I hate owning a fiberglass boat. I mean, at least wooden craft rot out from under you. Sure, a wooden boat will send you to the poor house, divorce court, and insane asylum—but eventually it has the decency to quietly slip beneath the waves and allow its seafaring victims some small, final respite.
…not so a fiberglass boat. No, it is almost eternal in its damnation!
Take our 38 foot Hughes as example: it is always bedeviling us in new and unusual ways—after 18 solid years of repair.
I once showed my family a slide show of our first circumnavigation—and one of the innocent children asked me aloud, “…why are you always working on the boat in the pictures… don’t you ever go ashore for… fun?”
FUN? What is fun? I mean, I don’t have TIME for FUN… I’m a boat owner! And, yes, circumnavigating is, if the truth be told, really just doing boat maintenance in exotic ports. (I wish there was more to it, I really, really do!)
The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of boats afloat today which look just like boats… but aren’t. See, boats are really supposed to be ‘marine structures’ which have structural integrity.
Dried Snot, Fiberglass, and Other Sad Boatbuilding Materials
Picture an egg. An egg has structure. You can’t break it by squeezing it in your hand because it distributes the load. Now picture a hard-boiled egg which has been cracked in a million places. It LOOKS just like an egg, weights the same amount… has all the same stuff… but it is weaker than… well, my morals!
That’s how Wild Card was. Is. Always will be.
The first time I sailed it, the deck got pregnant on the windward side by the chainplates. That’s right, there was a big, big hump there…
like a swollen watermelon. I tacked and the deformed hump changed sides.
“Damn,” my wife Carolyn said. “It must be the chainplates moving…look, the whole rig is looser than… your sense of reality!”
I dashed below. Sure enough, the chainplates were dangling & tinkling in the breeze like… stainless steel wind-chimes!
I had to stop sailing, return to port and slobber them with many layers of mat, roving and biaxial.
This added about a ton of weight and stopped the ‘swollen watermelon’ problem. However, the rig was still as loose as Paris Hilton…
because the entire boat was crushing. That’s right, it was narrower going to windward and fatter off the wind.
So I returned to port and snuck up on an outdoor billboard sign in the middle of the night… when I just happened to have a chainsaw in my hand. (Free exterior plywood!)
Soon I had a complete athwartship bulkhead fiberglassed (dried
snot!) into my boat around the mast—as uncrushable as a cinderbock… and about as heavy.
This kept the beam of my vessel constant—but the rig was still bobbing up and down like a transvestite’s Adam’s apple! Damn, back to port again!
It turns out the ‘shipwrongs’ (they darn sure weren’t shipwrights,
eh?) working for Howard Hughes at the Hughes boat yard in Canada were experimental, innovative fellows with a wicked sense of humor… and had mounted my mast on a sort of plywood ‘diving board’ platform instead of a compression post. I guess the idea was to remove the ‘stress’ of it standing up to the wind. Thus, if we’d get a five knots gust, our sails would fill, rigging tighten, mast lower, mast deform, sail-shape change & depower… cool, eh?
…well, no, actually. I mean, we like the wind to push our boat forward, not our mast down. Thus I chain-sawed off the top of a local dock piling (don’t tell the marina managers, okay?) and jammed it under the mast.
This did the trick. Sort of. I mean, my ‘erection’ was now completely rigid for weeks. No lumps, no crushing, no pumping… only problem was… my mast pushed away my keel!
…the engineers at Hughes, knowing that the keel of these boats were as weak as a Bill Clinton promise… and attached to the hull by…
Velcro!… didn’t set the mast on the keel because they knew it was just bolted through jello-glass. (This looks like fiberglass but has all the structural integrity of… the dessert food.
Thus I had to haul out and fiberglass the front half of my keel on.
(The mast, now being stepped on its front, sagging lip).
Whew! I had it dicked now, eh? Finally! Mast up, keel down…
classic yachty stuff!
Unfortunately, I stupidly tightened my forestay to remove the ‘meter or two’ of headsail lag I had. And tightened and tightened.
My boat now looked like a banana- and my jibs were suddenly too long by two feet. So I slacked the forestay and twisted up the backstay… until I heard a crack and everything got loose again. That was the aft edge of keel breaking away from the boat… and it was right back to the shipyard again.
Now, some owners of ‘flexible flyers’ like Wild Card say that their adjustable backstay is useless—but I don’t agree. I use mine to align my engine… works like a charm!
Now that I finally had the mast and keel glued together, Wild Card sailed like demon… so fast, in fact, she cracked the leading edge of her rudder because there was actually some force on it.
This was, evidently, carefully made in two halves and glued together with… top-quality, marine-grade… Bazooka chewing gum.
…I never knew what sadism was until I owned a Hughes 38… I mean, where were the Hughes marine engineers… in jail, angry, and reading DeSade’s Justine or Juliette?
Now, my particular model Hughes doesn’t have much water tank capacity… because the topsides are balsa-cored… which is really just a hi-tech name for ‘sponge’.
…yes, we carry plenty of water… alas, it is uselessly trapped in our ‘sandwich’ construction. (This is labeled ‘sandwich construction’
because it is about as strong and non-porous as Wonderbread.)
Even better, our boat has a ‘full pan’ to hide its unsightly electrical wires… and this, of course, makes finding and repairing deck leaks nearly impossible. (The original electrical wires only lasted a few months… because they were laying in the puddles of water tracked between the underside of the deck and the pan, ha-ha!)
The ‘built-in Dorade boxes’ were nothing of the sort, the ‘pan’ just shed the buckets of water pouring in… long enough for the gullible ‘new owner’ to sign the bill-of-sail… in the dry boat show shed. (Actually, at one point Mounties were assigned to the Hughes booth at boat shows… because so many of the irate owners were having… well, ‘issues’ with Howard!)
Other than the above, I think my boat is pretty well constructed.
So Carolyn and I sail around the world while regularly tossing ‘blankets’ of wet, resin-impregnated fiberglass cloth at weak pieces of our vessel… as they break off with astounding regularity. We’re getting pretty good at it… like brave bullfighters welding our life-protecting capes.
“…are you sure this is how it is supposed to be,” she recently asked me as she frantically attempted to galvy-nail down some hatch which was beginning to lift off when our too-flexible deck was being swept by giant, breaking seas.
“Yep,” I said, “If you wanna sail around the world on the pennies which Scotsmen throw away!”
Editor’s note: Fatty and Carolyn are currently heading for Hong Kong… where they hope to arrive in the next decade or two… unless they get delayed by repairs.