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  • Writer's pictureNic de Mey

Every Boat builder has a boat they want to forget about

We built a reasonably successful race boat a while ago, successful in that it was built to budget and the specified delivery date was achieved, and it won the National Championship in its first year, the owner being very happy decided he wanted a faster one .......happy days

The second hull although it looked the same as Mk1 was actually completely different in regards to its hull bottom and various other elements, it also had different 'running gear" that made it 200kgs heavier than the first hull, this was a problem as the class had a minimum weight and #2 would be over if we stuck to the original laminate spec which we had paid a professional engineer to do for us.

The start of our problems occurred when the owner was adamant he wasn't going to pay for engineering again, in his eyes it was the same boat surely we could just trim a bit here and there..... being young and dumb and sporting a rather a large ego I agreed with him, post note: this boat got rid of that ego ,well at least half of it anyway

Now trying to trim 200kg's off already a carbon fibre , professionally engineered race boat that only weighed probably around 1500 kg's is no mean feat, in hindsight and to this day it's the biggest mistake of my career, exacerbating the problem, we could no longer get the special core we used, which at the time wasn't really a thought, the first boat had massive print thru issues on dark painted surfaces, but purely cosmetic, the thinking was ... no problems we will use PVC core, that stuff printed thru terribly any way.......... oh man

Problem one, the loads had changed massively, every race it did in the first season was repairville city, some small , some, cut the whole back of the boat out from the transom to the drivers bulkhead and replace, due to catastrophic structural failure ...... all in the 2 weeks in between races , absolute majors is not even describing half of it

Problem 2, outgassing ..... I still get a nervous twitch thinking about it , we wheeled the boat outside for the first time, middle of a NZ summer , 10 minutes later any dark colours, black race numbers etc were hitting 95 degrees Celsius, the PVC core when its manufactured has moisture or gas trapped inside the cells , at 95c that gas wants to come out, with rather a surprising amount of pressure behind it, the carbon skins being so thin, well they just blew off .....not good

To this day I believe we were given crook foam by the supplier, but at the time we were the ones left carrying the can,you know little boat builder vs big guy, we fixed the out-gassing and the structural repairs got less and less as the boat moved thru the season

What I learnt....

Be firm with the customer, communicate clearly whats at stake, if you believe that the boat has to be built a certain or more expensive way, stick to your guns, if they don't want to listen, don't do the job, I have nice beaches where I live , I'd rather be sitting on one being at one with nature than than building a lemon that could see someone getting hurt or damage my reputation ....they are usually closely linked

Always use a composite structural engineer, yes they are painful, yes they think boat builders are savages,yes they cost a lot of money, yes they draw stuff that can't be made easily but trust me they will save you a fortune and here's a tip, use one that you can generate a working relationship with, you might just eliminate half of this paragraph

Do not use PVC foam for anything exterior, its just not worth it, if you really have to, go to the cost of out-gassing the foam prior to using it, it wont help but it will make you feel better and also make sure the boat is white, white is real good, ask any boat painter .....although just to muddy the waters, we have been doing tests with PVC and infused laminates and placing in the sun to see what happens ....those results are classified

The boat admittedly was a lot faster than the mk1 version and did clean up a few more National Championships, even winning the overall series again in its first year, its still around, winning races and the owner was bloody good about the whole saga, when I effectively rebuilt the thing in two weeks and had him back racing when every one thought that's him gone for the season, that really went a long way to keeping the relationship intact, that's probably the most important lesson learnt, when you stuff up, own it, fix it and move on

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