A Sail Away Offshore Cruising Boat For Less Than US$100,000—Best Hull Material

Steel on the beach—might she have been saved?

So far in this series we’ve only discussed GRP yachts; after all, there are certainly more of them out there to choose from. Also, they are more of a known quantity, which ought to make it easier for us to sort the wheat from the chaff—if the 40-ft Ocean Dreamer from Slippery & Chancer Yachts is known to suffer from major structural faults, then we’ll have been forewarned by now to avoid one.

But there are good reasons for looking beyond the constraint of GRP construction...and not just financial.

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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Richard Elder

Hi Colin:
I’m sorry to see that you ignored one complete category of construction. In your section entitled “WOOD” all of your examples are traditional plank on frame boats with design heritage from the 1940’s.

The Robert Finch 47′ design that I built from cold molded Mahogany and epoxy/glass for a customer 35 years ago has an underbody similar to a Valiant 47. When I last saw her 12 years ago she was exactly as launched: no blisters on the hull, cap rails with perfect seams, no leaks in the deck. The hull paint was oxidized, and every bit of teak was devoid of varnish during a 5 year circumnavigation, but structurally she was ready to leave on another circumnavigation tomorrow.

I observed my mentor John Guzzwell strip the bottom of his Laurent Giles cutter and replace the Dynell skin with epoxy/glass after 20 years of service, and the hull’s wood surface was nearly flawless. This was one of the earliest cold molded boats, built with less than optimal resins, yet she outlasted all the contemporary fiberglass boats being re-manufactured to try to control blistering.

Cold molded wood with epoxy/glass skins on the outside and epoxy coating on the inside is as different from plank on frame wood as balsa cored fiberglass is from steel. Yet Americans won’t touch it. I know of two exceptional examples currently for sale for $45-60k- both from outstanding designers and quality builders. And we aren’t talking about little 28 foot boats– one is 47′ and the other 50.

Alan Sexton

Could not agree more with Richard’s comments. There are still many sound wooden boats afloat in NZ, thanks in part to our mild climate and the properties of the native Kauri timber typically used for glued building cold moulded (2 or 3 skins laid diagonally over frames and stringers, or sometimes ribs) wooden boats from the late 50’s until the early 1980’s. Subsequently alot more “wooden” boats were built using strip plank timber (usually cedar) with epoxy and glass on both sides
See this link, there are yachts out there dating back to the 1890’s
https://waitematawoodys.com/2020/01/28/mahurangi-weekend-biggest-on-the-water-wooden-boating-event-down-under-200-classic-wooden-boat-photos/
The weak point in these glued cold moulded boats has proven to be their plywood decks, where water has gotten into the laminates through poorly sealed fasteners.
A little catch about buying an old boat from NZ is there is a law prohibiting the overseas sale of “antiquities” aged more than 50yrs – our boats are included in this law.

Peter De Boer

Thanks Alan and Richard for bringing up cold moulded boats.
We have a 1985 Paul Whiting 40 designed and built in NZ of tripple diagonal kauri. We bought her in Pittwater NSW in 2012. A strong, fast and fun cruising boat. As far as coming in under the $100,000 US mark, it didn’t happen for us as we eventually had her professionally and extensively refitted (by Colin Beashel of Australia II fame) due to the teak deck needing replacement (water starting to get underneath). If not for the teak deck issue we would have kept things low key and done a lot more of the work ourselves. Some things we would still have needed a professional for though, like the complete rudder rebuild (due to its age), checking the keel bolts (ours are bronze and good), rigging and chain plate replacement (again age). By the way the ply deck under the teak turned out to be in good condition. Got it in time.
The other thing we did was to have a survey done by a reputable surveyor with experience in cold molded boats before the refit. This gave us great confidence to proceed. A good surveyor and a good boat yard for the work.

