A Sandwich of Affliction

There seem to be three choices open to the person who finds he keeps needing to do something completely repugnant. He can do it halfheartedly, and not worry about how it turns out; he can suffer agonies doing it little by little so it can be bearable, or he can become really good at it so that it goes quickly.

If you haven’t yet guessed, I’m talking about the most onerous, backbreaking, discouraging task of the boatbuilder—I’m talking about fairing. I’m solidly stuck on the second choice, but tempted to backslide into choice #1 nearly every day. I’d like to achieve choice number three some day, but if practice makes perfect, I really don’t want that much practice.

Fairing topsides with the help of a professional drywall finisher.
The author’s first big fairing job: Ganymede’s topsides during her construction. I wrote a Complaining Article for Cruising World magazine about that one too.

What I’m fairing, of course, is the dinghy from the last few blog posts that I’m preparing to pull a mold off of. Though it didn’t appear so at first glance, once I levelled it and started putting straightedges and battens here and there, the dips, hollows and wobbles became very apparent. The reasons for that are several: first, it wasn’t built very fair to begin with, having really only one purpose, which was to be a rough-and-tumble family cruising tender. When I was building it, having already overdosed on fairing while trying to get Ganymede presentable, I didn’t see much value in getting it laser-perfect. But then, as vinylester structures will do, it shrank a little when out of the mold, and the radius between hull and skeg tried to fold in (This diabolical tendency is called “closure,” and happens because the resin, shrinking as it cures, pulls the strands of fiberglass, tending to make every angle smaller. It’s a big problem in the fiberglass world).

As if that wasn’t enough, it had been banged on hundreds of docks and rocky beaches, and once been violently smashed into by a drug runner’s launch, speeding heedless through a Honduran harbor in the dead of night. That smash stove in the transom and sides a little, and the repair had left her not entirely straight.

To shorten a long story, the old girl needs a lot of work. After glassing on the flange and transom, and laying on a coat of primer, which is where I left off last blog post, it was time to start piling on fairing putty. I chose to use Poly Fair, a polyester fairing compound that likes to go on thick, cures almost as fast as Bondo, and is catalized with the same MEKP (methyl ethyl ketone peroxide) as most of the other resins I’m using. In order to be efficient, and to not heap up too much more than was necessary, I used planks and battens to establish how far out things needed to be built, and shoved polyfair underneath. Once the planks came off (I covered them in packing tape as a mold release), I had a datum that I could bring the rest of the surface up to.

Here is where being really good at this would have helped, since doing careful work with the putty knives saves sanding later. There are those who with a flick of the wrist and a flash of the knife render a perfect, smooth surface. Then there are those who leave gaps and boogers everywhere in spite of themselves, and when they try to go over a spot again to fix it, make it worse, because the putty is beginning to harden. It’s a discouraging task, because no matter what you do, it looks as though you’re making the whole thing worse. And of course, between each fill you must take a fairing board with 36-grit sandpaper on it and laboriously sand it all until the high spots show up again, giving you a surface to fair against.

Not all the dinghy hull is flat, and while some can fair a curved surface with a flat fairing board, I can’t. Instead I took a strip of flexible ¼” ply, hot-glued some blocks to it as handles, and slapped some sticky-back sandpaper on it. With this I could sand the curved sections, moving the board every which way over the surface so as not to gouge a trench out of one spot.

It’s a slow and painful process, but one five-gallon bucket of fairing putty later, the hull was as good as I could make it. Having learned from bitter experience that it’s useless to make fillets and roundovers until all your other surfaces are done, I now took a scrap of plywood, rounded the corner, and made a big fillet between skeg and hull. A similar, but smaller fillet was made along the sheer with a tongue depressor (the industry standard small-fillet knife). A few more smears with bondo (“Boat in a Can,” we call it), and once again it was ready for black Duratek.

I’d like to say that that’s it, but sadly, there’s lots more sanding in my future. Still, let us leave Woggs there for now, having been primed black, faired over pink, and primed black again. Like a sandwich of affliction, served with a side of elbow grease on a bed of spent abrasive strips.

Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top