Wood Boat Pre-Restoration Assessment – Bottom

The foundation of the boat is the bottom, stringer the back bone, frames the skeleton, engine the heart, interior the cock pit, and varnish is the bling.  I like to start my detailed pre-restoration assessment with the outside of the boat’s bottom, beginning with looking past the bottom paint and eyeballing the plank fit.  A worn out boat bottom may have wide voids and gaps between the planks, sometimes 3/16 of an inch wide, resulting from a dried out bottom.  Loose bungs and putty missing with screw heads showing indicate broken fasteners, while wavy, cupped, and bowed bottom planks display the possibility of improper storage or the usage of a poorly fitting trailer or cradle.  Next I take an ice pick and prod around for rotten and oil soaked wood in common problem areas such as along the bottom of the transom, keel or chines, and along the forefoot, gripe and stem.  The main area where leaks occur, can be from the first board up from the chine to the water line, is also important to check over carefully, as it is only one plank thick.

After the outside bottom inspection I move to the inside of the boat’s hull.  The seat bottoms and floor boards should be removed in order to get a good view.  Areas under the engine, gas tank, and ceiling boards can be seen with the help of a mirror and flash light.  If the boat is full of debris, oil, and grease, it should be vacuumed out.  While scanning the inside hull I look for cracked or broken frames and battens. Check all the brass bolts that hold together the keel, chine, stringer, and frames, and look for obvious wood rot and any cupping of the inner planking.  If the boat bottom had been caulked on the outside I check to make sure the gap between the frame and the chive is tight.  A lack of tightness indicates the boat has expanded in width, resulting in elongated screws and longitudinal splits in the frames.  Most often the bottom fasteners will be broken along with brass bolts that hold the boat’s structure together.  Finally, I take note of the general condition of all frames and stringers, including the bottom transom frame, side frames, knees, gussets, and stern.
One of the more interesting boats I worked on years ago was an older restored 19 foot Barrel Back.  The failed bottom restoration included epoxy and fiberglass over an old bottom, with loose planks refastened with self-taping steel dry wall screws between the already broken brass fasteners.  This is a quick, easy, and cheap fix for a worn out bottom, but is only temporary.  Once the fiberglass cracked, water penetrated the old bottom planks, but did not release moisture, resulting in a water-logged condition that promoted extreme electrolysis of the dissimilar fasteners and additional wood decay.  To make matters worse, the bottom frames, chine, and keel had broken off rusted screws in them that were impossible to remove.  This destroyed the entire bottom structure of the boat, thus costing much more for a complete restoration because the boat needed to be reframed.  Bottom line: There are no short cuts to perfection.