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Old 04-11-2005, 09:33   #1
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Metal Hull vs Fiberglass

Hi All

Anyone have an opinion on the advantages/disadvantages of steel or aluminum hulls vs. fiberglass? I've read some accounts of people who have circumnavigated in fiberglass boats and have said that their next boat would be aluminum or steel. There are not many metal hulled boats out there and they seem to be more expensive. We are just beginning our search for a boat and we want a good, safe, cruiser that sails well. There is a lot of information and opinions out there on what constitutes a good blue-water boat -- it gets confusing.
Thanks for any advice.

P.S. We are making our first trip to look as some boats in the Annapolis, MD area next week. Looking at Whitby42, Gulfstar 44, Peterson 44 and Stevens 47 cutter. Any opinions on these are also welcome.

Cheers!

Iris
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Old 04-11-2005, 11:12   #2
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It gets confussing because there is no one right building material. (except ferrocement )
Each and every material has advantages and disadvantages. How much those vary, can also be related to the owners abilities to repair and maintain.
I guess the question is, why do you deem a metal hull to be superior for your use than a glass hull. I mean, what do you presume to be your biggest threat out there???
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Old 04-11-2005, 11:28   #3
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Only on the basis of hull material I think there is no answer. You can get a bad boat made of just about anything. New metal hulls have dramatic differences from older metals. Just the metal alone and the processes have changed. Fibreglass techniques have changed too. Older boats to newer boats are different with better technologies and materials too.

I would say the best boat for you probably will not come down to what material the hull is made of. Cost, condition, design, and features will all probably outweigh most other criteria. The hull would be just one part of the overall design and it's condition might be a deal breaker.
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Old 04-11-2005, 13:36   #4
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A steel boat rusts. (Most the time from the inside out) A glass boat blisters. A alum boat has its problems also. IMO its the fact that they are hard to paint. I hope my next boat is steel. The fact that steel can take more abuse is a big factor. Steel boats are heavier and therefore ride different. If speed is not an issue, which I don't think it would be in a circumnavigator. Small rust spots can be fixed easy on the outside of the boat. If the boat was done right on the inside it should never give you a problem. On the other hand if it was done wrong I can cost more than the boat is worth to fix it. All it would take is to hit one coral head out in the middle of the south pacific to wish you had a steel boat. Steel can be fixed easier in remote places also. But like it was said there may be no wrong anwser. Its just up to you. Finding a boat you like will be more difficult if you limit yourself to one material or the other.
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Old 04-11-2005, 15:43   #5
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The Dashew's "Offshore Cruising Encyclopedia" has a chapter devoted to this topic.

www.setsail.com
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Old 04-11-2005, 19:03   #6
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I'm not in either camp

If I understand Wheels comments it could be that the right material to use is less important than the method of implementation. Years ago it was determined that the material of the hull used for construction was only about 30 per-cent of the overal cost almost regardless of the material.

Steel and aluminum are burdened with other costs of electrical insualtion and isolation. I have witnessed both fiberglass and ferro-cement hulls destroy coral heads. Natrually, metal hulls will take out more coral heads than stout fiberglass ones.

As much as I like fiberglass, without the disadvantages of insulation and isolation requisite of metal hulls, I would rather have a metal hull in areas where ice forms on the surface of the water (often due to frozen rain, river water, etc.) and gets moved against the hull by other boats, wave action, currents, etc.

There is just no single answer here, is there?

Wheels, I don't know if I misinterpreted your comment regarding ferrocement hulls yet I know that a historical rash of do-it-yourselfers all but ruined the reputation of that building material, yet I have seen some superior examples of cruising sailboats which are bulletproof and beautiful. Like anything else, it often depends upon good engineering and implementation.
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Old 04-11-2005, 19:51   #7
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It's kind of like the guys talking about wheeling their trucks. The Ford guys say "Mine is best." the Chevy guy says "mine is better"
I asked what about Dodge. They both start in about stories of being pulled out of the mud by a dodge
Steel is less conventional, an will be harder to sell, but cheaper to buy. Fiberglass will be more expensive to buy, but easier to sell. As for performance, steel is proven superior in arctic areas, dealing with floating ice, but it gets unbearably hot in tropic climates IMO. The perfect boat is subjective, including the perfect hull material. Consider your specific use before deciding.
Bottom line is wood is the superior hull material
As for the boats you mentioned, I happen to like the Gulfstars. I have been out run by a couple of them, and had a nice dinner aboard one.
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Old 04-11-2005, 20:26   #8
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Material

