Resurrecting Old Boats - Part 2

Author: Peter Standeven. Reprinted from The Firezone autumn '92

Deck Refinishing

This is a labour of love or hate depending on your perspective. If you are thinking of stripping the old finish first, try and find out if the deck was sealed with epoxy before being varnished. If it ahs been you probably should not use a chemical stripper and should instead just sand the deck. Never sand too hard. It is very easy to sand through the top veneer.

Rudder and Centreboard

If your rudder is swept aft at all in profile, get rid of it and buy or build a new one. You don't need a kick up rudder, although they are handy if you sail in a weedy area. A laminated fixed rudder with head area built up with 1/2" plywood cheeks is light and strong. The tiller can be made as a box section (plywood strips top and bottom, spruce or yellow cedar sides) and permanently glued to the rudder.

Both blades should be aerofoil shaped with sharp trailing edges and as smooth and fair as possible. It is worth spending some time on the foils as they are a major factor in boat speed. You can also buy ready made foils, but they are costly. One Brit chandler's catalogue listed rudders at L194 and centerboards at L258, F.O.B. London.

Centreboard Slot Rubbers

I personally believe that good slot rubbers make a huge difference in speed. I used to make them out of stiff mylar with sticky-backed sail number material stuck to both sides and wrapped around the bearing edge (to stop tearing). A sailmaker can supply you with these materials. I overlapped the strips substantially on the slot and then put a number material `cowl` (approx 6" x 6") over the front edge to stop the strips from peeling back. Contact cement held them down.

Hiking Straps

The crew doesn't need hiking straps but the skipper does. Yes, believe it or not, skippers should hike. My preference on the Fireball was to have anchor plates bolted through the hull (and through the bottom rails) with the bolts set in epoxy, 2" x 1/2" stainless toestrap plates on top of the bolts and then eyestraps mounted on top of the two bolts and plates. These would be located (fore and aft) just in front of (the front edge of) the thwart and at the end of the cockpit on each side of the boat. Separate straps for each side with grommets punched into the ends and rope lashings to the eyestraps would then be used. A light piece of shockcord to the underside of the thwart would tend to hold them up so that you can quickly gook your feet under after a tack.

Obviously if you have to put new holes into the boat to do this, sort all of it out before you start repainting the hull.

Deck and Stiffening

I would again start by removing all of the existing fittings. Mark them with masking tape so that you know where they came from.

Older boats often suffer from two problems. The first is that the deck may not be long enough to handle the long footed jibs that are being made. The second is that the centreboard case may need some stiffening. Sometimes both problems can be cured at once with a transverse stiffening bar being epoxied in between the side tank and the front of the centreboard case. This bar may serve as an athwartships base for attaching the jib fairlead track. Do not put transverse stiffening bars from the case to the side tank at the bolt hole position. Stiffeners in this position tend to squeeze the case together while the boat is underload while sailing which in turn makes the board impossible to get up or down.

Another approach to the deck length problem is to put in deck extenders, some sort of wood bracing for the jib leadtracks. Make sure they are strong. As a reference guide, on my old Fireball my leads were at 66.5 inches from the jibtack to the bearing surface of the jib lead and the distance between the jib leads was 22 inches.

Another place where stiffeners can be helpful is at the thwart. A plywood bulkhead gule to the front face of the thwart and glued (with frames) to the floor can stiffen up the hull quite a bit.

Mast and Halyards

Most of the older masts are workable. If you budget requires a choice between a new mast and new sails, generally the new sails are a wiser investment. Gold Proctor `D`s, Beta Minus', Black Erickson, Z Spar and the Needlespar masts can all be made to work efficiently. Old Holt Allen, no name untapered, and skinny Needlespars (2" diameter) should probably be replaced. Elvstrom flat sided mast can be made to work and are fast in a blow but are a bit heavy.

The spinnaker halyard sheave cage up top probably should be replaced with a ball bearing block. The jib halyard and main halyard sheave cages should also be taken apart, checked for wear and cleaned. Check pop rivets for signs of loosening. If your jib halyard and spinnaker halyard go around sheaves in the mast step, I would change these so that they exit through small slots in the side or back of the mast, in order to reduce friction. In the case of the main halyard I prefer it coming out of the side of the mast above deck to a single hook. This makes it easier to get the main up. With the spinnaker halyard, if it comes out of the side of the mast and then turns on a ball bearing block attached to the mast step base, friction will be minimalized. I dislike magic boxes for the jib halyard and prefer using a cascading block and tackle in wire lead to block and tackle in rope. There is so much friction in magic boxes that it takes half of the mechanical advantage just to pull out the friction from the system.


The only rule here is to keep it simple, especially to start with. There is no correlation between the number of Harken fittings and finishing order. Make sure ropes run freely and use good cleats. Check any old cam cleats for signs of burnt out teeth. Both everything and make sure that the cleat lines up with its lead block and the direction of the normal pull. The only way to make sure it will is to put a rope through the leads and cleats and to pull on it before drilling holes. I am always amazed at the number of sailers who expect to win races even though they cannot pull up their spinnaker halyard without two years of weight training and only after they learn to be a contortionist.


If you plan on having end boom sheeting with a traveller bridle and a powerful boom vang, then you may have to get a new boom to handle the load. Apart from that, any ugly boom that will not bend is probably OK. I have seen some very successful booms made out of a broken mast section (see International 14 fleet).


Sails are the critical factor in determining boatspeed. I believe that you can often make an older mainsail work adequately if you play around with mast bend, but old jibs are junk. If you can only afford one new sail, I would suggest getting a jib. If you are short on funds, a used mainsail might make some sense. Second hand spinnakers can occasionally be worth buying, but should be looked at carefully because they are constructed from a very light cloth and tend to get blown out over time.

After you have looked after all of this and your beautiful, resurrected machine is now ready for combat, GET OUT SAILING!

Editor's note: Peter Standeven was the 1982 Canadian Champion and also won the Ontario's twice in the early eighties