Re-coring the Chainplate Areas–Refit Time, Part two…

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen
Mast off. Ready to remove chainplates.

What follows is a description of a repair that I did not want to get involved in… After removing the damaged parts of the hull and seeing how well-bonded everything still was, I am pretty sure that Idle Queen would have survived another circumnavigation without issues from this area if I had just replaced the chainplates and continued sailing her. But, even if I had stopped new water from getting into the hull, the water that was already inside would have continued to cause further damage by rotting the core, slowly prying the skins from the core with each freeze cycle, and causing hydraulic damage when impacts from waves against the outer skin pushed the water into new areas. Ignoring the problem would have eventually meant the end of the boat because the hull would have weakened and the required repair would have just continued to grow.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Chainplate area
Chainplates removed. Note water draining from hull…
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen Core repair
Drilling holes to determine the extent of the saturated core- Note water draining out…

I received a lot of advice from passers-by as I was contemplating what needed to be done after I removed the chainplates and saw water draining from the resulting holes. Mostly, the suggestions were to try injecting products like epoxy, or Git-Rot into the problem area. That would have been little better than just leaving the whole thing alone, as there is no good way to remove the water without completely taking off one skin. Leaving moisture in the core leaves the original worries, and by talking to people who have made these sorts of repairs before, I learned that trying to inject anything into the area is very close to useless.

The first steps of the repair, as already mentioned in the last post, were to find the extent of the moisture penetration, and then remove the outer skin. It was tough to drill those first few holes, but once I got past that psychological hurdle, the work went quickly. I could immediately tell where the core was wet or not when the drill bit brought forth either a stream of water (from the plywood area), damp, but still solid balsa, or dry balsa dust. As an interesting aside, a moisture meter passed over the hull from the outside did not register the extent of the moisture hidden inside. The outer skin on this Dreadnought 32 is between 1/4″ and 3/8″ thick. Maybe a moisture meter works better on thinner-skinned laminates.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen core repair
Attempting to keep some of the fiberglass dust off of me while cutting and prying. Note the shredded fiberglass due to a tenaciously bonded core…

I taped off the edges of the area that I intended to cut out and then picked up my oscillating multi-tool (a knock-off Fein multi-master) with a metal/fiberglass blade and began to cut the outline. Work slowed down a few minutes after getting started as the glass fibers dulled the metal teeth of the blade. Partway through this step of the project, a friend loaned me a Dremel high-speed circular saw with a diamond-tipped blade. I was able to set the depth of the cut to just more than the thickness of the outer skin and zip relatively quickly along each planned cut. At this point, I was thinking that this project was going pretty well and I was only taking about as long as I planned. Of course, that meant something unexpected had to come up soon!

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen balsa core repair
Removing the outer skin, port side. First section off!
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen core repair
Once the skin was off I still had to chisel out all the wood.

That problem came in the form of a good bond between the balsa and the skins. I had built model airplanes when I was a teenager and was pretty familiar with the soft, easily-cut wood from hours of shaping it into wings and fuselages. I hadn’t expected that it would be difficult to get the outer skin off, and actually had visions of popping it off intact and re-using it. Ha! An hour after I began trying to pry the outer skin off one side of the hull it was totally obvious that the balsa core was going to force me not only to destroy the outer skin, but also spend a couple of days doing it. I began with a hammer and a very large screwdriver but only succeeded in tearing the outer laminations of the skin off. Lots of mat remained stubbornly glued to the balsa. After experiments that involved using every prying tool I had access to, including an air-powered chisel, the method I settled on was to cut the skin into two-inch square chunks and then pop each one of the little squares off. That meant a lot of lines to cut! I am amazed at how well the diamond-tipped blade held up, but towards the end it was more burning through the fiberglass instead of cutting…

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen core repair
Removing old wood core from port side.
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen stitched plywood
Interesting stitching in the plywood reinforcement of the chainplate area. Lots of people tell me this was to hold it in place, but the stitches don’t go through all the laminations, as you can see in this picture. The plywood reinforcement in this part of this boat was simply pushed into a bed of thickened resin as the hull was laid up, and then glassed over.

