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Old 27-05-2012, 04:33   #1
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Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Alternative title: maybe I should have got a camper van?

Hi

My wife and I don't have much money and after 10 years of trying and saving we thought we were getting close to taking off cruising. The other day I noticed a tiny section of rust in the bilge of our steel 44 foot Roberts Mauritius sailboat. This was on the edge of the the bitumen that has been used to seal the ballast into the keel. I removed the bitumen to reveal the steel punchings ballast and found to my absolute horror that it's full of water

The water tanks have been leaking and I believe that for the last few years this has been leaking past the bitumen and into the keel. This is really depressing! I'm not sure what to do. I'm not a boat builder and have limited knowledge of these things.

The steel punchings don't actually look very rusty which is odd. The steel is black and soaking in black, filthy water but there are only the occasional spot that shows normal red rust and is stuck together.

Idea 1:
Dig out some of the punchings. Soak up the water (it fills any hole I dig just like digging a hole in the sand on the beach). Get a large quantity of that corrosion inhibitor used in the cooling system of an engine. Chuck that in there and seal it up again. Note that I'm not considering normal ethol glycol antifreeze but rather the stuff that only stops corrosion. We're not planning on sailing anywhere extremely cold.

Problems:
I use this stuff in the main engine and the water still seems to go rusty even though I add heaps of it. Where do you get that stuff out of "Erin Brokovich"

Idea 2:
Haul the boat out and drill some holes in the bottom of the keel. Drain out the water, tap the holes and plug them with some bolts. Epoxy around the bolts to keep salt water away from them. Fill the keel with oil. Replace the bitumen. Fibreglass over it so that water won't get in there again.

Problems:
Will oil dissolve the tar? Will the oil actually dissapate throughout the closely packed and somewhat rusty punchings?). Will it stop the rust? I don't want to place the drain plugs on the bottom of the keel because they could be more easily knocked off in a grounding so I'll have to put them on the side near the bottom. No matter where I place them there will be a small amount of water remaining. The oil will float in this so it will remain at the bottom of the keel promoting rust.

Idea 3:
Now this is pretty terrifying but maybe I should haul out, cut the whole side of the keel off with an angle grinder, remove all the ballast, paint inside the keel and panel, get it all welded back together, fill the keel with new ballast, seal it with tar and then fibreglass.

Problems:
There is a large and heavy 55 foot mast sticking out of the deck. Will the boat fall off the cradle and flip over if I remove all the ballast? I guess I need to run some ropes from the mast to heavy items on either side before trying this? This boat has a draft of 2 metres (7 feet). The keel is at least 1.5 metres high. How can I reach into it and clean then paint the inside of the welds so they don't rust?

Idea 4:
A local steel boat builder said that a) there's no way to get the ballast out, b) if it's not rusting then don't worry, the tar is excluding all oxygen so it won't rust. Just replace the tar and forget about it.

Problems: at the moment the keel isn't rusty. It has a good coating of some kind of paint and appears to be in good condition inside. So at this point the problem is somewhat fixable without replacing the entire keel. I think that if it's left then in a few years the ballast will rust and expand. This will damage the keel which will also rust from the inside. I don't want to be cruising in the middle of nowhere in a few years and suddenly realise the the keel has rusted though from the inside and the boat in sinking. Or hit something solid and the whole thing snaps off. Either way the family is dead.

More questions:
This steel punchings ballast has just been chucked into the keel and tarred over. I reckon if the boat tipped upside down then it would all come out resulting in the death of my family. The reason I bought a steel boat is that we want to go on some serious adventures and cross ocean so this is a real consideration. Shouldn't the ballast be mixed with epoxy? The boat is beautifully made so it seems odd if this isn't done correctly.

Sorry this posting is so long. As you can tell I really need help. I would be happy to pay an expert to be a "consultant" and advise me how to get this goddam boat ready for cruising. Ideally someone in Sydney that can come and have a look. If we don't get out of here soon the dream will die!

