Resurrecting Old Boats - Part 2
Author: Peter Standeven. Reprinted from The Firezone autumn '92
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.
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
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
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
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