Drying DOVE’s Feathers

by Ginny Kienast

Epoxyworks 6

Cover Photo: With her blistered bottom fully repaired, DOVE takes to the seas in fine form.

After completing the tedious reconstruction of DOVE’s decks, we felt exhilarated and pleased. We had spent a year removing DOVE’s teak decks, drying out the foam sandwich core, reinforcing it with WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy and laying a new epoxy/fiberglass deck. It was a job we never wanted to undertake again. It was February 1991, and we were making a list of things to do so we could be cruising aboard DOVE within a few months. I could toss out my epoxy saturated clothes and finally think of basking on DOVE’s foredeck in some tropical cove.

First on our list was a quick haul out to check the thru-hull fittings and apply a new coat of bottom paint. Were we in for shock! As DOVE was hauled out in the Travel-Lift, we stared in dismay at the sight before us. The bottom was virtually covered with large blisters. DOVE’s condition was so severe that Richard could pull pieces of the laminate away from the bottom. It was a sickening sight. Our dreams of cruising were quickly vanishing.
In early 1988 we purchased DOVE, Hull #11 of the original Swan 36’s. We had the boat surveyed and were told that a previous blister problem had been “taken care of,” and a new a new epoxy barrier coat applied, in 1986. We were quite naive when it came to osmosis problems on fiberglass boats.

Why did DOVE have blisters again? We knew one thing. The former epoxy barrier coat alone had not stopped the chemical reactions and the osmosis. The only explanation seemed to be that the hull had not been adequately dried during the initial repair in 1986.

To begin repairs, we had three options: Grind the hull, sandblast or use the peeler method. We chose the latter and had a professional peeler take off ¼“ of DOVE’s bottom (this was two complete passes with the peeler). Even after the peeling, the hull wept smelly osmotic liquid. At this point, Meade Gougeon came to view DOVE; she was not a pretty sight. We asked him “What do we do next?” then adhered to all Meade suggested for restoring DOVE to good health.

We checked the moisture content of the hull with a Sovereign Moisture Meter. Moisture meter readings for a dry laminate should be in the 3 to 5 range. Below DOVE’s waterline the reading was off the scale, above 25. Above the waterline, the readings were from 18 to 22, indicating that the entire hull laminate was saturated.

We had to dry the laminate completely. We contemplated trucking DOVE to Arizona to hasten the process, but we were concerned about the structural integrity of our much thinner and saturated hull. We decided the hull could not handle the trip and we would have to let DOVE dry where she sat—here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For several weeks before the drying period, we washed and scrubbed the bottom often. This diluted and rinsed away the acidic chemicals still lingering on the surface. We ground further into the hull in the areas that were seeping, sometimes going clear through DOVE’s bottom. We also used a hole saw to remove the thru-hull fittings, which had been glassed into position.

Then we went inside of DOVE and ground the entire length of the bilge. To dry the inside, we installed a dehumidifier and set up infra-red heat lamps. These lights burned, along with outside heaters and lamps, for almost two years. This created quite an eerie sight for those passing our little boat at night.

We had a core sample from the bottom analyzed for structural strength. This helped us answer our question whether it was worthwhile to save DOVE. With the core sample report acceptable, and encouragement from the Gougeon Brothers, Inc., we waited for DOVE to dry.

We checked the moisture meter reading every two weeks. After several months, the bottom readings were 23 to 25. Readings above the waterline were declining to the teens. Over the following eighteen months, the readings sometimes fluctuated but declined overall. At last we had consistent readings of 10 to 13 below the waterline, and 5 to 8 above it. When these numbers remained the same for six months, we were sure the laminate was as dry as it was going to get. It had taken two full years to dry.

Yes, this was a long time to dry a hull. Many times our patience wore thin and we wanted to go ahead and finish. However, we were determined not to make the same mistake as DOVE’s previous owners. We used those two years to do other projects on the boat and get jobs to help pay for the new repairs.

To prepare for the lay-up of the new bottom, we had the mast unstepped so we could drape DOVE with large tarps and old sails. These protected us from the blazing sun and the heavy downpours accompanying the summer squalls. A covered shed would have been ideal, but we did not have that option.

We began by grinding the holes where the thru-hull fittings had been, and where we had ground through the hull in severely delaminated spots. We were careful to maintain a bevel of at least 12-to-1 for the patches. Next we patched these areas. We needed to lay many layers of cloth at once to achieve a chemical bond. We used 738 Episize Biaxial Fabric with mat for our patches, and later for the entire hull lay-up.

To keep the project organized, we used a marking pen to number each area that needed a patch. Then we wrote the numbers on pieces of paper and used clothespins to attach them to the corresponding fiberglass patches. We were applying up to 100 patches in a single operation. Without clothespins to help us stay organized, the wind would blow our patches all around the boatyard.

Using a mixture of WEST SYSTEM 105 Resin and 209 Extra Slow Hardener, we wet out the patches with glue brushes on a large plastic pallet or a paint roller pan. We then applied the patch to the wetted out hull area that it matched. Using the small “bubble buster” tool we squeegeed out the air bubbles. This procedure took us several weeks as we built up the low areas of the bottom so the hull was semi-fair. Many nights we worked by flood lamps, which helped us find more areas that needed fairing with glass cloth. (Amazingly, we were not bothered by mosquitoes.)

