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Old 28-12-2008, 13:29   #1
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Steel Boaters

I would like to hear from those who make their way amongst the noise and haste in a steel sailboat.
In the ongoing (and apparently neverending) search for the perfect boat I am considering going back to my roots and looking at steel.
I worked as the engineer on a salmon seiner back when the earth was still cooling.
From my perspective the best thing about steel is that it is strong, so when the inevitable bump in the night comes it will not be followed by the cry to abandon ship. The downside is rust. The memory of a 2" takeoff valve coming off in my hand, out of the side of the seachest is still quite vivid these many years later. The result of dissimilar metals and years of poor maintenace.

so in sumary all you steelheads what do you love or hate about your steel boat.

Much obliged for the input.
sk
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Old 28-12-2008, 13:55   #2
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Well we have an aluminum boat (our third) and I prefer that to steel as I think it gives many of the benefits in a better performing package and is easier for small shops to build. You might also want to check out the Metal Boat Society on-line forum as they specialize steel and aluminum boat issues Welcome to the Metal Boat Society.
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Old 28-12-2008, 15:23   #3
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I had one for awhile and I could never get ahead of the rust. I feel it should have a dry bilge and access to every hidden part. They can be a wonderful boat. But they rust out from the inside. And under all dissimilar metals
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Old 28-12-2008, 15:28   #4
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good point re access

A very good point regarding to access on a metal boat. The fishing boats that I worked on didn't have anything below the water line that I couldn't readily get at and inspect, obviously not the case with a yacht.
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Old 28-12-2008, 15:49   #5
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I have had a couple of smaller steel yachts, one alloy and one GRP. The 30' steel was bit heavy for the length, the 40' was not a really classy build and maintenance was a manageable but constant issue. The alloy was good after 27 years but had corrosion issues with the S/S - especially around the toe rails and would not hold paint well. The GRP boat was lovely but went up on a reef and is no longer ( very solid build it was too - bit surprising). I am currently having built a 65' steel yacht - very professionally done this time so will hopefully minimise most of the maintenance issues. Have used Corten steel this time in the hope that this may help. I do agree with the access issues. Really just get a good job done in the first place and should last a long time.
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Old 29-12-2008, 21:09   #6
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I've owned 3 wooden boats, all of which rotted faster than I could repair them. I've had 2 fiberglass boats, both of which were solid, and easy to maintain. I've had 3 steel boats. One of these fell off its trailer at 60mph on the highway, slide about 800 feet, and was back in the water a week later.

My current boat is steel. She is 30 years old, and in pretty good shape. As for rusting, she has some spots, and I find a small sandblaster/compressor set is my best maintenance tool. Sandblast and coat with epoxy. The inside is tarred, and has styrofoam insulation, so I will be having a serious look at that this season. Externally she has some rust below the waterline and I will be having her sandblasted and sealed in a shop. Otherwise, I think steel is the best of the 3. Wood is beautiful but you have to have religious zeal to keep it up. Fiberglas is easy to work, and I've done a fair bit of it, but I'd like to see one slide down the road at 60mph. Or bounce off a reef for a while. Steel is the best of all worlds from my point of view.

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Old 02-01-2009, 17:29   #7
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Steel boats

I have been sailing in steel boats and iving aboard full time and cruising 11 months a year since 1976 and I wouldn't want anyhting else. As I bought all my steel wheelabraded and primed with cold galv primer and gave my 31 footer 30 gallons of epoxy tar at the outset. The paint is as good as the day I put it on. My maintenance is an hour or two a year. Things that are welded down never leak or work loose.I have never had to sandblast. SS sch 40 pipe nipples with SS ball valves eliminate the chance of thru hull problems. I have since wrote a book on origami steel boatbuilding and a couple hundred boats of my designs have been built . None of the owners would consider anything but a steel boat. On the cruising grounds there is a huge interest in steel boats , by cruisers who have had the **** scared out of them , and wished for the sense of security that a steel hull gives one, especially sailing at hull speed on a dark night , not knowing what is floating out there.
Commecial boats tend to skimp on the painting and maintenance. Stainless trim on all outside corners reduces the maintenance by up to 80% as its the outside corners that paint chips off . Flat surfaces are far less of a problem. Commercial boats are rarely thus trimmed.
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Old 03-01-2009, 18:25   #8
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Steel vs fiberglass vs wood

One of the favorite topics of any group of boaters is "what is the best boat building material?" I once asked the noted yacht designer Merritt Walter, renowned for his steel schooners, that very question.

His response:
"Before you choose a building material, go to a shrink to discover your favorite worry. If you like to worry about rot then build out of wood - it is like a tomato, once picked it immediately starts to rot. If you like to worry about the molecules ceasing to hold hands, then fiberglass would be your choice. If you like to worry about stray electrons chomping away at the base metal then aluminum might be your choice. For me, my favorite worry is running rust. It is like an old friend, it's there and begs a little attention some day just not right now."
Since then I have owned a number of steel sailboats and the key is properly designed framing so that every part of the boat can be thoroughly sandblasted, followed by a proper paint system of inorganic zinc, epoxies, and urethanes. It will last decades. I have had no trouble with rust. If I get a chip in the paint and the tell tale sign of running rust, it is easily fixed with a pencil sandblaster, epoxy putty and a matching top coat. Dont' let it go for a years - as the great Merritt Walter says, it "begs a little attention some day just not right now."

