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Old 05-30-2007, 02:18 PM   #1
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Intro: Both sv Watermelon and MV Watermelon are GRP (fiberglass). Over the years I've listened to, and read, all the arguments in favor of one or the other material. I doubt that many people's minds are changed by the various arguments, but I'd like to revisit the discussion.

When we met cruisers on steel yachts, I was always surprised that their storage lockers were "wet" lockers, i.e., they were open to the bilge. It was explained that the risk of water lying in a locker undetected would cause undiscovered and unattended-to rust that could compromise the hull.

When I looked at our Jeanneau Sun Fizz and our meanderings, particularly in the South Pacific, I felt that in our case at least, a steel hull had more disadvantages than advantages for us.

Watermelon's lockers were all closed, nothing opening into the bilge. The structure of the bow lockers in the forward cabin were high enough that they were above the waterline. Most places of the hull could be cracked or holed and water ingress would be more quickly found, and more easily contained. Since it never happened to us, though, this is still theoretical from my viewpoint.

For us, closed lockers meant that my cans weren't attacked by water and subject to rust. People who were told that varnish or shellac on the cans would prevent rust in their open-to-the bilge lockers told me that they had lockers full of rusted cans and bilges full of varnish/shellac flakings. When I mistakenly stowed a few cans of fruit juice in the same locker with aluminum cans of soda water, a tiny leak in one of the juice cans resulted in a locker full of orange/aluminum-flavored soda water. But nothing in the bilge! Cleanup was limited to one compartment, and a few cans lost was not as serious as cans in all the lockers being compromised by the acidic electrolytic brew.

When we spent a year cruising through Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, where provisions other than fruits and limited vegetables were few and far between, our boat stores were very important.

We were told by our steel-hulled cruiser friends that a steel boat could be repaired anywhere in the world. Nothing particularly advanced about welding steel.

That's true. But nowadays, the materials for effecting fiberglass repairs is also available pretty much everywhere in the world.

It seems to me that unless you are going to be cruising within the Arctic or Antarctic regions, a metal hull just doesn't offer the benefits and ease of maintenance that a GRP hull does.

The strength of steel has been its most convincing selling point, though I was never that impressed with that argument. I've seen plenty of fiberglass boats abandoned high and dry on coral reefs, and most of them, though holed, are not shattered disasters and could probably have been refloated with some temporary repairs and brought to safety.

Several years ago, on the Nordhavn website, I read an article titled "Fiberglass Rules" by Jim Kirby, talking about the strengths of fiberglass vs. steel. It was published in their 2003 Circumnavigator magazine. Nordhavn has recently sent me a copy of that article since it is no longer on their web site, and have given me permission to include it in my Cruiser's Dictionary. The revisions to that missive will take several more months, so until then, I've attached the article here.

Here's a link to Nordhavn's web site: http://www.nordhavn.com/

I just found the 2003 issue of Circumnavigator magazine with the article on steel vs. fiberglass, See page 100, FIBERGLASS RULES

Jeanne
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Old 05-30-2007, 06:05 PM   #2
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Jeanne,

Nice Post. Thanks for sharing that.

What is the Nordhaven web site address? I tried www.nordhaven and Googled "Nordhaven" with a number of results to sort through.

Do you know what the author's background is? I mean his area of expertise. I am having a bit of a problem with some of his engineering data, definitions and comparisons, going against what I was taught and know.

One point for example, he states in the third paragraph, on the first page,

Quote:
strength - meaning tensile strength, or the ability to resist shearing.
Tensile strength refers to a pulling force on a material or an object. For example one boat towing another, the tow line is subject to tension, testing its' tensile strength.

Shearing forces are at 90 degrees to the tow rope in my example. Shearing action is performed by a scissors or shears. A paper cutter is a form of a shear.

I am not saying he is wrong, rather I may be just not understanding some of his explanations. I need to study his article more, and mark up a hardcopy. Meanwhile the article still makes valid points.

Personally I am not Pro or Anti about any certain boat hull material. I think I need to be more informed, before I make my personal choice. I was leaning towards fiberglass, before and after reading the article.
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Old 05-30-2007, 08:18 PM   #3
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Harbor Pilot -

In Materials 101, you will learn that nothing fails in tension or compression. All "monolithic" materials fail in shear. When you place an object in tension, you are loading it 45 degrees off the max shear plane and as such it requires 2X tensile force to fail an object than it would to fail it in pure shear.

His statement is correct.
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Old 10-31-2009, 11:44 PM   #4
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Joshua was a 39 foot steel ketch built in 1961 and probably would have won the race to be the first single handed sailor to circumnavigate

Bernard Moitessier lost Joshua in Cabo San Lucas during a hurricane, the decks were swept clean, it was full of sand and it was

battered in places. With help he dug out the sand and with help dragged it back to the sea. He then gave the hull away as he did not have the money to refit it.

in 1982. It was salvaged and restored, and it is sailed out of La Rochelle, France. The dents are still there but it still going strong.

My first boat was steel and gave me the confidence to explore places like the reefs of Los Roques but my last boat will "frozen snot" [Hinckley] as the maintneance is less.


