View Full Version : Rudder Rot Questions

02-19-2008, 04:25 PM
First off I must bow down to you wooden boat builders as I am not personally a wooden boat owner and feel that my skills are not such to ever be someone who has the time, patience, experience or money to pursue such noble efforts. I come from a racing background on plastic rocket ships and have recently purchased my blue water cruiser, a 1980 Canadian Bristol Channel Cutter, which I picked up for a relatively good price.

She hauled right now to have some major work done, galley rebuild, bottom peal, new hardware, rudder rebuild, etc. Although she is made of FG I have wooden bulkwards, whalestrake, hatches, mast, boom, and rudder. I am quite knowledgeable about FG work but how often do you find wood on race boats these days.?

I am in the process of trying to decide exatly what I am going to get started on first in regards to the woodwork aboard. The scarfs in my whalestrake & bulkwards are coming apart, my bowsprit is ugly and needs beautifying but all this stuff is not going to keep me from sailing. My rudder however is a different story. The cheeks are rotten to the point of replacing but the rudder I may be able to save. I spent last weekend removing all of the paint and I found a few areas where worms got in and destroyed small portions of the rudder. My question is how should I go about fixing these issues? Can they be fixed? Should I just save up and get a new FG rudder (almost all BCC's have FG rudders $$$$)? I've never dealt with rot before and I know that if you don't fix it correctly the rot just continues.

My plan is to keep the rudder nice and dry for the next year, remove as much dead wood as possible, maybe paint some antifreeze on it from time to time to kill the critters and then build up the areas with some type of epoxy, I know there are special kinds (which ones are best I couldn't tell you). I've read you should never sheath the rudder because of water intrusion so that plan is out. Any thought or comments would be greatly appreciated. WE (my woman & I) are of modest means who have a dream to head South to Mexico in 2 years and then who knows where and anything I can rebuild or save $$ on by doing myself and still be seaworthy is of the utmost importance. I plan on tackling all of the other non structural wood work as well but right now the rudder is 1st and foremost.

Thank you again for your time and knowledge, this forum is WAY better than any FG forum out there... I specifically like the Bilge and all of the great political talk!


PS. Tried to put up photos but am not tech savvy enough to do it right... sorry. You could go to my MYSPACE page that has photos of the rebuild. If you don't have a MYSPACE account you can use my family & friend access page to watch the progress by signing in as...
Username: CosmicDancer80@hotmail.com
Password: Pirate84

...then click on friend "Captain Bry" (sexy me) and view the Cosmic Dancer Refit pictures under pics...

Confused yet??!!!! I know I am...

Ian McColgin
02-19-2008, 04:38 PM
Worm or rot?

A traditional rudder is a bit hard to repair in part as the structure - more or less verticle planks drifted together - is about impossible to take apart and then put back together. But sometimes if it's just a little damage along the very bottom end grain there are tricks that can be made to work.

If the problem is at the bottom and traveling up, how far?

02-19-2008, 04:52 PM
Bryon -

Welcome to the Forum! Hey, we all gotta start somewhere, and for many, that somewhere is fiberglass boats.

Put the photos up on a public image hosting site like www.picturetrailcom, then you can link them to posts here.

I'm a relative newbie meself and understand how confusing the nautical-speak terms can be -- but when you describe the problems in your "whalestrake and bulwards" it made me laugh out loud!

;0 )

This wikipedia page covers some of the terms but not enough to be of much help -

Here's a better resource for boatbuilding terms -

Put the photos up on a public image hosting site like www.picturetrailcom, then you can link them to posts here.

See if you can get one of the basic boat-building manuals from your local library, or find some of the John Gardner books like _Building Classic Small Craft_.

Those will help you with the terms you'll need to describe the issues, and help you understand the even more esoteric terms we come up with to tell you what to fix and how...

Can't speak to the rudder issue without more info -- can you tell us what sort of wood has been used, what dimensions it is, and how deep the worm damage goes into the rudder blade?

Again, welcome!