Once the skin was removed, I had to chisel all the rest of the core material out. This was complicated, again, by the excellent bond between the fiberglass skin and the balsa wood, and also by the fact that the plywood part of the core extended beyond my cut-out area. It was very effective (and dusty) to take a high-speed grinder and 24-grit sanding discs to remove the balsa. A sharp chisel also did the job, but was slower and I had to be careful not to go into the inner skin. The plywood was a pain because I wanted to remove it from between the skins at the upper edge of the repair. I didn’t cut the outer skin all the way to the rubrail (which is un-cored) because that wouldn’t have left enough room to get a 12-1 taper for a strong repair of the outer skin. I slowly cut it out with the oscillating multi-tool.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen balsa core repair
Starboard side all cleaned out and ground down– almost ready for new core, but I still have to build up the depression in the top part of the repair area where there used to by plywood.

Once that was finished, it was simple to finish grinding a 12-1 bevel into the surrounding outer skin, and finish grinding all of the inner skin with 36-grit in preparation for bedding in new core material, which is 1/2″ end-grain balsa. Instead of putting plywood back where it had existed before, I built the area up with layers of “1708”, which is a biaxial, non-woven fiberglass material which consists of two layers of continuous fiberglass strands (weighing 17 ounces per square yard) running 45 degrees each side of vertical (biaxial) stitched to a layer of 8 ounce mat. Layers of this material were laminated until the surface was level with the surrounding area where balsa was to be placed. The balsa was cut to fit the repair area, and then bedded in a thick mash of resin, chopped strand, milled fibers, and fumed silica (Cabosil).

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen balsa core repair
Vacuum-bagging the new balsa core in place

Next order of business was to cut plastic to use as a “bag” to hold the balsa in place. I put an old through-hull mushroom in the middle of it. The through-hull was scored so it could suck air in even if flat against a surface. Once everything was cut to fit, and the filler mixed, I rolled resin onto the balsa to saturate it. It took a few heavy coats before it stopped sucking resin in like a sponge. I catalyzed the thickened mash mixture and spread it over the whole area with a heavily v-notched spreader, working quickly. The balsa was all pushed into place until mash squeezed out around all the edges. The ”bag” was taped over the area and a shop-vac used to apply pressure to the area. This does not apply the same pressure as a specialized high-vacuum pump, but it still applies a lot of force to hold the core tightly against the inner skin while the mash cures. It applied more pressure than I could by hand, as more mash squeezed out from behind the balsa.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen hull repair
Adding fiberglass to the re-cored area.

After the core had cured in place, all of the scores in the balsa were filled with thickened resin. This prevents water migration in case there is ever a break in one of the skins. The balsa was cut out where the chainplates mount so they mount over solid glass. Then, all of the new balsa core was sealed with resin until it stopped soaking it in. Additional ayers of 1708 cloth were built up to make up for the difference of thickness between the core and where plywood had been used originally. There are as many as 15 layers of 1708 in the area of the chainplates.

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen hull repair
New skin lamination complete. Next step is fairing

I made templates of the repair area and used them to cut layers of 1708 biaxial mat for the new outer skin. Using a 3/8″ nap roller, I wet the area with resin and saturated the glass. Each layer was carefully laid in place and the extra resin squeezed out with a fiberglass laminating, or consolidating roller. It was hot work, with the sun making sure that I was soaked no more than 10 minutes after beginning work each day. After the final layer of 1708 was laminated, I covered the whole repair with a layer of “peel ply”, which is basically a fabric like nylon coat liner that doesn’t stick to the surface. When removed, it provides a fresh, textured surface that is perfect for adding more laminations, or fairing material. Saturated with resin, and then painted, it protected the repair areas while I went away for the summer to work.

