1948 Century Seamaid Bottom Disaster Update

Oh my lord! Some weeks back I shared our first two-boat intake video – two iconic, super rare 1948 18’ Century Seamaids, Winnie and Songbird.

After receiving ten coats of Pettit Flagship Varnish and then being sanded absolutely flat using 500 grit, Winnie will go to Joanie Alden’s lettering shop, Vital Signs and Silk Painting, in Colchester, VT for her transom and registration lettering. 

All is good with Winnie, so much so that she might even be home for Thanksgiving.

Would that we can be equally excited for Songbird, who we flipped yesterday and began releasing bottom planks today.

Before us is a truly sad, sad antique runabout, one that is incredibly rare and truly iconic. I apologize for my rude language, but, as the clip chronicles, she has been raped in every way a wooden hull can be assaulted.

Folks! Automotive products have their place and can produce magical results …. On cars and trucks, NOT, NOT, NOT on boats of any sort, wooden, fiberglass, steel, aluminum or even Titanium.

And the worst of the worst other than cheap, Chinese engine parts – automotive fuel pumps, solenoids, oil filters and on and on – is BONDO!

Sure, some hack going the cheap route might get away with a little “repairing rot” using automotive Bondo for a little while. 

However, automotive Bondo absorbs and retains moisture. Use it in place of a marine filler or fairing compound like 3M Marine Premium Filler, and all you are “achieving” is sounding the death knell of your wooden boat.

OK, what do I know? I’m not sure, but I have eyes. You have eyes. Pay attention to the destruction that using cantaloupe-sized gobs of Bondo has visited on this poor hull. 

The Bondo plus gallons and gallons of leaking oil has created a perfect storm for destroying virtually every piece of structural wood from the waterline down to and including the keel.

The Bondo’s most aggressive destruction has occurred in the stem, gripe and keel where some complete buffoon thought she/he could glob in huge gobs of Bondo in place of wood.

Pay attention! In an earlier clip, I wondered at the line of about 7/16”-diameter circles along the stem that secured the screws driven through the cutwater. Hello?

After shooting the video, where we again wondered about these plugs again, Joe and I went at one of them with an awl. You got it …. Bondo! In fact, vast areas of the stem and what is left of the forward ends of the topside planks – particularly on starboard – are nothing but Bondo that is surrounded by rotting wood.

Can we save her? Yes. Just think of what we call our skeleton project, the 1950 18’ RIV that arrived in pieces, but now is sporting an almost-finished True 5200 bottom.

Yes, we can save her, but, other than the bilge stringers, virtually all the framing and planking below the waterline must be replaced. It looks to us now that the stem, gripe and keel must be replaced along with the transom framing at and below the waterline. 

However, working on the stem requires that all of the topside planks’ forward extremities, at least back to the third or fourth hullside frame must be released. Releasing them means stripping varnish to bare wood.

But we also face the reality that most of the hullside frames’ lower extremities are rotted and floating, which is in part the result of some fool “sistering” the knees with random chunks of hard and soft wood, all of which is now oil-sodden and no longer attached to anything.

My final lament. Folks!!!!!! DO NOT EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER use anything but silicon bronze, Forstner, flathead screws in a wooden hull! This bottom was “fastened” with a random mixture of sheet rock, stainless, common steel, and, yes, a few original brass screws here and there.Thank God Don Danenberg just published what I consider to be the seminal article on repairing below-waterline framing in the November/December issue of Classic Boating, which I have scanned and printed, and insisted that I, Joe and Rick digest completely. Several copies are in the shop, and I’ll like be reaching out to Don as we try to save Songbird.

1956 Chris Craft Capri Bullnose & The Art of Toothpicking

1956 chris craft capri bullnose plank rot

As is so often the case with antique and classic wooden boat preservation, vessels tend to keep secrets. Our 1956 19′ Chris-Craft Capri Runabout gave no hint of what previous butchers had done to her and the horrific water trap they created in the process.

She let us in on this secret yesterday as Joe was finishing sanding her topsides fair. “We are almost to bleaching! I have only the last four or so feet to do on each side and I will be at the bow.” Right. Then his inline sanded started throwing up chunks, and suddenly, he had broken through a plank just aft of the bullnose bow.

Careful probing told the story. Our Capri’s bullnose is severely rotted along its starboard margin, as are the forward ends of the top three planks. One plank on port is rotted through as well. All of it is because the butchers were too lazy to address foredeck framing issues properly, by releasing planks rather than reaching for a circular saw and simply making an athwart cut through them all the way across the deck.

