A Sail Away Offshore Cruising Boat For Less Than US$100,000—Rudders and Keels

It’s virtually impossible to seal a rudder stock effectively.
[In Part 2 Colin examined decks, hulls, structural fittings and internal structure, now he continues with underwater appendages.]

Rudders

There will be a strong likelihood that most of the boats in our price and age bracket will have a spade rudder. Having lost one (and written about it extensively here) my feelings about them are naturally somewhat clouded, but there’s no way around the fact that there are an awful lot of boats out there with them fitted that otherwise might fit our bill, so let’s look at how and what we can do to minimise the inherent risks:

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.

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Terence Thatcher

You make me concerned about my old rudder, probably build by US based Foss Foam. Sounds as if none of us should rely on 30 or 40 year old rudders. How about drilling a small or medium sized hole in the bottom and seeing if any water seeps out, as a test?

Robert McDowell

Great article Colin! In August I had to rebuild my rudder, a friend backed into a rock while making a shorefast, luckily he was going slow but the damage to the glass and foam was extensive, obvious water intrusion as the foam was wet. I dropped the rudder and cut the rudder apart into 2 shells and removed the shaft with the webs. I cleaned up the shell halves and pieced the broken parts back enough to have 2 good plugs then made temporary molds for 2 new shells that I vacuumed with thicker scantlings, bigger landing bosses and a better epoxy laminate schedule (that I had from plans from another dream project). The rudder post and webbing were in great shape, I did a dye test to look for cracks, prepped the stainless, bonded the 2 shells to the webbing, taped the edges inside and out and the backfilled with expanding foam.

This sounds like a lot of work but it is actually quite simple and took me 30 hours. I now have a stronger rudder blade than I could buy, although doing this in carbon would be stronger but I don’t have a marine engineered laminate schedule so I would have to guess, and buying one is too expensive.

This is a job any “handy person” can do, certainly much easier than replacing chainplates and such and it does give you an intimate knowledge and trust in your rudder.

Bob

Eric Klem

Hi Colin,

Good thoughts on keels and rudders.  I wouldn’t consider a suspect rudder a deal breaker at all unless it is indicative of other deferred maintenance, it does eat into the budget but it is a not unreasonable cost for something so important especially if you have a production boat which an outfit like Foss Foam already has molds for.  For that matter, I am not confident that you would be able to properly assess it ahead of closing in many cases, you often just get wet moisture meter readings and nothing more.  Your point about skegs is spot on, many of them are just as suspect as the rudder itself.  Keel bolts are far scarier from a financial standpoint to me, especially if you don’t live that close to a place like Mars Metals that can actually help with the repair.

With pretty much any rudder I was looking at for offshore work, I would plan on splitting it if I didn’t have reason to know that it was perfect.  Coming from an area where boats are hauled and then frozen every winter, the rudders around here are usually pretty easy to split if they show signs of water ingress as the foam will no longer be well bonded to anything.  One interesting choice made on the production of our boat was that they decided to leave the rudder hollow as in no foam.  This requires slightly more laminate thickness but means that it is actually possible to drain the rudder properly.  We have a drain plug in the bottom and each fall get about a cup out of the rudder which interestingly means that the fluid level during the season should be staying below any of the web but I doubt that I could actually claim it is dry.  I am inclined to think that this is a good form of construction but maybe there is something that I am not thinking about.

Eric

Matt

That makes me wonder about using a hollow all-metal rudder…. filled with vegetable oil via fill & drain plugs, or purged with dry nitrogen at a slight positive pressure before being permanently sealed.

Petter Mather Simonsen

I have an alu vessel that underwent some work at KMY in NL. The vessel has encapsulated lead inside the hull as ballast. A pressured tested box is welded shut over the lead to stop any water from entering the area. As a precaution and to avoid condensation KMY filled that area with vegetable oil. So there are more people thinking this is a sensible idea.

John Harries

Hi Eric,

I have been taking to Mars Metals and learning a lot. You are right, replacing keel bolts is a hard on the budget. That said, the work I have done so far says that it’s doable in most all cases and something anyone contemplating one of these older boats needs to have a contingency for. The interesting thing is that the shipping to and from Mars from within NA is not as bad as I feared and does not vary a lot with distance.

