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
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.
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.
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.
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