Fiberglassing and Launch

To fiberglass or not to fiberglass?

That question troubled me for months on end during the repairs. There are so many different and controversial opinions and perspectives about covering the hull of a wooden boat with resin and fibreglass and I knew that it was a decision with ample consequences. 

In the end, I decided to go for it for the following reasons.

Alani´s hull had seen different types of repairs in the last decades. Some of the plank repairs had been done in the original way, with cotton and caulking compound in the seams. The idea behind it is, once in the water, the wood starts sucking in the water and it swells up. The flexible seam compound gives the planks space to swell and seal up, and also accounts for minor movement in the hull caused by different forces when sailing. Many recent repairs, however, had been done with filling the seams with thickened resin. Those areas were stiff, the wood had no space to swell up or move. More importantly, the hull as a whole now consisted of two different styles, one that could move and one that was stiff. This, in the long run, could cause instability and damage. 

Several other minor reasons contributed to my decision after considering the questions for months, I was convinced the glassing was the best option for Alani. 

The crucial factor was, that it had to be done properly. Would we fail to think of all the details of the job and the glass would start to delaminate from the hull, water could enter in the space between wood and glass where it would be trapped and cause quick and complete deterioration of the hull. 

Therefore, the fibreglassing part of the project caused me many sleepless nights, lots of anxiety and nervousness. Fortunately, my friend Tom is a fearless incredibly talented thinker of difficult processes, math problems and construction challenges. Without his brilliant mind, my first-rip-it-out-and-then-think-about-how-to-repair-it approach would have miserably failed. 

Another complicating factor was, that we were under time pressure. Since plank and frame repairs had taken more time than planned, we were already in February. By the first of March, I had to travel up to Belize to start the high tourist season with my job at Belize Sailing Vacations. Tom had a flight ticket to visit his family in the states for the second of March. We had less than 3 weeks to get the hull prepped, get the glassing done, paint and launch her and get her down to Tom´s workshop in a roofed shed. This part was also crucial, as after being covered with fibreglass from the outside, any water entering from the decks could cause the wood to deteriorate. And my cockpit was still a huge gaping hole…

During those weeks in February 2018, Tom and I worked as I had never worked before. From the earliest morning hours until after dark, six, sometimes seven days a week. The work was very physical, and there seemed to be no end. To make things even worse, I caught some bug virus with fever and bad joint pain. I was furious, and back on the worksite after three days, but still weak. 

Tom and I got the boat prepped and put a layer of glass around the keel, rudder post and stem part, first. A friend of ours had given us the great piece of advice to lay the cut to size glass on top of a transparent sheet of thick plastic. Then wet the glass with epoxy and rollers and put the glass on the hull carrying with the plastic on the outside. You could now roll the glass on the hull without the epoxy dripping down (on you) and when it was stuck, pull of the plastic. This approach saved our lives I think!

For the major part of the job we got joined by my wonderful friends Tyrone and Jesslyn and Damian, who works with Tom. If you want to lay several layers of glass on top of each other you can either wait until the first layer is cured, then sand it and then lay the second layer over top of it, or lay the second layer on while the first is still wet. Since we had limited time and forces left, we decided on the second way. That meant, we had to do both layers of each side in one go. 

All the glass was precut, put on its fitting plastic sheet, numbered and the sheets stacked in order. There was one person who constantly had to mix new epoxy. Two people were responsible for wetting out the glass with epoxy, and two to four people needed (depending on the size and placing of the sheet), to carry it over and roll it on the hull. The first layer of glass was, in addition, tacked to the hull with staples. 

Fiberglassing a classic wooden boat
Wetting out the glass on the shaded work table

The day came and it went great! Our team was working smooth, quick, but careful, and very efficient. We had to go, or the epoxy would go before us. Remember, we were working in tropical Guatemala, with the temperatures rising up to 35 degrees and a very high humidity. Starting early and working with no break, it took us one morning for each side. Wow, what an experience!

Fibreglassing a classic wooden boat
Carrying over the wet sheet of glass on top of its piece of plastic
Fibreglassing a classic wooden boat
The glass was rolled onto the hull with the plastic still in place. Once it was sticking in most places, the plastic sheet was pulled off.
Fibreglassing a classic wooden boat
The overhangs were more difficult. Here, our friends advice with the plastic was worth gold, if not the wet epoxy would have dripped all over us.
Fiberglassing a classic wooden boat Guatemala
The team work that day was at its best!
Fibreglassing a classic wooden boat
After the plastic was off, remaining bubbles still had to be worked out with the rollers.
Fiberglassing a classic wooden boat
Job done!
Classic wooden boat restoration Guatemala
Damian did a lot of the disgusting glass sanding job.

Then, the hull had to be sanded again completely, primed and painted. The rudder had to be hung, through-hulls installed, the water line found, the prop shaft installed. We had 5 days until I had to be in Belize.

Classic wooden boat restoration Alani
We worked very fast those last days before splash

Launching day came and, naturally, I was a nervous wreck. Classic wooden boat restoration Rio DulceAfter 16 months on the hard my baby girl would touch the water again! She was swinging in the travel lift, I touched up the last spots of bottom paint and there she went. Sitting in the water still in the slings, it was the moment I had dared the most. I had to go in and check for leaks.

And – there were several of them. Seeing the water in the bilge took my breath away. Two leaks were coming from old through hulls, those could be fixed, annoying, but ok. The biggest leak, though, came from the area of the stern post. My mind had gone numb, I was not able to think a straight thought. All this work – in vain?? Tom came to help and quickly found the source of the leak. It was the stern tube, a fibreglass tube in which the prop shaft was inserted. We had installed the old tube again, without checking it, and obviously it was broken. 

So back out of the water we lifted her. We had three days until I had to be in Belize. Both Tom and I were at the end of our physical and mental resources. We had worked three weeks straight with two days off, 10-12 hours a day. But complaining didn´t solve the situation. The prop shaft and the tube were removed and a local welder built a stainless steal tube for us within 24 hours.

Two days later, the travel lift was ready for us again. This time, we were successful. One of the seacocks was still leaking, but we were able to replace it directly with a new one, right there in the slings. When Alani was finally floating freely, I was overwhelmed with emotions.

Female captain on launched wooden boat
The moment I had been waiting for! Alani afloat again

There was not much time for that though. We tied Toms 31ft wooden cayuco to Alanis sideClassic wooden boat Alani in Rio Dulce and started the journey down the lake to Tom´s workshop. In the afternoon, the mast was pulled out by Tom´s perfectly designed crane, and we tucked her in as well and safe as we could in the “galera”, that was just wide enough for her. The next morning, I took off to Belize. We had just made it!


Classic wooden boat Alani in Rio Dulce
Safely tucked into her new home, I could leave Alani for some months to make more money.

Read the next chapter Cockpit and Decks

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