Richard Elder

Hi Peter
A point of interest for anybody with a cold molded boat with a teak deck that is getting long in the tooth: If you are lucky enough to have one where the deck was installed with epoxy and no fasteners you will not have to go through the effort of removing the teak. The teak is actually part of the deck structure! Just use a 1/4″ router to rid it of caulking, thoroughly grind/sand it to get to fresh raw wood, scrub it with acetone or MEK to remove the oil from the teak, replace any bad plywood underlay, trowel on epoxy to fill the kerfs, and glass over with cloth and epoxy. I’ve seen yards charge $40,000 to remove all the teak deck for what should be a 50 hour job on a 40 foot boat.

Peter De Boer

Thanks RDE Elder
Ours had fasteners and yes, the teak is part of the deck structure. After removing the teak we had it replaced it with ply and then fiberglassed. One of the concerns with leaving the teak on and doing as you say is that it’s hard to know what’s underneath. I would be a bit concerned about locking in moisture and if the glue holding the teak on was starting to let go (as in our case) you would not know how much further that will progress

Richard Elder

Hi Colin
Cold molded boats may be rare in the UK, but I’d bet that there are more examples in North America that a sophisticated buyer would really want to own than there are of 30-40 year old steel boats that have stood the test of time. To say nothing of ferrocement (Zero)! As a starting point, most cold molded boats have more performance oriented contemporary underbody designs with lead fin keels and skeg hung rudders. “Real wood” boats from the 1940’s have shallow full keels with attached rudders, low ballast ratios and short waterlines. If they have steam bent oak frames and teak over plywood decks that is the starting signal for running away.

The best of cold molded boats like the examples I gave have as long a service life expectancy as a premium brand glass boat like a Swan or Oyster— to say nothing of a mid range boat like a Valiant, Tartan, or C & C..

Matt

Cold-moulded wood-epoxy composite is a truly amazing material. You get the character and easy customization of wood, with the near-immortality of fibreglass. In terms of structural efficiency, for the types of loads experienced by boats, it’s right up there with expensive aerospace composites. It’s by far my favourite material in which to design.

That said, I can understand why Colin omitted it. Wood-epoxy boats are just not very common on the used market at this price point. I could count on one hand the number of wood-epoxy sailboats I’ve seen for sale around here in the last decade.

Alan Sexton

Just for clarity the vast majority of glued cold moulded boats (double/triple diagonal) built in NZ from the 50’s to late 70’s were glued with Resorcinol glues. Also the plywood boats built by NZ’s John Spencer, Ragtime (ex Infidel) being the most well known in North America. Locally manufactured epoxies (NZ had a very restrictive restrictive import licensing system post WW2 until the late 70’s to encourage local manufacturers) were available in paste forms but were quite expensive and generally used in interior fitout and gluing teak decks in place. We only saw WEST epoxy resins (and International’s 9000) in the late 70’s, in some ways they revolutionised boatbuilding particularly with the strip planked epoxy glass system. They also had their OHS issues, quite a few boatbuilders permanently disabled due to amine poisoning from the epoxy resins due to poor handling practices.
There has been alot of debate about the use of resorcinol vs epoxy in exposed applications, Larry Pardey in particular went on quite a crusade on the subject.

John Harries

Hi Alan,

Yes, the whole Resorcinol to Epoxy thing was interesting. Around that time we in the 505 fleet were building rudders and centre boards with wood/epoxy and had no trouble I ever heard of. But on the other hand I have huge respect for Larry and there is no question he did have trouble with Epoxy. Never did really figure out what was going on. Maybe that we were using soft light woods like western red cedar and he was using hard woods like mahogany and teak.

Philip Wilkie

From my modest experience I have to completely support everything you’ve said on steel. Everything depends on the weld quality, the paint work, access and maintenance. Having said this, it’s possible to get lot of boat for your money. And the great thing about all metal boats is their rigidity, something not always appreciated. Our old Adams 40 slices through chop and swell alike with a reassuring, solid dignity.

