1972 Repco 37 Trawler Rescue Mission

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Well hello there.

I've been a lurker here for years, always wishing I had a downeast style boat while fishing aboard an old John Allmand 26. It was a great boat in nearly every aspect, but the "Florida Sheer" as I tend to call it was prone to scooping waves when off plane or when anchored in a roll which was mostly just annoying, but periodically unsettling. There is a reason DE boats look they way they do, not the least of which is to avoid these types of situations.

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I built her over a couple years from basically a hulk. 300hp 350V8 inboard, redone driveline to accept an 18" wheel, lots of systems and general renovation work including some recoring. It was sad to see her go, but we'd decided a larger boat was necessary to continue our family enjoyment of fishing and exploring along the Northeast coast.

During the summer of 2019 we were casually looking around at boats in the 35-40ft range and happened across an older Bayliner 3870 which looked interesting. After popping out to the local island where it was moored and meeting the owner, it was clear that it wasn't the boat for us due to the lack of fishing cockpit space. As we were disembarking, the owner mentioned that he had an old 37ft downeast boat which wasn't listed anywhere but that he would consider selling as well. I didn't think much of it but asked him to forward along pictures if he thought of it. One thing led to another, and in November of 2019 we'd purchased our "new" boat, a 1972 Repco 37 Downeast Trawler.

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Now, this was a picture taken somewhere around 1998 which was just after the guy we bought it from had hired the services of a Mr. Bob Chatto of Brooklin, Maine to do a bunch of structural and reconfiguration work. As most of you know, Repco hulls are solid fiberglass, this one being around 1" thick at the garboard. The deck and structures are all wood, and this is where things go terribly, terribly wrong. I actually have the receipts from the work done by Mr. Chatto and it was clear that back then, he had to deal with dry rot in the decks along with adding the flybridge, installing new wheelhouse walls, and installing galley cabinetry. The boat was then used hard without much attention to proper maintenance for the next 21 years. She spent a bunch of time going back and forth between Casco bay and Florida, spending from 2009 to 2017 exclusively down there. Originally powered with a gasoline inboard when she was built, somewhere along the way she was converted to a Cat 3208 NA 220hp diesel and was run with this configuration until somewhere around 2017 when that engine spun a bearing. a RTO 1995 3208T, 320hp was swapped in with a Twin Disc 5050 gear and it is my understanding that the guy we bought it from put on maybe 150-200 hours on this before she was put on the hard until we came along. The engine hours right now is expected to be around 4k. She was shrink wrapped when we bought her, I'd never seen it with the cover off before we signed papers. I have a long history of boat ownership, and though I'm not a licensed surveyor I have unofficially surveyed dozens of boats, both glass and wood so I felt as though I had a firm grasp on what was good and what was bad about the boat, and the selling price reflected what I thought was a fair assessment of the situation.
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I forgot to mention that the old girl was located in a boatyard on an island that is a 20 minute drive, 90 minute ferry ride and a 45 minute walk away from our house, each way. It wasn't our intention to keep the boat at the yard very long and over the winter we made a couple family trips to dig out the years of detritus, take an inventory of all systems and spares, and generally start getting acquainted with our new steed. Little did we know way back then how the world would change and how we would be spending far more time than we ever anticipated just getting the old Repco safe to float. We were at the bottom of a very steep and tall mountain but couldn't even see that the grade was rising in front of us.

More to come.
 
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WoundUpMarine

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The Repco was absolutely FULL of "stuff". The PO was a packrat and the boat served dual duties as both a pleasure boat and storage shed. We made a trip out in December of 2019 and again in January 2020 for the sole purpose of digging out all of the junk.

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If memory serves, we pulled 6 construction bags of trash out of the boat, 3 totes of books (returned to the PO), 2 totes of various fluids, and there are still, to this day, 4 totes under the decks and 5 totes in the foc'sle that have useful things which will need to be stored on the shore. There were also 5 anchors, two of which fell apart with rust when removed, easily 1000ft of various non-marine rope, construction water cooler, bags of rags (molded beyond use), and other things that you really just don't want to find in the dark.

