The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Truth...about Bob.
Updated: Aug 18
According to most “professionals” the options for a fiberglass repair are limitless in methods, materials and epoxies. If you are looking to fix your own boat there isn’t any shortage of advice from ‘professionals’, friends, and other YouTube junkies. Information is abundant and easy to find.
The Bad And The Ugly
Unfortunately there are absolutely no marine standards in composite building or repairing in which to follow. That’s right! It’s all made up. All of it! Everything is word of mouth. Apart from a few books written by some enterprising and suspicious ‘industry professionals’ there is nothing! No books written by engineers, PHD professors or scientist. If you don’t believe me then just ask around. Ask a pro where he got his training and his certifications. He’ll most likely tell you that certifications are not required or that he was taught by the best. If you are doubtful of what I am telling you then look it up online. You’ll quickly be disappointed if you are trying to prove me wrong.
Just last January I was told by a self proclaimed shipwright that ‘boat refitting and repairing is an art and not that of a science.’ ‘That there is a thousand and one ways to do the same job whether is be structural or cosmetic.’ ‘You just need a good eye and a steady hand, no brains required!’
Sadly last spring while working in Richmond B.C. Canada for another ‘professional shipwright’ I was told to ”just add a lot of glass and resin and it will hold together just fine!” After having an argument with this very same individual he insisted that “neither material nor method matters when building with composites….just thickness!” This very same ‘shipwright and experienced project manager had stated all I had to do was build a 10 foot bulbous, out of glass 1-¼ thick and stick it on the boat. Shouldn’t take more than 150 hours. Afterall, how hard could that be on a 67 foot troller sitting outside on blocks in Canada's wettest province? Right?
The stated theory for most boat builders/repairers tends to go like this; “I’ve been building/repairing boats for years and...:
“...nobody has complained yet!”
“...this is how I was taught!”
“...I don’t believe that any of my boats have ever sank!”
“...nobody has ever told me otherwise!”
“...this is the only way to do it right! Why? Just is!”
“...cause it makes sense! Why? Just does!”
(I am not making this up, these are quotes from shipwrights that I have worked for over the years.)
Apparently I should feel safer sleeping on a boat built by ‘Bob the shipwright’ floating 3600 ft above terra nova on cold dark and rough shark infested ocean waters than I should be comfortably sleeping on a plane flying at 35,000 ft above the earth built by some of the worlds best minds, engineers and composite technicians. Compare the number of sunken watercraft per year to the amount of aircraft crashes and you will begin to get my drift. In neither case I am not talking about pilot/captain error, I am talking about systems or structural failures. But if you want to discuss what the knowledge an everyday pilot has about his or her aircraft and compare that to what most boat owners know about their watercraft then you would once again find yourself easily in that proverbial 36,000 ft deep pool of cold dark shark infested waters. Ask any boat repairer, (not a builder), about structures, laminates or layup schedules, thicknesses and fiber direction on any given boat you will probably get a very perplexed looked with either an honest shrug of the shoulders or simply a whole bunch of bullshit figures and facts that not even the top minds in the industry were aware of.
Even some of the training and teaching organizations with their sincere and noble attempts to standardize the trade have fallen far short of the mark of creating an industry standard. Most of the people they hire to teach are the very same people I’ve been chatting about in the paragraphs above. Each instructor claiming to have the ‘best right way to make a composite structural or cosmetic repair.’ It isn’t that I don’t trust ‘Bob the Shipwright’ it’s just that I would feel safer “‘knowin’ ware Bob had goten hiz edukaession an’ lernin’ frum!!”’ My personal experience has been that most professional shipwrights go with the theory that it will be safe if you overbuild it. These very same guys will scratch their heads if you ask something stupid such as…...what about the hydrostatics? As a boat builder and repairer it was that kind of thinking that made me stare at my ceiling at night wondering about liability issues and if there wasn’t a better way. Surely there was a method. I mean one on paper that can be taught and that makes sense!
Safe composite repairs or building is not an art, but a science! The finishing is an art, one that includes actual theory, proven successes, measurable results and professional methodology.
The question is how and where does one in the boat refitting and repairing business acquire the proper knowledge, skills and certifications in composite boat repair?
Over the past 10 years my company had countless, meetings and conversations with boating industry leaders such as the ABYC, ABBRA, Transport Canada, NNMA, NSBA, BCYA, Quadrant, ITA etc….but to no avail. The answers ranged from:
We don’t know….
Call this or that organization….
We are putting something in place very soon….
We have been discussing this very serious concern over the past 5 or 10 years….
Look no further, as we have taken the initiative and hired ‘Bob the Shipwright’ to create a standard for our school and it’s currently being taught by Bob and his past students!!! We are even pushing for government funding and legitimacy for our program. You should join!
So………….. I gave up my quest and started looking towards other transportation industries for answers. After literally years of careful research I am happy to announce that the aircraft industry doesn’t feel the same way as the marine industry feels about composites and its building methods. Over the past 20 years the aerospace industry has made huge leaps and bounds in the world of composite, building and technology. The North American Marine Composite Repair Industry hasn’t only been left behind eating dust but is absolutely nowhere to be seen. The aerospace industry have textbooks upon textbooks written by some of the best composite PHD’s, engineers and scientist in the world. They also offer internationally recognized skills, testing and certifications. If you can build a plane to survive the stresses of takeoff, fly under high g-forces at altitudes without falling apart, land, fly to Mars or reenter the earth's atmosphere, survive a controlled crash or stop bullets then you can safely with confidence build or repair a boat.
Only the best boat builders in the industry have seen the light and now look to the aerospace industry for solutions and training. Today's top naval engineers, architects and builders of race boats and high end yachts both sail and motor are looking to and following the aerospace industry in technology, methodology and building. Both the aircraft and car industries have seen spotted these weaknesses and have quickly jumped aboard in order to fill the gap. Companies like BMW and and Lockheed Martin have easily dove into the boating market. It is for this reason the professional boat building industry has made such leaps in hydrodynamics, hydrostatics, airfoil, hydrofoil and aerodynamics technology. It is only recently the sail boat industry come out of the 19th century and began smashing records that were made as far back as 30 to 50 years ago. For the past 10 years records are being smashed on almost a monthly bases as boats literally fly across oceans. You can thank the aerospace industry for that.
So if you want to be part of the cutting edge or just catch up to the present, then begin looking to the aerospace industry for answers, technology and training. I took this route and now I can build better, lighter, stronger and faster then most of my competitors. My competitors have gone so far as spying under our tents and blankets only to be embarrassed when approached by myself or employees asking if they needed any help with anything?
When all is said and done what does this really mean to me? Well it means to me what it should mean to Bob and more importantly what it should mean to you the sailor. And that is that I am responsible for the life of somebody somewhere out there on the water, on a boat that we have worked on. And that is not to be taken lightly! Now…..I sleep well at night. Not only do I have confidence in my craft and skills but I can also prove my work. At night I close my eyes and I sleep well knowing that I have best and brightest of minds and technology behind me backing me up. NMS