My learning points so far, in addition to the one’s you’ve made:

1. Keep the bilges clear of all plumbing and wiring. It’s essential to be able to spray degreaser, and hose them clean on a regular basis. Grotty bilges are rust traps.
2. Minimise holes through the deck. Weld everything on if possible and look to eliminate stress points that will flex and crack the paint.
3. When looking at an older steel boat, check under the. tracks and the tanks and refrigeration boxes for trouble.
4. Modern epoxy primers like Jotamastic 90, Interprotect and Altralock 576 are much more ‘surface tolerant’ than previous generations, but do the prep work to give them every advantage. They’re excellent systems, but they aren’t magic.
5. Dealing with rust; physically blast or grind everything you can get at, then phosphoric acid/ rinse until the last black spots are gone, then degrease with an alkaline cleaner, and rinse with Chlor-Rid (or equivalent) to ensure a chemically clean surface.

Also you are quite right, steel boat builders tend to have run out of money in the last 80% of the build, and most of the bolted on systems in the boat will likely need replacing. Price your offer accordingly. (Hard lesson learnt on this one.)

The other upside is that most steel designs come from an era that well pre-dates all the modern trends in hull design that John so vociferously deplores, most of them will be very safe, comfortable sea boats … some of them reasonably quick even. 🙂

Alexander Hubner

Hi Philip, I agree with a lot of what you said. Just the phosphoric acid part I don t like. For me it s not worth it and you allways have to worry that you got it all out. A sandblasted surface doesn’t need to my opinion nothing else than epoxy paint. On the inside I painted over the epoxy brantho korrux which is a protective coat from Germany that has the advantage that you don’t have to sand it if you want to paint over it So the overhaul is quiet easy.
And for me sprayed on foam is the best over the waterline.

Kind regards
Alex

Philip Wilkie

Yes you do have to be certain the phosphoric acid is completely removed. Just rinsing isn’t enough, which is why I follow up with a strongly alkaline degreaser. Usually products advertised as bilge cleaners will qualify. If you’re still worried use some baking soda first, but phosphoric acid is pretty weak really and it’s not hard to neutralise. Use some pH paper to test the rinse water if you want to be certain. You want it to be alkaline, typically between 8 and 9 pH in order to help make the surface less reactive in the short period before you get the primer on. (This is not the same as ‘passivating’ which is complex topic in it’s own right.)

And just to be clear I’d only use phosphoric acid on surfaces I haven’t been able to blast or grind completely clear of all rust to an acceptable standard, which is often the case when doing repairs or renovations.

But in the final analysis, if you aren’t confident using phophoric acid, then just concentrate on the physical removal and a good chemical clean after. It’s this chemical clean which is the step most frequently overlooked, and I believe is the primary reason why sometimes steel paint jobs fail sooner than expected.

Alexander Hubner

Hi Philip, I reach everywhere with my pistol, but it s a horrible dirty job if you do it inside the boat, so I completly agree that it s import to prepare the steel to make sure that you never have to do it again Regard Alex

Andre Langevin

And phosphoric acid is the saint-graal of aluminum boat owner also because every time you need to weld and repaint, the phosphoric acid is one of the certain way to have the Al2O3 layer removed. I built the fuel tank on my boat out of aluminum plates and when it was time to epoxy paint them i wash with a brush the aluminum with phosphoric acid and i had 30 minutes to paint before the oxyde reform. No problem with gloves and mask. Phosphoric acid in liquid format can be found in any automobile paint store.

Terry McDonnell

Hi All,
There a Couple in Brazil restoring a steel yatch that has been on the hard for 22 years.
Worth a look at their blog.
Called “Oddlifecrafting”
You could offer them heaps of practical help. Particularly once they start sailing.
(Putting an old head on young shoulders.)
Regards
Terrence McDonnell WA

Andre Langevin

Very good article that sum up the possibility and i couldn’t agree more with Colin about the professional versus amateur boat project.
And i would add that finding a good boat is also a matter of luck. At the marina where my boat is, there are 2 steel boat in extra conditions; one a famous Chatam 33 that many have circumnavigated with, the other a Bruce Roberts Spray 36. Each one is mostly ready to float and would go for 30-40 000 US which led a lot of headroom for repairs. Any of these boat could be the start of a round the world project. Not necessarily high latitude expedition but could easily do the Coconut Milk Run. Sadly their owners have deceased and the widow doesn’t even know how to sell the boat…

Richard Elder

Hi Colin:
Since I’ve been giving you such a hard time about not including one of my favorite boat building materials, perhaps I should follow up with an example of steel done right! Not for 100k, but perhaps you could drop her into the right location in the earlier article series?

