Saving The Day

Too bad to use—too costly to replace

It’s a fact of life that even in our throw away world of ‘service by replacement’ equipment there are times when good old fashioned improvisation can save the day, especially when you’re thousands of miles from the nearest service centre. As a result, part of any spares kit should comprise of a mix of wire, bulldog clips, glues and fillers—what Lou refers to disparagingly as my ‘junk’. So when our perpetually troublesome autopilot threw its latest tantrum (the ram fell off its mounting) I reached for the oddments bag.

One thing our emergency kit lacked until recently was some really good quality epoxy—chemical metal as it’s sometimes called. Many French aluminium boat owners had spoken glowingly to me about a product they called Super Metal made by a company called Belzona, so last time I was in the UK I set about tracking some down.

This proved less easy than anticipated as, although it is widely used in industry, it isn’t sold (generally) in yacht-sized packs. Fortunately for us, Belzona put us in touch with their representative for Cornwall, who went to great lengths to advise and help us sort out a basic kit. So back to Pèlerin, where I packed it away and promptly forgot about it.

 A Good Trial Job

When I examined the base of the ram, the cause of our problem soon became apparent. The base block of the ram was badly corroded, allowing the plastic bush that linked it to the base plate to come loose, shattering as a result. It initially looked to me like a throw away job with a fat bill for a replacement, but whilst I pondered on the wisdom of supplying a ram for marine use made out of pot metal, it occurred to me that this was a perfect chance to try out the Belzona Marine Metal.

I’ve always found that repairs of this nature can only be successful if:

  1. fastidious cleaning and degreasing has been carried out, and
  2. you follow the manufacturer’s instructions  to the letter

So I stuck to the rules.

As the metal of the ram base had been eaten through to the fixing screws, these had to be cleaned, too, so that new threads could be molded in to the setting epoxy. The two-pack Marine Metal mixed easily to a smooth consistency, spread easily and bonded well to the block of the ram.

Ready for final sanding and re-installation

The result seems excellent, and is as solid as a rock. Overcoated with five coats of epoxy paint, I’m confident it will be a bombproof repair—once we’ve tried it out over time I’ll let you know.

Belzona claim that this material is machinable and resistant to corrosion and a wide range of chemicals, making it suitable for some serious machinery repairs as well as general filling duties, which makes it for me an indispensable addition to the spares and emergencies locker. It’s not cheap, but a little goes a long way, and if it continues to do what it says on the tin, I for one won’t be complaining.

And if you’ve got room…

For larger yachts, or for expedition work, they make an entire Marine Spares Kit, with a range of different materials with complimentary properties, that should enable you to make a strong and efficient repair in just about any material should the need arise. Well worth carrying if you’re going to the ends of the earth!

Have you any experience of this type of material—or repaired some vital piece of equipment with it? And how did it hold up? Leave us a comment, and let us know.

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Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Deb Jul 21, 2012, 1:08 am

    The link doesn’t work for the marine spares kit. Can you fixie?

    S/V Kintala

    • John Jul 21, 2012, 8:05 am

      Sorry, Deb, fixed now.

  • Dick Stevenson Jul 21, 2012, 6:25 am

    Colin, Good work. I have used JB Weld (US product easy to come by in any hardware store) for various repairs big & small such as you describe over the years. It comes in a fast set that is great when I want speed and a slower set when strength is more important. One issue for me is the shelf life. I try to keep some newer stuff (JB Weld as well as specialty epoxy, caulks, other glues etc) and use it for essentials while trying to use the older stuff where bonding and or potential failure would not be a big deal. Trying to keep on hand supplies like those generally used for emergencies is expensive and throwing them away when their expiry date comes around (and there just is no more storage space), is painful.
    Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Glenarm, Northern Ireland

    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 12:46 pm

      Hi Dick

      I’ve used JB Weld before (it’s available in the UK) and found it very useful.

      I’d agree on the shelf life, which can be a pain, especially as the stuff is so expensive, but I do find that the larger quantities in tins fare better than the tubes – perhaps because of a better seal.

      Best wishes


  • charles purdy Jul 21, 2012, 8:22 am

    Great job on the repair.
    I have over the years fixed may things with metal epoxy.
    Like you say prp and attention to doing it right makes the job a success.
    I have several times used waxed paper to press and shape the epoxy mix into hard to reach places and shapes that can be machined later. The waxed paper just peals off after all has set.
    Fair winds!

