret. Even though I no longer considered these dents to be a major issue I just didn't feel right about doing nothing and leaving them as-is.
I decided to take some time to think it through, since I always try to look at a situation from every angle prior to making a decision. After approximately 5 minutes I decided to fix them, even though I probably didn't have to.
After doing a little research it turns out the dents were not caused by impact but instead they were a direct result of what's referred to as "Oil Canning."
Oil canning occurs when a boat is incorrectly supported or stored on a trailer for very long periods of time. The fiberglass weakens over time and the hull can actually dent inward. This is particularly true in this case because if you remember, I also noted that I had found evidence that the boat was filled with water at one point in time. This resulted in delaminated fiberglass and rotted stringers (internal structural supports). Sure enough the dents were located in the same location where the stringers had rotted away.
I read that If the problem is noticed early enough, the boat can be removed from the trailer and the dents might pop back out on their own. I had hoped they would pop out when I put the boat on blocks but that didn't happen...
I devised a repair strategy and broke it down in to three possible options:
Bang the dents out as you would if you were working on a car with a dented fender or hood.
Fill the dents with fiberglass body filler and fair them back to the original contour.
Cut the dents out and rebuild with new fiberglass. This option was to be a last resort because these dents were fairly large and I was not comfortable cutting out large sections of the hull.
So there we go... Solving this problem was now as easy as 1-2-3 and I was excited about getting busy with option 1.
A 4 1/2 lb rubber mallet, or better known as a dead-blow. I was sure this would allow me to pound the dents from the inside-out, just as you would on a car fender or hood.
After several failed attempts, I realized I was doing nothing more than making a lot of noise because there was absolutely no movement. I also concluded that I would not recommend this option to anyone else working on a dented hull.
Rubber tends to bounce off of fiberglass and if you're not careful you could literally knock yourself out cold!
I know what you're thinking... No! I did not knock myself out. I missed by an inch but still, don't try this at home.
Having no choice but to go with option 2,
I was going to fill the dents with body filler and fiberglass over them.
Before I could apply the filler though, I had to sand away some of the paint and gelcoat in order to get a better bonding surface. While I was sanding I noticed some discoloration in the center of the dent. I sanded a bit more and it exposed the original fiberglass which was devoid of any resin. It was dry, brittle, and flaky.
I sanded the degraded material which quickly transformed into a hole. Not a good sign.
I continued sanding until I exposed good fiberglass but there was still a horizontal crack extending from the center of the hole.
I followed the crack with the sander hoping it would simply blend out but no such luck. It seemed as though this crack travelled forever...
This is what we were dealing with:
The situation gets worse because the other side of the boat was the same way. Concealed cracks in the dented area and the same result after sanding as well.
So, what started out as two superficial dents actually ended up as two gashes on either side of the hull- below the waterline.
I was sort of baffled at this point because the affected areas seemed so solid when I was banging on them with the mallet.
This was hidden damage though, sandwiched between a few good layers of fiberglass. This really started to worry me!
What other hidden damage was there on this boat and how would I find it?
The defects were concealed beneath the paint and gelcoat and most likely would not have been discovered until an actual failure occurred. Furthermore, a failure would have most likely occurred at the worst possible time, when the boat was subjected to general and peak stresses. In other words, when on the water! We previously discussed some of the forces that affect a sailboat when it's on the water and those forces are much greater than me and my 4 1/2 lb mallet!
While, I understood all of this damage was due to the boat being neglected for so many years, I really started having second thoughts as to whether or not she was worth salvaging. I was quickly discovering that the damage on this boat was extensive and possibly beyond economical repair...
I put my tools away for the day and realized that once again I had to think this through... This time I thought about it for over two months...
Just like in the movie the atmosphere grew loud with the sound of contemplative silence... I went over the situation again and again in my head.
My excitement had diminished and my confidence was shaken... I could not stop thinking about how I had downgraded this issue to "minor" and further, considered leaving it "as-is". Even if it was only a 5 minute consideration, if I decided in the opposite direction I would not have found the defects that could have potentially resulted in tragedy... All was lost... Or so I thought.
The problem with parking your car next to a project that you're about to abandon is that you have to walk past that project daily and look at it before you get in your car.
I walked past this little boat every day and couldn't believe that I was about to give up on her. I had put a lot of time, effort, and money into this project and I wasn't completely convinced that this is how it should end. Even if she did have two gaping holes below the waterline...
I'm not sure if I was overcome with optimism, determination, or just plain stupidity but I just didn't feel right about giving up on this little shipwreck. Even if she did try to conceal defects from me....
That's when it hit me! The boat didn't conceal any defects from me. In fact, the defects were right in front of my face the whole time in the form of "Two significant Dents". The damage was as obvious as my lack of experience with this particular situation.
This is what happened to Redford in the movie! Although his character was that of a seasoned sailor with an abundance of knowledge and competence he was presented with specific situations for which he had little or no experience... Thus, forcing him to make decisions that the movie viewer either agreed with or disagreed with. I was one of the viewers yelling at the TV saying , " No, Redford, don't do that... It will never work!"
I didn't have any viewers yelling at me so I was left to make my own mistakes. Now, I'm not saying making a mistake is a bad thing. It's actually an opportunity that allows us to build knowledge and skill. The key takeaway however, is to always check, double check or even triple check -if need be- any repair you do for the first time. Especially, if it's a repair that could affect your safety and the safety of others.
O.k., so this project started out for me as a learning experience and that is exactly what it has been my friends... An education like no other!
The project itself will require a lot more work, material, and money than originally anticipated but underestimating the task was a mistake on my part. Is that a good enough reason to abandon the project though?
The learning experience is invaluable and I'm happy to continue sharing it with all of you...