Do you ever sit around and waste a lot of time thinking about the concept of time? I do!
Especially when I realize that I'm working on an old sailboat which I started over a year ago. A project that I initially thought would take no time at all yet here I am still working on it today... I could come up with a list of viable excuses as to why I'm not done yet and I do have a very long list but I really don't think that it would serve any purpose in accomplishing the final goal. Even though I have really good excuses...
Nevertheless, before I change the name of this blog to "The Lazy Sailor" I feel compelled to offer some explanation as to why this project seems to be taking so long.
Time flies when you're having fun! It's just that simple... Especially when it comes to restoring an old sailboat and blogging about it.
Time really does appear to accelerate when you're having fun and sailboat repair can be be a lot of fun (sometimes). There are certain tasks associated with the repair however, that are not fun at all but that still doesn't stop time from flying...
No matter who or where we are in this world we all share a common sense of how time seems to pass. While we all know that time is measured in specific increments such as minutes, hours, days, etc..., we also know that when we are actively engaged in something fun or interesting, time seems to pass at a rapid rate. Conversely, if we are bored or doing something we don't really want to do, time seems to pass very slowly.
So why does this happen? Well, I don't really know but I do know that I experience this phenomenon when I'm working on the boat or even blogging for that matter. Sometimes I post a story and think I have a lot of time before I need to post another one, which is usually when I'm kindly reminded by my good friend Josef that months have passed and there is nothing to read. This of course puts a little bit of pressure on me to post another story and -bam- I get writer's block! Which takes quite some time to get over I might add... Nevertheless, a little pressure is good (sometimes) as it tends to motivate you to get the job done (sometimes).
So now we've established that time appears to pass at varying rates depending on what we're doing, Let's talk about some of the tasks associated with sailboat repair and how time plays a key role in success or failure...
Repairing a sailboat is a multifaceted process which often requires a myriad of specialized skills and techniques depending on the extent of work that needs to be done.
In some cases a boat owner may have a specific skill set and feel confident performing certain repairs but rely on specialists to execute other types that they are not so familiar with. For instance, one may be comfortable applying his or her carpentry skills to fix a a hatch frame but seek the services of an experienced marine electrician to install new wiring, or hire a professional laminator to carry out fiberglass repairs. This is a practical approach that usually results in a sound repair and you are essentially getting it done right the first time but where's the fun in that?!
At the start of this project I did not think about taking this approach because I had convinced myself that there were no limits to what I could accomplish-whether I knew what I was doing or not. As I got further into the project I started to have doubts as to whether or not I had the necessary skills to carry out the full repair because I was able to better assess the true extent of damage and realized that this wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. From that assessment I was able to somehow convince myself once again, that there are still no limits as to what I can accomplish- it would just be a matter of time...
That said, if you remember where we left off in our last repair, the bulkheads and stringers were in place and I needed to formulate a plan to fiberglass it all in to the hull, so, let's spend some time talking about fiberglass.
Fiberglass has been around since the days of the ancient Egyptians but at that time its potential as a building material was unknown so it was mainly used for decorative purposes.
In the late 1800's patents were issued for the mass production of fiberglass strands as well as interwoven fiberglass/silk cloths, however its structural properties were still undiscovered and it was used mainly for insulation.
In wasn't until the 1930's that Dale Kleist, working for Corning Glass, accidentally figured out a simpler method for producing glass fibers. Almost simultaneously, Carlton Ellis of DuPont was awarded a patent for polyester resin which when combined with fiberglass creates one of the most versatile building composites known today. While fiberglass is used to manufacture hundreds of items that we utilize in our every day life, it's best known for its use in the boat construction industry.
Fiberglass is essentially tiny strands of glass fibers. These fibers vary in size and length and can be randomly assembled into fabric known as fiberglass mat or systematically woven or stitched into a fiberglass cloth. When liquid resin is applied to the fiberglass mat or cloth, it will eventually harden to form a strong, lightweight, flexible, composite that easily conforms to complex geometries. This makes fiberglass an excellent building material for many applications but specifically boats, as it's strong enough and flexible enough to withstand the constant forces that a vessel is subjected to when underway.