The statement that glass boats blister is not correct. Some glass boats blister might be more correct. My glass boat has never had a blister, and will not get a blister. I bought it new in 1979.
There are other brands that have not had blister problems. Even with a manufacturer that has had blister problems, the blisters may have been prevented with a barrier coat. This is old knowledge from the seventies. Not all blisters are a result of the gel coat being porous, there are other reasons.
My choice for a bigger boat will be an older glass or wood boat. The wood boat would be kauri with a glass cover.
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Old 04-11-2005, 23:31   #9
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It is fair to say virtually all plastic boats will get blisters if neglected, as stell will rust through, and wood will rot. SOME fiberglass boats will get blisters regardless of how well they are maintained. The model year you refer to is prone to blisters, but that does not mean that there are not a few boats out there that fair better than others. 1977-1981 are bad years for blisters.
But then, blisters can be repaired externally, while rust issues are often from the inside, inaccessable, and unseen until the problem is major.
Of course, on a traditional wood boat, you can smell dry rot in the very early stages. I agree on the benefits of cold molded. Come to think of it, has anyone ever heard a downside to cold molded construction? (beyond poor construction standards)
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Old 05-11-2005, 00:18   #10
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Yes Rick, the ferro name was destroyed by back yarders. But let me go back a step here before I continue. The cost of the hull equates to about 10-15% of the overall build cost. Even if you managed to save 50% of the cost of building the hull, it is a small percentage in the overall cost of the boat. (now back to my start) And that's were proffesional FC building fell down. FC building happens to have one of the greatest labour contents and as a cosiquence, can not be built prffesionaly cheaply. The backyarder approach is the only way to do it. If all the rules have been followed closely and a team, I emaphasis Team, of plasters that know what they are doing do the plastering, once again following all design rules, then I strongly believe there is no better material for boat building. I know Jeff has very very well calculated figures to argue this point, and I bow to him that I just don't have the calculator in my head to argue against his well put forward points. But as any owner of a well built FC boat will proclaim, the things are damn near bullet proof. (hmm, I wonder if I should shoot at mine and see if it is, then I could proudly state that they are bullet proof
The mistakes made by the amatures were from ignorance and misunderstanding of the medium they were working with. But as I have also said before, I have seen steel and alloy hulls being built by amatures that I would never want to go to sea in. There welds looking more like adds for "tear along the dotted lines" destruction than construction.

Also Kai Nui, I have seen what was possibly the first Fibreglass boat built in NZ. I darn near bought the thing. It is a pretty little 30ft sloop made in the very early 60's and today is tied to a mooring in Lyttleton harbour. I doubt you could leave a boat to anymore neglect than she was subject to when I first looked at her. She was lifted for inspection and not one bubble was to be found. So GRP hulls done right can infact be osmosis proof. The period were we did start seeing blisters was because of the introduction of a "new" form of resin that just didn't work out and that we saw the introduction of the mechanically mixed/applied resin/chopped strand machines.
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Old 05-11-2005, 08:24   #11
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With regard to the Boats

The Stevens 47 would seem to be the best of the lot...

I think that the Whitby's vary quite a bit in their fit-out -- they are roomy.

As I recall, I would think that their finish (as with the Peterson 44's that I've seen) are no match for the STevens 47's that I've been through.
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Old 05-11-2005, 08:50   #12
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Blisters

The paint companies ( Interlux ) will tell you, " if it has not blistered already, it will not blister " that comment about a 1979 boat. There are over 2000 Tanzer 22s sailing, built from about 1972 to 1982. There are about zero blisters on these boats. Some blisters are gelcoat problems and can be fixed externaly. Some blisters are in the layup and may not be fixable at a reasonable cost. Some woods do do like to rot, or even show signs of wanting to rot in an average life span. I agree steel rusts, but there are a lot of big boats made of steel.
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Old 05-11-2005, 12:54   #13
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I don't think Ferro has any place in boat building except in a throwaway work boat or possibly landing craft that are not expected to survive a one time use. The material has very poor point impact resistance and is nearly impossible to fix once fractured. Know of two Ferro boats that were totalled in minor collisions with navigation buoys that seemed like they'd be a paint scrape on any other building material. One sank, the other nearly did. The worst that can be said about Ferro, is resale value, however. You'd better have it given to you 'cause you are going to have to give it away when your done with it.

Steel is the strongest material and great for serious cruising boats. The kind of boat that is going to run into and over things or spend a winter frozen into pack ice. They acan also be broken up into water tight compartments for ultimate safety, just ask the Titanic. Maintenance is high and not forgiving of neglect, however. You've got to attack any rust as soon as it appears and keep doing it. They can be repaired in almost any backwater country in the world, however. One big advantage is they are watertight. They should not leak and be dry in almost any condition. A major plus for crew morale offshore.

FRP is the most forgiving of neglect and the cheapest to maintain. Blistering has to be addressed on a per boat basis but any survey should pick it up. Fiberglass is not as tough as steel but is pretty damned strong except for the ultimate abuse of running up on a coral reef or hitting the corner of a submerged container. The worst thing about fiberglass is the hull to deck joint. I haven't found one that doesn't leak somewhere. Any leak, no matter how small, seems to permeate the interior of a boat with saltwater. Just something not fun about having everything inside the boat sodden after a day or two of beating into a moderate sea. Resale is probably the best on FRP largely because of the familiarity of most buyers and maintenance issues.

