Rotten news: unexpected joys of a wooden boat haulout

Last summer, it was time to replace a few planks on Pax, my 1936 Danish spidsgatter. Admittedly, nearing 80, she was due more than a few. 

Shipwrights Diana Talley and John Zimmer agreed to do the work. Pax was hauled, tapped, chalked up, and four planks (or partial planks) were chosen for removal. If you know wooden boats (or house projects) there might be a slight increase in your heart rate at the mention of removal. Behind every plank in boat (and board in a house) you're likely to find something else that might need to be fixed. 

So it went on Pax. With the planks off, we could see some cracked ribs and the worst kind of surprise on a wooden boat - rot. No rot is welcome, not even a little, but I'd learned to live with a little over the years and chase it out in small chunks. This time, the rot had spread through a two foot section of floor. The floor was supporting one of eight keel bolts. Suffice to say, this was seriously rotten news. 

Out came the original oak floor (imagine crumbly black splinters with a stout, off-pitchy, something's-wrong-here smell) and behind it was a tapered, medieval-looking piece of steel.

Where was the hunk of 7/8" diameter, four-foot long keel bolt? 

Over the decades, electrolysis had eaten away at the steel and as the wood rotted, the whole area was subject to "iron sickness". I'd heard the term during other haulouts when we found a little rust stain, dug down to an old iron nail (usually in the largest oak timbers of the frame), and chased it out of the wood. Afterward, we bunged the holes and if needed, refastened the wood with bronze.

I held my breathe as the shipwrights checked the other floors. The rest were fine. But, since we had the planks off and access was relatively easy, I decided to remove another keel bolt. "Just one more." Then another and another until all 8 keel bolts and 3 smaller bolts holding smaller floors in the bow were removed and replaced with silicone bronze from PT Foundry.

Fortunately, the rotten news of 1 floor revealed a serious safety concern for the whole boat (and crew!). The keel bolts hold 1600 pounds of lead to the keelson and ultimately keep Pax upright. With her tall mast and large sail area, we count on that counterweight of keel to keep us sailing.

The rotten news of one day, will bring decades now - of joy.