Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Mystery Dinghy goes to rehab

After some extensive work, our Mystery Dinghy is ready for relaunching. 
When I bought our 8.5-foot fiberglass dinghy last summer off an ad on Craig's List, I knew she would need some work. Her teak inwales and outwales were in splinters, her thwarts were in need of repair and her bottom was covered with scars. I also wanted to reinforce her transom and install quarter knees since she was going to have a small outboard. And she just would never look right in my eyes without a breasthook.

Just how much work to do on the dinghy was a matter of philosophical debate with Virginia. Do we make it beautiful to match Oceanus? Or do we make her strong, but not fix her cosmetically so she's less appealing to would-be dinghy thieves? In the end beauty won out -- as it should.
Rowing the Mystery Dinghy for the first time was a real pleasure; she rows like a dream.

To begin with, the dinghy is inherently beautiful. We call it the Mystery Dinghy because we don't know the designer or builder. Whoever built the boat really had a good eye: the beautiful sheer, near perfect proportions, and nicely spiled lapstrake planking, are all evidence of good design well executed. She also rows like a dream. It's tough to get all that right in such a small package, as evidenced by the many ugly dinghies I see that don't row worth a damn. Not giving her a good finish and fixing her cosmetic problems would not do her justice.
The Mystery Dinghy is now papered with a HIN and registration number and sticker.

Another thing we had to fix was her documentation: there wasn't any. The guy I bought the dinghy from had no title and didn't know the builder or any previous owners beyond who he got it from.

There was no builder's plate and no Hull Identification Number (HIN), although the boat was clearly professionally built. Since it didn't have a HIN, it was built most likely before 1972 when the Coast Guard started requiring the numbers. That mean's she is about the same age as Oceanus, built in 1971.

I applied for a new HIN, title and registration from the Oregon State Marine Board and got the Sheriff's Marine Deputy to inspect the dinghy. After a few months, the Marine Board sent us a new title, registration and HIN. Because she is under 12 feet and is used as a tender to a documented vessel, we perhaps didn't need to pay the extra for full registration. But because we will have an outboard I wanted to be on the safe side. Now that we were legal, we could start the restoration.
I removed the thwarts and old inwales and outwales, and cut holes cut for inspection ports. The pattern for the quarter knees is in the upper left of the photo.

The biggest project was to remove and replace the teak inwales and outwales on the sheer strake. The old ones were originally riveted an glued and screwed into place. Taking them off was a chore. The tool of the hour was my trusty grinder with a metal-cutting blade.

I used the old pieces as a rough pattern to make the new outwales. The new inwales were different because of the addition of new quarter knees and a breast hook. I felt the dingy needed these for a couple of reasons: First, because she would have a small outboard, it would serve to better tie the transom to the rest of the boat and strengthen it. Second, they provide excellent places to grab when muscling a dinghy aboard a boat or up the beach. Third, they are beautiful and the dinghy's traditional look demanded it. I made the edges smooth and well rounded over so they feel good to your hands as you grab them.
I put nearly ever clamp I had to use when installing the inwales, outwales, quarter knees and breasthook.

Installing the new inwales, outwales, quarter knees and breasthook took nearly every clamp I had in the shop. All the clamps outweighed the dinghy, I'm sure. I cleaned the surfaces to be glued with acetone and coated them with epoxy mixed with cabosil filler and clamped them in place. Once they were where I wanted them, I drilled, countersunk and screwed them on for good measure. Later, after the epoxy kicked, I removed the clamps and Virginia plugged the holes with plugs made from cutoffs so they would match.
The new teak breasthook is nice to look at and a great handhold right where you need it.

The dinghy was now structurally sound. We could have quit there and had a perfectly serviceable dinghy. But we decided to go for beautiful.

Next, I mixed some epoxy filler and started filling the dings, old screw holes and other imperfections before we could paint. The bottom of the dinghy was especially challenging. Below the waterline it was covered with small pock marks in the gelcoat. My guess is that she was left in the water for a season and when someone scraped off the barnacles devits of  gelcoat came with them. She looked less like she suffered from acne and more like she survived a bad case of smallpox. Filling and sanding between the keel and the laps was the toughest part.
Virginia puts the first coat of black paint on the sheer strake.

Once all the filling and sanding and filling and sanding was complete, the dinghy got a final sand all over with 220-grit sandpaper. Then Virginia worked her magic with paint. During our recent trip to Minney's in Newport, Calif., we scored a quart of black and quart of white EasyPoxy one-part polyurethane paint for less than half price. Virginia painted the outside of the dinghy white with the exception of the sheer strake, which she painted black.

After she gave each color two coats, we turned the dinghy over to paint the inside. Virginia mixed a little of the black paint in with the remaining white to get a light grey for the inside. While the paint was still wet, I sprinkled some glass beads into the paint where we wanted non-skid and stippled it with a foam brush loaded with the grey paint. When it dried, the results looked and felt good.
Stippling paint on the non-skid parts of the dinghy's sole.

The dinghy's thwarts are made up of slats of teak attached to a frame and then screwed into the dinghy. They are light weight and surprisingly comfortable. I replaced a couple of broken slats, sanded and varnished the whole assembly while they were out of the boat.
A closeup of the quarter knee also shows the rejuvenated seat thwart.

Before we painted I applied several coats of my linseed oil and spar varnish mix to the new wood on the dinghy. I also carved the new HIN in the transom. Now that the dinghy was painted, I applied three coats of spar varnish. The wood glowed. I screwed in the rehabbed thwarts and she could have passed as new.

But we weren't finished yet. We attached the new registration numbers and sticker. Then we attached the new Dinghy Dogs. These are inflatable tubes that attach to the sides of the dinghy. They will add stability when getting in and out of the dinghy while diving or boarding from Oceanus. They should also help keep the boat upright when landing her through the surf. The best part is they don't drag in the water so the dinghy will still row well.
Dinghy Dogs attached.

Virginia and I got the Dinghy Dogs idea from Lin and Larry Pardey. They are similar to what they put on their fiberglass dinghy. With the addition, they say their dinghy could serve as a life raft in emergencies. This makes more sense to me than buying an expensive, single-purpose life raft that you must pay someone else to repack every few years. I've spent time in these kinds of life rafts when I took a Safety at Sea class. I don't like them. I would much rather be in a dinghy set up with additional flotation. I also don't like equipment that I can not, by law, maintain myself. The horror stories about this are legion.

We completed the work on the dinghy a couple of weeks ago, but other jobs and bad weather have kept us from relaunching her. We are eager to try out the Dinghy Dogs and the new outboard, but we want to do it when the weather is calm so we can get to know her. It looks like we may get our break soon.