View Full Version : seam putty

03-08-2002, 09:59 PM
I've read a lot of the old threads about seam putty and alternatives, but I'm new to big wooden boats and a little confused.

I am waiting to take possession of a 1927 32 foot yellow cedar carvel planked sailboat. She has been out of the water for 2 weeks while the owners are having some minor repairs done after which time they will have the bottom painted and put back in the water.

I have had her surveyed and the hull is sound and the surveyor didn't suggest any repairs or work. There are, however, a lot of small dings, places where some of the seam putty has come out, small areas where the iron keel is corroding, etc. There is also one spot where the seam putty or stopping has come out between two plank ends and had been filled poorly with some kind of flexible compound.

I would like to fill in as many of these as possible before it gets painted and put back in the water, but I am getting a lot of different answers about what to use. Also I don't want to spend a pile of money yet since she isn't mine until the repairs are done and I see her in the water with her engine running.


03-09-2002, 08:38 AM
did your surveyor pull any fasteners? How did they check the keelbolts?
I have a 1931 ketch, so I know where your coming from. I know I'm not comfortable unless I go through every inch of the boat myself. If I sound over cautious, I have reason to be.
By the way, your in the right place to ask questions. These are fine people, and will have advice every step of the way. To address your question, Ive used mostly interlux seam compound or slickseam.(but with any compound the boat should be structurally sound first). If the boat is dry, some coumpounds will squeeze out excess when the boat swells. With being out only two weeks, that shouldn,t be an isuue. Of course there is more to it than I have adressed. I'm sure there is more out there also,and as you, I welcome more opinions.

03-09-2002, 03:39 PM
My surveyor didn't pull any fasteners and didn't appear to do anything except look at the keel bolts. I was kind of disappointed with the survey since I was hoping for much more detail on the condition of the boat and necessary repairs, but he basically just told me that the boat was in amazing shape, and most of the repairs required were cosmetic. I should be happy with that, but I just suspect he missed stuff.

I have tried a few times to get advice from these guys and don't seem to be able to generate very many responses. I have a very short time to decide what, if anything, to do before the boat goes back in the water and I have heard such a wide range of suggestions that I have no idea what to do.

I will probably just pick one of the various products available and do as good a job as I can for now and hopefully have a better idea what to do next time (hopefully I won't have screwed things up too much). I've sort of narrowed it down a bit to seam putty, slick seam, or one of the non-adhesive goo in a tube type products (iI guess all I have ruled out are the home-made mixtures of putty, red lead powder, tar, cement, etc). Is one of those better when it is cold and wet? can slick seam be used to fill small gaps and holes or does it mostly just seal seams? Is there any product that is good for the corroded spots on the iron keel?


03-09-2002, 06:08 PM
hi , first read the thread on "what do I do first"
slick seam is probably only good on seams, not holes. I really can,t answer the question on corroded keels. Grind it down, use a good underwater metal primer and bottom paint.
If the old keelbolts have never been changed, "PULL ONE". Otherwise your boat will become ,much lighter when you least expect it. Pull a few fasteners yourself. I find near the engine compartment area corrodes first. I,m guessing due to the proximity of electrical current. If your not happy get another survey, I'm sure someone here can suggest a qualified one in your area. I don't mean to scare you but your life may depend on it. mariner

03-09-2002, 06:29 PM
Sorry, Jimmey.

I suggest you walk away, or RUN AWAY!

Removing some fasteners may be seen as some kind of absurd ceremony, but you'd be surprised by how much better you will feel in a 40 knot storm, knowing that a few necked screws aren't going to part company.

There are other boats that will appeal to you, in time.

If, after a survey, you don't know any more than you knew already, 1) The surveyer is incompetant; 2)You know as much as that particular surveyer; 3) You don't know enough to make a reasonable decision.

You may copy this and send it to the surveyor with my compliments.

My surveyor, over the strong objection of the owner, and the marina's objections, removed 40 screws from the hull and quit as not one screw was more than 10% necked, and most looked brand new.

(The marina called me and insisted that they could fill the holes with epoxy and have the boat back in the water by that evening. You might anticipate my response. I told them, if the holes were not plugged properly; allowed to dry and be painted, the deal was off.)

If you want to see a copy of a real surveyors report, send me an email and I'll ship a copy of the last two surveys.

Don't forget, You're the guy with the cash. The broker, the seller and the marina are all hoping the deal will go through. Make like you're walking and find a better surveyor.

What exactly is the big hurry, anyway.

Stan Derelian
03-09-2002, 09:38 PM
Jimmy, Rodcross and Mariner are giving you good advice. You've got the money, your're in the driver's seat.

I would look at Slick Seam as a temporary solution, and would probably go with redoing the putty as long as the caulking is ok. But it sounds like there are other issues.