As we progressed in affixing more patches each day, we also began sanding and fairing the bottom with our double-acting sanders, fairing boards and a small grinder.
We were extremely cautious about sanding and working directly with epoxy, especially freshly cured epoxy, which is skin sensitizer and can cause severe irritation. Before grinding, we covered our bodies with talcum powder or corn starch and put SBS 46 Protective Cream on our faces. While sanding and grinding, we wore charcoal filter respirators, ski goggles, and paper sleeves. Beneath our Tyvek® suits we wore long cotton pajamas. Working the Florida summer heat was excruciating at times. [Editor’s note: WEST SYSTEM protective clothing, including coveralls, are now made of a cooler, much more breathable microfilm laminate material).

Despite our precautions, Richard became severely sensitive to the “green” epoxy dust, and developed redness, rawness and irritation around his eyes. [Editor’s note: Gougeon Brothers, Inc. has always recommended using a respirator with an organic vapor cartridge in combination with a dust pre-filter if you must sand epoxy that has cured less than one week.] 

We found it imperative to wear good supportive shoes as we spent hours on our feet preparing DOVE’s bottom. When mixing and applying epoxy and the additives, we always wore safety goggles and brimmed caps. White vinegar became our best friend for wiping away epoxy that got on our skin. (It is dangerous to use acetone or other solvents on skin.) Preparation was the key to a good job. We talked out the complete procedure prior to each lay-up, because once we were all suited up with our respirators it was difficult to communicate verbally.

We purchased 80 yards (50″ wide) of 738 Episize Biaxial Fabric with mat. Because it would be difficult for the two of us to handle 50″-wide cloth, we cut the 80 yards down the middle, making 160 yards of 25″-wide cloth. Two large layout tables were under DOVE, one for the cutting the glass cloth and the other for wetting it out. We cut the fabric using a 4’-long stainless straight edge, a roller cutter and large shears. We were always watchful of the weather. If a rain cloud was near, we would rush the cloth into the protection of our van.

The laying up of the new bottom took a lot of thought and preparation. We originally planned to apply three layers of biaxial cloth at angles of 15°, 30° and 45° to the original hull lay-up. Each layer would give us a 45/1000“-thickness, so three layers would add slightly more than 1/8” to our hull. Although we had removed 1/4“ of polyester laminate, we believed the strength of 1/8” of epoxy laminate would be sufficient.

To not waste any of the precious Episize fabric, we used butcher paper to make patterns of every lay-up segment. We formed patterns and cut the cloth to be laid. Using clothes pins, we would keep the pattern attached to the cloth, giving it a number which corresponded to a number written on the hull (the lay-up sections were clearly drawn—a different color for each layer). On the day of the lay-up, we would sand and dust the area to be laid. This minimized contamination of our laminate.

In the beginning we were a bit anxious, especially when we would draw a crowd in the boat yard. However, as we progressed we became oblivious to our surroundings and were intent only on the job at hand.

Using 105 Resin and 209 Extra Slow Hardener, we wet out a 25″ section of the hull. To be certain that our pumping was accurate, we used a scale to weigh the epoxy and hardener. We found the 3/8“ white Corona Glasscoater™ 7″ rollers were the best for laying on a thick coat of epoxy on the bottom. Depending on the daily temperature, we noted the time we completed wetting out the bottom section and waited for the surface to get tacky. It usually took about 20 minutes.

Next, we wetted out the prepared Episize cloth on a large table. Then we rolled the cloth onto a 3’-long piece of PVC pipe which was 3″ in diameter. This made a neat, compact wetted out roll of cloth which the two of us could easily handle. We began rolling out the wetted out fabric at DOVE’s waterline, patting the fabric into place with our gloved hands. As we unrolled the fabric down the hull, following the marker drawn lines on the hull, we butted the edge with the previously laid fabric. Then we’d mix more epoxy and roll it out over the top of the cloth. We used a plastic bubble-buster to remove all air bubbles. It was essential to be sure the cloth was fully wetted.

Although our initial plan was to apply three layers at once for a chemical bond, we found this created two problems. One, small air bubbles would appear when we laid up two long pieces of cloth on top of each other. Apparently the weight of the wet fabric was pulling away from the hull, weakening the bond. Two, we wanted to fair each layer and not produce a “bump” where we butted the pieces together. So we laid only one layer per day, fairing the butt joints after the layer had cured and before applying the next layer.
The day after each lay-up, we had to wash away the amine blush. While one of us wiped the surface with a wet towel, the other would dry the area with the another towel. We’d then sand and dust off the area. Our patterns cut, we were ready to begin more lay-up. It took the two of us nine months to complete the three new layers to DOVE’s bottom.

Once the three layers were completed, the tedious fairing job began. Using squeegees, we applied to the cloth a mixture of 105 Resin and 209 Extra Slow Hardener thickened with 407 Low-Density Filler. We spread the mixture on a large plastic pallet to increase its working time and make it easier to apply with the squeegee. The next day we sanded with our double acting sander and fairing boards.

After completing the fairing, we applied barrier coats of 105 Resin, 206 Slow Hardener® and 422 Barrier Coat Additive. Using foam roller covers, we rolled on this coat and tipped it with foam brushes. The following day we would remove the amine blush by scrubbing the hull with a Scotch-Brite pad and hosing it with water. After a light sanding and thorough dusting, we were prepared to apply another barrier coat. We applied eight coats in all.

DOVE’s bottom was completed. She was ready to sail again.