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Repairs to the "False Keel"
This page was last updated on 25 April 2002
 

The first several years of Rhode Island-built Tritons have an added-on section at the aft end of the keel.  The hull and most of the keel were molded in one piece, but a section running from the aft end of the external ballast diagonally upwards to the upper rudder gudgeon was molded separately and fiberglassed in place after the hull was removed from the mold.  The reason for this, as I understand it, was that the original Alberg design--which, rumor has it, was originally slated for wood construction--featured a keel profile at the trailing edge that was too marrow to lay up from inside a female mold.  You can see the line of the boundary between the false keel and the hull in the photo, right.  Later production versions of the Triton--beginning shortly after Glissando was built (I have heard hull # 381 was the last built this way, but this is unconfirmed)--feature a slightly different keel profile, with a wider, deeper aft end that allowed molding in one piece.

Because of the unconventional construction, there are often problems with cracks forming and water entering this semi-void space.  Glissando had a crack along the bottom of the keel, running from the trailing edge forward to about 6" forward of the aftermost blocking, seen in the photo above.  I had originally planned to effect a proper repair to this area, but postponed the project in favor of more interesting and rewarding things.  Plus, I was thwarted by the fact that the blocking was smack dab in the middle of where I needed to repair, and didn't really have the inclination to figure out how to move the blocking.  At the time I purchased the boat (and brought her home) I was unaware of the unique keel construction, so didn't know any better to avoid blocking in that area.   The blocking did not create additional damage in my case, but did effectively prevent me from doing the proper repairs.

With no time left before launch, I undertook a temporary repair to the crack at the bottom of the "false keel".  Using a thickened epoxy goop, I filled the crack as much as possible around the blocking.  This actually worked pretty well.  Then, when the truck came to move the boat for launching, I filled the remaining crack with some of that underwater-curing emergency epoxy putty that you buy in a tube.  I thought that by the end of the season the boat looked heavier in the stern than she had when first launched, but who knows, really?  When I hauled the boat in the fall, the crack was pretty much reopened, and the epoxy putty was loose and ineffective.  I drilled a couple holes in the bottom of the keel and in the side, and a little water came out--but not torrents.  There was a crack running from nearly the end of the keel to a couple feet aft of the ballast keel.  The photo above shows it pretty much the way it was--you can see some of the gray epoxy putty junk that I stuck in there.

keelblocked.JPG (173417 bytes)I had the hauler block the boat so that the entire false keel section was free and unsupported--both sets of blocks are under the ballast keel.  This not only will prevent damage to the false keel from crushing, but also will allow me to do complete a proper repair.

stbfk1.JPG (136772 bytes)In March, I continued work on the false keel project.  The first thing I did was grind off the bottom paint in an area around the after portion of the keel, so that any new fiberglass I install will have a good surface on which to stick.  I used my 8" grinder to remove most of the paint on the flat areas, then switched to my Porter Cable DA for the bottom and curved portion--and also to finish up parts of the keel after the big grinder started throwing discs off.  I made sure I got all the loose and junky stuff out of the crack at the bottom of the keel; the crack was quite wide in lookingupintocrackfk.JPG (165642 bytes)some areas, but the fill I had put in other parts was still sound.  Towards the mid-forward part, I noticed some moisture spilling out as I ground the previously filled crack.  The wider parts of the crack in the photos are where I drilled some holes earlier.  (I'll remove the chain running between the stands when I do the actual repair later.)

holeintopfk.JPG (152975 bytes)When I was done grinding the area smooth, and all the paint was off, I did a little exploratory surgery.  I drilled a hole higher up in the false keel, extending the hole all the way through to the other side.  If you look carefully at the photo (left) you can tell that you're looking straight through the keel at the scenery on the other side of the boat.  (Squint and imagine...)  The interior of the keel is filled with an open cell foam; at the upper hole I drilled, the foam appeared to be dry.  I sounded the entire area, which results were consistent with one another and seemed to support the contention that the foam was essentially dry.   

