I was nervous…. a bit hesitant. it felt awkward, maybe even unnatural, but there I was drilling at first a small hole, and then slicing a large circular piece out of a what seemed to be a perfectly good boat. but a part of me knew it was necessary.
I haven’t gotten a chance to officially weigh my Sunfish, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she is quite overweight. the most likely culprit – water. I try to drain her after every sailing excursion, but don’t know that it ever worked that well. with a 40-yr old boat, it is also quite likely that I have some leaks – areas where water can get in while I am sailing (I also haven’t tried a leak-test yet). and, I fear that storing it outside at my fathers for a year or two might have been a bad idea (my idea, not his – I don’t blame you Dad!). I had covered the boat with a tarp, but the wind and rain still found a way to attack my poor Sunfish. putting that all aside, though – the issue I think is largely absorbed water.
for those of you who aren’t familiar with method of construction for these little sailboats, left me explain (to the best of my knowledge): the hull (bottom) and deck (top) are both made of thin built-up layers of fiberglass. the interior of the boat is mostly hollow, but is stiffened and strength by a series of foam flotation blocks that also provide emergency flotation, so that the boat is mostly un-sinkable. these foam flotation blocks are made of a closed-cell foam – which are normally pretty water-resistant, but over time, will slowly absorb water through osmosis. these foam blocks are held in place with a 2-part expanding foam. see the picture (from the Sunfish Forum) showing the interior of the boat as currently constructed.
the recommended method to fix the water-logged blocks is to cut some inspection ports (holes) into the boat and use a fan or something of that nature to force air through the inside of the boat. the air movement will help to dry out any remaining water, as well as to slowly reverse the osmosis process and pull the water back out of the foam blocks. I probably should have done this a long time ago (and I actually bought the inspection ports a few years ago, just haven’t gotten the chance to do the work).
so this weekend (10/10/2009) I finally got around to cutting the holes in my ‘Fish for (2) 5″ inspection ports. I just traced the outside of the port with a marker, and then drilled a 3/8″ hole to get started. I then used my roto-zip tool to cut the circle out in the fiberglass. the roto-zip worked spectacularly – I just wish I would have remembered to wear long sleeves – the dust was awful.
the 1st port I cut on the deck, just behind the coaming/splashguard, and just forward of the daggerboard slot. this is usually recommended as a good starting location – because it will provide good access to the daggerboard slot as well as the mast tube towards the front in case repairs are required.
for the 2nd port – I wanted to avoid putting the inspection ports all over the deck, so I opted to place on in the wall of the cockpit. since my Sunfish is pre-1971, it does not have the little storage compartment below the deck in the back of the cockpit – so I opted to install the 2nd port there. this gives me access to the rear of the boat, and will also allow me easier access in the future to install the hardware for a hiking strap. the picture shows the flange of the inspection port – I haven’t installed it, only dry-fit to test the hole.
both ports fit great – and should be pretty easy to install for good, but I’m leaving them out for now, and for a couple reasons. the interior flange on the ports reduce my access to the interior of the boat, so I will probably leave them off until I have finished any (and all) repairs over the winter. plus, they work well to hold in a few scraps of screen – I’ll use the screen to keep air flowing through the boat, but keep out most insects and mice or whatever else might want to hide in there!
that’s pretty much where the good news ends… when I first started looking around inside the boat, I noticed some standing water. not a lot, but it was definitely damp inside the boat. I used my small wet/dry shop-vac to suck all the water out and sweep up all the fiberglass shavings from cutting in the port. I then checked the foam blocks – the right side block seemed okay, but the left side block was loose at the bottom… NOT GOOD. plus, the 2-part foam at the bottom of the boat was quite wet, and some of it was no longer attached to the bottom of the hull, so I snapped a couple of the pieces out. I figure it wasn’t attached anyway, it was away from the foam block (so really just over-spray), and any extra weight I can get out is an improvement! sort of looks like breadsticks… ugh.
here are some views from the inside – I was able to carefully slide my DSLR camera in through the hole on the deck (my brother is going to bring over his smaller point-and-shoot style camera – hopefully I can get some better pictures to post later). first 2 pictures are looking back towards the right and then left side of the daggerboard trunk. it looks almost like the 2 part foam is drooping down for the deck – I’ll have to feel around in there, and see if that is loose as well (I have a feeling that is NOT normal).
this picture is looking forward towards the mast tube – that 2 part foam looks nasty, doesn’t it?
this picture is looking through the 2nd port in the cockpit wall towards the back of the boat.
I’m not going to lie… I’m pretty bummed. I knew it was probably overweight (probably a lot), but I just somehow hoped it wouldn’t be. the outside of my Sunfish is deceptively pretty nice, especially for being a 40-ish year old boat. I’m keeping my hopes up, though, and we’ll see how effectively I can dry it out. I plan to store it in my dad’s barn this winter, and will probably have a fan running on it constantly. after I’ve dried it out quite a bit, I will have to figure out a way to repair the foam blocks and make sure they are all adequately attached.
before I close it all up, I’ll probably do the leak-test as well, and try to repair any leaks to prevent this water-logging disease from coming back to haunt me.