Where to start?

by Justin Edelman
(San Diego CA USA)

My dad recently gave me this old wooden boat. I am a NAVY veteran coming from a helicopter mechanic background but have no wood working experience.

I dont know where to start on this old girl.

Here is what I know.

She was purchased at an antique dealer in Maine probably 25 years ago or so.

She is an original Whitehall boat (NYC whitehall st.) built in the late 1800s.

She has a centerboard and was built to be able to sail but I dont have any of the original rigging.

Her condition.

She has some pretty big gaps from bow to stern between the planks that make her hull.

She hasnt been in the water for a very long time and was kept in a semi humid environment in New Mexico.

I can tell you right now that even if I left her in the water the wood wouldnt swell enough to fill the gaps.

The last 2 years she has sat covered in a backyard in San Diego.

The varnish on the inner side of the boat is in pretty good condition.

The varnish on the outside is over all pretty good except by her stern where she was exposed to sunlight.

Where the rudder attached at the bottom part of the stern completely disintegrated and rotted the wood.

I think this is the worst of the damage though.

I would like to keep her out of the water but use a trailer to take her out for a sail in the San Diego bay.

She would be my weekend sail.

Id really like to do the work to bring this piece of American history back to her glory.

Where do I start?

I started a Blog to post photos and put all the information I learn, plus the process up online https://www.tumblr.com/blog/ethelsailboat

Comments for Where to start?

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Feb 07, 2015
by: Anonymous

From what I can see those seams are just right for caulking with some cotton and either Pettit or Interlux caulking compound.

But your first job is to strip off the varnish etc, then replace the rotten wood and refasten any lose plank ends.

Then rake out any existing caulking before re-caulking her

Feb 06, 2015
where to start
by: Anonymous

Hi Justin, The reason I suggest the wet towels is purely to assess whether or not she will take up.

It's not unusual for a boat that's been out a while to fail to take up by dropping her in the water.

Dropping her in only wets the bottom third and doesn't really give her a chance to move evenly and naturally.

The towels or blankets or carpet or whatever you choose wets the whole hull and consequently gives you a truer picture.

I have seen several boats ruined by owners assuming that she won't take up and racing for the great god epoxy.

Just be sure to keep them damp.

Keeping her watertight is the job of the caulking and if you look closely you will see between the seams whatever was used originally.

I would think cotton but I should point out I live in Britain and don't know much about your local ways.

However I can assure you that basic principals stay the same.

Check she has enough life in the wood to take up and then sort the caulking.

Sorry I can't help with the wood species but you say its old and heavy so common sense dictates its bloody good wood.

Feb 04, 2015
Thank you
by: Justin

Rest assured I am going to try to keep her as original as possible.

Id like to restore her not just make a working boat out of her.

I'll try to flip her as soon as possible.

We left her in the water for a few days before but she didnt close up enough to even keep her afloat.

Once I try the wet towel technique is that what you have to do to maintain her before you put her in the water?

Seems like if I wanted to haul her on a trailer and then bring her for a day sail, I would want something that would keep her fairly watertight.

Any ideas on what kind of wood she would be made of?
Pretty heavy boat.

Also for sanding and varnishing any suggestions?

Thank you guys

Feb 04, 2015
where to start
by: Anonymous

She is a lovely old girl and I wish you all the best with your adventure.

My advice for what its worth is to stick with what she has had all her life.

Hasn't done too bad has it?

No epoxy at any cost unless you want to scrap a lovely boat.

The wood she is made from wont tolerate the total inflexibility of epoxy.

To give you a start which will cost nothing and takes no risk whatsoever.

Turn her the right way up and chock and wedge her firmly to support her well.

It's important to turn her the right way up.

Remember to support her shape under the hog at both ends.

The hog is the centre piece running the whole length- her backbone.

Take a vernier guage and measure accurately the gaps between the planks at various points.

I would suggest twelve points all around the hull at all levels.

Mark and number these points on the outside of the hull, masking tape works well.

Catologue these points and put the list somewhere safe.

In your head isn't good enough.

Beg steal or borrow loads of old towels or blankets or both.

Soak them thoroughly and lay them out to cover the complete inside of the hull as far as is possible.

Depending on your climate spray these regularly with a sprinkler on a hose pipe to ensure they stay damp, not soggy , just very damp.

After a fortnight I will be surprised if the plank gap hasn't more than halved.

This will take two weeks but I hope will open your eyes to the material you have got and help you to realise why you must not use epoxy.

Don't let them tell you your wood wont move because of your climate length of time in water etc etc.

Please try it she might even close completely. Any INSTANT CURE WILL KILL HER.
Good luck

Feb 03, 2015
by: Michael

She looks to be a superb craft, most definitely deserving to be restored.

As you intend not to keep her in the water perhaps you might want to consider wedging those seams.

That would eliminate the need for her to take up each time she is launched.

But first, the rot in the transom needs to be cut out and replaced.

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