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Project Log:  Saturday, January 30, 2010
Home Page > The Project > Project Logs > 1/30/10

I began the day by building a fort.  OK, it wasn't actually a fort:  it was a plastic enclosure to help contain the dust from yet more days of serious grinding ahead.

Using some lumber that I had on hand, I built a very simple frame over the cockpit, with two vertical posts at the aft end--screwed into the edge of the remaining poop deck--and two 8' 2x4s running from the corners of the cabin trunk to the tops of these vertical members.  Normally I don't go around willy-nilly inserting screws into random parts of fiberglass boats, but it wasn't like the extra holes were going to hurt anything here.

I draped some 16' wide plastic over the frame and secured it with some short lengths of line as needed to draw the plastic relatively tight.  I extended the plastic forward about half the length of the cabin trunk.  The idea wasn't to hermetically seal the boat, but simply to limit the potential travel of the worst of the grinding dust.


The task ahead:  remove bad fiberglass laminate from the fire-damaged areas inside the stern quarters of the boat in preparation for the beginnings of repair work and new material.  My thought was to grind away enough of the bad material from inside the boat to allow me to laminate in several new layers of material, replacing the thickness that I had removed.  Once new, structurally-sound material was in place inside of the boat, I then planned to move outside and repeat the process, essentially creating more or less a completely new laminate in the most badly-damaged sections.

Admittedly, and unfortunately, I'd discovered throughout the demolition process that the damage from the fire was worse than I'd originally anticipated.  As a result, my repair plan was necessarily fluid, and morphed continually as the demolition progressed.  During my initial interior cleanup and grinding, I'd located several areas where the existing laminate was badly delaminated and would clearly have to be replaced.

Fortunately, the most severe damage was limited to two distinct areas:  the interior sections of the port side, in the area where once was located the port cockpit locker; and the exterior sections of the far aft starboard side, running from the transom forward six feet or so.  Apparently, the fire's rage and heat was concentrated to port on the inside, and the external damage to starboard was the direct result of the large flames that came out through the transom-mounted fuel tank vent and wrapped around the boat from there.

These photos, taken on January 10, show what the port (left photo) and
starboard (right photo)looked like before additional stock removal.


Before beginning, I moved the aftermost set of jackstands a bit further forward, so they rested directly beneath the remains of the aft bulkhead.  This would ensure that there'd be no distortion in the hull sections when I began to remove the structural laminate from inside the boat.  Once I'd completed the initial repairs to the stern, with new, stronger laminate in place, I'd remove the remains of the old bulkhead, extend the repair laminate to a point just forward of the bulkhead to ensure a strong tie-in with the existing hull, and then replace the bulkhead with new material.  But that was down the road a piece.

Additional photos showing the condition at the beginning of the day's work.

Armed with a new angle grinder--I'd burned up a relatively new one during the initial demolition process--I went to work on the inside, starting just aft of the bulkhead on the port side.  I'd considered the process long and hard over the past weeks.  Removing many layers of fiberglass would be neither an easy nor fun chore.  For a time, I looked into alternative ways to accomplish this.

I thought of laminate peeling, a job that I'd have to hire out to someone with the proper equipment.  There were a number of problems with this approach from my perspective and given the unique situation that this boat's damage presented.  The first problem was that the existing laminate was inconsistent in thickness, with several areas already deeply ground out from inside and areas of the outside consumed by fire.  This fact, coupled with the additional problem that the laminate was damaged from both sides, would have complicated the process for a peeling contractor.

Anyway, I didn't know any peeling contractors; frankly, peeling isn't big business around here, and while I'm sure someone has the equipment, I was reluctant to go the route of an outside contractor for many of my own reasons.

Similarly, I considered a small, hand-held peeling tool called a Gel-Plane.  An acquaintance had purchased one of these some years ago, and since I valued his opinion I asked him about the tool--partly to get his thoughts, and partly to see if he still had his, and whether it might be available for purchase or rent.

It turned out that he'd sold the tool, but his opinion was ambivalent at best.  In any event, I wasn't about--nor able--to spend the cost of a new Gel-Plane, about $2400, though I briefly considered it.  To this end, however, surprisingly I managed to locate one for auction on Ebay, and I watched the auction closely and even put in a bid for my self-imposed maximum at the end (which at the time was much higher than the existing bid), but unfortunately I was outbid in the last seconds of the auction.

In any event, I determined that I'd proceed with angle grinder and abrasive angle flap discs and see how things went.  I'd been dragging my feet a little at the prospect--understandably, I think--but the only way to get through this phase of the project was to just get down to business.

I worked in sections, removing relatively even amounts of material as I went.  In several areas on the port side, the inside laminate had already been ground back as far as the skin coat--that is, the first layer of mat directly beneath the gelcoat--and I didn't make any attempts to go to this extent over the remaining areas.  My goal was to remove enough material on the inside (and in as even a manner as possible) to allow me to install new material without vastly increasing the net weight of the boat, and also to remove enough so that I could continue the process from outside the boat later, hopefully removing enough material from the exterior to meet up with the new laminate on the inside.  Fortunately, the inside of the hull didn't need to be fair in the way that the exterior would need to be.  I had a plan in mind for helping me to guide the depth of cut when I got to the outside, but more on that when the time comes.

There was little to tell:  I ground, and ground, and ground, and created huge piles of talc-consistency dust.  Good times.  I thinned out the laminate over most of the exposed area of the port side, from about 10" aft of the bulkhead (the one beneath the aft end of the cabin trunk) to the area just beneath the poop deck, where there had once been another bulkhead.  Clearly, these bulkheads had worked quite well as fire stops, as the quality of the remaining laminate increased dramatically aft of this bulkhead (and forward of the other bulkhead).


Similarly, I repeated the process on the starboard side, though here the damage was much more concentrated (fortunately), and was located mostly in the aftermost sections of the boat and up closer to the hull-deck joint a bit further forward.  But although the damaged area was smaller in area on the starboard side, the actual laminate damage (where it existed) was far worse than on the port, with large areas completely delaminated and unsalvageable; I couldn't even grind away all the bad material, lest I simply grind away the entire hull.  I removed as much as I could from inside, up to 7 layers of roving my my count, and would get the rest when I moved to the exterior of the hull later, though there was one area where I sanded clean through.  Clearly, the heat must have been intense in this area during the fire.


I swept up the worst of the day's debris, half-filling the bilge, and called it a day.  I'd complete the cleanup tomorrow:  there was simply so much dust in the air inside my fort that it accumulated on the hull almost as fast as I could sweep it up, so I thought it'd be better to let things settle.

Total Time Today:  4.25 hours

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