    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 12:48 pm

      Hi Charles

      Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve sued a variety of things before (even insulating tape) on small repairs and it does make for a nice clean finish, and so easier to shape and sand.

      I’ll certainly try the waxed paper, though.

      Best wishes


  • RDE (Richard Elder) Jul 21, 2012, 10:58 am

    Can’t say as I’ve been impressed with the strength characteristics of the pre-filled epoxy products. I prefer to start with conventional epoxy (WEST, MAS) and add fillers for the job. Silica makes an extremely tough and machinable matrix, and pre-coating the sanded or abraded base surface with unfilled epoxy yields a level of adhesion that no filled epoxy can max.

    For example, I once repaired a worn lower rudder gudgeon by wrapping the rudder shaft with Teflon tape to provide the desired clearance and made a poured lower bearing using WEST filled with graphite and silica. Intended as a temporary repair, two years later it had little wear and the perfect alignment and low friction graphite made the helm so smooth that it was never replaced.

    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 12:53 pm

      Hi Richard

      good points thanks, and we’ve used unfilled epoxy many times in the way you suggest, fro example around aluminium inspection plates before applying sealant with good results.

      Time will tell how the Belzona stands up – so far it seems like less of a ‘filler’ than Internationals Watertite (which we also have aboard), but maybe we should carry some of the epoxy and silica, too.

      Best wishes


  • Jim Patek (S/V Let's Go!) Jul 21, 2012, 1:14 pm

    Hi Colin

    Back home for a short time. I am trying to figure out what the part is that you are repairing. Is it common to the 435 or something specific to your A/P? If it is common I had better take a close look when I return to the boat. Let’s Go! has a LeComble and Schmitt ram.

    Thanks very much.


    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 4:03 pm

      Hi Jim

      No need to worry in your case as this is a Simrad ram, not the (much superior) Lecomble & Schmitt ram.

      The item is the underside of the ram block. The hole is where an ertalyte bush is located, which in turn house the ball on the base block. As you will know the ram is mounted under a bridge in the cockpit floor, and so is often soaked from rain or waves, and (in this case) being of dissimilar metals (the base is stainless) pitting has occurred.

      Hopefully the repair and paint will be adequate – we’ll see.

      Best wishes


  • RDE (Richard Elder) Jul 21, 2012, 1:33 pm

    Hi Colin,
    I’d suggest a gallon of WEST and appropriate mini-pumps or better yet MAS with its 2/1 mixing ratio, about a half gallon of silica, quart of aluminum powder and a quart of graphite in the spares kit for any boat, whether she be wood or aluminum. With that and sheet of 6 mil okoume BS1080 plywood cut up into sizes that fit into a locker you can repair/build almost anything including an emergency rudder. And unfilled and uncatalyzed epoxy has no shelf life— you can leave it on deck at 120f or -20f and it will be good to go ten years from now.

    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 4:05 pm

      Thanks Richard

      We’ll take your advice – we already have lots of ply etc., but we’ll need to buy the epoxy etc.

      Best wishes


  • Victor Raymond Jul 21, 2012, 2:47 pm

    Great post as always. Similar to Dick, I have relied on JB Weld for most emergency projects at sea which so far have been few and far between. But you and Richard have made me aware that I should have complete system to handle almost anything. I was about to order Belzona when I read Richards comments. Not I am not sure which is the correct path. My experience with epoxy systems is extremely limited so making exotic mixes may be way beyond my skill level. In fact maybe I should buy a small TIG welder learn how to weld.
    In any case you have started the cerebral wheels turning and that, I believe, was your goal. Thank you.

    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 4:09 pm

      Hi Victor

      I think both are well worth carrying, as in my view both have a different niche in a repair kit. And so far I’ve been very impressed with all reports on Belzona – used in many really tough industrial applications, and easy to prepare/use.

      And thanks for the kind comments – much appreciated.