In the late 90’s and early 2,000s Ed Ruferford designed and built a dozen or so steel boats in the 46-55′ range from his company, Waterline Boats on Vancouver Island BC. We touched bases to consider subcontracting the interiors through my company, but it wasn’t really on because of the weak Loonie at the time. And Ed soon was able to put together a joinery team that matched the superb quality of his steelwork and designs. Being no dummy, Ed built one last boat for himself, sold the company, and sailed off into the world. His boats occasional come on the market, where they stand out above any other steel boat I’ve seen.

So let me perform a thought experiment: If I were to choose a boat in the 44-55′ range to use until it served its final duty of scattering my ashes on the sea, would I choose a 15 year old steel Waterline 48, or a new Garcia 45, or Boreal 47?

A few years back I went aboard a 12 year old Waterline 48 that was being shown alongside a new Oyster 52. (This was before Oyster was sold to the bean counters and still had the reputation of superb design and quality) My take away impression was that I’d choose the used Waterline over the new Oyster at the same price.

Waterline 48 vs Garcia 45— no question— I’d choose a used Waterline 48 for $350, 000 vs a new Garcia for $350,000. (Yes, I really don’t like that boat!)

The choice between the Waterline and Boreal would be much more difficult!
INTERIOR ARRANGEMENT, fit and finish: +Waterline 48: by a country mile.
HULL DESIGN: +Boreal- the keel box and aft daggerboards are all brilliant concepts, although I could live with the 6’6″ bulb keel, high ballast ratio, and superior windward ability of the Waterline.
MATERIALS: + Boreal: Aluminum wins over the best of steel construction— although painted steel is much prettier than raw aluminum
COCKPIT: +Waterline 48: The high, exposed steering position, winch locations, lack of a traveler & cramped seating under the dodger wings all strike me as awkward on the Boreal.
HARD DODGER/DOGHOUSE: Now for the real shocker! +Waterline 48 by a head!
Everybody loves the Boreal doghouse, but one owner, Charlie reports that it is lacking in headroom for someone my size. On the balance I’d rather have the longer hard dodger of the Waterline 48 (or Dashew Sundeer 60) along with a canvas back door and heater than the compromised doghouse + dodger wings of the Boreal.

FINALIST: Used Steel Waterline 48 RED by a nose! I’m confident she would take me to my final anchorage with only a little bit of shiny red paint and the usual menu of boat fix-ums that a new boat would exhibit. I wonder if they’d let me put my entire boat funds on a single roll of the dice in Vegas?

https://www.yachtworld.com/core/listing/pl_boat_full_detail.jsp?slim=broker&boat_id=3503431&ybw=&hosturl=swiftsure&&ywo=swiftsure&&units=Feet&access=Public&listing_id=61891&url=&hosturl=swiftsure&&ywo=swiftsure&

Scott Arenz

Hi Richard,
That Waterline 48 is an uncommon boat indeed. I noted in the broker’s description that the hull is hot zinc spray galvanized above the waterline, which seems to be the best available method for corrosion proofing steel. The overall design & layout checks many of the boxes for a well thought out offshore craft.

My only personal gripe is with all the reefing lines & halyards led to the cockpit, and a corresponding lack of a secure point at which to stand for work at the mast. An easier path around the wheel would be nice, too. (Perhaps a Jefa “pendular” steering pedestal could be retrofitted?) These are rather minor complaints compared to how much the builders got right (IMO), however.

All in all it looks like a great sea boat, and I thank you for making us aware of these Waterline boats and a bit of their history. I always enjoy your posts about the interesting boats and deals you find. You should have a regular column on the subject!