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Old 11-02-2009, 08:16 AM   #5
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All five of my FRP boats have had deck leaks that I couldn't cure without major sirgeru amd cost. Because of that, had to store things so they wouldn't get wet. A locker that was sealed against the hull, was a locker that fill with water. FRP can be made very strong but doesn't do well with abrasion and point impacts.

All the people who owned steel boats bragged about the dust that collected in their bilges. They just didn't have any leaks. Steel handles an amazing amount of abuse. It stretches if the there is point impact but doesn't shatter and takes abrasion in stride. There is more than one steel boat that has hit a reef and washed all the way into the lagoon and still floated. One even had to dig a channel to get back out to the ocean.

Of course, there is the small problem with steel, rust. Steel boats have be built properly and maintained well or they can flake away. As was said above, they are easily repaired by anyone with a little metal working knowledge.
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Old 11-04-2009, 11:34 AM   #6
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What about plywood?
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Old 11-05-2009, 04:18 PM   #7
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I have owned three boats over the last 25 years, the first was grp, the second ferro (professional hull/deck, my fitting out) and the current one steel

Steel v grp is very simple in my view:

steel is stronger

steel is repairable in more places, but not by a lot

steel is usually heavier so a bit slower except in a good blow, but also more stable in bad waves

steel rusts and so the hull and deck maintenance is much more demanding, but most of my maintenance is on other things

A well built ferro takes a lot of beating and is much cheaper than steel or grp, but the difficulty is in finding out how well built it is, if second hand
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Old 11-07-2009, 06:25 AM   #8
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I agree Steelfan,

Rust is an issue but I have seen many a GRP yacht owner pulling off fittings, resealing ports ripping up teak decks to find leaks and fix them.

Hulls are less flexible and the rigging can be maintained tight without bending the hull

this is important in very bad weather

If the yacht is designed well a steel yacht is just as fast.

Rust and Electrolis is the big issue

Rossmonty

Quote:
Originally Posted by steelfan View Post
I have owned three boats over the last 25 years, the first was grp, the second ferro (professional hull/deck, my fitting out) and the current one steel

Steel v grp is very simple in my view:

steel is stronger

steel is repairable in more places, but not by a lot

steel is usually heavier so a bit slower except in a good blow, but also more stable in bad waves

steel rusts and so the hull and deck maintenance is much more demanding, but most of my maintenance is on other things

A well built ferro takes a lot of beating and is much cheaper than steel or grp, but the difficulty is in finding out how well built it is, if second hand
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Old 05-14-2010, 05:18 PM   #9
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Hello, I'm revisiting this thread since I'm trying to make a decision between buying a GRP boat or a steel boat for my circumnavigation. I've read the info that you guys have written, but still have some further questions. What I've heard is that if the surface treatment for the steel is done properly, it will be resistant to rusting for many years to come. How "new" ought the steel yacht to be in order to have received a proper surface treatment and paint? I know GRP hulls are lighter, but for me it's not an advantage, since I want to have a boat that is as stable as possible, hence more weight is actually a better thing.

Even fiberglass has its own difficulties in maintenance, I'm not particularly confident in scraping the old antifouling off the hull before applying new one, because you don't really know when you're damaging the actual gelcoat and then need to re-apply the epoxy layer before antifouling.

I'm really a newbie and have only 2 years of experience of GRP, or any boat, any ideas? If I go out and look at a steel boat, what are the things that I need to take attention of? I know GRP boats can have osmotic blisters, but surely steel boats have their own specific set of problems, right?

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Old 05-15-2010, 10:26 PM   #10
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Can I throw in this. Personally my little girl is fibreglass only 24ft. I have found that the glass hull is very dry as long as all sealed. If you have sandwich construction with a balsa layer and leakage, seems to me you cant tell for along time. End result, Pass. I have lockers under seats, Which stay dry. Clothing not smelling.

You can shut her down for a period and she has the same sweet inviting smell to welcome you back. I have seen the resilience in the hull when docking. (Politie way to say I hit to hard) .

I had a ferro yacht and dry, warm, I loved it. Yes, dust in bilge etc, etc, However I was on tender hooks as I the hull was treated as an egg shell. Docking, fendering, were all done to the extreme as I kept having the vision of the hairlines.

Now I am not saying that ferros are insuffient in anyway, quite the oppersite. At sea I found it slower, She felt solid, didnt shudder ( very reassuring) when banging around. But dam she going to get there. The fear I had, was my issue ( we all got them).

I am a Slipmaster to a 1500ton Slip all my work is to steel boats. Have seen their good and mostly bad points. I live on a 30mt steel fishing boat at work. now my main objection to the steel Is the slap and the huge sounding can it is. There is nights I have to sleep fwd to get away from it.

She has overhang and curvature at the stern. What surprised me were the wavelets were relatively small. At this time visiting a wooden 58ft Vessel next to me there was nothing. I would like to hear from yachties about these steel boats at sea and this point.

I am moored on the side of a tidal stream in Whangarei NZ. where as others would be tucked up out of it. Is this part of it?

Seems to me everyone will swing or move to their own preference eventually. Every one will swear black and blue about their own mediums. We are all human.