That’s interesting about your rudder not having foam. I too have wondered whether that’s not a better choice.

Richard Elder

Hi Colin:
How to do a keel stub wrong version XXXXX. https://wavetrain.net/2015/12/01/another-major-keel-failure-what-really-happened-to-polina-star-iii/

This one took Oyster Yachts to the bottom along with the boat.

And just to maintain balance, there is the case of the 112′ 250,000 # aluminum ketch that lost her rudder in mid-Atlantic. Evidently having a famous designer and professional owner’s representative at the yard full time isn’t enough to overcome poor weld penetration between rudder “wings” and the massive rudder shaft. “Trust but verify”

James Dylewski

I had my rudder redone by foss foam for my Endeavour 42 (1985)
they did a great job with the original mold they had ,and did the inspection of shaft and stainless plates all were very good , so I am very pleased with my new rudder now 4yrs old.
NewRudders.com
email
moc.sreddurwen@ofni
or phone: 352-529-1104

Foss Foam Products of Florida, Inc.
7060 Highway 41 North,
Williston, FL 32696

John Harries

Hi James,

I’m working on the budget article, so could you share what that cost. You can email me directly if you would prefer: https://www.morganscloud.com/members-priority-contact/

Terence Thatcher

John and Colin: Having read this thread I am now considering the purchase of a new rudder for my 40 year old Morgan 382. (Hey, what is money for?) Foss Foam has the molds and quoted me $2900 plus shipping. (It is actually for a Morgan 384 but they fit. Long story.) Few interesting items I learned. 1. In 1979, the rudder stock was stainless, but Foss Foam thought the internal frame was mild steel. Another reason to replace it. 2.The old rudders were filled with “rudder putty,” whatever that is. Newer ones are filled with foam. No pour in foam I know of is really closed cell and totally waterproof. Maybe “putty” is better. Or why not a solid rudder? Weight? 3. They create a recessed area where the post enters the rudder and fill it with 5200 as a sealant. 4. It sounds as if they do not glass the internal structure to the sides of the rudder. Shouldn’t they? I have never had any hint that my rudder is bad. No seeping, no rust stains. But the boat is 40 years old and has about 45,000 miles on her. I will drop the rudder and turn it upside down as Colin suggested. Foss Foam told me I could drill some holes in the side and dig out the putty to check the frame. I might still do that. Not sure. Might prove educational, at least. I expect they are not set up to use epoxy rather than polyester resin, but I will ask if I order one or suggest vinylester. In any case, we will barrier coat it before installation, again if I order one. Since we use the boat offshore, I suppose I should spring for a new rudder, but I am superstitious. I will feel stupid if they new one gives me trouble. (Read one complaint about one Foss Foam rudder, but they have been doing this for 45 years.) Thanks again for the warning. Of all the things I have upgraded, I never thought of the rudder and I have been around boats a long time.

Petter Mather Simonsen

John,
Here is the start of a nice example of the process of making a new rudder as demonstrated by the DIY enthusiast Mads (Danish) of SailLife. The work follows on in various other episodes. (carbon, vacuum infusion, refurbishing the old stock, expanding epoxy foam etc. etc.) As the videos show, it is not a totally trivial process, even when one can use the old rudder as a mold. But then again, he is experimenting with processes and a construction that is new to him:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IjN9Sgm2qs

That said, his youtube channel is a whole series of major DIY refit jobs. Gives some idea of what this kind of work this takes – including laying up glass – prison labour – as some AAC reader called it.

Philippe Candelier

I got my Dufour 39 Frers rudder rebuilt new by Foss Foam, after a serious enough grounding resulting in a bent shaft. Total cost was around 7000$us(2015), including shipping of the old one from NY to FL for being used as a template. They did a great job, beside a 1mm error conversion on the shaft diameter. I put that on the conversion error from metric (Dufour) to Imperial (Foss Foam). That lead to a scrapped summer cruising season and extra expenses: replacing both rudder bearings and tube to match the new shaft diameter (59mm rather than original 60mm). Quite a dent in the budget.

Keith Chiswell

Our rudder is still on my list of things to go over on our boat, built in 1985. According to our owners manual instead of having webs welded to the stock the stock is bent into a C shape inside the rudder. Is there a common failure or week spot with this design that you are aware of?