Regards,
Scott
Atlanta, GA

Wilson Fitt

Hi Colin

Thanks for your even handed review of “alternate” materials. I am deeply into the wooden boat world, although not yet a cult member I hope.

RDE is correct in pointing out that cold moulded wood and epoxy boats are a completely different breed than traditional plank on frame ones. Well built examples are very strong and durable and usually very attractive. It seems to me that the issues would be much the same as with a cored fibreglass boat: if water gets inside the sheathing all sorts of problems can ensue. The good news is that the core material is (or should be) more substantial and of higher quality.

The challenge with finding a good, inexpensive plank on frame boat is that they are not very common anymore. The heyday of the graceful and seaworthy wooden CCA style yachts was fifty or more years ago. Most of the few remaining good ones have had major rebuilds and those that have not are probably scrap by now. The once fine wooden boat in your picture, up on the hard with rust bleeding from ferrous fasteners, is a project for a wooden boat nut not someone who actually wants to go sailing in the foreseeable future. Fibreglass boats can endure neglect in the back corner of a boatyard and be brought back to life fairly easily, but wooden boats with leaky decks and leaves in the scuppers will die a quick death.

On the other hand, there are some well maintained plank on frame boats that come up for sale every year with years and miles still in them. Most of them have moderate, sea kindly hull forms and appendages that have stood the test of time, perhaps not speed demons but, like our boat with its 1930s hull design, capable of very respectable average passage speeds.

We often have people say something along the lines of “beautiful boat but what a lot of work!” Yes, the varnish takes a few days a year and painting the topsides takes a bit longer than a coat of wax would, but everything else, painting the bottom, electrical, mechanical, rigging, cleaning and polishing is the same as for any other well maintained boat. The trick, as always, is to stay on top of it.

One final note. Tomorrow I will be visiting good friends who built themselves a ferrocement boat back in the 1970s when they were being touted as the way to go for amateur builders. It is still going strong after many years and some hard miles, not the most graceful boat in the marina but a demonstration that initial build quality and ongoing maintenance are at least as important as the basic material.

Eric Klem

Hi Colin,

I can see steel being a viable option for someone who finds a very good surveyor then learns how to find coating failure and what to do about it.  The trouble is that I suspect it is a small proportion of the population who will actually stay on top of it, many people have to be bitten by a large repair first.

With plank on frame wood, It seems to me that you would need a much higher level of knowledge and then either lots of time or lots of money to keep it up provided the goal isn’t a 3 year lap of the planet that ends up with a boat not fit for daysailing at the end.  In the areas that I know, there are not many yards who will do a good job of maintaining a wood boat inexpensively, they will either keep it perfect for lots of money or keep patching while it falls apart.  This means that the owner must have sufficient knowledge and project management skills that even if they don’t do the work themselves, they can manage it in a cost effective way.  As an example, I have the actual rebuild costs of 4 boats that were all of similar construction style and needed similar work and were done to similar finish level.  If we take the smallest as displacement = 1 and cost =1, the other boats come out as disp 1.6 cost 1.4, disp 2.8 cost 3.9 and disp 2.9 cost 21.  The difference in all of this is who was running the project, some were very good at understanding what could be re-used, the order of what to do, etc and some tried to over-reuse forgetting that labor isn’t free or couldn’t help themselves from replacing everything or got the skilled to non-skilled labor ratio all wrong.  Some other random thoughts on wood boats:
– The tropics can be very hard on wood boats, ventilation, UV protection and underwater coatings become much more critical.
– Outside the tropics, the typical reason why wooden boats need major rebuilds is deck leaks.  If there are deck leaks, run away or if you already own the boat, fixing them is your number 1 priority.  With tight decks and otherwise good maintenance, many boats go 50+ years between major work but I have also seen boats fall apart in under 10.  I consider it imperative to know how to properly fix deck leaks if you plan to go voyaging on a wooden boat.
– Fasteners matter.  Hopefully they are bronze with galvanized next and iron last (iron sickness is real).  Their age matters.  Whether they are screws or spikes matters if you ever want to take them out without ruining the planking.  Whether the boat has been refastened matters, you can usually refasten a single time before you are in trouble with what to do at the frames.
– Wood species matters.  I can only really speak to woods found in North America but what you choose to put in where matters and I am not just talking about not doing a Raw Faith, there is a wide range of strength, density, rot resistance, etc.
– Inspection of a wood boat is tricky especially if there is a lot of ceiling planking.  For reference, in the US subchapter T vessels are typically required to pull several fasteners and pull 1 full strake of planking around the hull every 5 years.
– For people considering wood, the only youtube channel I ever watch is Leo Goolden’s Sampson Boat Co and it gives a pretty good idea of what can happen to a boat that has been exposed to the elements.  I enjoy watching him do it (to a higher standard than I ever have) and not doing it myself anymore.