fkfrombehind.JPG (137911 bytes)Some of the foam near the bottom of the keel seemed to hold a little moisture, as evidenced by the wetness that appeared as I ground the forward portion of the crack, approximately a foot aft of the ballast keel.  With a scraper and file, I removed the loose material that seemed to be holding the moisture.  Then,  I used a putty knife and a slim bastard file in the wider portions of the crack to ream out a little bit of the foam through the gap at the bottom of the keel, but the foam appeared to be in surprisingly good shape, and the whole false keel certainly wasn't saturated with water.  At least there was no stagnant styrene-filled nastiness inside the keel, or any compounds forming that could have been doing damage all this time.  That, to paraphrase our "favorite" part-time Maine resident, Martha Stewart, is a good thing.

lookingupintofk.JPG (192681 bytes)This was as far as I could go at this point.  I left the crack open to air out and weep for a while; one day, while I was mixing epoxy for some other use, I applied some thickened epoxy into the drilled holes and the crack at the bottom to seal it in preparation for the glasswork.  When the epoxy cured, I did a quick sand to remove any sharp edges or high spots that could affect the fiberglassing; I'll do an amine blush scrub before I do any more glass.
extrastands.JPG (163371 bytes)Shortly thereafter, I made preparations to get the fiberglass work done.  The weather forecast indicated warm weather and no precipitation for a several-day stretch, so I decided to take advantage of it and get it done; this is the last project (save for painting the bottom) that stands in the way of launching.  The first thing I had to do was release the chain that ran beneath the after portion of the keel, between the two jackstands.  Now, this chain is important, and, while I'm not afraid to move stands, I don't exactly take it lightly.  Plus, the ground has seemed particularly slippery this spring, and I didn't want to take any chances.  Fortunately, I have some smaller stands left over from my last boat, and I was able to use two of them to replace the centerline V-stand at the bow and one of the forward stands, freeing up two of the large stands for use at the stern.  I set up the two new stands aft of the existing ones and secured a chain tightly between them.  Then, I lowered one of the original stands and moved it in to release the chain under the keel.  No big deal; I left the original stands in place as well as the new ones. 

roughpatternport.JPG (163026 bytes)Next, I made a paper pattern of the area to be glassed, to help me cut the fabric to the right size and shape.   This makes life much easier.  Using a roll of white pattern paper, I started on one side of the keel and, leaving more than I needed, taped it in place and rolled the paper around to the other side.  I taped the other side in place as well.  I repeated this to cover the after section of the keel as well.  With both pieces roughly taped in place and smoothed, I marked out and cut the actual size of the pattern.  I chose an arbitrary measurement of 13" up from the bottom of the keel to cut the top of the pattern off; this is plenty of overlap for a good glass job.  I also made cutouts around the lower gudgeon and the trailing edge of the keel as necessary.  I marked the outline of the pattern for later use in aligning the glass when I put it on the keel.

falsekeelpatternstbaft.JPG (162976 bytes)This picture shows the cutout around the gudgeon and the trailing edge of the keel. I left space for a strip of mat that I like to use to provide a smooth transition between the new glass and the existing material.  More on this later.

Once I had cut the whole pattern (note that the forward edge of the pattern is designed so that the glass will overlap the trailing edge of the lead ballast), I carefully removed it and cut out three layers of heavy fiberglass cloth in the shop.  Each layer is slightly larger (3") than the one beneath, with the final layer being the exact size of the paper pattern.  I don't think there will be any reason to add any more glass than this, but I'll reserve judgment till the material is in place.  I also cut some 3" wide strips of epoxy-compatible mat for use on the edges.  I'll get into this more once I start the glasswork.

The next day, I installed the three layers of glass on the keel.  After gathering my tools (air rollers, squeegees, cheap brushes, buckets, bucket of acetone), I mixed up a batch of unthickened epoxy.  Because I needed a large amount, I didn't use the mini pumps; instead, I mixed the epoxy in a bucket by using some plastic margarine tubs as measuring devices:  five filled with resin to one filled with hardener.  After mixing the epoxy thoroughly, I wet out the keel area with epoxy, and then prepared my three layers of glass on a sheet of cardboard laid out on the ground.  Wherever possible, I like to wet out the material first, then apply it to the surface in question.  Starting with the outside (largest) layer, I wet it out thoroughly, then laid the second layer on top, properly aligned it, and wet that out too.  Finally, I added the third (innermost) layer and wet it out.  

