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Posted by on May 20, 2010 in Boat Maintenance, Sailboat, Sailboat Racing, UK, US |

Upgrade Story: Stop the Leak in My Boat

New equipment or fixing what you have is all part of the spring upgrade program on any boat.

Our Boats.com Upgrade contest…worth $250 at West Marine for a lucky reader who takes three minutes to enter and is then chosen at random…is about to end. Since I’m ineligible,  I went ahead and did my project, a repair to a crack in the top of our keel. But if epoxy and sandpaper is on your list, as it was on mine, you can still enter (up until noon, May 22, Pacific Daylight Time), tell us in a sentence or two what you’re planning to do, and by Monday, you might have a $250 gift card to West Marine headed your way.

This is our Shields class boat, freshly launched for 2010.

This is our Shields class boat, Grace, freshly launched for 2010.

My project was pretty simple. It may not be the most artfully executed project, and some epoxy experts will no doubt be able to advise me on what we could’ve done better. But we had to get our sailboat launched for the first race of the season, and it was time to get cracking. Hopefully this quick review will inspire you to stop procrastinating, too.

The water was coming in here so I ground it out; you can still see two damp spots.

The water was coming in here so I ground it out; you can still see two damp (dark) spots.

I have to admit I was hesitant to start grinding away at the crack in the fiberglass…below the waterline…but it was pretty straightforward once I got going. The area above had been a hairline crack that gradually opened up enough to allow significant amounts of water into our boat. By the end of last season, the bilge was full every week when we went out to race.

This may be out of order if this is the first layer.

I chose West System G-Flex epoxy (adheres even to damp materials so I used it just to be safe) with West System filler added to the consistency of peanut butter. I then smoothed it out by taping this plastic sheet over it.

I wasn’t after perfection with this repair, but I did want to stop the water from getting into the boat and keep the area as smooth as possible for race performance.

It rained into the open boat after the first layer and some water flowed through the bilge and emerged at the lefthand end of the repair.

This was disappointing: It rained into the open boat after the first layer hardened and some water flowed through the bilge and emerged at the righthand end of the repair. More work to do!

I didn’t expect to fill the void with one layer of epoxy but I closed it up about 60 to 70 percent with the addition of a small piece of fiberglass I had in one of the West System repair kits you can buy at West Marine. My plastic sheet came off easily after the G-Flex had hardened, and I had relatively little sanding to do before applying a second layer, although I ground away further at the end where the leak had shown up (above).

For the second layer I used regular West System epoxy with additional filler and covered it with the plastic again.

For the second layer I used regular West System epoxy with additional filler and smoothed it with the plastic again.

I thought a third layer would probably be necessary but my goal with the second layer was to fill the void area as completely as I could.

When hardened, it looked like this.

Too much? Not enough? I think I did pretty well on this layer.

Final layer, I used a different filler

One final layer, which I definitely laid on a bit thick; you'll see in the photo below where the red layer was needed.

When finally faired, this area was remarkably smooth, although I admit it's not perfect.

When finally faired, this area was remarkably smooth, although, I admit, not perfect.

When we launched the boat, I could see water running into the bilge immediately…not the kind of thrill I was after. Fortunately, I soon saw that it was coming from the top of the rudder post and by tightening the nut on that, the flow stopped. This week, after some solid rains while Grace had been on her mooring in the salt waters of Newport Harbor (R.I.), I found a few inches of H2O in the boat. Just to be sure, I dipped my finger in and tasted the water — it was fresh!

—John Burnham