Long-term Maintenance Issues Relevant to Other Cheoy Lee Boats:
(note: this was written mostly in 1998, so is not fully up to date in all regards)
Teak Deck Restoration ,
Fiberglass hull blister repair, Standing
Rigging (chainplates, etc)
Through hulls, seacocks
Rhodes Reliants and Offshore 40s are "mature" boats, 25-35 years old. No matter how well Cheoy Lee built these boats, three decades of exposure to the very corrosive marine environment coupled with the stresses of sailing inevitably leads to a set of fairly well defined long term maintenance issues. We know that roofs on our houses need replacement roughly every 20-30 years, and our houses aren't thrown around by huge waves and don't have to support tons of pressure of a mast. We should not be surprised that our boats similarly have a "30 year maintenance cycle." This maintenance cycle is fairly extensive but reasonably well defined.
Rhodes Reliants and Offshore 40s are well into this cycle, and their owners have learned what needs to be done. Some of our key insights relevant to all boats of this age are discussed here. We have discovered many other things peculiar to our design, and owners of sisterships are urged to order the Handbook of Maintenance and Upgrades mentioned elsewhere on this website to be fully informed.
TEAK DECK RESTORATION
Probably the biggest single project in our thirty-year maintenance cycle is deck restoration. The teak decking was essentially a surface treatment over a very strong and complete fiberglass cored structure. The underlying fiberglass deck was molded to a fine finish; indeed, the "standard" boat came with the fiberglass decks and the teak overlay was an optional extra (that most people ordered).
The top fiberglass deck is about 3/8" thick. Then there is a core. Rhodes' specifications were for 1/2" end grain balsa, but on my boat and I think others, lauan planks were used for the core, roughly 9/16" x 3 1/2" planked fore and aft. The lauan may be a bit heavier than the specified balsa, but, at least on my boat, it did not rot and deteriorate when it got wet. There is plywood under the winch pads. (I would not be surprised if Cheoy Lee used other materials in other boats.) Below the wood core is another layer of fiberglass, roughly 1/8" thick.
The teak was about 3/8" thick, machine screwed (wood screws on some boats) to the fiberglass. Some boats bought 1/2" decking at extra cost, and at least one sister ship originally had decks ordered extra thick (3/4"), so its decks can be expected to last longer. Certainly on the standard 3/8" deck, there was not much wood between the top of the screws and the surface of the deck, and we all learned that teak decks wear down, faster if cleaned often and vigorously, until the plugs are thin and fall out. We have gone through the challenge of making thinner and thinner plugs or trying other techniques to cover the screws.
It may have been the intent that the machine screws would not penetrate through the fiberglass deck, so that leaks would not reach the wood core; I doubt, however, that construction was perfectly uniform in this regard. The teak was bedded to the fiberglass in thiokol (same as the seams), and over time this adhesive seal failed. Ultimately it was possible for water to penetrate through the teak, either between the seams in the teak decking or near deck hardware and chain plates. The water could migrate around under the teak, find its way through some screw holes that hold the teak down, and reach the wooden core. Water in the core froze in winter, expanding and delaminating the core structure and affecting the core and creating more waterways. When one sister ship was about 10 years old, its owner was able to cure deck leaks by drilling the teak, screwing in zerc fittings, and pumping Dolphinite under the deck. Whether this approach might extend the life of 30 year old decks, I do not know.
It is possible that the wear and tear on the teak decks is affected by climate. Probably if the boat is left exposed to the elements and if there is frequent rain, the teak will not dry out and will stay tight. If, however, the boat is hauled out and is wintered in a dry, heated shed, the teak will dry out somewhat and pull at the seam compound. Probably baking under a winter cover in the summer heat does similar things. According to this analysis, the Puget Sound boats will probably need deck restoration last.
Of 44 boats for which I have data, 23 have undergone deck restoration. On 15 boats, teak was put down again on the fiberglass deck, and 8 finished the original or a new fiberglass deck (although some have teak on the bridge deck or a few other places). Of the 21 still with original decks, at least 4 need deck restoration soon.