Unfortunately, with the boat being so far away and winter being what it is in the Northeast, the boat was left to its own devices for most of the winter and spring. It was our intention to begin work in early to mid May 2020, but COVID had different ideas and with mandated travel restrictions, we were not allowed to travel to the island, and even if we could get there, we weren't allowed to be at the boatyard working. We took this time to do some planning, acquire materials we thought would be useful and necessary for the work we intended to do, and got our old boat spruced up for a fast spring sale.

April came and went. May came and went. June started showing signs of easing up with restrictions and we were able to find a buyer for our Allmand 26. Unfortunately our plan all along had been to KEEP the Allmand to help ferry us and our materials and tools out to the island, at least for the first few weeks. We intended to only need 3 or 4 weeks to prep the Repco for launch and this was going to allow us to easily move material and still have plenty of early season to sell the old boat. Since our mooring didn't even get commissioned until the beginning of June due to the virus delays, this plan was already falling apart. Then with our "pickup truck" sold, we were stuck with a boat on an island, a shop full of stuff needing to be moved, and half the ferry options closed down for our usage.

Then a savior appeared in the form of my very best friend who has a sailboat. He was able to get in the water mid-June and offered his services to get our gear out to the island. I think he was reconsidering the sanity of this proposal as we loaded 1000lbs of batteries into his dinghy, and another 1000 lbs of tools and materials on and around his decks.

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A relatively uneventful 10 mile journey with a very heavy dinghy in tow was how the "real" adventure started. This was the end of June 2020 and we hadn't even started yet, not really. Had we known the trouble that awaited us, I suspect we wouldn't have even bothered with any of it. Little did we know our entire summer was to be fully defined by sunrises, fiberglass dust, sandpaper, splinters and paint.

More to come.
 

Old Mud

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chortle

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Looks like the beginning of a great adventure. From the photos the boat appears to have some nice features, congratulations and keep up posted.
 
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Now, the island usually has 3 different options for transport from and to the mainland, two being ferry services and the third being a local water taxi. As a result of Covid, one of the ferries wasn't carrying anybody who couldn't prove they were a resident of the island, and the water taxi was shut down for the year. The 3rd and only option was the larger ferry service which is between a 75 minute and 120 minute ride each way, requires expensive parking and has schedules which are not conducive to happy times. Our standard boat ended up being the 0500 because the later boats didn't get us to the island until after 10am at least. With the work we had to do, the earlier the start, the more work that could be done. But for goodness sake...0500...small kids in tow. 20200621_050402.jpg

Given the season, we opted to pay the additional ticket price for carrying bicycles. A 45 minute walk each way with full backpacks and often times some extra gear wasn't going to work, and the bike ride was 10 minutes.

We had a task list which involved mostly below-waterline projects, the thought being we could do the minimum work to get her floating then do the rest on the mooring. How cute....those were the days.

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First order of business was a mysterious crack at the stern tube. 20190929_134350.jpg 20190929_134344.jpg

There was another older Repco 37 in the yard which had a more traditional shaft bearing arrangement, and after studying that it was clear that somebody had added this fairing section aft of the keel There was a fiberglass tube going from this point all the way thru into the boat where the PSS Shaft Seal was directly affixed with a cutlass bearing at each end. The bearings looked fine, so it was just this fairing block that had somehow broken open. The only way to know what the situation really was involved cutting the side of this right out.

Didn't snap any pictures of the crack-ectomy, but someone along the way had built up fairing blocks out of hardwood, bonded with old polyester resin, then glassed all around. Water had entered presumably through the stern tube perimeter and likely frozen to create the crack. Given that the glass applied to this was also set in polyester, the whole thing just fell off when I cut it out. I don't understand why people continue, to this day, to use polyester resin. It is such garbage!

Anyway, the blocking below the glass was still very sound and after letting it dry out for a couple weeks I faired it in with epoxy fairing compound, then glassed the whole thing with 1708 and West System. I left a 1/4" gap between the new glass and the old fiberglass stern tube which would later be caulked with 5200 to provide a flexible seal instead of one which would eventually crack and let more water in.