I have no personal ferro experience so can’t comment on that.

Eric

Eric Klem

Hi Colin,

Plastic sheeting, I haven’t seen that one in a while.  Diapers seem to be common around here and you know that the boat will lose its COI within 10 years at that point.  I was recently aboard a boat built about 15 years ago and I noticed tons of hoses running down from hose barbs screwed into the decking.  Not understanding what this was I asked the crew and they proudly explained that they had figured out how to deal with deck leaks.  The 2 layer deck was intended to be sealed on the upper layer but it leaked and got in between the layers and then rained on the bunks.  They were drilling and tapping the underside of the deck for NPT fittings and then routing the water to the bilge often by shoving the hose through gaps in the ceiling.  That boat will need a major rebuild within the next 5-10 years for sure.  The crew seemed completely oblivious when I explained the issues with what they were doing, none knew how to caulk a deck and they seemed to feel what they were doing was just much easier.

I guess one other thought for wooden boat owners is that a saltwater washdown every morning is a very good routine.  It helps keep the rot on deck at bay, keeps the deck swelled and helps find the leaks so that they are fixed promptly.

Eric

Mark Wilson

Sunstone, what a beautiful boat. There are some lovely photos on sandemanyachtcompany.com. Slightly more than $100k. And a varnished hull. One for the enthusiast.

I have owned two steel boats. One dog and one gem. The one thing they shared in common was the ability to spoil your day by producing yet another new patch of rust. Just when you feel it’s safe to go out of the cabin… It’s interesting to see that Trevor Robinson, the doyen of the highest latitude sailing, has decided to give himself a break and dance the plastic fantastic. Having said that if I were 40 years younger I would snap up Iron Bark, advertised on these pages for a bargain price. Okay, maybe 38 1/2 years younger.

Mark Wilson

Murray Arthur

Sunstone came in one night last year and anchored just behind us. I’d not know of her before but was told (afterwards) she’d been all around the world. Was quite disappointed that they left early the next morning as would have rowed over for a chat.

Beautiful boat and came on the market about 3 months ago.

Lee Corwin

Own grp but believe cold molded and sheathed strip plank entail no more work. In their favor strength to weight ratio allows for a strong fast boat. Pogos are a good example. Traditional looking designs from Nigel Irons such as the Covey island Westermans or RTW boats such as Farfar are examples of good seaboats in stripe plank. Unlike Fe, or Al strength isn’t orthodirectional allowing orientation of fibers to be as required for strength so like carbon fiber a strong light structure is produced.
I’m on solid grp hull and synthetic cored deck , house and dodger. Know there’s a diversity of opinions here but also know displacement is hull and infill. So more carrying is possible or a better SA/D so faster passages if NA knows how to extract the benefits from lighter, stronger materials.
Quite pleased with solid grp but would have no aversion to sheathed strip plank or cold molded or Al. Do think Al hull and grp deck allows the opportunity to see the worse of both worlds

Will Kirkness

Hi Colin or John,
Do you have any advice on around when aluminum alloys become much better for hull construction? I suppose I’m trying to answer the question:
“I would avoid aluminum boats built before ____ “
Or is this a complicated question?
Many thanks,
Will

John Harries

Hi Will,

I don’t know, but suspect that there was no particular transition date. One thing I would say is if the wrong alloys were used it’s going to be pretty obvious since boats like mine built of the right stuff and properly taken care of show almost no plate wastage, even after 30 years. Or to put it the other way around, if a boat shows significant wastage I would be looking elsewhere.