At least two boats have re-fastened the decks in hopes of making the old decks last longer. A danger of re-fastening is that if the new screws go deep into the wooden core, they may accelerate water penetration into the deck core. On some boats the decks have been re-caulked and fittings rebutted. This seems to be help maintain water-tight integrity.
In some of the restorations, the deck was cut open to expose and dry out the core, and epoxy resin used to re-establish the structural integrity of the sandwich system. On at least three boats the decks (and in at least one case the cabin top) have been fully re-cored and new fiberglass decks constructed.
On my boat, I removed the teak and its thousand machine screws, cut open the deck, dried the core, glassed the cutouts back, injected epoxy resin to re-establish the structural integrity of the core structure, and then restored and finished the fiberglass surface with non-skid paint; after suffering decades of deck leaks and filling thousands of holes in the deck, I couldn't bear to put any new holes in the deck. I am pleased with our fiberglass deck. I think it looks fine, and the non-skid paint feels good, although it is difficult to keep clean. The paint does chip a bit when metal objects fall on it.
As for putting on new teak decks, some owners have had prefabricated teak decks made by Teakdecking Systems in Sarasota FL (941-756-0600). Alan Brosilow there is very familiar with our boats; they have provided teak decks for about ten sister ships. Alan tells me that our boats have about 225 square feet of deck, and that a complete prefabricated deck, including installation materials costs about $50-$55 per square foot. This puts the price for the complete deck in the $12,000 range. The deck can be installed by a boat yard or by do-it-yourselfers. Teakdecking Systems can provide a technician to assist in the installation for extra cost. Alan recommends that some screws be used to hold the decking down, in addition to adhesives. Unfortunately, there is enough variation in the way rails were put down on boats to prevent the use of patterns made for other boats. Each installation requires its own patterns. Of course, before putting down any teak there is a lot of work in removing the old teak, removing all the screws, cleaning and fairing the decks, and dealing with all the structural issues (drying/replacing the wood core and re-establishing laminate structure). Brosilow estimates that boatyards in the northeast charge around $125 per square foot to do everything, stripping, rebuilding, and putting down a new deck. This comes out near $28,000 for the total job.
By way of contrast, the spray painting of my deck (labor and materials) was around $2,300, but I did all the preparation work, including a very elaborate and tedious masking job. The materials for rebuilding the deck structure involved several gallons of epoxy resin, fiberglass, tools, abrasives, masking supplies, fastenings, sealants, etc. -- were probably in the $1-2,000 range. I spent several hundred hours.
One owner is thinking about a slightly different approach. He is considering leaving the outer teak strakes on, but removing the others. Then he would put down on the deck epoxy encapsulated plywood, finished like a traditional canvas covered deck. This will provide a way of sealing the bottom seam of his (new) cabin sides and will leave the old teak near the rail to look like a teak covering board. I saw a schooner in Martha's Vinyard that had such a treatment, and it looked very nice. This approach has much esthetic appeal, but ends up with new holes in the deck to fasten the plywood, old holes under the outside strakes, and a plywood deck that has some potential of delamination.
One of the minor side benefits of redoing the decks is that you remove and re-bed deck hardware, and this is a good time to change deck hardware and discover and replace corroded fastenings.
Deck restoration is a unique experience. It is baptism by fiberglass dust and epoxy resin or check writing into a new and higher order of boat maintenance. It takes confidence and boldness to tear off the teak you have worked years to protect and to put a power saw to your deck that you want to strengthen. It finally gives some legitimacy to the old phrase "destroy to save." It is a project that goes on for months and months, requiring hundreds of hours of very careful labor. Astronomical boatyard bills for unimaginable labor time do have some basis in reality. If you are considering doing this project yourself, it is absolutely essential to have the boat under a waterproof roof before you start. One owner wrote an excellent description of his deck project in Ocean Navigator, No. 69, (July-Aug, 1995, pp. 26-31).