02-19-2008, 05:05 PM
Welcome to the forum. We eagerly await pictures. One question, when you wrote "bulkwards" did you mean bulwarks?

02-19-2008, 05:20 PM
Welcome. I admire you energy and vision but I for one get uncomfortable should someone bows down to me, but others here may enjoy it. Remember, you get what you pay for.
With that refusal of responsibility, I would rebuild the wooden parts of the rudder using the old fittings (the metal parts) and laminate with vertical grain Douglass Fir glued with epoxy, fastened and drifted together, using the old one as a pattern, taking pictures of dis-assembly, asking the crew there at the yard for help and opinions and read voraciously. Than cover the new rudder with glass and epoxy. You will learn heaps and be more prepared for the other tasks you mention. Again, my opinion and worth what you payed.
Best of luck and stay optimistic.

02-19-2008, 08:45 PM
Wow that was fast. It takes me forever to get a question answered on the BCC page. Let me see if I can elaborate.

The Rudder is made of Mahogany. It is stern hung and is approximately 6' tall & 2'wide at the widest point. Weight I would guess is somewhere around 100+ lbs. I can barely lift it and I'm built like an ox. I only just started to find a few areas on the blade with worm holes. Approximately 5-10 total, the longest being about 2 inches. Right behind the prop there is a larger area of damage about 2" wide by 4" long. Looks like multiple holes and the previous owner just filled them up with a little filler.

Bottom of Rudder:
Area just aft of Prop:
The Whole Blade:
Slight Seperation:
Another Bottom View

Thank you for the links to the terms & help with uploading photos. I find that where I go everyone seems to have there own lingo. My lingo comes from racing and little to do with the how the boat is built etc. And yes I meant bulwarks... I've seen John's book before so I'll have to go pick it up.

As far as the whalestrake the BCC owners page talks a bit about these parts but essentially from what I'm told the whalestrake are the beauty boards just below the deck on the exterior of the hull. They provide no structural support of the boat and are for beauty only. I've been thinking about just removing them and cleaning and painting the FG behind it, most BCC's are built this way. I don't have any good pictures of the scarfs seperating but this picture shows he whalestrake right below the bulwarks and above the registration.

Thank you again... I look forward to picking all of your brains over the course of this rebuild, a planned 2 year ordeal. And thanks for not dumping on a FG boat owner... I have a lot of respect for someone that takes the time and the effort to care and love a wooden boat. Maybe when I'm older I'll have more time to devote to building a small wood craft but right now the wood aboard has me scared as it's the only medium I haven't worked with. I've even cast my own bronze parts before. I just want to get finished and go sailing yesterday!!!

02-19-2008, 08:50 PM

The rudder is SOLID other than the worms. Even though there is some slight separation I'm rather amazed at how stout and strong it is built. I guess that is why I'm hoping I can salvage the damage, fill with epoxy and just keep using it.

02-19-2008, 09:13 PM
Byron, from here, the rudder looks repairable - but that's from here, so the opinion isn't worth much:D. I'd advise some pretty careful and thorough inspection of the rest of the wood before you decide what to do. Worms are sneaky. They get in through pin-hole sized breaks in paint and start eating their way along the grain. Often you can't see much evidence at the surface (although I'd be suspicious of the black marks either side of the split), but when you probe deeper, you find there's nothing left under the surface. But there is good news:
1) worms die if they dry out.
2) worms die in fresh water.
3) they don't usually like to cross lines between planks

All this means that if you're lucky, the damage will be isolated and therefore repairable. Worms in those 2 areas is not uncommon. The area behind the prop is vulnerable to loss of paint from the prop wash, and the bottom is easily damaged if it touches the bottom. Broken paint is likely the culprit. As for the split - avoid the temptation to put anything in the gap - don't fill it, epoxy it, or otherwise mess with it. Just carefully clean it out and let it be. It will most likely swell up tight when the rudder gets good and wet again.