A sloppy athwart seam butt joint “repair” failed, of course. The seam opened at some point, allowing water to infiltrate and keep the planks and bow wet. Talk about a perfect storm for rot! As I explain in the clip, Joe will address the bullnose rot using a Dutchman repair. Then the offending planks will be replaced, which is both best for the boat and likely also best for her owner as it’s a least-cost path relative to trying to scab new planking onto the ends of the existing and rotted planks.

Now that I have released the damaged planks, I am tooth-picking, filling each and every screw hole in the frames and battens with three white ash toothpicks and Gorilla Glue. It is a tedious, gooey task, but is the only right way to go. (Toothpick source: https://cibowares.com/products/plain-round-toothpicks)

Replacing the #8 with #10 screws is absolutely the wrong way to go. The holding power of that aged wood is compromised, and, since the #10’s have larger heads than the #8’s, larger countersinks must be driven, which, in turn requires inserting larger bungs, if you can find them. Go the lazy way and you “earn” weak fastening and wood bungs that are noticeably larger than all the others on your boat. UGHHHHH!

1956 Chris Craft Capri 19′ – How We Do Bottom Work

1956 chris craft capri bottom repair

Here is what is involved when we do bottom work to repair or replace a traditional bottom. No, I am not asserting that our way is the only or the best way. What follows below is what currently works for us today. However, preserving wood vessels is an evolving journey along which best practices and best materials evolve continually. Remember that there was a day when paying 5200 into bottom plank seams was dogma! But flexible marine epoxy products were not even a glimmer on the researcher’s bench then. 

No well-informed restorer would ever, ever, ever pay 3M5200 into bottom planking seams today. 

Why? Watch our Why Filling Seams With 3M5200 Is Forbidden video.

Following is our sequence, particularly the materials and methods we use and where you can get them:

Hard if the boat is dry sailed – Pettit Old Salem Copper Bronze Hard Racing Enamel.

1956 Chris Craft Capri Foredeck Repair

1956 chris craft capri foredeck

Shoddy butchers is the nicest thing I can say about the crew who raped the foredeck on our 1956 Chris-Craft 19’ Capri.

It would have been trivially easy to simply release these four planks. But no. Let’s just saw athwart the foredeck, fashion incredibly silly scarfs and rabbited joints using mahogany that does not come close to the original.

And why not at least bleach the entire deck so there is some hope that the new, incredibly mismatched planking at the bow melded at least a little with the rest of the deck. I have no idea how long these rapists were at assaulting this Capri, but it took us eight hours to extract all the worn-out screws, cut through whatever glue they reached for, and release the four planks and the patches.

Oh, and why oh why would these guys pay 3M 5200 where Sikaflex belongs?

It would have been professional to return everything to its original position using consistent, NEW silicon bronze Frearson wood screws, but no. Why not just reach for the screw recycling bucket and use whatever is in the first handful pulled out therefrom?

Then there is the truly shoddy work done at the bow beneath these planks. A major frame member is not even secured at its port end.

Enough. When we are finished, this travesty will be impossible to see.

And … Today was bilge-cleaning day for Anthony. Armed with a Sandvik scraper, a gallon of Roll-Off, and a quart into a spray bottle, he weighed in; sadly, not for long, however.

Starting deep down next to the keel and keelson, he began scraping the interior surfaces of the inner planking – the approximately eight-inch-thick planking that was laid in at about a forty-five degree angle.

“OMG!” erupted from the bilge. Anthony’s scraper buried itself in severely rotted wood with the first several swipes at scraping the external layer of grease off. We tested elsewhere with the same result. Virtually all of the bottom’s interior skin from the keel to the bilge stringers and from the helm station to behind the transmission is just gone.

Releasing the bottom is the absolutely last thing her owner wants to hear, but I am guessing that we will find similarly rotted exterior planking – at least on these planks’ inner faces – when we begin releasing the bottom planks.

At the risk of beating on a very tired old drum, here again is why other than guesstimating what preserving these ancient vessels will cost is tantamount to rushing into a fool’s errand.

1947 Chris Craft U22 Bottom Damage Quandry

1947 chris craft U22 bottom damage

This video is prompted by a comment from Mike Erstad on our last video, the one bringing the snapped port bilge frame onto the table.