Richard Elder

Hi Colin
A few random thoughts:’
Polina Star III keel:
Somewhere in the information the laminate thickness for the keel stub was listed as 5mm–barely adequate for a 20,000# boat with that deep a keel stub. Looking at the photos of the minimalist widely spaced bulkheads held in place by (failed) secondary bonds. I conclude that the designer and/or construction manager should be keelhauled. I wouldn’t have liked to be on the opposite side from the owner(s) if they happened to be a member of the segment of Russian society known as the Oligarchs. LOL

Winter haul out:
Any boat that is to be left out of the water where it will freeze should have a threaded opening at the bottom of the rudder where you can remove a plug and pull a vacuum overnight before leaving it for the winter. Something like a FEIN wet/dry shop vac that doesn’t mind running continually is adequate.

Repairing/re-manufacturing rudders:
All to often the exterior skins just touch the rudder shaft and the joint is “sealed” with a little sticky poo. I design mine with 3″ of structural contact between the shaft and the skins using epoxy and uni glass. The first inch has a seal recess which is filled with 5200 as a flexible gasket.

Alternative Materials:
There is no excuse for building the exterior rudder skins using anything other than epoxy resin with it’s superior water resistance.
Another commentator recently shared his experience having his chainplates manufactured from titanium at a cost only 20% more than Stainless Steel. Titanium might be worth investigating if you are building a complete replacement rudder.

Drew Frye

Boats that are stored on the hard in the winter, vs. boats that stay in the water, are much more likely to have a cracked rudder from moisture expanding. Same with keels, although to a lesser extent.

How does seasonal haul out, vs. year round submersion relate to corrosion and soundness? I would not want to guess.

Philippe Candelier

There are tones of boat hauled out for winter in northern countries or for instance around the Great Lakes. Water ingress between the deck and core is a problem as eventually at freeze time, the water expends and will separate the core from the fiber. Repeat over multiple winters and the deck structural strength will weaken with potential delaminated. Time consuming to repair, but not difficult. I did that on mine.
For rudders, I know some people that drill a hole at the bottom of the rudder to drain water, let it dry the whole winter, and fill the hole at spring before splashing the boat. I like also the idea of Colin to put the rudder upside down, but you need to take it out.

Mark Bodnar

I was recently involved in a discussion about drilling a drain hole in the rudder to let water out for winter storage – thus reducing risk of freezing damage.
One person argued that we’d be better off not even plugging the hole before relaunching in the spring – suggesting that water is getting in anyway and that allowing some water movement would reduce the risk of oxygen starvation and crevice corrosion.
Seems logical – but not confident that it would actually work. Would there be enough water? Plus I’d be concerned that would allow growth inside the rudder.
I’d like to see some evidence that it helps more than it hurts
Mark

John Harries

Hi Mark,

That’s the kind of question forums seem to love to discuss at length, but I can’t see that anyone could have a real provable answer. So, if it were me I would add a plug to drain the rudder in winter, but keep it in the rudder when the boat is in the water. And, if I got water out of the rudder in the fall, I would take said rudder off and hunt down the cause.

Mark Bodnar

John,
So that leads me to a conundrum – if, as mentioned previously, it’s “almost impossible” to maintain a seal between the stainless steel rudder shaft and the fiberglass rudder shell how does finding the source turn into an effective repair?
Yes there have been some comments about custom re-builds with 3″ of enclosed gasket/sealant space – but what about a typical rudder?
If they “all” take on some water despite attempts at sealing then is hunting down the source going to yield anything more than a temporary solution? Is there a effective way to seal that stock-rudder junction effectively without rebuilding a custom rudder?

Mark

John Harries

Hi Mark,

A lot of variables here, including the ones you point out. Also what if the rudder is filled with foam, which most are? So you are right, sealing the rudder is not easy, but I just don’t think that leaving it open to the sea is a good solution either. Or, in fact fixes anything. Bottom line, there is no one size fits all solution for this issue. That said, I think it should be possible to keep most rudders watertight from year to year, and then only dig into things when water shows in the fall. Or to put it another way, I think most rudders are, or at least should be, a regular maintenance item, and that includes regular removal for inspection and renewal of the seal between shaft and blade. Not ideal I know, but the only total long term fix I can think of is an all composite epoxy rudder with a carbon stock.