To be continued…


Thoughts on Dreadnought 32 Performance

Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen sailing Buzzard's Bay
Dreadnought 32 Idle Queen sailing Buzzard’s Bay

When trying to compare the speed of different boats objectively, I like to use PHRF ratings to give a good idea of the actual performance differences involved. PHRF ratings are used to handicap all sorts of different sailboats so they can race together on the same course. They give a number which equates to seconds per mile, that is applied to a boat’s finishing time to determine overall performance in the race. If a boat has a lower number, it “gives” seconds to a boat with a higher number. Thus, a boat with a rating of 200 is expected to finish a one mile course 50 seconds faster than a boat rated 250. The lower-rated boat has to “give” 50 seconds to the higher-rated, slower boat when computing corrected times at the finish. So, if the boat rating 200 finishes the course 51 seconds ahead of the boat rating 250, it has won the race, but if it finishes, say, 48 seconds ahead, then it has lost on “corrected time”. The ratings are frequently adjusted to keep different boats on par. Racers are a competitive bunch, and this is a widely accepted system used for many different types of sailboat races, so I think it is a pretty good way to compare the speeds of different boats.

Just for comparison’s sake, let’s look at a Westsail 32, which rates 222, or 222 seconds per mile slower on average than a boat that rates 0. How do some other designs compare? The Crealock 34, which is a design that is held in quite high regard by many cruising sailors, rates 201. That’s only 21 seconds per mile faster, on average… How about a Contessa 32, another classic design that has a reputation for being weatherly and fast in a wide range of conditions? The Contessa 32 rates 180, or 42 seconds/mile faster than the Westsail 32. Over a 100 mile course, with both boats racing, the Contessa would be expected to finish 70 minutes faster. Over a 2,000 mile course–a huge distance: 23.3 hours. That’s a 1 day difference on a 2,000 mile crossing between a boat that has a reputation for being a slug and one that was designed as a racer/cruiser has a reputation for being quite fast in all sorts of conditions. The only PHRF rating I can find for the Dreadnought 32 is listed in San Francisco. There are not enough Dreadnought 32’s racing on the east coast to give the design a rating. The Dreadnought 32 PHRF rating is 222–same as the Westsail 32.

The PHRF ratings provide the most accurate speed comparison when there is a mix of different points of sail. If the above example citing the Westsail 32 and Contessa 32 were sailed all upwind, I would expect the Contessa to easily out-sail the Westsail every time. However, if the passage were mostly reaching or running (fair winds), the differences will be smaller. Cruising sailors prefer to plan passages that take advantage of fair winds so the actual differences may be smaller than the ratings suggest when that is taken into account.

In races, the finishing time differences normally stretch out to more than in the example above because of differences in decisions made by the crew. A poorly sailed Contessa 32 could easily finish a 2,000 mile course more than a day behind one that was sailed by a top crew. A similar time difference is possible due to poor sails. A difference in the duration of a passage is as likely to be caused by local weather, a meander in an ocean current, crew decisions, boat condition (how clean the bottom is, especially), sails, etc., as the actual speed potential of the boat being sailed.

The PHRF list I use is available at: Not every boat in the world will be there, as there has to be enough of them being raced to get accurate rating data. Still, you can get a pretty good idea of the relative speeds of a lot of different boats in real-world conditions. The system is not perfect, and each boat design has conditions where it will often out-sail it’s rating, but this data has been gathered over many years of racing in varied conditions and is frequently updated when it becomes apparent that a particular boat design (or even a particular boat) has an unfair advantage due to rating.

I hope the above gives enough information to at least keep the actual speed differences in perspective. It is impossible to consider take every factor into account when trying to compare boats, but some details will make a big difference. If you’re sailing in small, very protected waters in mostly light winds, the differences between a very heavy boat and a lighter one will be exaggerated, for instance.

In real life, I have found that my Dreadnought 32 is surprisingly easy to drive on most points of sail at speeds that keep me happy (4-6.5 knots) with very little strain on the rigging. My running average speed over the last 2,000 miles is about 4 knots (per GPS log), but I have sailed the boat overly conservatively due to suspect rigging (which I am in the process of changing). That average includes a mix of offshore and ICW miles, many miles of me being lazy and not hauling out bigger sails on light-wind days, sailing reefed down when being conservative at night, and the like. It also includes motoring, where I run my boat slower than many people partly because I only have 15 hp in a 20,000 lb boat, and partly because I actually enjoy just tooling along slowly when under power… My average speed under power is a relaxed 4-4.5 knots, even though Idle Queen will power at 6.5 knots when needed.

