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Old 18-10-2020, 17:38   #1
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1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

I'm under contract to purchase a 1984 one-off 50' Catamaran and I could use some advice. The boat has been inspected once and I'll be inspecting it myself this week. I've never owned a fiberglass over wood boat. I do have extensive construction experience/know-how and decent coastal cruising experience. I intend to use this boat seasonally in the Caribbean only.
I would gut her electrical and plumbing, remove 2 of the 4 heads, completely remodel the interior.

Pro's of this boat - appears to have slender higher performance shaped hulls, high bridge-deck clearance, built sturdy, 600hr newer Yanmar 3YM 30 diesels, standing rig in good shape. Can pay cash and also have 60k-80k cash available to upgrade it over the next several seasons (80% my own work / 20% contract)

Cons - It's already had one major planking repair due to damage from improper lifting strap placement. It might be a nightmare with the wood core hull. I don't want to sink that kind of money and effort into a hull that is life limited to less than 10years or so remaining.

Would love to hear some advice of the apprx life expectancy left of a wood core hull like this. I assume there's tons of monohulls of this similar construction method. Wood core Cats seem to be a rarity. It's a 1/4 of the cost of a Lagoon 410 or something similar. Am I crazy for considering this?
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Old 18-10-2020, 17:56   #2
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

That looks like a double- or triple-diagonal cold molded construction. Our last boat was a triple-diagonal planked trimaran and when we sold her after 40 years she was still quite sound. Construction was mahogany plywood and epoxy.

Having said that, I’m bothered that every edge of the old planking appears black. That indicates that water has been traveling along the edges of the planks. Properly sealed if you sand off any paint the wood should look like the day it was put into the boat. Maybe it’s just glue lines from the new work (hard to tell from the photos) in which case I wouldn’t worry, but I would look very carefully at all those joints/seams. If they are the wood turning black from water intrusion then I’d be very concerned. One or two, no big deal. All of them...
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Old 18-10-2020, 18:06   #3
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Article in WoodenBoat's Nov/Dec 2020 issue about a 70's trimaran getting refurbished in California and the "vibe" would be worth your reading. Their material and build quality perhaps not on a par with your later construction. A careful inspection/survey should uncover any big issues that weren't fixed earlier on this one. Many marinas are not well-equipped to deal with hauling/handling big catamarans, which can be a lot more delicate than their full-keel cousins.
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Old 18-10-2020, 18:09   #4
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

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Originally Posted by Dsanduril View Post

Having said that, I’m bothered that every edge of the old planking appears black. That indicates that water has been traveling along the edges of the planks. Properly sealed if you sand off any paint the wood should look like the day it was put into the boat. Maybe it’s just glue lines from the new work (hard to tell from the photos) in which case I wouldn’t worry, but I would look very carefully at all those joints/seams. If they are the wood turning black from water intrusion then I’d be very concerned. One or two, no big deal. All of them...
Agree that black from water intrusion would be bad, but that glue lines (resorcinol?) are also possible. Where was this boat built, and by who?
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Old 18-10-2020, 18:23   #5
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

1984 in England by a builder named John Todd. Bob Harris Design
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Old 18-10-2020, 19:10   #6
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Dsanduril is correct. I have seen a dark dark red glue. One part liquid, one part powder, so it might not be Black Death. Lot of hours but Iíve seen old hulls doing well after 50 years with attention to any crack.
Do you have someone who is experienced with this kind of repair? Not super technical, but it helps if you can see it done correctly.
Can the hull be flipped ?
I only built one boat like this and it was a monohull. Did it upside down... Pre epoxy. LOL Must be lots of info on the web now.
There was lots of good boats built decades ago with resourcinol glue and still sailing. Didnít Howard Hughes build the Spruce Goose that way? Till then...
Happy trails to you
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Old 19-10-2020, 03:58   #7
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

I built a woods design cat out of strip plank/ply/epoxy several years back.
I struggled to sell it and actually took a big knock, letting it go for very little.


What you need to consider is that the general perception of on-offs or home builds are that many of these boats are thrown together by low budgeted amateurs, and therefore they sell for a relatively low price. Just be aware that they are seen in a different category to the production cats, no matter how well they are constructed, and there will be fewer buyers that will consider such a boat when you want to sell further down the line.


I'm not saying it's a bad buy. Just that the low demand for wood cats dictate the price and perceived value.
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Old 19-10-2020, 04:53   #8
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

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Originally Posted by Craig Cape Town View Post
I built a woods design cat out of strip plank/ply/epoxy several years back.
I struggled to sell it and actually took a big knock, letting it go for very little.

What you need to consider is that the general perception of on-offs or home builds are that many of these boats are thrown together by low budgeted amateurs, and therefore they sell for a relatively low price. Just be aware that they are seen in a different category to the production cats, no matter how well they are constructed, and there will be fewer buyers that will consider such a boat when you want to sell further down the line.