Richard Elder

Hi Philippe
Or you could just use a vacuum pump to extract all the water from the foam and voids in the rudder like I suggested—-

Wilson Fitt

Thank you to Colin and everyone else for making me feel much better about my old fashioned traditional, full keel, plank on frame wooden boat with its rudder made of oak planks held together with bronze rod drift bolts and attached to the stern post with big cast bronze gudgeons and pintles. The ballast keel is a long, wide lump of lead attached with fourteen 1″ diameter bolts and the chainplates are in full view, bolted onto the outside of the hull. I am comforted by the knowledge that structural failure will be gradual with lots of warning (think compost), not sudden and catastrophic.

John Harries

Hi Wilson,

Don’t get too smug, we will be publishing Colin’s next part in a few days that includes the drawbacks of wood, although, to be fair, none of it really applies to Christina Grant. Also, it needs to be said that your boat on an inflation adjusted bases and taking into account your labour to build her probably cost in the region of 2 to 4 times more than the boats we are looking at here, even once they are ready for sea.

All that said, I have to admit that if things got seriously nasty at sea I would much rather be on CG than any of the boats we are discussing in this series.

Wilson Fitt

Wooden boat owners are always at risk of thinking that the old ways are inherently better. This is self defence because 99.5% of the yachting world thinks we have rocks in our heads! The majority rules, but in some respects, like the risk of keels and rudders falling off, the old design solutions still seem to have merit. You are entirely correct in saying that the cost of building a wooden boat is way out of the range being talked about here, but demand for used wooden boats is vanishingly small and the market value of some fairly decent boats is correspondingly low. I will be very interested to see what Colin has to say in the next instalment.

Eric Klem

Hi Wilson,

I think that your comment highlights the fact that the key is using materials and designs that are appropriate for purpose.  In your case, for fittings you chose materials that were not the cheapest at the outset but will give you a service life probably longer than you will own the boat and are therefore likely cheaper for you overall.  There is no reason why these same techniques can’t be applied to a fiberglass boat, it is just that they often are not.

Of course everything is a trade-off and people will be trying to balance performance, features, reliability, looks, cost, etc.  These trade-offs are also being made by people with varying levels of skill in designing the specific element, no designer can claim to be good at everything.  For example, if you start to push performance a little, you quickly end up with inboard chainplates to tighten up sheeting angles and these are a much trickier design challenge and there are a lot of not well designed ones out there.  Push it a bunch further and now you need a high aspect ratio fin keel with a dense bulb at the bottom and chances are this fin is welded, a process that many less people understand how to design for, takes skill to execute and requires somewhat specialized inspection.  For me, I like a design that has pretty good performance without getting exotic (if the strength to weight ratio of stainless over bronze requires the use of stainless on the fittings, it is probably pushing the performance envelope too much unless they use titanium), very few features and very good reliability.  Unfortunately the reliability part seems to always get destroyed by the cost concerns and maybe a lack of familiarity sometimes on the designer or builders part.  When I look around a boatyard, I see a lot of structural design elements that should have never made it through design reviews and are then made worse by use of materials that are not stable in the environment they are in.

Fiberglass has its quirks but it is a great material and if someone has the skill, takes the time to get the details right and isn’t forced into cost cutting that hits reliability, there is no reason why a great long lasting boat can’t be built.  The unfortunate reality is that most boats are no where near this ideal though.

Eric

Bill Attwood

My Rustler has a wooden rudder attached to the transom at the end of a long keel. The wood is Iroko, the through bolts are stainless (I replaced them in 2018, after 26 years they were slightly corroded) and the pintles and gudgeons are stainless. I wish that, like Wilson, I could have all the fittings of bronze. The tiller is laminated oak, attached to the rudder post with NiAl bronze straps. The point of this slightly self-important post is: why don’t people with problem rudders think of wood as an alternative to GRP? I know that is wouldn’t suit all configurations, but where it does, building out of wood is a lot easier than GRP. Many older long keel yachts had transom hung rudders.