I'm near you on Salt Spring, and can recommend someone in Victoria for you to contact. He is an oldtime boatwright who worked on my boat, and though might seem a tad eccentric, I would trust him completely to give a no BS opinion. If you are interested email me.

Scott Rosen
03-09-2002, 11:43 PM

My boat's in Westbrook and I'd like to get a new survey this spring. Who did you use? He sounds good from your description.

03-10-2002, 09:58 PM
How do you pull a keel bolt? As far as I can see you can only access the end that has a nut on it. Pulling fasteners doesn't look a lot easier, but I doubt I will pay somebody to come all the way up from Victoria to do it.

I didn't really understand the comments about running away. Am I to understand that if the surveyor didn't pull a keel bolt and some fasteners that he didn't do a proper survey?

Although I am in the "driver's seat, I am not the guy with all the money, the owners have a large deposit which they would be quite justified in keeping if I tried to walk away after a favourable survey from a surveyor chosen by me and who was recommended by several people as the best wooden boat surveyor in the area.

I read thread on "what do I do first" and didn't see much useful. The boat I am buying hasn't been sitting out of the water for 10 years, it was in the water until 2-3 weeks ago. It has been surveyed and got a favourable report. Most of the things I am worried about fixing were considered minor by the surveyor, boatyard, and a shipwright who repaired the bowsprit.

I heard there was some kind of product that you can use on rust that turns it black and seals it and makes it paintable, does anybody know what it's called and how well it works.

My keel also doesn't appear to have an anode on it or an obvious place to attach one. I assume it is a good idea to have one, but how do I go about attaching one (or will it be OK without one?).

03-10-2002, 11:41 PM
Pulling a fastening is really quite easy, unless it is a rivet or a clenched nail.If it is a screw simply remove the bung and unscrew. Or unclench that nail, or pop the rivet and pull it through. Pulling a keelbolt is not quite as easy. The bottom may be in a pocket accesible thru the side of the ballast filled with concrete (just one example), or a similar situation in the bottom. It is presumtuous to say the boat is not good. But, wouldn't it be nice to be assured your ballast will not fall off. That's a lot of years to have the same keelbolts. I would almost assume that they are corroded if they are iron. (consider replacement in the price) Is the nut turnable on top? You may want to confront your surveyor with questions about the fasteners and keelbolts. After all that is what you are paying for. The product you speak of to neutralize rust is available at most marine supply stores. One of them is called Osphase. Keep in touch.

03-11-2002, 01:00 AM
The nuts on the keel bolts don't look like they would turn, they're rusted pretty bad. Are there any other warning signs that the keel bolts are bad other than the boat getting lighter suddenly? The joint between the deadwood and ballast is difficult to find, which I assume means it isn't loose.

The hull fasteners look like they are bronze nails bent over on the inside. I guess I could try driving one out from the inside. Would the bung pop out or would I have to figure out which one it is on the outside too?

You might be able to look at a couple of photos here:


[ 03-11-2002, 11:30 AM: Message edited by: Jimmy 7 ]

03-11-2002, 08:13 AM
There are several uses to which a proper written survey can be applied.

Foremost,is the general statement of condition of the boat and specific information of areas of maintenance that should be addressed.

Before buying ALITA I insisted on a detailed survey. I wanted to know everything and I wanted confirmation of what I thought I knew. Beyond that, I wanted someone smarter than I to examine her for future maintenance concerns and for anything I may have missed in my 'starry-eyed' initial examination.

Once I had that survey, good as it was, I could have focused on any of a dozen areas of concern and walked away from the deal. Or, I could have insisted on each of those concerns to be addressed and corrected by the owner before I completed the purchase and the list could have been long enough to drive the seller away from the deal. A good survey puts you in absolute control of the entire transaction.

The next use is equally important and that has to do with insurance. These days, insurance is important. 30 gallons of diesel fuel dumped in my home waters could cost me $250,000; Losing a child of a guest or any member of the crew could cost me everything I own. I won't go out or take anyone with me without that kind of coverage.

Do a search on insurance in this forum and you'll find that coverage is not that easy to get and they all require a written survey.

My survey is a road-map for planning repairs and improvements and gives me an idea of which things must be addressed first. If I manage it properly, I will have a record of maintenance and improvements that will enhance the value of the boat if I should decide to sell.

Now, Jimmy, all that being said, I am protecting and improving an investment that will amount to well over $100,000, and could go much higher, when I'm done, so it was worth it to me to pay the surveyor to make an extra trip. My situation is quite different from some other members of this forum and may be very different from yours.

Even now, in your situation, you could insist on the replacement of the keel-bolts and the proper repair of the damaged plank-ends. You'll get your deposit back or you'll get a major price reduction or, you'll get the new keel-bolts.