Mike’s comment, “The way you described, it sounds like they were in a port side turn at high speed and didn’t make it out of the shallows before grounding….”

I replied, “Mike, your comment, together with emails I have received, prompted me to insert the prop shaft-strut assembly into the shaft tunnel and set the strut in place … at least as well as It fits. Now we have a puzzle. The gouge in the bottom plank well forward of where the shaft exits the bottom is clearly on starboard, but, as you will see in the video I will shoot in a while, the shaft-strut-prop assembly and the rudder are bent towards, not away from starboard! We’ve puzzled with what we see and our initial thought is that, as the assembly was driven towards starboard, a counterclockwise – viewed from the transom – torque force was visited on the strut , forcing its mounting block and the two frames that were destroyed into the port chine frame, snapping them in the process.”

So, here is the promised clip. And your thoughts, theories, hypotheses are?

1947 Chris Craft U22 Chine Frame Damage

1947 chris craft U22 chine frame damage

With her bottom completely stripped and cleaned, we gained a clearer view of the frame components, and discovered one more significantly damaged component.

Remember, her bottom initially slammed into a submerged rock or ledge about halfway forward of the transom, leaving a huge gash/scrape in the affected bottom plank.

Next her running gear bottomed out, being hit from the starboard side and driven towards port. Until today, when Joe was installing two replacement frames, he discovered that the hull, especially aft of the prop shaft tunnel will rack laterally when shaken from side-to-side. Why?

The bottoming, which drove the running gear to port, also drove the two destroyed frames to port and through the chine frame. As the clip shows, the port chine frame was broken through-and-through in two places where the bottom frames land on the chine frame. The carriage bolt securing the port end of the more forward of the two destroyed frames was snapped in the process.

This is why, when working on a bottom, releasing the chine plank is critical. Doing so exposes the chine-frame-bottom-frame joints, which permits close inspection of each landing, as well as the bolts holding things together.

We will cut a sixty-degree angle scarf into the time frame two bays forward, fabricate a new aft section and then secure everything together with silicon bronze carriage bolts passing through a scarf block and through the new and old frame sections. Everything will be joined using 3M5200 adhesive.

Great discovery, Joe!

1947 Chris Craft Cedar Plank U22 Hull Damage

1947 chris craft whiteside U22 hull damage

As introduced in her last video, this 1947 cedar-planked U22 ran hard aground last fall. We have now finished deconstructing everything in and on her hull, and finally can get a good look at and begin to understand the resulting damage to her hull and running gear.

Save for the last two athwart bottom frames, the rudder log installation plank, the final 3 – 4 feet of keelson and keel and the center transom frame, the hull ahead of the prop shaft log escaped damage. Indeed, structurally, this U22’s hull is as sound as any we’ve worked on to date.

That said, encountering the ledge and stones on the bottom visited major damage from the prop shaft log aft. Save for that shaft log, all of the running gear was destroyed. Indeed, we will not even be able to release the rudder shaft log unless and until we release at least the bottom transom plank, but it was distorted beyond repair as well.

Later today I will strip the transom, release the bottom plank and probably the next one up in an effort to expose the rudder shaft log enough so we can release it.

At the very least, we must replace sections of the keel, the keelson, the last two athwart bottom frames, and the center transom frame, which means also releasing significant sections of the bottom. (We cannot really understand the full extent of the hull damage before she is flipped, her bottom is stripped and we begin releasing bottom planks.)

The good news is that I have been able to source all of the running gear components, save for the strut, which will be cast anew in bronze in Michigan, thanks to Robert Henkel and Peter Henkel Inc.

Yes, this video is long and detailed, so I will allow it to speak for her rather than asking you to read endlessly here.

1954 Penn Yan Captivator Aristocrat: How to replace the Transom

1954 penn yan captivator replace transom

We are almost there. Beginning with two raw boards yesterday morning, Joe and RJ have fabricated all the parts to Captivator’s new transom.

We allowed the glue in the tongue-and groove joint between the two transom planks to cure for 24 hours before removing the clamps.

Today they fabricated the interior transom frame using oak for the bottom bow and two side frames and Honduran mahogany for the center frame.

The individual oak components and the transom blank were cut to shape using the old material as patterns.

What cannot be patterned simply are the bevels and continuously-changing radii of the transom blank’s ends and the oak framing that runs up the hull sides. Sanding in with a belt sander is both tedious and exacting, and requires continual test fitting.