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While I was crawling around on the crushed rock, I found a few more spots on the bottom of the keel where ledges had done their thing over the years. The hull is so thick that no real damage was done, but after grinding out the areas to be fixed it was clear that delamination had occurred up to 3/8" into the laminate. It was good to get it fixed now while I was in the zone. More 1708, Epoxy and filler.

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Then it was time for fun with bottom paint. I think there must be 1/4" of paint on this whole boat. We did our best with carbide scrapers to get all of the loose stuff off, then faired all the transitions with 40g on the sanders, but it is still pretty rough. Eventually I'll have it blasted and upgrade the paint to something that is ablative.

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Once the paint was on, things were really starting to look pretty good. I had a couple thru-hull fittings to replace and a transducer to swap out, but otherwise it seemed as though we'd be in the water in a couple weeks.

Unfortunately once we started in on the one project I wanted to accomplish topsides, it was clear that bottom paint and a couple new bronze bits weren't the extent of pre-launch work that would need to be done.

More to come.
 

xbskt

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Good storytelling. It is an art that is drifting away these days like morning fog.
Please continue. I'll refresh my glass.
 
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Decay in any form elicits a mild sense of horror in all but the most twisted or hardened among us. Mind you, I'll take rotting wood over a rotting corpse any day of the week, but in this particular situation, rotting wood was the very last thing I wanted to find.

But in truth, I was half expecting to find it.

The first order of business up top was the removal of coamings in the cockpit. The method of application of these coamings left a lot to be desired, with all faith being put into various sealants instead of proper construction methods. As I look back to all of the errors made during the negotiations for the purchase of this boat, the coamings shout at me. It is obvious now what was going to lay beneath, but unfortunately emotions get in the way of these things and I'm pretty sure the little red forked tail man sitting on my shoulder was whispering in my ear "I'm sure that flaking paint is just surface deep...it will be fine".

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Not fine. Clearly an invitation for fresh water to enter and never exit. The real joy is that the pilothouse sides are balsa cored composite panels, and the coamings are a continuation of this, so not only was I to find rot in mating deck edges and framing, but also in the coamings directly attached to the pilothouse structure. The cover board which is shown lifted away actually extends all the way forward, thru the aft wall of the house and up to the main bulkhead.

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In that last picture you can see, from the top down, the edge of balsa cored panel, 3/4" plywood decking, and then a bit of a carling(ish) piece. The carling was fastened with a mixture of bronze screws, brass screws, and mild steel nails. Punky as a sponge for most of its length on the starboard side. For whatever reason, the port side was considerably less troublesome but still had plenty of demons lurking.

The balsa core was completely gone for the first 2" of the coamings, so it was deemed completely unusable and we made the cuts to pull the offending bits out. Things certainly look worse before they get better.

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The washboards on the port side were actually in good shape, but the starboard side was showing various stages of decay and delamination due to the endless supply of fresh water it had been exposed to prior to being covered with shrink in 2018. I'm a firm believer that the only thing that kept this boat alive long enough for us to find it and think it was a "good" idea was the shrink wrap. Had it be left exposed, the boat would have been beyond reasonable repair.

A hard decision was made to start removing washboards. It was at this point I started to get that feeling in my stomach. You know the feeling.

Prior to removing the washboards, the toerails needed to go along with much of the deck hardware. Now, this was the second item I look back on and say to myself "why wasn't that an indicator I paid attention to?". I think my wife pulled up over 100 uncoated deck screws, nails, drywall screws, whathaveyou from those toerails. Not a single drop of sealant between the rail and the deck, and certainly no sealant in any of the screw holes. Once everything was up I started sounding along the gunnel and we all know what I found.

Actually and in all honesty, it mostly sounded quite sharp without any real indications of structurally compromised material below. I found this extremely odd, but hopeful.

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This still left the starboard aft washboards to remove, and I knew that a couple of the stanchion bases had compromised the plywood and fiberglass forward due to the shrink wrap pushing them inwards with a high force for a couple years, so though this lack of presumed issues with the toerails was a delight, there was some cutting to do regardless. What we were to soon learn is that old mahogany rots away in a funny way that I had never, ever seen before.