I am a Boatbuilder, Becareful what you wish for. I have being offered and waiting to hear about it an old wooden fishing boat For free, motor dodgy.

I have always said it was my dream. Ahem, Look what I have ahead. Nuts maybe. Oh yeah she 62ft long. Totally Bonkers yeah. But she will die otherwise. Ta
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Old 05-20-2010, 03:30 PM   #11
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Well, you must change your thinking to understand. A GRP boat is made of balsa or foam which holds up the fibreglass. It is the fibreglass which keeps the water out. The other kind of boat is the same. It has a core of steel which holds up the Paint. Therefore it is more correctly called a Paint boat, since it is the paint (not the steel) which keeps the water out. My boat is made of paint. When the paint is damaged, it is the same as when the fibreglass on a GRP boat cracks: water threatens the core material. Paint is easy to damage and easy to repair IF you can see it. Fibreglass is much more robust than paint. Steel boats do not leak at all: if there is ANY water in the bilges EVER you have a serious fault, whether it be a leaky window or faulty plumbing, it will almost never be a leak in the steel. The main thing to know about steel is that rust happens from the inside out. The paint on the INSIDE is vastly more important than the paint on the outside. The external paint is easy to inspect and is regularly replaced above and below the waterline. The internal paintwork is almost impossible to inspect due to insulation and woodwork. If it is built correctly ALL the woodwork on a steel boat should be screwed or bolted in place so that it can be removed, exposing all the interior surfaces: my boat is not built this way unfortunately (doing this right doubles the cost of the interior fitting). As to strength: at sea, fibreglass is (in my opinion) just as strong as steel at keeping the water out. The problem with fibreglass is that it is much harder to fix things to. Puncturing the fibreglass is bad news because water can travel along the core material: this does not happen with steel, rust is generally localised. Additionally, fixing fittings with steel is usually easy, you just have to avoid or cleverly use the stringers. Whereas arbitrary points on a fibreglass hull may not be strong enough to mount cleats or winches, and it is much harder to provide suitable reinforcement. The question is: what do you want to DO with your boat? If you're occasionally sailing about, get fibreglass. If you're into living aboard and sailing the world, well hey, you live in the Steel Boat Capital of the world, Amsterdam. Go and check out 100 year old steel barges running the waterways of Netherlands.
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Old 05-30-2010, 12:29 PM   #12
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I am going through different options for buying a used steel boat now. The design I like most, so far, is the Van de Stadt 34, which seems to be about the right size for me to single-hand.

However, one of the specimens I went to see, had a serious fault. Otherwise perfectly constructed, it had a visibly tilted keel. I asked the owner about it and he said that during the pouring of the lead into the keel, the thermal expansion somehow resulted in the bending of the steel keel. I do not know if this might be the cause. What I want to ask about, and consult experienced boatbuilders and sailors, is that should I invest money into a boat which has a visibly tilted keel? I've seen tilted keels in GRP boats before, but this was even more apparent. After all, the keel is a very important feature of a sailing vessel.

What other things should I consider when going through a second-hand steel boat? I think it's important to check the quality of the paintwork. And can I trust 2-component paint systems from 1993 or should the paint be newer? I can, of course, refresh the paintings myself, but doing that to the interior means a lot of work since the interior needs to be removed and re-done.

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Old 05-30-2010, 07:03 PM   #13
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I woould like to add something to the steel vs fiberglass subject. I was a boilerman in the US Navy. Steel boat, Destroyer. Under #1 boiler was a spot that was apparently caused by electrolysis. At least half of the metal was gone as the sacrificial metal. This was not a "wet" area and could only be visited during shutdown. Ship was decommissioned again and finally sunk in 1974 off Puerto Rico. I am sure there were a lot of those places onboard . Fiberglass may blister, may even occaisionally get waterlogged but as was pointed out in a few of the posts, It doesn't suffer from electrolysis, the steel boat killer.
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Old 06-15-2010, 08:52 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nusailor' date='30 May 2010 - 08:03 PM View Post

I woould like to add something to the steel vs fiberglass subject. I was a boilerman in the US Navy. Steel boat, Destroyer. Under #1 boiler was a spot that was apparently caused by electrolysis. At least half of the metal was gone as the sacrificial metal. This was not a "wet" area and could only be visited during shutdown. Ship was decommissioned again and finally sunk in 1974 off Puerto Rico. I am sure there were a lot of those places onboard . Fiberglass may blister, may even occaisionally get waterlogged but as was pointed out in a few of the posts, It doesn't suffer from electrolysis, the steel boat killer.
In my opinion, with steel boats, a lot of prudence is required to design everything related to electronics in such a way that there are no stray currents or potentials anywhere. If unsure, isolate everything that conducts electricity. Sometimes you see batteries that have their minus pole coupled to the diesel engine body. If the engine isn't properly isolated from the steel hull, then there will be currents and electrolysis. I don't know if it is even possible to completely isolate an engine from the hull, since the axle has to come out of the ship anyhow, and will be connected to the hull via water. Maybe some steel boat or electronics expert could clarify? In any case, it is not necessary to connect the minus pole of the batteries to the engine body.

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