      Best wishes


  • Steve Jul 21, 2012, 3:44 pm

    Hi Colin,
    I have used Balzona in my old line of work and I will tell you there is no finer product on the market. I could take a severely pitted pump impeller from a pump that pumped thousands of gallons a minute and have it working like new using Balzona. Pumps impellers in heavy grit areas like lift stations , dewatering construction sites or mining dewatering sites were coated on new pumps to prevent pitting and they never pitted. These were multi million dollar pumps and Balzone was always part of the contract with owners when we sold pumps. I can see how it would be so valuable on an aluminum boat. JB weld is OK for around the house stuff but if you want the real deal Balzona is what you need. It is sold in the USA.
    Thanks for the info.

    • Colin Speedie Jul 21, 2012, 4:13 pm

      Hi Steve

      Thanks very much for the recommendation. Belzona’s website shows many heavy-duty applications, and I know our local big ship repair yard are big customers which was one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place. Good to hear it from someone with real experience n a demanding environment.

      Kindest regards


  • John Jul 23, 2012, 6:45 pm

    Hi All,

    Some thoughts on goops and glues:

    1). We have always had much better results from products that are aimed at the industrial market, like Plexus and Belzona, rather than those you can buy at the hardware store.
    2). We too carry west system resin and an assortment of thickeners. Great stuff.
    3). Despite point 2, I can see uses for Belzona, and we will add it to our kit before the next cruise.

  • Steve A Jul 24, 2012, 2:33 pm

    I called Belzona USA (305) 908-9672.
    The marine repair kit is @ $700.
    4 kilos of Marine Metal is $352, has a 35 minute pot life, 5 year shelf life, fillers not recommended with their products.
    #1111 is similar to Marine Metal, 400g of product for $91. Needs good surface prep, machines ok, 10-15 minutes pot life.
    #1831 use this where good surface prep is not possible, sticks to wet & oily surfaces, 1 kilo of product $210.

  • Adrian Evans Aug 21, 2012, 8:35 pm

    Colin, can you let us have the name of the Dealer in Cornwall, as that sounds good stuff to have around. Do you think they’d be amenable to requests looking for the same?

    • Colin Aug 22, 2012, 1:00 pm

      Hi Adrian

      I’m trying to contact him to put you in touch – hopefully we’ll have a reply soon.

      Best wishes


      • Colin Speedie Aug 31, 2012, 5:31 am

        Hi Adrian

        The contact in Cornwall is Philip Robinson, and he can best be contacted by phone on 01209 715359, or via email at ku.oc.tensf.stnatlusnocrp@pilihp .

        He will be glad to help with any advice you may need.

        Best wishes


  • Bryce May 31, 2014, 7:20 pm

    Hi Colin,

    Very interesting article, and it got me thinking. On our boat, the builder screwed the wall and ceiling panels of the interior directly to the framing of the aluminium boat. Not ideal and always leaves a niggling worry in the back of my mind about the dissimilar metals. The boat is about 25 years old, and in the year that we’ve owned her I’ve had to remove about 20 of these screws for various jobs. 4 of them (i.e. about 20%) had seized in place and the head snapped off, leaving the shaft embedded. I’ve tried penetrating lubricant, heat and hammer shocks, but those shafts are stuck fast. Not having a clear solution, I’ve left them in there for now to think about what to do.

    Reading your articles has given me an idea to perhaps fix the broken ones: Would drilling them out using a hole-saw around the broken off shafts and filling the the hole with one of these goops provide an insulated place to re-attached new fasteners? If this goop is dielectric and pretty-much permanent, I would think that this should fix the problem?

    It does, however, sound like a lot of work to fix a lack of fore-thought in the build stage (no furring strips). Do you see any major problems with this solution, or know of any simpler/better solutions?



    • John Jun 1, 2014, 7:06 am

      Hi Bryce,

      I can answer that one, in that we have the same situation on our boat.

      The summary is, don’t worry about it. I think most aluminium boats have the cabinetry and cladding attached to the frames with stainless steel fastenings. After all, even if there were furring strips they would have to be attached in some way. Having stainless steel used in this way is really no problem because it is not in the presence of salt water. Sure there will be a bit of corrosion around the fastenings, but nothing structural.

      And I certainly would advise against trying to drill the broken fastenings out—do more harm than good. Just replace them with another fastening several inches away and make sure that you use Tefgel on those and any you were able to get out whole, would be my advice.

      • Bryce Jun 1, 2014, 7:11 am

        Thanks John. Appreciate the advice!



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