One Tough Old Aluminum Boat

Line drawing of “Carina”, kindness of Ian McCurdy.

It is amazing how often people look surprised, and even mildly alarmed, when I tell them that we own an aluminum boat. The next tentative question(s) is almost always about electrolysis and the general longevity of the material.

For some reason there seems to be many stories of disaster, particularly on this side of the Atlantic, around aluminum as a boat building material. These stories normally go like this: “I have a friend, who knows a guy, who has a cousin, that bought an aluminum boat, and after a week in the marina the bottom fell out of her”.

The funny thing is that after 20 years of aluminum boat ownership and ten years of being a fairly high profile proponent of the material, I have yet to meet one of these mythical aluminum boat victims.

The fact is that as long as the boat is built out of the right aluminum alloys, and the right welding wire is used (all well documented), aluminum boats last longer and stay stronger and more stiff than boats built of any other material you can think of.

Which brings me to Carina, a McCurdy and Rhodes Custom 48—same designer as our own Morgan’s Cloud—that has just won the Newport Bermuda Race for the third time. Thing is, the first time Carina won, the leisure suit was in fashion…the year was 1970.

Carina won again in 2010, exactly forty years after her first win. And then again this year. And you know what Carina was doing between her second and third win? She sailed around the world clocking up 42,000 miles. And while she was at it, she did a few races…like The Trans-Atlantic, The Sydney Hobart and The Fastnet—not exactly known as walks in the park.

One tough old bird that aluminum boat…fast too.

I spoke with Rives Potts, who is not only Carina’s owner and skipper, but also runs Pilots Point Marine. Rives has been involved in building and repairing many aluminum boats over the years. He had this to say:

    • If an aluminum boat is built of the right alloys and the right welding wire is used, she will last essentially forever.
    • The great thing about aluminum is that what you see is what you get—if you have a problem, you can see it.
    • He has not had to make any structural repairs to Carina. And she shows no significant corrosion.
    • She is still incredibly stiff and strong after 43 years of hard voyaging and racing.
    • And because Carina is stiff, she is still fast and it is much easier to keep the deck fittings and hatches watertight than it would be on a boat that flexes more.
    • When he has seen corrosion damage on aluminum boats—usually the result of a wiring problem or an inaccessible area where debris has lain for years—it is confined to a small area and is easy to repair as good as new by cutting out the plate with a skill saw and welding in new plate. Just make sure you use the right alloy plate and the right welding rod.
    • Repairs and modifications to an aluminum boat are easier [that means cheaper too] than they are on boats built of most other materials.
    • The only real drawback of aluminum is keeping paint on it. But if the paint job is done right even that issue can be overcome.

So if you are looking for a boat to take you offshore safely and comfortably, don’t look past that old aluminum boat. She might have a few years and miles left in her…or a few decades and a few circumnavigations.

And if you are crazy enough to embark on a major refit, at least if  you are restoring a well built aluminum boat, you will know that you are investing in a good hull, unlike poor stupid Bob.

Comments

We are cruising the south coast of Newfoundland, where internet availability is scarce, so it may be some time before we can respond to comments.

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Meet the Author

John Harries

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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