When you first start working with fiberglass and resin you quickly learn that there are more than enough types on the market to make your head spin! There are even more opinions as to which types to use and where to use them. To keep things fairly simple I worked with two types of fiberglass and two types of resin. Based on my research I learned that fiberglass mat with polyester resin is better suited for non-structural applications and fiberglass biaxial cloth with epoxy resin would be best applied to structural applications. Now I had a plan...
Biaxial Cloth (double layer- cloth
Fiberglass Mat on top side, mat on the bottom side
Fiberglass Mat on top side, mat on the bottom side
The first application was to join the stringers and bulkheads to the hull. I used two to three layers of 4" to 6" strips of biaxial fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin. Each strip overlapped the other to add strength and redundancy. Meaning, if one strip ever dis-bonded the other would still be attached to the hull.
This is also referred to as "Tabbing".
Tip! Remember when working with resin and fiberglass, apply the resin generously to the area that is going to be covered and then to the back side of your cloth before laying it in place. This will help to ensure good saturation when you're working the cloth in with a brush or roller.
Tip! When the cloth is in place and well saturated with resin, work the brush or roller to remove any air that might be trapped under the cloth. This will provide the best adhesion and minimize the potential for de-lamination.
Once the initial tabbing was in place and cured I covered the stringers and bulkheads from the top down.
Tip! You can lay your precut pieces over the areas that you plan to cover for several hours or even over night. Doing this allows the cloth to relax to the shape you're going to cover and further, works out some of the wrinkles and kinks which could trap air when you're applying resin.
Tip! If you do notice air trapped under some parts of the fiberglass after the resin has cured, you can sand out the affected areas and apply fresh resin and cloth. Working with fiberglass may be a little tricky until you get used to it but it is very forgiving.
Everything is starting to tie in nicely.... (Ignore the mess, it was a long day)
Now that the new stringers and bulkheads were fiberglassed in, it was time to reinforce the existing stringers which ran to the back of the boat.
This was a very challenging task because I had to work under the deck where my clearance was only about 12" to 14". The only way to accomplish this was to belly crawl with plastic tubs of mixed resin and work as fast as I could!
O.K., so if you think you're done at this point you're not! Once all of your initial fiberglass layers are cured, you have to sand them all down to expose the top layer of fiber. This is done to create a good adhesion surface for additional layers of fiberglass. The entire process needs to be repeated as many times as necessary to reach the required strength and build-up.
I guess it's important to note that applying fiberglass is fairly simple, however, it can be a pain in the neck, especially if you're not familiar with the process. This is also where the time factor actually comes in to play... For the most part you have all of the time in the world when you've measuring out your fiberglass, cutting it to length, and laying it in place.
The resin however, is like a ticking time bomb and you should really have a fundamental understanding of how it works before you even open the container. Resin starts out in a liquid form and is applied to the fiberglass like a paint with a brush or roller. Sounds simple right? Keep in mind though, that in order for resin to properly cure or harden to its solid state you have to add a catalyst (hardener) at exact amounts.
It's extremely important to follow the manufacturers directions -verbatim- because when this stuff is combined together it immediately starts to thermoset. Meaning, the chemical reaction between the resin and hardener creates heat to set the final state of the resin. So, if you add too much hardener the mixture can actually ignite and you could potentially watch your project go up in flames. Additionally, the fumes from these chemicals can also be hazardous so always utilize the proper safety equipment when working.
As if all of this isn't enough to worry about, once you properly mix your resin and hardener you only have a certain amount of time before it actually starts to set and trust me, it's not much time! Only mix the quantity that you feel you can apply in the set amount of working time. So how do you know how much to mix? Well, that's a good question but trial and error is the best advice I can give you. Start out with small amounts and apply to small areas to get a feel for how long your mixture takes to set and simply work up from there. As a final note, try to remember that the surrounding temperature also plays a key role in the amount of application time because the hotter it is in your working environment the quicker your mixture will set.
Time flies when you're having fun! ;)
The Curious Sailor