And one more thing - those are more correctly "wale" planks, or simply wales - not whales. In the olden days, the wales were thicker bands of plank that ran between wind and water. In a warship they were often the main support for a gundeck, and the name became transmuted into "gunwales" or "gunnels". They were important structural members on large wooden ships up until the mid 1800's. Yours are just decorative, but that's the origin. My instinct would be to take 'em off for blue water cruising. They're excess weight, hard to maintain, and the fastenings are all potential leakers. But that's just me.

- Norm

02-19-2008, 10:19 PM
Sorry about the senior moment with your name.
Just a thought before I call it a night, after 28 years, I would want to check the condition of the fasteners that hold the laminates of mahogany together. And check VERY throughly for any unseen worm damage before any final decision is made, keep an open mind on options. Great looking boat by the way, even if it IS frozen snot.

02-20-2008, 11:55 AM

Thanks Norm for writing what you did about the wale planks. Personally I'm a big fan of keeping thing simple to use and repair. Problem has been the other half. I'm fortunate enough to have a woman who enjoys sailing as much as I do but she is of the "Got to be Beautiful" school where every inch of wood is varnished and no bolts show on the interior. I made her do some varnishing last year and she finally agreed that maybe we should paint some of the wood work for ease. Then we ran into another BCC with bolts in the interior so I won that battle too after she talked to the owner. Your post about removing the planks put that issue to rest! So thank you. Interesting history too. I had no idea. I had to write that down.

I'm going to make a pattern of the rudder and begin disassembly to inspect every thing including the hardware and eventually get those planks removed as well.

Jackster, everyone messes up the name... I was called Byron all through school and college. I go by hey you if need be.

Thanks again, I'll keep you all posted on the wood work progress!

Jim Ledger
02-20-2008, 12:35 PM
What is that material between the planks?

Usually, the planks are fastened together dry and are free to expand and contract somewhat when the boat is hauled out and relaunched.

It might be that at some point the planks shrank and someone filled the resulting gaps with some filler or other. A filler that hardens would tend to push the planks apart when they swelled on launching.

Which has nothing to do with your worm damage, of course, but might be worth thinking about.

02-20-2008, 01:44 PM
The previous owner actually thought it would be a good idea to fill the gaps with thickened Epoxy... The gap you see is one that I began removing the epoxy from but didn't finish before I had to call it a weekend. I intend on removing all of the epoxy in the gaps...

Roger Cumming
02-20-2008, 11:15 PM
Worm holes in the rudder should be very carefully looked at to determine their extent. I discovered worm holes on my old boat's rudder that traveled more than 3 feet up the rudder from the bottom where the paint was rubbed off. If there is any doubt whatsoever about the extent of the worms, build a new one.

Wild Wassa
02-21-2008, 07:38 AM
"I've read you should never sheath the rudder because of water intrusion so that plan is out."

Do you mean to say that the Balsa endgrain rudders that I make for yachts, which I sheath in carbon are not the real deal or have an inherent weakness?

Are you trying to send me out of business Byron? ... I'm glad my client's don't come here to read up on the theory of ... lots of real world things.

Byron, almost every large wooden rudder that I repair is sheathed in something or other and water intrusion is not much of a problem on the sheathed rudders. It is the unsheathed rudders that are the real problem.

A small tip Mate about worms. Worms aren't that fond of glass or carbon or kevlar. I've not seen one eat it's way through three layers of carbon ... ever.

Today, I started building a large rudder in Balsa and Western Red which will be sheathed in carbon. This light weight hollow rudder, will be expensive for the client ... I can't afford to build rudders that fail. Nor do they, nor can I afford not to sheath them.


02-21-2008, 12:47 PM
You have an awfully thin skin for an Aussie! (Just kidding, I would not want to anger someone named "Wild" anything, its just hard to see the tongue in your cheek from this side of the world.)
But seriously, you seem to be a speialist in this area, what do you think about sheathing Byron's rudder, if that is, the fasteners are OK and the worm damage is minimal? My concern would be the moister contant of the mahogany after being submerged on and off for 28 years. Do you think it can dry out enough? That sure seems like the way to go.
Would you fill the gaps and holes with thickened resin?
would you recomend carbon?
Would you reinforce the bottom for wear ?
What about around the through fasteners, a resin bushing?
Just thought I would pick your brain while you were here and maybe Byron can use it too. Cheers!