To be continued.
 

ArchHibb

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Fantastic storytelling. Eerily similar to the tragic but magnificently written story about the Huckins Perihelion. (Google that one...)
Subscribed!
 

DotRat

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Great story look forward to the next installment! Reminds me of a 30' repco I bought as a young guy fresh out of college, lets just say it was in a lot worse shape but I had a lot more time hahah
 

05bill

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great story, you are obviously very talented in many ways; ability to fix boats ; and ability to write, impressed and I am enjoying it. Keep us posted !

Bill
 

Old Mud

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How in the world will you ever get your cutlass bearing out ? Did you find any long set screws ?
A great question, and one I don't have an especially good answer for. The sealant I put around the stern tube was just between the hull and the perimeter of the fiberglass tube containing the cutlass. The 5200 doesn't touch the interface between the stern tube and the cutlass (except for some small non-intended contacts which can be removed by sanding, I think). 20200919_113659.png

As far as how the cutlass is contained in there, its another good question. There is no way it is held in with set screws because there is no access to set screws. I have a sneaking suspicion it was bonded in somehow which will of course be an absolute nightmare when the time comes for replacement. For the time being it looks and feels ok with very little play up/down/port/stbd (maybe 1/32" or less). When the time comes to remove it, I suspect I'll be beating it with a pipe from the inside, and when that fails, likely start cutting. A problem for another day.
 
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Imagine for just a brief minute the conflict between working under a dry, well lit cover knowing full well that when the sun comes out, you've better understood the physics involved in the design and application of a greenhouse. When purchased in November of 2019, the winter heat shrink was applied and stood the test of a traditional coastal Maine winter. For those of you who aren't familiar with these, it isn't so much about snow these decades as it is about short periods of heavy snow immediately followed by equally heavy periods of rain, all in the presence of wind. The snow grows in density while shrinking away, eventually either disappearing entirely, or freezing into a solid mass of ice when the temperature once again plummets. With a poorly designed cover, the snow will collect in pockets, turn to ice which then causes deeper dips in the cover, and the cycle repeats until the cover fails in some typically spectacular fashion. We see lots of shrink wrap up here because it sheds snow very well and is tolerant of both temperature shifts, high winds, and still allows light in. You usually use a shrink cover for 1 or 2 seasons before it is trashed, and then you pay a hefty sum for somebody to apply a new one. For all the benefits of a shrink cover there are arguably just as many drawbacks especially for those who want to do serious work under the cover, and double especially for those who are foolish enough to do it when the season starts getting hot.

As we started to rip and tear washboards out of the boat, the sun was getting higher and higher in the sky as the end of June approached. With a shrink cover, you can't just remove it during the day and reapply at night like a tarp...with it in place, it has conformed to the hull in such a manner that its presence is binary. Either it is on, or it is off. Since we were opening up the guts of the boat and the weather is never something to trust, it seemed best to work under the cover as long as we could. A box fan in the zip door and an industrial 10" blower with ducting up forward was the best we could manage to move air around, so 80 degrees outside usually meant around 100 degrees under the cover.

Misery presents itself in many forms, especially in boat repair.

The cutting started on the starboard aft quarter and port midships. The port section was removed because it sounded dull with the mallet, and the starboard section was removed because of damage on the deck edging due to the coaming leaks. There were also many areas of delaminated deck glass which needed to come out and be redone with epoxy.

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I'll digress for just a second to relay how this particular deck is constructed. It is my understanding that the gentleman who originally commissioned the boat was quite tall and wanted more depth in the cockpit without sacrificing a flush deck over the engine. I don't think I actually have a problem with the way they constructed this, but it is unique. I need to be careful whenever I comment on the longevity of this structure...the boat is 48 years old after all, and much of the areas we were to address hadn't seen a human touch since 1972. I'm not quite 48 yet but I've already seen more knives and scars that this old girl has.