BLISTERS IN FIBERGLASS HULL
Blisters have not been a pervasive problem in our sister ships, but some boats have had problems. Among the various factors at work, one may be the underlying lay-up in the original construction of the hull. The Rhodes Reliant has a hull about 5/8" thick, made up of four to fourteen layers of 1/2 oz mat and 24 oz woven roving. However, the Offshore 40 hull is 3/4" to 2" thick. It seems to have been constructed entirely with mat, not woven roving, because at that time Lloyds of London did not like woven roving and its polished threads and preferred (required?) using mat only.
For Reliants with the mat and woven roving, I have not heard any confirmed reports of serious blister damage.
In contrast, I have heard of a few blister problems on boats with the thick Offshore 40 mat lay-up:
another sister ship needed major bottom work, involving removal of the outer 1/4" and replacement.
another sister ship had about 85 blisters in the late 1980s. The owner routed them out with a sharp chisel and sealed the spots with epoxy and filled them with epoxy paste. He then put 3 coats of epoxy over the whole bottom. This has worked well.
another owner epoxied the bottom around 1980, but blisters appeared around 1993. He ground them out, filled them and re-applied four coats of epoxy.
yet another owner reports continual, growing numbers of blisters each year.
Obviously, many factors influence the emergence of blisters, including:
It is worth while noting some insights I saw on Cruising World's Other Opinion from an owner of a Cheoy Lee Offshore 47:
World of Hull Blistering
Avoiding the Blister Blues, by David Pascoe, Surveyor
Failed Blister Repairs, a disturbing story, by David Pascoe, Surveyor
These articles give a very good overview of the problem and indicate some of the very serious problems in effecting repairs. I also had a chat with Marty, owner of Osotec, an Annapolis based company that has specialized in blister repair for almost 20 years. They invented and patented some of the tools for stripping off fiberglass from hulls and supply tools and sharpen cutters for the industry. This keeps them in pretty close contact with the industry around the country.
The first insight is that many factors that lead to blisters. Key issues are the type of resin used, the degree of wetting out, the type of layout, the bonding between layers of the hull (affected by how much a previous layer had cured before the next was added, and by other factors), engine vibration transmitted to the hull, history of hull stress and flexing, etc. In general, hull layups made purely of mat tend to blister sooner that layups of woven roving, because the mat fibers provide more capillary opportunities for water infusion. In some cases, hulls made in the 1960s used a high resin content and wetted the glass thoroughly, and have not had blister problems. Cheoy Lee probably had a lot of labor, so many, many pairs of hands could spread out resin and ensure that it fully penetrated the fiberglass as the hulls were being layed up. Our good luck may have this simple explanation.
David Pascoe argues that a great deal has been known for decades about how to avoid blisters at the construction stage, but many if not most builders cut corners and costs, leaving the owners to deal with the costly blister problem years later.
In the 1960's and into the 70's, orthopthalic poylester resins were used. Its molecules presents many spaces where water molecules can attach, so it is most sensitive to hydrolysis. During the 1980's isophalic polyester resins became available. These were somewhat more resistant to water but not perfect. In the 1990's, vinylester resins have been used, and these seem very resistant to water.
Before deciding what to do about blisters, it is important to determine the cause of blisters. In some cases they may be in the surface. In other cases, there may be problems below the first layer. In other cases, the problems may be deeper and perhaps pervasive in the hull. Marine surveyors may play a helpful role here.
How are blisters repaired? If they are at or near the sufrace, it might be feasible to clean off the bottom, dig out the blisters (a dremel is a wonderful tool for this), dry or extract moisture and chemical residues, fill them with some resin paste, and cover the bottom with resin to seal it. The West System of epoxy fillers and coatings is often used. Filling depressions without removing moisture and other chemicals simply seals in the materials and is a sure ticket to future problems.
For blisters deeper in the laminate structure, a more aggessive strategy is to peel off the hull relaminate it. One company that specializes in this business is Osmotec . They peel off some of the hull (how much depends on the nature of the blister damage). They then put on layers of mat (sometimes 3 layers) with vinylester resin. This establishes a very secure skin for the hull that is highly resistant to water penetration. I watched them do this on a 48 footer, and it was very impressive. They had a crew of about 4-5 men, dressed in space suits with air tubes so they could work in the middle of thick fiberglass/bottom paint dust. They had very powerful, effective tools. In just one weekend, they stripped off the boat and had applied several new layers of mat. The bottom still needed fairing, sanding, and finishing, but phenomenal progress was made in just two days!