Wild Wassa
02-21-2008, 04:09 PM
My comment was only about sheathing timber it wasn't about Byron's rudder.

If it was my rudder, I would most likely not sheath it. I'd just maintain it regularly. I would certainly dry the rudder before I started the restoration apart from removing all of the rot and possibly bleaching the timber firstly, if retaining the timber look was important.

I'm not one for getting any boat back on the water with the expedient attitude of, "boats are to be sailed just do it and get it back on the water" ... I make my living from this type of attitude that people have had in the past.

Apart from not knowing the full extent of the worm problem which I would open up or remove completely, the rest of the rudder appears to be in good shape and not needing anything overly special apart from a bit of timber replacement, back filling and clamping. I would recut the rudder, I like all hydro foils to be as perfect as I can make them.

There are many options for restoring Byron's rudder. The Option for retaining the wood so that it can be seen, an option for painting and no longer seeing the timber ... how the restoration is started and tackled revolves around what the final visual appearance of the rudder, is meant to be, and the level of surface quality of the finish required.

If the rudder is to be under paint the way the restoration has gone in the past, using Fill-it or Epifill? is more than adequate after removing the problems, preserving the timber with CPES or Evidure or TPRDA or an equivalent.

If the wood is important, I'd remove the old white coloured filler with a Dremel and a burr or engraving bit. I'd pull the rudder apart if needed to get to the worms and rot. I like rotary wire brushes in a drill they take no prisoners when it comes to removing rot, and then I'd soak the timber in Oxalic acid, then wash it well and dry it. I'd replace the timber where needed, I'd re glue the gaps back together, camouflage the damage with wood dust in epoxy (I only use non-yellowing hardeners) that I would colour balance carefully, then recut the rudder to the optimum shape, reseal it and then finish it.

Recutting the foils that I restore is always consisent with having the finished blade make Class measurements.

All up a job like that would take about 20 days overall, from start to finish and allowing for drying time. Bleaching, complete drying, glue curing times and recutting then reskinning and finally finishing the paint. In actuall work time maybe only 7-8 hours work. All restoration jobs come with substantial downtimes built-in unfortunately.


02-22-2008, 04:20 PM

I appreciate your candidness on the matter. I know very little on this subject but in my search for information on rebuilding the rudder I've read several places where it is said that sheathing a rudder is a bad idea because of the natural flexing of the wood and the possibility of trapping moisture. It does make sense to me being an epoxy guy, that if one were to take the time and effort to sheath correctly with wood that is stabilized I don't see how sheathing could be a bad idea. Please advise if I'm arriving to this conclusion correctly. Of course like everything you would want to keep an eye on it and repair any issues as soon as they happen. I can have this rudder removed in under 20 minutes if need be. I've actually sheathed my Thistles rudder, albeit a much smaller rudder than the one in the pics. I haven't had any problems with that rudder other than the occasional nick that is easily repaired with thickened epoxy after a little out of the water for drying.

You mention a few products for correcting and repairing the issues, I will look into those if I decide to repair.

My question for you would be this... My brother in-law is a finish carpenter, he wants the challenge of building a new one. Am I correct in figuring that if I do buy good air dried timber I could sheath the rudder without any issues? How would you do that? Several layers of epoxy and roving? Over drill the attachment holes and fill with epoxy? I don't have any need to see the wood, I just want a good solid rudder that is easy to take care of. Thoughts?

Again thanks for the opinion and the different angle on the matter, that's why I'm here.


p.s. The boat is out of the water for the next 2 years so I have some time to take apart the old and let it dry out as much as possible and to perform some of the work on it you mentioned. I personally prefer to do as much of my own work as possible but my background is in FG not wood.