I'm not saying it's a bad buy. Just that the low demand for wood cats dictate the price and perceived value.

I couldn't agree more with your assertion. (I am building a 43ft ketch)

People want to buy a known brand in the belief they are buying quality. But apparently the sailing yacht market has reduced to less than a third of the size it was in 2009. I think people attitudes have changed.
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Old 19-10-2020, 06:12   #9
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Hi. Just got your message. I donít know a lot about the builder but if the boat is Mary Jane, it looked nice years ago. Lot of boat IF you can find someone to help you repair it. The value long term comment is accurate. Spruce Goose was mostly birch but he used urea formaldehyde glue and heat. Nothing wrong with this type of construction. What concerns me is area near the sail drives. Any crappy repairs can be ripped out and corrected. You can see where the innermost layers have been repaired so I would look at them carefully.
There is lots of info on how to repair this type of construction. Itís a big job and takes time. Itís difficult to tell you more just from photos. When you get the survey done you will be in a better position to evaluate things.
Happy trails to you
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Old 19-10-2020, 12:22   #10
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Strength is not really a concern, but moisture/ rot is with this type of construction. As cats are in high demand this could be a diamond in the rough. Make sure your whoever looks at the boat is knowledgeable on wood core/ fiberglass construction.
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Old 19-10-2020, 14:32   #11
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

I can't tell from the pics what he planking is? Framing appears to be mostly plywood. If the planking is mahogany that has a life of around 50yrs for the wood. The good news is it should be almost infinitely repairable. So the question is not 'how long will it last' but 'how much work am I prepared to put in'. Another key point is how she was finished. Fully encapsulated plywood works great and last well EXCEPT that any damage, even a screw not fully sealed allows water into the wood. Once it is wet it is nearly impossible to dry out and will rot from the inside out. If it has only been epoxy sheathed on the outside no problem as the wood can dry,even through paint. So can you tell us a bit more about the construction and history?
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Old 19-10-2020, 21:34   #12
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Mr. Stockham. I know you are trying to help and all your advice is correct except for one item. Mahogany. Well itís not cypress but I do not agree with you.
I built my first wooden boat 60 years ago. I built wood for a few years before doing anything like the construction shown here. It was small, mono hull and done with I think a new resorcinol glue. The plys were sliced out of solid wood not thin plywood.
True Mahogany, not imposters, was and always will be, a fine wood for boatbuilding and is generally regarded as stable and rot resistant.
The statement of 50 year life is not true for genuine mahogany.
Your remaining comments were good advice.
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Old 20-10-2020, 04:46   #13
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Keep in mind that many production boats, cats included have wood core,(yes, balsa is wood) and exactly the same issues apply, the core must be protected from water ingress and balsa is about as bad as it gets for rot. A well built cold molded or cedar strip boat will last just as long with the same amount of maintainance.
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Old 20-10-2020, 06:39   #14
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

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Originally Posted by clockwork orange View Post
Keep in mind that many production boats, cats included have wood core,(yes, balsa is wood) and exactly the same issues apply, the core must be protected from water ingress and balsa is about as bad as it gets for rot. A well built cold molded or cedar strip boat will last just as long with the same amount of maintainance.


Exactly. It always amazes me when an owner of a production built balsa cored polyester boat makes disparaging remarks about wood/epoxy boats.
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Old 20-10-2020, 13:13   #15
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Re: 1984 Wood Catamaran Advice

Herbert J. Ashcroft was a great boatbuilder and is credited with the invention of the double diagonal planking method for building wooden round chine hulls.
He wrote a book Boatbuilding Simplified. The technology of glue laminated wood hulls was known in China before the Portuguese arrived as they make mention of this in numerous journals. China constructed a huge military fleet with multi mast vessels exceeding the size of British, Dutch or Spanish ships of the line.
A new Emperor burned the entire fleet and China closed its doors.
Ashcroft planks were laid parallel. Later cold molded boats were laid cross hatched as in a radial tire. It became the west system with little credit given to Ashcroft. Urea formaldehyde and resourcinol glues were used earlier before epoxy. Worked fine if you maintained the boat.
Howard Hughes used rice paper in the Spruce Goose which was almost all birch wood. Clearly a very strong method of construction. It is not similar to balsa core in a structural manner... at all. Neither is it similar to stitch glass fabrics. Balsa is a wood and water is a solvent. Itís important to keep laminated wood dry and itís important to keep balsa dry but the two construction methods are as different as night and day. When balsa gets wet, the rate at which the entire laminate looses strength is much, much faster than Ashcroft even if you built out of common pine and yellow wood glue. Why anyone would use balsa is beyond me when honey comb cores in everything from plastic to aluminum, are available.
SMJ has a boat which is light and strong. He has an excellent point.
Itís just sad that he lacks enough beer drinking manatee friends to pile up enough cans so he could weld himself up an aluminum hull. Or two. Till then,
Happy trails to you.
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