Richard Phillips

In the section about steel above, I think you do not put sufficient emphasis on just how long lasting is a proper paint job on steel. You can spend your life chasing rust, but a *properly* prepared and painted steel surface can easily last for decades with minimal maintenence.

By properly prepared, I mean grit blasting to SA 2.5 or better, sprayed with good quality epoxy primer within 3 hours of blasting (not 4 hours, not next day.. 3 hours or less). I personally used glassflake epoxy before the top coats, but the key is to spray high quality epoxy paints strictly to the overpaint windows.

On a 100 year old barge, I did the above treatment 15 years ago in a dutch yard that serves the commercial sector. There is still zero rust below the water line and on any flat surface anywhere on the boat. The only failure top sides is where there were small gaps which had not been properly filled before the top coat, which suffered freeze thaw. I will overpaint once more for a 30 year paint job.

On my 30 year old steel yacht. The builder did the job properly and the paint is only now failing in a few places, almost all due to stainless fittings creating galvanic corrosion. I intend to grit blast and do a paint job that will outlive *my* ability to sail!

I am labouring this point because steel has a reputation as a maintenence nightmare. If you make the up-front investment to get it properly painted, it is simply *not* a maintenence nightmare at all. Buying an old boat with a poor paint job can be a nightmare – but if it was painted properly inside at build out and can be blasted externally, the results can last for a very long time indeed.

A lot of amateur build and even professional build steel yachts did not paint to such high standards at build time – and it is very difficult to rescue them when the paint fails a couple of decades down the line. Externally you can blast, but internally you have a major problem.

So if you can crack the paint job, there are a lot of benefits from owning a steel boat.

John Harries

Hi Richard,

We say that in a whole bunch of different places. Here’s just one: https://www.morganscloud.com/2012/02/16/why-not-steel-part1/

That said, the sad fact is, just as you say, that many (most?) steel boats are not coated that well so that’s the reality Colin is writing about.

Andre Langevin

Richard your comment is on the point, i’d like to see a boat without maintenance or without problem. They exist but it is when all the stars have aligned during the construction and some yards where able to maintain high standards for a long time, other not. Amateur metallic boat should be checked with 6 eyes (surveyor, future owner and the help of someone having experience in maintaining a metallic boat)

The most important economical factor in trying to get a less than 100 000 $ offshore cruising boat is the size of the boat. 30 years ago a 35 feet was a large family long distance cruiser. In the 1980-1990 period (before the general availability of marine 5083 aluminum alloys and not commercial MIG welding machine) many boats in the 30-35 feet range have been built that can be salvaged today and end up being capable of offshore cruising. Even if it entails scraping the interior to access the inside and starting new. But it all depends also on the age and energy of the future owner.

On a 35 feet boat, dismantling the interior is a 50 hours work. Add another 100 hours for professional sandblasting, sand removal, painting and foam isolation. Sandblasting and foam will coat about 6000 $ CAD today. Add on top of this any plate replacement on your time and you skill. Add another 150 hours for reinstalling the interior and doing a few upgrade while doing so. Exterior paint can be done at any time and correctly done will last a very long time. My paint job on the steel sailboat i own was made in 2009 and still new underwater. No rust. A little bit of rust at one place inside where i had water dripping from a tank…but apart of that it is so clean and dry you could eat your lunch on the bottom plate from inside.

So if someone has 400 hours (10 weeks) and 10 000 $ budget he can tackle to rehabilitate a medium size cruiser of the 1980-1990 era. But then its not done, hundreds of hours will be needed to upgrade the boat to the current survey and safety requirement. An interesting project for someone having long vacation in the summer and willing not to navigate during at least one or maybe two summers.

I can talk of time evaluation for rehabilitation of a boat because i did build my own boat and keep a record of where all the 7000 hours went….