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Old 05-11-2005, 13:44   #14
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Peter O., I have to say that using the Titanic as an example of the safety of steel says it all.
As for ferro boats, the one I owned was home built, cruised in Mexico for 6 years, sailed back to central Ca, and neglected for 20 years. I used it as a temporary living space while my other boat was hauled out, my Wood boat. And then sold it for twice what I bought it for. The next owner did an extensive haul out on it, and the hull surveyed recently with no defects.
I am not a proponent of ferro boats, but like any building medium, if done right, they are perfectly suited to cruising. If done wrong, they make a good house boat, or conversation piece.
Water tight compartments can be built into any boat. Most designer opt for conventional comforts and asthetics, above safety, so water tight bulkheads are at a minimum.
In order to compete in the OSTAR, 5 water tight bulkheads are a requirement. Not something you will find in any production boat regardless of hull material. Steel does handle impacts well, but if the impact is below the waterline, such as a coral head, it will most likely be to the keel. if the boat is full keel, the damage to the hull will be minimul regardless of what the hull material. Here, hull design comes into play far more than material. Impact by way of grounding is by far the leading type of impact, so protection of the keel would be my first priority when choosing a hull design. Second would be how the keel is attached and supported. A fin keel on a ferro boat, a plastic boat, or a steel boat has a serious weak point aft of the keel where it meets the hull. This point can be better reinforced in a ferro boat, or a plastic boat, than in a steel boat, as the prior two mediums can be built up, and do not rely on a joining of two seperate pieces of material. Since most steel boats are full keel, this is a minor point, but it is worth consideration.
Bottom line is, if you want to buy a boat and go sailing, buy plastic. If you want to buy a boat, and make it something unique, steel is an option. If you want me opinion, cold molded wood is the superior material.
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Old 05-11-2005, 14:47   #15
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Sorry Roverhi, I have to strongly disagree with your blanket statement. You may know, or have heard rumours of two bad hulls. I too know of many bad hulls, but it is safe to say, anything built in the 70's that was truely "amature" no longer exists today, or the ones that do, look so obviuosely bad, you wouldn't go near them. But as I have stated before, I have also seen steel hulls that are bad. But it would be foolish for me to say, therefore ALL steel hulls are bad.
Now I know Jeff has stated the FC is weight for weight, the weakest medium. But I have personaly seen three situations that sold me on the concept of FC. First was a Hull that sat on a reef after a storm, along side a GRP hull that was also caught. The GRP lasted a few weeks before disintergeration. The FC hull was still there 4yrs later totaly intact.
The second was an impact on an FC hull against rocks that would have torn a hole in steel. She was dragged off at hightide with damage to paint and surface cement.
The third was from lightning damage. The owner laid into the side of the hull with a large sledge hammerand the hammer just bounced off and nearly took him off the scaffold with it. The hull is now repaired and looks good as new. The repair was easy, the hard part was breaking the cement away.
The fourth and (the selling point to me) was a 50ft Tahitian that had a major accident and was salvaged. If anyone has the Hartley book of his designs, then the Tahitian pictured being built (I think it was 1965) called Wiatane is the one. She was pounded on a reef of rocks and suffered damage to the Keel. Her rudder, prop and shaft gear was destroyed. She was professionaly repaired. I was seriously looking at this boat and one other Tahitian at the time and was at the slip the day Waitane was lifted for a pre-sale survey. A surveyer and the guy that carried out the repair were there. They could not see where the repair had been made. I talked to the guy that did the job and asked many questions. First comment was that repairs to FC is very easy and one of the easiest materials to do such with. Another was that when he cut into the steel core, the steel was still as shiney and new as the day she was first built. The extent of damage that she recieved after the pounding was a chunk of the aft keel was damaged and replaced. He stated that any other material would simply not have stood the pounding. After the repairs, This boat went on to sail many ocean miles and was involved in one of our biggest storms in NZ (back in 87 I think). Many boats had to have the crews rescued and many of those boats were never seen again. One sadly was lost with her crew without trace. I got to meet the owners of Waitane that came through that storm. There comment was, they as a couple were certainly scared of the huge sea's they found themselves in, but there kids played games while sitting on the saloon floor. They were one boat of only a couple that sailed right on through the storm to the Pacific Islands.
I am just about at the two year mark of owning my Tahitian. By the way, we settled on the other boat because my wife was sold on the name, Leisure Lady. I have not had any hull issue. No sorry I have had one hull issue. I tried to drill a hole through it and failed. It took the end off my masonry bit.

I do agree that the resale value is not great. Another reason we bought a FC. Any other material is twice to three times the price. However, they don't drop either. They just sit at the same price. So we may not have parted with much money, but we won't lose a lot of money either. See how much steel, alloy and GRP drop from new. I don't know of any boat that increases in value. The biggest headack we FC owners have, is obtaining insurance. I don't know why, because statisticaly, the couple of companies that do insure FC, have the lowest statistic rate of claims than any other material.
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