Friday, January 22, 2016

Our 2010 restoration project and some thoughts on wooden boat repair

Early Spring of 2010 found us back at Freyja Boat Works in Port Townsend for what turned out to be extensive repairs to the forward section of the boat.  When we purchased Compadre, two critical areas in the forward part of the boat were virtually inaccessible, which of course is not a good situation.  A 110-volt water heater completely blocked access to the forepeak; we could only peer in from a distance of four or five feet through the cabinet door in the forward head.  From there we could see lots of rust and staining on the stem and bilge, and a couple areas where the wood look questionable. 
Forepeak with stains on stem, floor timber, and bilge.
To make matters worse, the bilge immediately aft, beneath the forward head, was inaccessible because it was covered by a copper-clad shower pan.  Thus there was no way to know the condition of the forward eight-feet of the hull without some serious exploration.  Was it safe?  What about in heavy weather?  So out came the old water heater and the old shower pan.  No way to save either of them, but no great loss in any case.

Once we got into the stem area and the forward bilge, we found just enough rot and discoloration to make us uneasy.  The frame ends were soft (they'd been sistered in the past and the sisters were showing their age), and the floor timbers (probably original) were soft in spots. 
Closeup of the stem and bilge.  Ugly... and is this safe? Notice the rotted frame to left of pen, with newer sister next door.  The sister is bolted to the floor, but connection is not sound.  A rather crude repair.
 After consulting with our shipwright Arren Day, we decided that peace of mind would be worth a lot more than the cost of replacing some floors and frames, so we gave him the go-ahead to pull a couple planks and take a closer look.

I feel obligated to pause here for some general comments about wooden boat repair, so as not to alarm anyone with the pictures that follow.  One of the wonderful things about wooden boats is that virtually everything is replaceable, given sufficient resources.  This is very different from fiberglass boats, where the entire hull usually is molded as one piece, and structural repairs can be difficult and sometimes impossible.  The following pictures are dramatic and may seem alarming to anyone unfamiliar with wooden boats.  He's cutting big chunks out of the hull!  Looks like a disaster!  However, as I noted with our earlier work in the stern, removing a few planks and replacing frames is the stock-in-trade of any good shipwright.  While things might look horrendous, the process really is pretty routine.  So relax and enjoy the show.

Matt opening up the garboard plank to have a look.
 The first step was to remove the garboard plank (the one closest to the keel).  It turned out to be more work to pull off the planks than we expected, which of course meant that the structure was still actually pretty sound.  But there was enough rot inside to justify continuing with the demolition, so off came a couple more planks to give access to the stem, frames, and floor timbers.

Opening a bit more.  The Port Orford cedar planks were pristine, but no way to save them.

Two planks gone and we finally have a good view inside.

  It was almost heartbreaking to watch 80-year old Port Orford cedar planks, still in pristine condition, being ripped to bits to get access to the inside.  Unfortunately there is no practical way to remove the planks without destroying them, so we had to accept that some of Compadre's original materials would be lost in order make her safe for the future.  Alas, one of life's trade offs.
Both sides open.  And a growing pile of debris.
Finally they had enough of the hull open to begin pulling out old floors and frames (often they just left the existing frames in place and, after removing any rotted wood, installed new sisters next to the old ones. The resulting new structure, with double frames in many places, arguably is stronger than the original.) 

An old floor timber headed to the scrap heap.
Of course you can't just pull out all the old stuff at once, otherwise the hull would collapse.  So Arren and his crew worked one or two stations at a time, removing the old floors and fashioning new ones as they moved along. Work started near the bow, beneath the forward head, and progressed forward toward the stem.
Thin wood strips form a pattern for first new floor,
 Shortly we had a couple new floors in place and the work settled into a routine which spanned several weeks.  After the bow was finished work moved aft toward the wheelhouse until we reached a logical stopping place (and the money ran out!)  In all we replaced 13 floor timbers and frame-pairs, starting at the stem and extending back to the front of the wheelhouse.
Two new oak floors in place.

In our next post we'll have more pictures of the reconstruction and show you the finished product.  Stay tuned...

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