Resurrecting Old Boats - Part 1

Author: Peter Standeven. Reprinted from The Firezone summer '92
One of the benefits of the Fireball design is that it is possible to take an old (if reasonably well built) Fireball and fix it up so that it is capable of winning races, at least at the club or provincial level. I remember well when Graham Herbert brought his old boat (Graham won the nationals several times, I think in the late 60's and his boat's sail number was in the 1500's) out of retirement, put on a new (actually a used Beta Minus) mast, built some new sails and proceeded to win races. It can be done.

Resurrecting old boats need not be hideously expensive, although it is easy to get carried away. If ultimately you want to have a brand new boat, one approach is to upgrade your old boat over time and then eventually get a new hull, put it under the new equipment and transfer all the old stuff to the the original boat and sell it. This strategy tends not to work very well in practise though, as it is always tempting to have everything brand new on a brand new boat. Anyhow, here are a few suggestions if you are thinking of bringing back an old boat and putting it into raceworthy condition. Actually a lot of the same ideas can be put to good use on new boats as well. It was written for wooden boat owners but glass boat owners can apply much of the same advice.

Hull Finish

The first thing to do is to dry out the hull in a nice warm place. Look everywhere for holes, leaks, rot, water damage, divots etc. Remove all fittings, except for the chainplates unless they need repair. Tear off the centreboard slot rubbers, you will need new ones anyway. Check the bottom of the centreboard slot for signs of leaks or damage and make sure that the inside of the CB case is smooth and in good shape (otherwise it will just destroy whatever good finish you apply to your centreboard).

Scrape off any flaky paint and start sanding the hull. It is amazing how bumpy some hulls can be and bumps are generally slow. Try to get the hull as smooth, and just as importantly, as fair as possible. Repair any holes or damage using lots of good epoxy. Take the time to fair in any cracks near the chines and bailers. I find that a great product for filling in the really fine grooves or for fairing is Z Spar Hull Glaze. It is cream-like in consistency and although it has no structural strength whatsoever, it sands out beautifully and as long as you overcoat it with a few coats of paint, is waterproof. Put on about three coats of paint minimum and sand well between coats with wet and dry sandpaper. In terms of paint, I always had great success with International Paints' Interpoly White, a one pot, no mix polyurethane. I myself do not like the two part polyurethanes or epoxy paints as although they are generally very hard, they give off tremendous fumes, do not flow very nicely when brushing, and do not level themselves very well. In addition, they contain solvents which may lift the existing paint or cause bubbles or peeling.

Self Bailers

Leaky bailers are annoying and slow. Even small leaks can let 10 to 20 pounds of water into the boat. I personally hate plastic bailers and some older boats may have black or orange Super Shute 90 bailers in them. Whatever you have, fill the cockpit with water, let it sit overnight and make sure the bailers don't leak. My preference is for stainless steel Elvstrom Super Max (biggest allowable under the Fireball class rules - check the rules if you are not sure) bailers. If you have to replace the bailers in your boat, check that the cutout hole and the bolt holes line up with the new bailers. If they do not then you should fill in and then re-drill for the new bailers propr to refinishing the hull. Bed the bailers in a good bedding compound.

Rudder Fittings

The best rudder fittings are the black anodized aluminium and stainless steel Seasure fittings. Most other rudder fittings eventually break, including the all stainless steel fittings. The absolute worst rudder fittings are the Barton black nylon with 3/8" stainless pin fittings. These look robust but in actual fact the pins are just set in plastic with a bit of light metal wrapped around them. If you have these now, get rid of them, even if it means building a new rudder. The last point about rudder fittings is that they should be bolted on with large wooden backing plates inside the aft tank. Use nylon locknuts on the inside. One trick for making it easier to get the nuts on the bolts is to turn the boat upside down on a couple of saw horses. Kneeling on the ground you will find it is not too difficult to reach the transom through the inspection hatch. The same strategy works well for working on the deck fitting for the mast strut.

Mast Step

Since water tends to sit in this area it is advisable to look for any indications of rot. Take the mast step off and clean the area thoroughly. Make sure the step itself is a good strong one. My preference is for the Proctor aluminium mast steps. Remember that if the mast can turn at all in the step or if the step itself can move then the forward swept spreaders will come into line and will not be effective at reducing mast bend. The effect of the spreaders will be negated.


Continued in Part 2