Cheers
Mark
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Old 27-05-2012, 09:54   #2
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Mark, the ballast stones in old clipper ships weren't secured in place either, but I'd also sleep better with ballast that was secured in place, and sealed dry. Is there a local yard that has experience with steel boats, maybe with commercial fishing boats?

I suspect the best result would be to haul the boat, pull the mast for a complete inspection and any rigging work that needs to be done while it is hauled, and then have a couple of day workers do a bucket brigade to haul out the punchings and toss them in a rented dumpster or piled on a tarp, as need be. Clean out the keel from the inside to avoid cutting it. Steel punchings can be embedded in resin but typically concrete was used because it is cheaper than resin. Your choice. You might also try to find out what local scrapyards can offer you on scrap lead instead.

Basically you want to undo someone's shortcut, then take a look at the DIY steel boatbuilders out there and see your options, performance versus cost, at properly reballasting that keel.
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Old 27-05-2012, 10:01   #3
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

I used to have a Westsail 32, and some Westsails were built with steel punchings and some with lead ballast in the keel. I never head of the steel causing a problem except that the boat was underballasted and tended to be tender with a lot of heeling when sailing to windward.

If I was going world cruising, I would consider replacing the steel with lead.
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Old 27-05-2012, 10:06   #4
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

I agree with Dave, replace the iron with lead. Another disadvantage to iron is that it expands when it oxidizes, which creates another potential problem.

Shifting the keels center of gravity downwards can increase the boats righting moment without increasing its displacement....which is why bulb keels are so popular on lightweight racers.
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Old 27-05-2012, 10:07   #5
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

I would definitely haul, drill holes and drain it out. Question is... how do you dry it out?
How about pour a lot of alcohol through the punchings and let it drain out the bottom? How much would 10+ gallons of alcohol cost? no idea...The ballast was not sealed in there? wierd. Once dry you need to fill it up with something. Even concrete would be better than nothing. Properly done it could outlast you. I wouldnt worry about the boat falling over.
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Old 27-05-2012, 12:42   #6
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

If it was my boat, I would put it on the hard, remove the punchings, and if possible steam clean/wire brush the inside of the keel bright. Then weld a series of studs to the inside of both sides of the keel and pour it full of Portland cement. Dump in the ballast of your choice, be it the original punchings cleaned up or lead tire balancing weights or what have you. Weigh everything and keep the weight the same. An acid etch before pouring can help the cement adhere well. A quality epoxy primer is also wise. The studs will hold tba ballast in place if you turn turtle even if the cement has lost all bond with the hull. A pencil vibrator is advisable, even when you pour first, as you must. Never put in the ballast first and then the cement. You may have to cut off a keel plate and clean/remove ballast from outside as you said. Might be faster this way and less interior mess even if it is possible to do from inside. Done from outside you might also be able to blast bright, which would be a much nicer job.
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Old 27-05-2012, 12:57   #7
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Quote:
Originally Posted by minaret View Post
If it was my boat, I would put it on the hard, remove the punchings, and if possible steam clean/wire brush the inside of the keel bright. Then weld a series of studs to the inside of both sides of the keel and pour it full of Portland cement. Dump in the ballast of your choice, be it the original punchings cleaned up or lead tire balancing weights or what have you. Weigh everything and keep the weight the same. An acid etch before pouring can help the cement adhere well. A quality epoxy primer is also wise. The studs will hold tba ballast in place if you turn turtle even if the cement has lost all bond with the hull. A pencil vibrator is advisable, even when you pour first, as you must. Never put in the ballast first and then the cement. You may have to cut off a keel plate and clean/remove ballast from outside as you said. Might be faster this way and less interior mess even if it is possible to do from inside. Done from outside you might also be able to blast bright, which would be a much nicer job.
Oh... leave it to Minaret to want to do it right! :>) If cement and empty , I guess i would primer the steel real thick also. Maybe coal tar?
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Old 27-05-2012, 13:07   #8
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

I know of a smaller Roberts sloop, in which the cast iron sash weights were laid lasagna-style in heated driveway asphalt sealer. AFAIK, he's never had a problem.
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Old 27-05-2012, 13:08   #9
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheechako View Post
Oh... leave it to Minaret to want to do it right! :>) If cement and empty , I guess i would primer the steel real thick also. Maybe coal tar?