This work is not cheap. While every job is individually priced according to the condition of the hull, prices have averaged in the $175 / foot (LOA) range. For our 40 footers, this would be around $7,000. While it seems to be an excellent, albiet expensive approach, it might not necessarily work if the original hull laminates are porous.
OsmoCure argues that this conventional approach is inappropriate and can often seal in problems that continue to spread inside the fiberglass laminates. Their view is that water per se is not the problem, but rather that water triggers a chemical deterioration of the resin (hydrolyzation). The residues of this process spread throughout the laminate, weakening the laminate bonds and ultimately affecting structural integrity. They use a special heating and evaporation process to extract the chemical residues and then a penetrating epoxy to restore the interity of the original exterior fibers. They offer a ten year guarantee for their blister work.. Whether their approach of heating the hull to extract chemical residues is correct or not, we certainly all know that putting a finish on rotton wood or rusted metal can aggrevate problems, so we should not be surprised that coating a blister-prone hull can lock in the problems and make them worse.
The selection of resins to make the repair is a matter of some controversy. Marty believes that as a general rule, it is somewhat inappropriate to mix epoxy resins with ester resins. They are chemically different, have different degrees of flexibility and different coefficients of expansion, so that especially for under water applications, Marty prefers to repair poylester hulls with vinylester resins. Epoxy resins seem good, and they have had some success with epoxy resins, but are more comfortable using ester resins with ester resins. (It sounds a little like the philosophy of not mixing metals.)
Not surprising, Gougeon Inc., suppliers of WEST SYSTEM Epoxy, is very confident that epoxy is an excellent material for blister repair. They emphasize the adhesive qualities of epoxy and simplicity and reliability of use. They warn that vinylester resins may need special spraying devices for application and special heaters to ensure proper cure. OsmoCure uses some form of epoxy.
I asked Marty if they ever put in the new layers a layer of kevlar around the bow to make the bow less vulnerable to puncture caused by hitting semi submerged shipping containers. His view was that kevlar was very expensive, and the hulls were quite strong, so in practice they don't use kevlar in this way. Osmotec services the East Coast from New York to Florida, can be an excellent source of insights on the blister problem, and can help boat owners in other regions locate companies that do similar work.
Is there anything owners of boats without blisters should to to avoid blisters in the future? Conventional wisdom now is to put on a barrier coat (probably of vinylester or epoxy resin). An alternative view suggested by one very knowledgeable person is that the problems are caused by the internal laminate structure, and if we don't have blisters after all these decades, we won't get them in the future. Moreover, a barrier coat might lock in moisture that otherwise can escape during winter haul-outs. If my boat were in the water year-round, maybe a barrier coat would be helpful. In any event, even with a barrier coat on the outside of the hull, moisture exists on the inside, both real water in the bottom of the bilge and humidity in the air throughout the interior of a boat.
I am always amazed on boat maintenance issues that I start out thinking that I have a simple question for which there must be some clear simple answer, and very often the deeper I dig, the more controversy I discover. I have given information on how to contact Osmotec and other companies that do blister repair on the Boat Maintenance Page. Please email me your experiences and discoveries so I can add to this page. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
RIGGING, CHAIN PLATES, TANGS
Among our sister ships, the most common and serious rigging failures have been terminal fittings on the standing rigging. One sistership was dismasted when a terminal fitting on the capstay failed. Another was almost dismasted when a backstay fitting failed. Many other terminal fittings have been replaced before they broke. On my boat, I have seen two failures of the terminal fittings, but these were on the lower shrouds where there is some redundancy. Our experience confirms what is written in many places, that the swaged terminal fittings are unreliable after some number of years due to corrosion, and require constant examination. At any sign of cracking or bending, they should be cut off and replaced with mechanical screw on fittings. When getting new rigging, the mechanical terminals are more expensive, but seem to be more reliable in the long term.
