Critical Path's Deck Repairs

If water is allowed to penetrate a balsa-cored laminate, it will eventually rot the balsa over a large area. Once the balsa breaks down and detaches itself from the fibreglass, the fibreglass skins no longer support each other and the area becomes weak and flexible, which accelerates the damage. The cure is removal of one fibreglass skin, replacement of the core and restoration of the outer surface, a time-consuming and costly process outlined here.

Prevention entails keeping the water out of the core, by replacement of core near fastenings with epoxy, as detailed in Deck Tracks (referred to below as the "over-drill, fill & re-drill" method) and with carefully maintained bedding of deck hardware.

The owner's comments on the project can be found below. Note the photo dates, from January to June – hardly a weekend project. Some of this length can be attributed to the owner's desire to contribute his own 'leisure' hours to the project.

1/4/04 Deck cracks
2/27/04 Cabin top cutout
2/27/04 Deck cutout
3/19/04 Side deck new balsa
4/7/04 Port side glassed
4/14/04 First sanding – starboard
4/16/04 First sanding overview
4/30/04 Prime coat – cockpit
5/7/04 Smooth coat
5/11/04 Cabin top masked
5/13/04 Non-skid on cabin top
6/10/04 Deck gear on

"Based on the results of a deck survey I had done last fall, Critical Path requires the removal and replacement of balsa core covering most of the foredeck, both side decks, the cabintop, and the cockpit sole.  Interestingly, the area around the mast step is still sound and in good condition.  I sent the survey to several shops around Ontario (everything from Bristol and Wiggers [two top-quality repair & building yards] to a few small mobile operators), & received back quotes ranging from $5K to almost $30K!  Several of the quotes were in the $12K to $15K range, a little higher than what we'd anticipated (& could rationally justify spending on this boat!). "We ended up going with a small shop here in Whitby so that I can participate in the reconstruction process (my background's in Project Management).  Custom Fibreglass Repairs do only fiberglass repair & refinishing work, so their experience is as good as anywhere & their costs slightly lower.  The owner, Lewis Beardsworth, has been excellent to work with (so far!), & I expect the finished product to meet our expectations...

"In a nutshell, here's the work to be performed:

  • Remove deck hardware as necessary (just about everything's coming off!).
  • Cut off most of the top layer of the deck (they cut along the seams where nonskid meets smooth to make finishing easier).
  • Scoop out all the rotten core (yuk!).
  • Install new balsa coring & impregnate with epoxy to reduce likelihood of water penetration in the future.
  • Reglass over the balsa to match up to the (smooth) edges of the original deck.
  • Fill, sand, & fair until it's all smooth, including sanding all the old nonskid off.
  • Prime & paint the deck with a 2-part polyurethane (Custom uses a paint called Endura, not quite as strong as Awlgrip, but better than Imron, the 2 most common 2-part poly paints).
  • Roll on new nonskid.
  • Re-install old (& new!) hardware.

"We'll be going the over-drill, fill, & re-drill route when it comes time to reattach the deck hardware, & I won't subject my new deck to the less-than-optimal "oversized washers will be good enough" approach.  We're cutting small windows in the liner where required to install aluminum backing plates along the entire length of track. We plan to finish them off with either white plexiglass or thin wood covers.  Easily removable too, so future maintenance isn't a pain (& there will ALWAYS be maintenance involved with inboard tracks!)."

— Tal Wolf Critical Path January, 2004

PS [June '04]: anyone wishing more info on Critical Path's repair can contact me by e-mail – TW

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