With the individual components fitting well, RJ and Joe assembled the new transom temporarily before final fitting ensues.

Once we have an excellent fit, the components will be released, final sanded, bleached, stained with Jel’d stain and sealed with three coats of CPES.

Sometime early next week Captivator’s new transom will be in place, bedded in 3M5200.

1954 Penn Yan Captivator Aristocrat: How to Fabricate a new Transom

1954 penn yan captivator fabricating transom

Happily for her and her owner, we have been saving the last Pattern Grade Honduran mahogany plank from an order I made ten years ago for just the right application. It had been held in inventory for over two decade at the many small furniture shops that fell victim to the Great Recession of 2008-2009. The planks had been sawed, stickered and begun air drying a decade or so when purchased by the shop’s owner.

While our 1954 Penn Yan Captivator Aristocrat is losing her original transom, her “new” one will be fabricated using wood that is almost as old as she is.

It took a bit less than a nanosecond for us to agree that we will use that plank for Captivator’s transom planks and center frame member.

The original transom planks were glued up employing a splined joint – grooves cut in the two mating surfaces are joined by a thin strip of mahogany, aka the spline. However, we will mate the two boards using a tongue and groove joint.

Why? Joe, who spent years managing a commercial precision woodworking – custom window and door design and fabrication, has experience with, and has tested, both mating systems. His experience argues for the tongue-and-groove rather than the splined joint as stronger and better able to survive flexing and expansion/contraction cycles.

Joe cut the tongue in one and groove in the other soon-to-be transom plank using a table saw. Two pieces of scrap from the same planks were used for setup.

Finally, once they had been run through the jointer, Joe and RJ will set up a half-dozen pipe clamps, with three spaced along each side of the plank. Wax paper will be laid beneath the joint and copious amounts of Titebond III Ultimate Wood Glue will be applied to all surfaces. (https://www.amazon.com/Franklin-Titeb…)

Even though Titebond stipulates an 8-hour dry time, we will wait a full 24 hours before breaking the clamps down.

We will focus on her bottom once we’ve installed her new transom and its associated framing.

Happily, our worst fears, that we’d discover extensive garboard rot beneath the keel, did not happen. Despite the open seam along both sides of the keel-garboard joint, there was nothing but a tiny bit of rot way forward where the keel and stem join.

That said, once we have tightened fasteners where needed, sanded the bottom fair and applied three full coats of Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer to both the keel and bottom planking, keel installation will be upon us.

We will treat the keel installation exactly as we do when installing external bottom planks in a True 5200 Bottom. Fifty-Two-Hundred will be troweled into the entire area beneath the keel, and to an about 1/8″ thickness. Then, as we sink the fasteners from the inside out,, we will be certain that the entirety of the mating surfaces are entombed in 5200.

We will clean the squeeze-out with Interlux Brushing Liquid 333 and then wipe the seam down with acetone, which will accelerated the curing process.

Then the real fun begins as all the seams between Striptite planks must be caulked using Interlux Seam Compound For Underwater Applications.

Why not 5200? Once cured it will not compress. Any drying and shrinking of the planks either breaks the adhesion, as we saw with this bottom initially. Any soaking-up and subsequent plank expansion threatens crushing the planks.

1954 Penn Yan Captivator Aristocrat Releasing the Transom (pt 2)

1954 penn yan captivator releasing transom

Part II continues chronicling our woeful discoveries.

Not only were our worst fears, implicitly expressed in Part I of this pair of clips, confirmed, I was blown away by the fact that the bottom “bow,” pronounced “beau,” were not only severely rotted, they were also quite wet. Honest! She has not been in the water since last fall, has been in dry cold storage since then and, yet, the bottom bow pegged our moisture meter and more.

As soon as we release the bottom transom plank and the framing, RJ will begin fabricating a new one. Replacing the transom’s interior framing was not in our scope of work, as we hoped against hope that the dark wood we observed during our initial observations might “only” be a bit of surface rot.

Not! This situation adds complexity to our project elsewhere as well. The two transom frames running behind the topsides are secured by copper nails driven from outside through the topside planking and into these frames.

Sadly the forward of the two courses of fasteners run through topside planking that is finished bright. We will do our best, but now fear that stripping and finishing the topsides anew has been added to the SOW.

RJ will fabricate and then he and I will temporarily install the bottom plank, the one we have just released, first, which will ensure the hull retains its proper shape.