Chain plates are another long-term maintenance item. While surfing the web, I found these insights about cousin ships, built by Cheoy Lee: "Suggest you look carefully at all original stainless steel. ... Bill Luders told me of a Clipper 48 whose chain plates failed one after another, dismasting the ketch."
Among our sisterships, there are three reports of chain plate failures. One of these involved breaking of back stay chain plates that apparently had been welded together. None of these failures resulted in dismasting. On ten Reliants and Offshore 40s, chain plates have been replaced, and on some the chain plate bolts were replaced.
It is not clear whether the problem was inherent in the metal of the chainplates or in maintenance. Cheoy Lee had a foundry and mixed up its own alloys, batch by batch. I think it reasonable to presume a relatively high degree of variability in the alloys from batch to batch and over the years. This underscores the importance of inspection and evaluation on a boat by boat basis.
However, the real problem is that "stainless" steel used to make chainplates and their bolts is quite vulnerable to corrosion if water gets through the seals on the deck. Stainless steel rusts almost as badly as ordinary steel when it is wet but tightly covered, as it can not get oxygen to make a protective coat of chrome oxide. A chain plate passing through a deck or a chain plate bolt going through a knee might have these conditions. Especially where there is any sign of rust, removal and careful inspection is necessary. My guess (with no evidence) is that many of the failures attributed to "low quality Hong Kong metals" are linked to ingress of water, corrosion to the "sainless" steel, and inadequate examinations.
My understanding is that welding is not reliable in this type of application and should never have been used. Welded chain plates should be replaced.
I have started to pull out and inspect my chain plates. The technique I used to remove them is to remove one nut and tighten the other to get the stud to move. Then back out the nut about 1/8". I modified the end of a large crow bar with a high speed grinder so that it fits under the nut and around the stud. The crowbar retracts the studs easily.
When I got my chain plates out, I had them professionally tested with penetrant dyes and x-ray, and they test OK. There is no reason to replace them. However about half of the studs had deteriorated. Some were broken, some had crystallized and broke when I tried to pull them out, some showed clear signs of corrosion. These studs had been untouched in 34 years; I think they should have been replaced ten years ago. I will certainly replace all studs and I am considering using monel to ensure long life. (Monel is so close to stainless steel on the galvanic chart that these two metals can be used in close proximity.)
One challenge with chain plates is to prevent leaks at the deck. I am making small fiberglass bolsters and fiber-glassing them to my decks (which are fiberglass, without the teak), thereby raising the metal trim piece 3/8" above the deck. This will put the waterproof seal above the normal rainwater on the deck and very much reduce the water that gets near the seal in the first place. I may open up the slot in the deck so that air can reach the chain plate and reduce the chance of rust.
Tangs seem reliable, but one owner reports that the strap across the top of the mast has cracked.
Stem head fitting have suffered the stresses of the sea. On at least five sister ships, this fitting has shown cracks and has needed replacement.
THROUGH HULL FITTINGS, SEACOCKS, PLUMBING
Among our sisterships, there have been a few cases of sinkings, near sinkings, and big scares that have been directly related to problems in underwater plumbing.
The first set of problems has been seacocks. On at least two occasions, a seacock has come off in the hand of an owner while trying to close it. You can bet the ower found a towel or a plug very quickly. These failures almost certainly are related to electrolysis. Whether it is linked to dissimilar metals, inappropriate alloys, or stray current fields near docks (I lean toward this last hypothesis) is not known. A rather crude way to check seacocks for such problems is when the boat is out of the water, strike the seacocks sharply with a hammer. If they break off, you are lucky to have the problem while out of the water. Remeber, our sisterships are three decades old (more or less), and many have been sailed in areas where boats are in the water year round. A thirty year maintenance has to include this set of issues.
A second set of problems is related to errors in the installations of heads and pumps. It is essential that head inlets and outlets have loops that go above the sailing waterline and that the loops have suction reliefs. We have sisterships that almost sank because of water entering and overflowing the head through both inlet and outlet lines. It is amazing how errors in installation go uncorrected for decades. I have one of these problems on my boat that I finally recognized and have to correct.
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