Scott. Sad to say, the man who surveyed my boat is in Minneapolis. Sadder still, is the fact that Heritage Marine commented that it was the best and most thorough survey they'd seen. I depended, heavily, on him. Before I bothered to travel to Duluth to see the boat, I asked him to visit the boat and give me a general description and an unofficial assessment of the condition. He didn't want to do that until I convinced him that I understood what I was getting into. His first visit took about two hours, during which he took two rolls of very unflattering photographs of every ding, every sloppy repair and paint chip. Then he sent me a long email with his general impressions. Some of the best money I ever spent, and it was not that expensive. When he said that he opened every locker and sniffed; That the boat smelled sweet and fresh, I knew I had the right guy and the right boat.

I'm seriously thinking of paying his way to Connecticut when I need the next survey.

Dave Hadfield
03-11-2002, 09:32 AM
Jimmy, pulling a screw on your hull is no different from pulling a screw from a cabinet. Sacrifice a small slot screwdriver by grinding an edge onto it. Use it to chip away the bung, starting from the center of the bung so that you never damage the sides of the hole (since you're going to want to put a bung back in later!)

Slick seam is a sticky wax. It cannot glue anything together. Your boat has not been out long enough for the planks to dry and separate. You shouldn't need slick seam. Interlux and other companies make seam putty. Rake out the loose old stuff but don't mar the caulking cotton. If the cotton is loose, ask some one how to recaulk that little piece, or just firmly rap it back into place with a tool that fits. If bare wood is exposed paint it and the caulking with red-lead or some sort of boat-grade primer. Then use the seam putty. Then top coat.

If the planks are held on by bent-over nails, it'll be more difficult. I saw this once on a small Heisler schooner. They used hot-dipped galvanized nails. They were still gripping, but the zinc on the nail has a way of welding itself to the wood, making it very sticky. I would pry up the end of the nail to straighten it. Then I'd cut it off with nippers leaving about 5/8 inch sticking up. Then I'd tap it with a hammer firmly. Then go outside and look to see which bung has a new crack in its paint, to identify where the nail is. Dig out the bung and expose the nail head. Rap on the nail head with a hammer and nail-set to loosen it. Go back inside and try to drive it out that 5/8 inch. Go back outside and pull the nail out with a crowbar, being extremely careful to arrange a perfect pad for the fulcrum of the crowbar, placed over a frame, not just a plank.

If it hasn't corroded more than 20% or so, don't worry about it. Otherwise it needs refastening. Like most boat jobs, it isn't really difficult, just awkward and tedious.

I recently spent 2 whole days (with another chap whom I was paying!) removing one keelbolt. They can be difficult, for sure. Frequent cycles of heat and WD40 can do the trick if you're patient enough. One thing: if you can't twist the shank of the bolt using a big wrench with a 3ft pipe on it, then the bolt is still pretty strong. If it was badly corroded it would just twist off and break, so it's at least stronger then that.

I'd be inclined to try to remove one, and if it was too bloody awkward pay someone to do it. Pay by the bolt, not the hour!

I wouldn't run away from this boat (though your photos didn't post). If the surveyor didn't trash it, the outlook is positive, at least.

03-11-2002, 02:58 PM
Here is another attempt to post photos of my boat, hopefully this link will work:


03-11-2002, 04:52 PM
Sweet photo...Lots of good advice here. Hope you have a better handle on the situation.

03-11-2002, 07:58 PM
The boat _looks_ to be in excellent condition. Alas, beauty is only skin-deep.

I've seen a book with a title something like "How to be your own marine surveyer" (or something pretty close to that). While it's not a substitute for someone qualified, it could sure help you figure out if your surveyer is qualified in the first place!

One thing i've read about is the use of an ice pick or small (penknife) blade to poke around. The idea isn't to try to force it into the wood, but to press gently/firmly. If it's rotten, the blade/pick will go in with virtually no effort. If your surveyer didn't do anything like that, i'd wonder.

You also might want to have the sails looked over - they're not so cheap to fix/replace either.

Insurance companies that insure wooden boats might be a good source of "wood qualified" surveyers.

03-12-2002, 12:12 PM
I talked to another marine surveyor in the area who told me that in order to pull fasteners and keel bolts he has to have written permission from the owner. He highly recommends pulling a keel bolt and he would do it for me (with the owner's permission) but he would only do it on an hourly rate which, from what I have heard, could end up being very expensive.

Most of the people in the area that I have talked to say there isn't any reason to worry about the keel bolts (although that isn't stopping me). This keel isn't loose at all, in fact it is very difficult to figure out where the ballast stops and the deadwood starts. Also the boat has a full keel which is held on by between 6 and 10 bolts, so chances are that even if there are a few bad ones, the ballast won't fall off without any warning. I will take a much closer look at them myself today to make sure there aren't any that are loose or suspicious. After that I will just keep an eye on them.