Richard Elder

Hi Colin
I’m not sure I agree that there is a lot more work in building a rudder out of wood than foam/glass. Let us consider the case where Beneteau needs to build rudders for a series production of 100 boats, all with twin rudders. This volume will mean that all machining will be done by CNC and a human hand need never touch the process. The two rudder haves will be machined from glue laminated red cedar, a highly rot resistant material. They will be indexed to fit together perfectly, and have engineered seal (rings) to completely prevent water from entering the rudder at the point where it contacts the stock. When the CNC machine mills the exterior epoxy coating it will produce a finish surface with a far higher level of precision and fairness than is possible with any molded fiberglass shell. And the internal metal structure of the rudder will transmit forces far more effectively to wood and epoxy than to foam, voids and glass.

Alex Borodin

Do the same warnings apply to 40 year old rudders with bronze stocks?

Richard Dowe II

Hi Colin, as part of some keels where do you stand on swing keels. I have been looking at different boats and thought a swing keel would be nice to adventure up canals. Thanks Rick

Bill Attwood

Hi Colin
I also think that building a wooden rudder is an easier DIY project, or a one-off, eg a replacement, than grp. Wood is easy to work, and the rudder is shaped by removing material. There is no need to build moulds, and one is spared the difficulties involved in ensuring the laminate has the optimal mix of glass and resin. Using a rot-resistant hardwood and the correct primers and topcoats ensures the wood will remain free from rot. Although nickel aluminium bronze does corrode in seawater, this is confined to the surface layer, and one can say that it is effectively free from corrosion. Mixing it with other metals would obviously be a serious mistake, but other bronzes, eg manganese or silicon, can be used as fixings. It can also be welded to produce more complex shapes such as pintles and gudgeons. The drawback? It is much more expensive, at least in Europe, than in the US, and not that easy to buy in small quantities.
Yours aye
Bill

Brian Laux

I own a 1987 Pacific Seacraft Crealock 34. I’m 3/4s of the way around the Great Loop (with a long side trip to the Bahamas, all singlehanded) with that marvelous boat. I’m based on Lake Ontario. She’s on the hard on the Nanticoke River off the Chesapeake Bay for the winter. I’ll bring her back to Lake Ontario in early summer. Anyway Crealock 34s can be had for well under $100K. She has very robust construction, a sturdy skeg mounted rudder, a modified fin keel with a “backbone” connecting the keel to the skeg. She is by far the most seaworthy boat I’ve ever owned or sailed. No wonder several have circumnavigated the planet. She tracks like she’s on rails under sail or power. The biggest improvement I made to her was to convert her back to tiller steering. It greatly opens up the cockpit, and I’m a big believer in the KISS principle. And factory support has been great for all my questions. Highly recommended!

John Harries

Hi Brian,

Sounds like a great boat, and I’m totally with you on tillers. One point for others: from what I hear the quality from Pacific Seacraft has varied a lot over the years, so do make sure you get a good one like Brian did.

More here:https://www.morganscloud.com/2019/06/12/5-warnings-about-buying-fibreglass-boats/

Brian Laux

I installed a below-decks autopilot, which has worked great. When the autopilot is steering (almost all my sea miles – it steers better than I do) I strap the tiller vertically using a strap that has a break-away feature in case I need to grab the tiller quickly. But after many sea miles I still chuckle to myself seeing the vertical tiller doing the rotating “Queen’s wave” as Serenity moves along. And the cockpit is then wide open. So like Colin said, having the tiller vertical is nice in port, but for me also underway. And the typically vertical tiller is also a safety feature. About the only downside I could see to a tiller would be accidentally falling onto it and breaking it. I carry a spare tiller below, but with the tiller almost always vertical it would be a pretty bizarre accident to lead to breaking it.

Frans Botman

Hello Colin,

Perhaps a bit off topic. I am seriously looking at the wauquiez built Centurion 40 (built between 1987 and 1993). They are manufactured both with the normal keel, 2,10 meters and a shoal draft version of 1,65. Any thoughts as to why one should prevail over the other with regard to future oceanic crossings?
Best,

Frans

John Harries

Hi Frans,

Colin may not come up, but my advice would be to go deep keel every time. In our experience 2.1 meters is a sweet spot draft in most parts of the world (we draw exactly that) and the deeper boat will sail way better upwind. My thinking is that if we want shallow draft might as well go the whole hog and get an Ovni, Boreal, or Garcia, and get the capability to dry out too. Or to look at it another way, the difference between 2.1 and 1.65 is just not going to make that much difference to the places you can go, but will be a big hit to performance.