The molded sheer shelf is actually between 5 and 6 inches below the actual deck surface. Furthermore, the sheer does not directly follow the original lines, favoring a bit more shape both forward and aft. Above the sheer shelf sits a large hunk of mahogany running the full length of the boat. On top of that sits the deck beams. Let into the deck beams is a mahogany sheer clamp (of sorts), and on top of that, a single 3/4" deck with a single skin of 10oz woven glass set in polyester. To cover all of these shenanigans along the sheer is something that can only be described as a sheer plank. This is screwed to the sheer clamp with #10x1.75 bronze screws, and thru bolted along the lower edge with 1/4" bronze bolts. Below that is a mahogany trim block which is set too far down and inboard to be an effective rub rail. This trim block is also thru bolted to the underlying fiberglass with 1/4" bronze bolts.

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Odd as it may seem, this structure is extremely robust. The deck beams are on 12" centers, thru bolted to the 1/2" thick fiberglass shelf at every junction. What isn't shown in that diagram is the toe rail which penetrated the deck and sheer clamp, and an old toe rail made of a combination of Home Depot composite plastic trim bits, some mahogany, and some oak. This too was screwed, mostly with uncoated deck screws, into the sheer clamp.

That poor sheer clamp was clearly taking a beating from above and from the side and when we started to remove decking the clamp had many areas where it was just pulp. Some of the deck beam ends were compromised, and in a few small areas, the underlying shelf riser was also in less-than-ideal condition. Of course, when you start cutting, you find the trouble extends beyond your cut line. So you cut some more. And then some more, hoping you'll find the end of it. You never find the end of it.

Something funny about the mahogany though. I did my very best during my pre-purchase survey to poke and prod deck beams, the shelf riser and the sheer clamp wherever I had access, many of these access points being right where we'd eventually find so much damage. Being that I was poking someone else's boat, I didn't feel comfortable poking too hard but felt as though the entire structure was exceptionally sound. Come to find out, this particular species of wood likes to rot from the inside out. All along, the outer layer, maybe 1/8" to 1/4" in depth, was solid in all but the very worst areas. The center however would be completely punky and ready to fail with even a slight about of force applied. The cuts just kept getting longer until I found reasonably sound material for 18" of continuous length. At this point I needed to stop and force myself to assume that the remaining structure wasn't bad enough to warrant more cutting. I am certain to this very minute that more areas of decay exist along that sheer line, but you would never know it from sounding as the entire remaining structure is solid as a rock.

Along the port side, it was very clear, very quickly, that the sheer plank was also in very bad shape 20200705_145519.jpg 20200705_145537.jpg

Further, the carriage bolts were galvanized steel. Most of them looked fine, but a few were shot. IMG_20200705_100603_01.jpg

It was decided that the beam ends would be cut back and new Sipo African mahogany scarfed in. The areas of the sheer clamp which were completely destroyed would be removed and new sections scarfed in. Decking would be cut back to 2" away from the pilothouse, or removed completely in the case of the aft washboards, and any areas of concern in the shelf riser would be treated with penetrating epoxy. There was not a single instance of "wet" rot due to the fact that the cover had kept everything dry for a couple years. Everything was dry and was very happy to absorb Gitrot when called to do so. Only one small section of shelf riser was beyond reasonable repair with penetrating epoxy, so it was removed and a new piece added. The deck beam sitting above this area was also replaced with new since it was in terrible shape.

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As we removed material, we also pulled every carriage bolt that was exposed due to the demolition. These would be eventually replaced with new 316L Stainless bolts of matching dimension. It was on to fixing beam ends, prepping material for the new sheer clamps, and generally sweating our collective butts off in the June and July heat. At this point the cover still was in place because of sporadic thunderstorms and downpours and we hadn't laid eyes on the remainder of the sheer planks or on the transom. As we were about to put the saws down and start putting this back together, larger problems were waiting for us, just a quick flip of the boat cover away....

To be continued.
 
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As previously mentioned, the beam ends and portions of the shelf riser were compromised in the areas we had opened up. The only way I really saw to address this issue without just tearing everything to pieces was to cut out only the offending sections of wood and replace those voids with new wood. Given the wonders of properly applied epoxy adhesives this didn't seem like a big ask.