I wouldn't have anything but steel for a cruising boat.
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Old 04-01-2009, 19:30   #9
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Building in Steel

Do any of you have a recommendations on buiding with steel?
I understand that if you weld it yourself it is cheaper and maximizes quality control, but can take longer. Conversly, if you have a yard do it, then you get the opposite results (more expensive, less control, but faster).

Any personal experiences on this would be great.
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Old 05-01-2009, 00:27   #10
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As Carmen asked the Three Amigos when they said they would return...

I have built two boats (A 32' ferro and a 6.5m Van De Stadt) and I am currently fitting out a 44' Steel Roberts Offshore.

This is a big round bilge 43' steel boat that you are asking about. While it would make a beautiful robust cruising boat it is a mammoth project, and like the mammoth there is every chance that you could be extinct before it is finished.

Ask Ted just how many hours it took to build each of the beautiful examples that he presents. Break the times down into setup (much heavy steel to move into position!), hull construction, deck construction, lifelines, dodget, bimini, engine installation, interior panels, cabinetwork, headliner, wiring, installing electronics, interior plumbing, tankage, soft furnishings, davits, steering, self steering, mast, running and standing rigging, sails and full sea trials. I'm sure I missed a few but that should do for starters.

Now add together the boat bucks (that is a $1,000 unit) it will take to do each section and come up with an approximate total.

You don't say what your position is but I've heard reports of builders taking 20+ years on this sort of project.

Take a walk round your local boat yards and marinas. Find what 43' boats are selling for.

Then answer Carmen's question.
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Old 05-01-2009, 02:34   #11
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Have built a 28' and a 35' hard chine steel. Much simpler than round bilge. Still nursing my back injuries incurred in the ventures. This time, common sense prevailed and I am getting the steel work properly done by others. Probably not as good economic sense as buying preloved as Boracay is implying but will get the right boat for me. Premium price for special boat OK for me. I would not build from scratch again even though I know I could.
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Old 05-01-2009, 03:48   #12
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Originally Posted by stillbuilding View Post
...Have used Corten steel this time in the hope that this may help...
Hello, stillbuilding.

Can you say more about your decision to use Cor-Ten?

My (limited) understanding of the guidelines for using Cor-Ten is that it must be primed and painted if used in applications where it isn't totally and continuously exposed to the air and weather, or where it may be subject to moisture accumulation (e.g. bilges). Since the distinguishing feature of the material is it's ability to form a protective layer of "rust" so that it doesn't need painting, what would be the advantage of using it over other steel formulations?

Thanks, Hud
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Old 05-01-2009, 04:50   #13
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Rationale for using Corten was that inevitably there are weaknesses in the paint barrier - acquired from dings and dents, inbuilt occasional spot of poor paint application or other chemical breakdowns in paint integrity. I am sure every steel boat develops minor visible spots which require touch-up and some find invisible spots to cause problems. I know from experience that these lesions can develop rapidly and eventually require more elaborate repair. Hopefully the rust barrier developed with Corten will minimise the development of specks into patches. I don't think it matters to the rust barrier whether the exposure is continuous or short-term.

I guess I did not want to be slipping this boat more than necessary so anything that might hold the fort for some months more might be useful. I did not elect to use the material to cover up poor construction or preparation - this boat is being done to high standard.

The builder and I have both known yachts done in Corten/Austen and have the impression that the outcome is more long-lived.


The Corten steel was a little harder to acquire - had to get it from New Zealand in fact - but only a little more expensive than mild steel.
Was amusing to find that Australian steel merchants had not even heard of Corten (used to be called Austen when Australia made steel) - had to provide them with a chemical listing of the additives and eventually ended up speaking with a soon-to-retire lab tech who advised that Aust company could do but had to do minimum order of 90 tonnes. They chickened out when I agreed! All made in China of course!!

Time will tell whether or not it was worth it, but if the rust development in the yard (not too far from the water) is any indication, it might be useful. Bit hard to provide pics at the moment but will get some snaps in few weeks. Had two yachts being built in the yard - one with MS and mine - very clear difference in appearance and depth of rust barrier on the raw plates and constructed vessels - useful control for the experiment I guess. Both vessels being built just under shade cover so exposed to weather in good degree.

The builder has been building professionally for fifty years (a German craftsman whose work I used to ogle at over the fence as a youth in Melbourne) and felt that it might be worthwhile giving Corten a trial on this - his last boat.

Corten is reputedly a little harder to work with but the builder did not feel any significant difference.

Be interested to hear from others who have used Corten.
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Old 05-01-2009, 04:58   #14
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Thanks, stillbuilding. Please keep us posted on your very interesting project. Photos will be nice!
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Old 05-01-2009, 14:14   #15
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Corten offers useful no corrosion advantage over mild steel for boats. If it did all small steel vessels would be built of it as the marginal cost of doing so over mild steel in the whole cost of the boat is small.

The only application of it of merit is its higher strength so scantling sizes can be reduced - but for other than quite large pleasure boats we are generally using minimum workable dimensioned scantlings anyway, especially for plating, as mild steel is plenty strong enough.

Here where, as has been said, Corten is readily available the main uses of it are probably for architectural features and sculpture (ie where a brown rusty finish is required).
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