Marc Dacey

I’m not sure that record would make a good book, but it might make an invaluable resource for the few dozen home builders who are attempting to make an aluminum vessel by themselves.

Andre Langevin

Marc when in 2007 i thought of building (after having owned a 22 then 26 sailboat and after a coastguard aluminum rescue boat of 34 feet), once i made my mind on the architect + plans. I visited a few yards and one yard has been doing professionnal aluminum hull for 15 years. He had a reputation of 1mm symmetry and hull not in need of any fairing. When i saw how he was working and how good he was, i understand i could never attain that level:

1- equipement; welding with water cooled MIG gun on pulsed patterns exclusively on Helium (very costly)
2- space : he ordered 20 feet x 12 feet plates to minimize butt welding the plate

3- teamwork: after each weld, he and his assistant were hammering the weld to anneal the aluminum. It was a long process with each person on either side of the plate hammering at the same place.

When i saw that.. i realized this magic material is too complicated for me. I made the compromise to build in steel with the deck and all visible structure in stainless steel (welded directly to the steel hull).

I used to have a website with all the pictures and building instructions… but i gave up maintaining it as soon as the boat floated 🙂

John Harries

Hi Andre,

You work faster than anyone I have ever seen or met. Sorry, but I just don’t think those time estimates are realistic in the real world. I have seen 150 hours and more go into putting a galley together.

Frankly if you are going to get in that deep on an old steel boat, I think your call to build from scratch is a way smarter option.

Andre Langevin

Hi John,
There is exactly 1500 hours of woodworking/cabinet (all in massive red African mahogany) in my 47 feet sailboat. Easily 250 hours in the kitchen alone. Sorry if i was imprecise, i was talking about dismantling not destructing, just removing the screws and work reverse from the original installation to give access to all the interior. If well done, an amateur boat with a decent interior is built with screws. everything can be dismantled.

When i did the hull, i can see in my accounting book having put 1500 hours up to the moment the welding machine and the grinders when finally stored and the HVLP paint system cleaned for the last time. In a well made metal boat there are really 2 boats involved separated by 3-4 inch of isolation; the metallic boat and the wooden boat. It is my experience that both take the same time to build for an amateur.

So 1500 hours interior, 1500 hours hull. The remaining 4000 hours were spent installing all the various systems and making the boat functional and safe in offshore waters. Overall 1500 interior/7000 total = 21 % of the time in the interior.

So if someone is facing a good deal … let say a 35-40 feet steel sailboat for 25 000$. ( and i know one which is Malaysia actually that can come back on its own power). If the outside need a new paint job, its doable and there are plenty of books on the subject…it can even be done in the jungle… If the hull shows possibility of inside rust, which could easily by confirmed by accessing some place inside, then dismantling the interior/sanding/plating is a good option.

And if someone want to cruise the world…and doesn’t have hundreds/thousand of hours in front of him to work on a boat then maybe he should forget the project and go get a new boat or higher priced one.

Clint Wadsworth

Hi Peter,

22 years ago I bought an older Kroger 42, trawler. Her only downfall was cosmetics and basic maintenance. A month and a half into getting her ready for charter, meaning tip top shape, I spent $30,000. This included cleaning, buffing, two weeks of day labor, all the rest of the labor by myself, varnish, wax, screws, a little canvas work….. Yes, all these piddly things added up to $30,000 in a month and a half. I had had my head down in work and couldn’t believe the total.

My former was upset because I didn’t buy a sailboat…add in sail and running and fixed rigging maintenance and I probably would have been up to $45,000.

Doing a thorough refit on the Krogen and keeping up with maintenance, she is probably a better boat now than 22 years ago.

I learned the hard way on my first boat. She was a Pearson Invicta yawl. A good boat but built before fiberglass was really worked out. She was a hard resell with a limited market. I learned to buy quality. It will pay off in the long run. I have had 22 years of use with the Krogen and she may sell for a little more than I paid for her.

Happy work. Oh and cruising.

Clint