I freely admit to being a bit of a perfectionist, and plenty of people have cruised succesfully with problems riskier than this one, but this op sounds as if he may be in the same camp and for the same reasons, ie cruising with a family. I understand his concern.
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Old 27-05-2012, 13:11   #10
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

I have no idea what the best way to fix this is, but I just wanted to give you some encouragement. Seems every job I do on my boat is the same "how do I deal with that" - eventually you'll come up with a workable solution.

I know the tire weight idea is worth pursuing as lots of wooden boat builders have used them for ballast. If it were me I would be looking for something that would not rust.
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Old 27-05-2012, 13:44   #11
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blue Stocking View Post
I know of a smaller Roberts sloop, in which the cast iron sash weights were laid lasagna-style in heated driveway asphalt sealer. AFAIK, he's never had a problem.
interesting thought to encapsulate the ballast... corrosion preventitive? I would think a little smelly though...
Hey Minearet... that was meant as a compliment!

I certainly havent asked around.... but I suspect no one is giving away lead anymore at the price of scrap lead....
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Old 27-05-2012, 15:48   #12
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cheechako View Post
interesting thought to encapsulate the ballast... corrosion preventitive? I would think a little smelly though...
Hey Minearet... that was meant as a compliment!

I certainly havent asked around.... but I suspect no one is giving away lead anymore at the price of scrap lead....


I got that from your smiley, thanks Cheechako! Sash window weights are often pig iron (lead and iron mix), and thus are excellent ballast. One of the classic methods of obtaining ballast material, its almost as good as straight lead for density, is much cheaper, but of course will still rust. I might be concerned about this method as a fire risk, that is the asphalt sealer. Or just a smell/toxin exposure risk. It would be like building a boat out of creosote piling-probably not good for you.
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Old 27-05-2012, 16:21   #13
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

Quote:
Originally Posted by minaret View Post
I got that from your smiley, thanks Cheechako! Sash window weights are often pig iron (lead and iron mix), and thus are excellent ballast. One of the classic methods of obtaining ballast material, its almost as good as straight lead for density, is much cheaper, but of course will still rust. I might be concerned about this method as a fire risk, that is the asphalt sealer. Or just a smell/toxin exposure risk. It would be like building a boat out of creosote piling-probably not good for you.
He did seal the top crust with something white. I think it was roofing membrane potion, acrylic I think.
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Old 27-05-2012, 17:45   #14
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

To dry it out , your best option is to slip and drill an appropriate hole. Once the water is out, you can let it dry naturally or temporarily plug the hole, introduce some methylated spirits which will absorb the water and drain it out.
Once the meths is dry, hammer a steel rod into the hole, and weld around it on the outside.
If you are happy with how your boat sails, then there is no harm in keeping your ballast as it is, but if you can, weld a steel plate over it. If you can't do the plate, then I suppose a decent layer of concrete sealed with an appropriate tar would be a good compromise.
When we built our yacht, I placed lead ingots in the keel, and with each layer, poured molten pitch around them. If you do this , you need to be well coveered to avoid burns from splashing ( I bear the scars!)
Regards,
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Old 27-05-2012, 18:04   #15
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Re: Wet Steel Punchings Ballast

My thoughts are to use a hole saw to augur a hole or two at the lowest points of the keel for drainage. Weld in a pipe coupling for future drainage and dry it out by tenting the bottom and heat the hell out of it with propane salamders (I don't what they call them in Australian speak). The keel could be filled with with some type of resin by pumping it in from the bottom forcing any air out.
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