Ed Harrow
03-12-2002, 12:42 PM
Jimmy, is there any other iron in the boat? Iron fastening floors to keel, or frames to floors? Phoenix is ten years younger than that boat, and when the keel bolts were replaced a couple of years ago there wasn't much left. Iron bolts holding keel/gripe scarf have, apparently failed, bolts holding floors to keel have failed. But, dispite all that, she looked pretty good from the outside. Of course she now has new keel bolts, but with a boat sitting on the ground the seam between the ballast keel and the hull had better be tight, LOL. Take a look when the hull is afloat.

Make certain the floors are tight to the keel. Salt water and mixed metals can create interesting effects on fasteners. Have you been out sailing on the boat. A good up-wind thrash will tell you alot. You don't want to pass this judgement on a pleasant evening's sail with 10 knots of wind.

Phoenix was listed at $22K. One good survey and a year or so later she was mine for the price of the moving. More than anyone, you are at the mercy of the surveyor. I met an individual this summer (details protected) who was contemplating suing the party that surveyed the boat he purchased. The boat had major structural problems which the surveyor did not report, and the buyer did not discover until the boat was delivered (He did purchase the boat sight unseen).

Good luck!

03-12-2002, 02:03 PM
Jimmy, from my experience ballasts don,t look loose, they just fall off. Without warning! (Someone up there heard me say "next year I'll check the keelbolts"). One year too late. Plus when the boat is on land it'll look real tight. Even if I bought the boat I would replace the bolts. If seen this twice with iron bolts. One boat was only a 1969. Great looking boat!

[ 03-12-2002, 02:06 PM: Message edited by: mariner2k ]

03-12-2002, 11:12 PM
I brought in another surveyor to look at my keel bolts today and talked to the first surveyor on the phone. The first surveyor told me that he just doesn't pull keelbolts and that if I wanted it done I would have to hire a shipwright to do it. He also said that he saw no reason for concern.

The second surveyor told me that they would most likely be OK, especially since there are so many of them. He recomended that I remove a couple of the nuts and examine the bolts immediately below. He said that, if needed, I could remove some wood in order to get enough threads to put new nuts on if the bolts are OK. It looks like somebody has already done this for two of the bolts which leads me to believe they passed a previous inspection and makes me feel a little better.

I will see if I can get one of the nuts off tomorrow. Wish me luck.

03-13-2002, 09:49 PM
Jimmy, don't trust the bolts just because the
top of one looks good under the nut. They tend
to waste away in the middle. The ends may be 90% intact and you'll find that the middle of the
bolt has been eaten away to a pencil point. I
made the unfortunate decision once to buy a
little 18' foot sloop without benefit of a surveyor's advice because it seemed so inexpensive. I thought I knew enough to see the problems that needed attention.... When I
hauled her to "repaint the bottom", the yards free pressure washer knocked the heads off a couple of the bolts holding her fin keel to the wooden keel.
I got very nervous... and spent several long and ugly evenings with SWMBO & assorted heavy tools pounding the *&#^$ out of the bolts, one at a time down through the keel and out the bottom and replacing them with expensive new bolts ( 1/2' x 13" S.S. ). The
majority of the old bolts were wasted away to
1/8" or less at their centers. They could be twisted hard with a long breaker bar and made to spin free of their lower halves. I was
lucky enough to have access to both the tops and the bottoms of the bolts because the fin keel design had a flat flange on the top through which the bolts were passed up through the wood keel. I ended up replacing
or repairing a large percentage of the boat by
the time she went back in the water. It was a
learning experience I would not wish on anyone. Good luck with your search for a boat
but I'd really suggest you pull at least one keelbolt before you commit to this one.

03-14-2002, 07:01 AM
two more cents from me.....the very year that my ballast took leave of my boat , a surveyor said he thought the bolts were fine. When in fact after removing the top half (which is all I had left) the centers we corroded to a point. I didn't trust the survey , but acted upon it too late. Pulling one is a pain in the ass, but you'll sleep better.

Dave Hadfield
03-14-2002, 09:17 AM
Jimmy, dumb question, but from the photos (lovely boat to look at, that's for sure!) the hull looks very very smooth. She hasn't been 'glassed, has she?

Alan D. Hyde
03-14-2002, 09:31 AM
Does anyone know where on the net (or on this site) the photos of the Blackfish are?

She lost her keel while offshore, and sunk as a consequence.

Never salvaged? Or was she? There's of course a wonderful book on her building.


03-18-2002, 01:34 PM
Thanks for everyone's advice. I'm now completely paranoid about the keelbolts and I will plan on pulling and replacing some of them next time I haul her out. She is back in the water now so I'm not going to mess with them until next time she is out.

To answer Dave's question, the hull has not been fiberglassed. I was told she was hauled out and sanded a few years ago, but judging from the different layers of paint I found while doing minor repairs to the bottom, they didn't do a very thorough job. She has just been well maintained.