fkport.jpg (151061 bytes)Picking up the whole sloppy mess (fortunately, epoxy resin doesn't bother my skin) and being careful not to wrinkle the fabric (the multiple layers stick together in the proper alignment pretty well), I started on the starboard side of the keel, aligning the edge of the fabric with the marks I made earlier and hurriedly rolling it into place as much as possible.  When I had the starboard side pretty much adhered, I went over to the other side and, wrapping the cloth around the bottom of the keel as I went, stuck that side on as well.  This pretty much held the material in place so that it wouldn't fall off, and with that done I set forth to properly align the material on each side; it had slipped somewhat during the initial, semi-panicked adhesion.  Once the stuff was in more or less the right place, I spent some time with my plastic air rollers carefully rolling out the cloth, paying particular attention to the curve at the bottom of the keel to fkstb.jpg (156275 bytes) ensure that the cloth was smoothly adhered with no air pockets.  Alternating from side to side, I spent about 10 minutes rolling out till I was satisfied that there was no air remaining.  Then, I laid my strips of mat along the edges, overlapping from the cloth onto the surrounding fiberglass, and wet it out.  This helps make for a smoother transition between the repair and the existing keel, and makes for a clean installation that is easy to sand and fair.

After giving the epoxy more than a day to fully cure, I washed it with water and a Scotch-Brite pad to remove the amine blush from the surface.  When everything dried, I gave the patch an initial sanding with 80 grit paper on my trusty Porter Cable 5" sander.  After washing the surface again, this time with acetone to remove the sanding dust, I mixed up a batch of epoxy resin thickened with 407 low-density filler and 406 colloidal silica (West System again).  When it had the proper thick consistency, I troweled it onto the boat, fairing in the seams between the repair and the existing material and filling in any low spots.  I used a 4" and 6" knife for fairing the edges, to provide a nice smooth transition between the old and new work.  I left the epoxy filler to cure overnight before continuing; it looks like one application will be enough.

portaftfaired.JPG (185452 bytes)        starboardaftfaired.JPG (147234 bytes)

The following day I sanded the whole area smooth.  The results were good enough to leave alone without needing another coat of fairing compound, which is the result I had been hoping for.  Before grinding, I washed the whole area with water and a Scotch-Brite pad again.  When I was done, I painted a small area at the bottom of the keel with bottom paint (Micron CSC) where the chain between the two main stands runs, so that when I tighten the chain back up and remove the two auxiliary stands I won't have to worry about painting that area. (I barely got the right area though...but the chain just sits on the paint!)  Before removing the extra stands, I lowered the two main stands and painted the area under them also.  Now I just have to juggle the forward stands when I paint the bottom, which is no problem.

Next, I moved on to the final consideration:  installing some sort of tab at the end of the keel that will project to cover the gap between the keel and rudder.  This is the only place that a line could get caught as it slips beneath the keel; otherwise, the full keel and attached rudder provide little opportunity for snagging lobster pots (our chief consideration) or other lines.

glasslaidupforrudderstrip.JPG (173452 bytes)I decided to build a fiberglass tab that will get epoxied in place beneath the keel.  This avoids the need for any fasteners to penetrate the newly-glassed and sealed false keel, which can only be a good thing.  I determined that the tab needed to be about 9" long, to provide a mounting surface on the keel and extend the proper distance beneath the rudder.  I cut some strips of fiberglass cloth slightly longer and wider than needed and laminated them in epoxy resin.  To make a flat, smooth lamination, I covered a piece of plywood in wax paper for release and rolled out the glass on top.  I used 8 layers of lightweight cloth.
keeltabreleased.JPG (163462 bytes)When the epoxy cured, I removed the solid strip from the wax paper, which provided a nice smooth surface on one side.  It looks like someone made a mess on my chair in the photo...but that's just excess spilled resin that cured along with the glass itself.  These are raw, up-to-the minute photos, folks...I do it, you see it--just like that!
keeltabtapedinplace.JPG (170809 bytes)I cut the blank into two strips 1-1/2" wide by about 9" long, cleaned the amine blush with water, and sanded both sides, as well as a slight radius on the aft end.  Then, I mixed up a small batch of thickened epoxy and laminated the two strips together, wrapping tape around the aft end to hold them in place, and then epoxied the strips to the bottom of the keel, leaving the end to project a few inches.  I held the tab in place on the keel with tape while the epoxy cured.
After the epoxy cured, I sanded the whole area smooth, concentrating on the forward end where the keel tab must make a fair transition to the keel.  Then, I painted it with a few coats of bottom paint to match the rest, and the project was complete.


Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381
www.triton381.com 

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