It is at this point I must take a brief sidebar to sing the praises of multitools with cutting blades. We used this tool nearly exclusively for the surgical removal of fiberglass, plywood, mahogany, oak, screws, nails, bolts....indispensable. A warning to would-be users though. Noisy, noisy noisy.
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The multitool was excellent with plunge cuts, so digging down into compromised beams with a nice square cut didn't require the level of effort usually associated with such pursuits. I had acquired a decent supply of Sipo mahogany once we realized how much wood we would be replacing. I have been fortunate enough to have a mini boat shop constructed right inside the boat cover, complete with all the necessary (and some unnecessary) devices to make quick work of most tasks. The various beams and dutchman repair blocks were cut from rough sawn stock, planed to dimension with the thickness planer and finished up with the bandsaw. All mating surfaces were pre-treated with un-thickened epoxy until they would stop absorbing, and then thickened epoxy was used to make all final bonds.

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Following the cure, the tops of each repair piece was faired and brought to the correct angle using fairing battens and gauge blocks. The remaining adhesive was ground back to make a fillet to prevent water from being trapped should any ever find its way under there again. At this stage all of the carriage bolts had been removed because many of the bolts crossed between the deck beam and the sheer clamp, and fitting the clamp while navigating bolt heads wasn't something I was willing to do.

The sheer clamps were a bit tricky to fit as you might imagine. The material to create them isn't flexible, so they had to be sawn to shape off of hot glue and door skin patterns. I'm not really much of a woodworker when it comes to fine tuning these things, so though they came out fine and will serve their purpose well, they are more than suited to be buried forever under a plywood deck than being paraded around for all to see.

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We had planned ahead a bit with the attaching of the plywood patch pieces into the existing structure. The pilothouse sides were sitting on top of the deck edge, so in the area where it would be best to have removed the plywood right up to the pilothouse sides, this wasn't an option without basically dismantling the entire superstructure. No way in hell was that going to happen. The deck directly under the pilothouse was perfectly sound, so we decided to cut it back to 2" from the edge, then use a hybrid "Dynamite Payson" joint to mate old ply to new. If you're not familiar with this technique, it is quite well known for mating plywood in the construction of skiffs and the like. Current methods for joining two pieces of plywood typically involves a 12:1 scarf joint, but in this application it wasn't feasible due to the area I had to work with, nor was it something I felt I could be successful with from a craftsmanship standpoint. The Payson joint uses butted ends with hollows ground out along the interface. Those hollows are then filled with fiberglass, creating a joint that is stronger in many cases than the original plywood. You'll find some who feel strongly against this joint, fairly stating that when used in long sections would create a hard spot where the joint doesn't bend with the same curve as the rest of the panel. They aren't wrong, but in this application I wasn't concerned about that.

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Unfortunately, given the application I had no good access to the underside of the deck to grind and fill the back side per Harold's suggestion. I realized that to accomplish a very similar end goal I needed only to have bonding strips pre-fastened on the old plywood back side and then use that as my back side mating surface for bonding old to new. The tops would be ground out, treated with epoxy and filled with multiple layers of 1708 until the hollow could be ground completely flush.

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For bonding strips, I opted for an epoxy laminate called "G10". It is only 1/8" thick but is 3x as strong as equivalent normal fiberglass. I'm sure I didn't need this level of robustness for this joint, but since I was in there I figured it couldn't hurt. With the bonding strips all glued up I figured I was about ready to put the decking back on. The cover really needed to be lifted, at least partially, to fair all of the old fiberglass edges and get the deck ready for skinning. Thinking I'd be applying fiberglass and non-skid in the coming weeks, the boat had other ideas. Lifting that cover was just about to set me back another month, at least.

To be continued.
 

05bill

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You are an amazing person.Could never tackle suck a project. You amaze me. And you work at a full time job ?
 
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Not amazing at all...I just never sleep! I do work a full time job and also raise a young family. I don't really have time for such a project, but once you're committed to these things, you either buck up and go at it, or sell the whole thing at an extreme loss. Option B is never an option.
 
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