Video of Last Fall’s Trip South

From mid-November to mid-December of 2013, Idle Queen was underway traveling between Cape Cod and North Carolina.  Below is a video compilation from that trip.  I now have a waterproof housing for my camera after missing lots of good action due to bad weather on that trip.  I look forward to being able to film in all conditions this season.

Click here to watch the video on YouTube in a new window.

Idle Queen in art

The Idle Queen bowl
The Idle Queen bowl

Idle Queen has been immortalized in pottery now…

I have been to a lot of museums over the years, and some of the things that have survived the best from thousands of years ago are pieces of pottery.  Even when there are only shards because a piece has been broken, they are still recognizable.  Where the pottery was painted and glazed, the finish has often survived in good condition.  So, I like to think that the painting that I did of Idle Queen on this bowl will be around for a good, long time to come.

This bowl is the product of my second visit to a pottery studio where you get to paint your own pieces.  There is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out what the glaze is going to do after it is fired, so I am pleased with how the Idle Queen bowl came out.  The experience was more fun than I had anticipated, so I am looking forward to visiting the studio again in the future.  Maybe I will even try visiting a place where I can experiment with the pottery itself instead of just painting on pre-made pieces…  Then again, the last thing that I need is another hobby.


Idle Queen as I found her
Idle Queen as I found her.  She looks pretty good from this side.

It seems that one of the universal problems aboard small boats is not having enough room–not having enough storage space for clothes; tools; toys; spares; fuel; awnings; safety gear; etc…  Immediately after finding a storage solution for a particular piece of gear, a new thing arrives that just has to be kept somewhere aboard and the challenge of finding a place to put it begins.  I strive to keep my boat as simple as possible, but it still seems that there is never enough room aboard.  When the space is shared, such as when guests come aboard, the problem compounds.  The obvious solution to this problem is to have a bigger boat.  A boat just a few feet longer than the current one sounds about right to a lot of people.  This is such a common phenomenon that there is even a name for it:  three-foot-itis.  Three-foot-itis is when a boat owner decides that his or her current boat is inadequate, but that a boat three feet longer would be just the ticket.  There is no other solution in the owner’s mind.  A bigger boat must be found.

I succumbed to the above described boat-owner’s malady and have been working on Idle Queen for a while now.  Idle Queen is a Dreadnought 32 built by the Dreadnought Boatworks of Carpentaria, California.  She is three feet longer than Sirocco.

Deck view of Idle queen
Idle Queen as I found her–the view on deck


The space problem was just one part of what drove me to this boat, however.  Cost was the other driving force.  Everyone knows that bigger boats are more expensive, but in this case, I took a big step down.  Sirocco, my last boat, is a beautifully finished boat.  She has teak trim and bronze fittings and beautiful joinery.  Idle Queen is home-finished with plywood and plexiglass and latex paint.  I found her moldering in the back of a boatyard.  She had been for sale so long that the sign had faded and broken.  She is heavily-built and practical though.  Because of her rough-and-ready working finish I won’t feel bad keeping her going with whatever I happen to scrounge or buy when things break.  I don’t have to worry about a “yacht quality” finish.   Strong and cheap will do it.

Idle Queen as I found her--not in pristine condition...
Idle Queen as I found her–not in pristine condition…

I will start getting some more pictures up in the near future and maybe some videos to document progress on Idle Queen‘s rehabilitation.  My goal is to have a safe, strong, inexpensive voyaging yacht with this project.

Idle Queen dinette
The dinette in Idle Queen on the first day that I went to see her. It was a bit depressing below and difficult to breathe because of all the mold in the air.
Idle Queen cockpit
Cockpit view of Idle Queen when I found her. This photo does not show the pool of water that was in the forward corner of the cockpit slowly leaking into the diesel fill.