1 (edited by MatildaCO26 2016-07-04 11:55:07)

Topic: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

I've bought what I think is a '73 or '74 Canadian Contessa, and it appears to be full of voids on deck and coachroof as it makes creaking noises when you stand on it, and on the coach-roof, especially, you not only get the creaks, but you can see it move underfoot.
I got a core sample taken from part of the deck which indicates the plywood is slightly damp but not rotten, that it has either delaminated or never bonded properly in the first place, and was told that resin injecting should be good enough to fix that if I am lucky - if I am not lucky then is core replacement at many thousands of dollars by a boatbuilder.
For the cabin-top I got told, again, if I am lucky, that $15,000 ought to do it to do something called "vacuuming" through the resin? These boatbuilding terms confuse me.  If I am unlucky, then it is a whole new cabin top to be made at $30k cost.

I never got the Contessa surveyed before I purchased her here in Auckland, New Zealand.  I was all starry eyed at owning possibly the only Contessa in this country that I literally paid no attention to the construction of the deck and coachroof and what may have happened over the last 40 years.

Do I just sail the boat and maybe get all these deck and coachroof creaky problems looked at if I decide to sail offshore one day - which I do plan to do.  Or, do I leave the boat on the hard at my parents place while I save up the money to get the boat "creaks" professionally fixed?

Another thing I noticed is that the liner inside the boat is sagging in places in the cabin top corners, and, for example, on the cabin sides in the interior I can push my thumb against it and see it move and make another sort of creaky noise.

Please be aware I am not a boatbuilders backside, and what is more, the little epoxying I have done have realised I am allergic to it and come out in rashes if exposed. So, even if I was the bees knees at DIY I'd still have problems - as it is I am not the bees knees.

I debated naming my Contessa "Creak" as it would be apt, but settled on "Matilda".

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

I have repaired small areas by drilling holes in the deck and injecting glue, but if your plywood is damp that will not bond properly. Somewhere on this website is a thread that shows someone removing the liner and plywood from the inside and then replacing it. If you are just day sailing, then it is probably best to just leave it. It does not seem economical to fix it considering the cost of buying a better used Contessa.

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

Hi seeadler, thanks for your reply mate.
Buying a better used Contessa is not an option I have down here at the bottom of the South Pacific.
Initially just day sailing, but hope to go longer sails in future.

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

Welcome to the world of Contessa's!

First, don't panic.  Your boat is over 40 years old and has not yet fallen apart.

And apologies in advance for a long post.

The foredeck of my 1976 Contessa makes a crackly noise but is dry and otherwise sound.  I have rebedded everything but the toerails on my boat which addressed any leaks due to absent and failed caulking.  I have found damp plywood under the poop deck (adjacent to the transom) due to leaking and poorly installed engine vents.  My firs suggestion to you might be to start looking at your boat in this area to learn how it is constructed. 

Your boat predates mine and is an early example of how boat builder's experimented with using cores to make their boats lighter.  For modern boats, the inner and outer skins are similar in thickness, just like the top and bottom of a steel I-beam.  This takes the best advantage of using cores (whether wood, balsa or foam) to lighten a panel.  In the case of our Contessa's plywood was used as the core (or the web of an i-beam) -- it is heavier than balsa but was commonly available and familiar to builders who were migrating from wooden boats to frozen snot fibreglass.

If you lift out one of the clamshell vents you will see that your deck is a sandwich comprised of gelcoat, between 1/4" and 3/8" of solid glass and resin, 1/2" to 3/4" of plywood and finally another skin of fibreglass which might be as much as 1/16" thick.  There are photos showing this style of construction in the gallery.

Also note that the plywood may not be fully encapsulated -- mine was not.  The builders laid a tow of wet glass over the plywood but left two of the four plywood edges exposed.  The good news is that in this configuration the plywood will dry itself out once you address how the water got there in the first place.  If you want to see another part of your boat, try lying on your back in the foot-well portion of your quarterberths.  There is no liner here and you should be looking up at the bottom of the winches and the reinforcements for the side decks.  The point to understand here is that the builder used the plywood to stiffen a spongy-feeling deck but the strength came mostly from the fibreglass and not the combination of glass and core.  For the most part, the bottom flange of the i-beam was never made so the real strength in the deck remains in the upper fibreglass layer.  Fibreglass is a plastic composite -- it is EXPECTED to flex -- so again, don't panic.

The crackle in the foredeck on my boat is an old problem and may go right back to the original construction of the boat.  It is not uncommon for boat builders to fail to use sufficient resin in layups and this leads to dryspots.  Wood and balsa commonly soak up resin like sponges and make leave the boundary between the core and the adjacent glass dry before the resin kicks off.  Also, remember that the core that Taylor's used for our boats was plywood.  In larger panels such as a cabin top, there may be a void between the flat plywood and the cambered deck.

Next step:  one area I would look at would be the condition of the mast step.  It is a poor design IMO and directs water into itself.  You should get a moisture meter and compare its
state to the rest of the boat.  You can learn a lot about your boat from a moisture meter and a few holes drilled upwards from inside the boat.  Also, follow your nose -- does the boat smell rotten -- moldy or mildew?  Do you see water streaks or leaks inside the cabin?  If not, then your deck may not be too bad.

The liner is just that -- a liner.  It is a skin which is loosely attached in a few places inside the cabin.  It is intended to hide the rough underside of the deck and reduce condensation.  In your Contessa it is not structural.

Something else:  rotten deck cores are a very common problem in all boats and there are many ways to make the repair.  Although I am in Canada, I have worked in the boat repair business and I would be shocked if a deck re-core for boat this size would cost more than $5k.  And you can help the shipwright along the way by removing and reinstalling various fittings (you'll be trading off epoxy rashes for days of 4200 stickiness but you will save a lot of labour as well as learn more about your boat).

Finally, my advice is the same as Seeadler's:  go go sailing.  The boat is great funm and even with a creaky deck it will be a pleasure to sail.  As you learn more about the boat you can decide what repair projects to tackle.


5 (edited by MatildaCO26 2016-12-22 16:09:32)

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

Hey Chirstopher, apologise for a lengthy post? My god man, I would be buying you rounds of beer pints if was not 10,000 miles away - or however far NZ is from Canada.
Thanks so much mate, this is just the sort of detailed info I was looking for, and also explained in a way that a non-boatbuilder guy such as myself can understand.
One thing I didn't mention is that I am rigging her as a junk rig, along the lines of Blondie Haslars JESTER, although MATILDA is of course a Contessa rather than a Folkboat. Close cousins.

I will post a draft drawing of her junk rig sailplan, subject to change as may be adding another panel and increasing mast length.

Christopher - thank you again, you have eased my mind very much, and also given me a lot of pointers on where to look and investigate.

6 (edited by MatildaCO26 2016-12-22 16:10:13)

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof


Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

The boat looks great.  Bravo on a good purchase!

Suggestion:  Go sailing with the rig as-is for this season.  The boat works well as-is and I think you should be very familiar with it before undertaking such a major change.  You need to know what you like and do not like about the boat, what your spouse likes or hates about the boat, and of course the costs for the project.  You may even decide that the Junk rig will not address the parts of the boat you don't like.  For example, the Contessa is tender and heels easily.  A junk rig will not change this.

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

I can report that the injecting of resin into areas that were "creaky" was pretty much a success.  For now, this seems to have done the trick.

Re: Creaks all over deck and coachroof

I like your notes Christopher. Very sensible .. and practical.

And good for you Matilda. She looks good. Stop worrying and Go sailing!!!