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Boat Repair – fixing that Catalina “smile”

December 4th, 2009 · by David · 9 Comments

The previous owner of our boat didn’t admit to anything wrong with the boat.  When we had the survey (think out-of-the-water inspection), we discovered major damage to the bottom of the keel.  There was also a “smile” (if you look at the boat from the front, it appears to be ‘smiling’) at the front of the joint between the keel and the hull.  Imagine hitting something hard with the keel – it would likely push the bottom of the keel backwards (aft) and try to open the front of the keel/hull joint.  I’m not sure if the “smile” predates the hard grounding or not, but nonetheless, we decided to repair it.

I went to the boat yard this week thinking I’d educated myself adequately from the internet and the boat supply house (Fisheries) and was absolutely spanked.  I mean that I was woefully underinformed; I don’t mean that the folks at the yard were mean to me.  Just the opposite – all the yard personnel were very helpful, courteous, and professional.  I was thrilled to have their advice.  They would sidle up and look at my work; thankfully we were positioned as the first boat in the yard.   They would say nothing.  I’d ask them if it looked OK.  They would nod and say nice things.  Occasionally, Dave would have a furrowed brow.  I ask him – tell me if I’m making a ‘rookie mistake’.  Then he’d tell me what was on his mind.  He had great advice.

Tags: boat

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Michael Warner // May 1, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    It looks as if you used 3M5200to seal the crack before you did the fiberglass, 5200 has a tendency to run out of a crack before it dryes what did you use to keep it in fefore it dried.

  • 2 David // May 1, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Hi Michael –

    No, we didn’t use 5200. There was no crack before the “repair”. I did what the yard advised. They ground the gel coat off both the keel and the keel stub. The bit of white stuff you see at the joint is just a bit of gel coat.

    We also tightened the keel bolts to spec. The fiberglass stub was/is narrower than the keel. So, I filled in the stub with fiberglass and epoxy until it was flush with the keel. Then I overlayed that with bidirectional fiberglass to form a stronger joint than the manufacturer. Catalina just bolted the keel to the stub and slapped gel coat over the mess. Gel coat is hard and polishes up nicely, but it has little tensile strength.

    With luck our “smile” is permanently repaired.

  • 3 Edward // Jun 27, 2011 at 3:09 am


    I am having a similar problem and I like your approach. I hope you don’t mind if I ask a few questions.

    How has the repair held up after the last couple years?

    Have you noticed had any problems with the new fiberglass “skirt” separating from the keel?

    What weight of cloth and what kind of resin did you use? How many layers covered the joint?

    Would you change anything in the repair if you had to do it again?

    Thank you for your time.

  • 4 David // Jun 27, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Hi Edward –

    I can answer a few of your questions. But on the most important ones, I can’t answer them as we haven’t hauled out since the repair. We’re on a two year schedule and will haul out this winter.

    So, I don’t know how it’s holding up.

    I used epoxy as my resin and the boat yard raised an eyebrow. I used it, because I’m familiar with it. But it had two down sides. One was the slow cure time in the bitter cold weather (even with a heat lamp on it) and the second was that it took a lot of manual rolling to get it to saturate the cloth. The yard would have used vinylester and those two issues would have been less of a problem. I just wasn’t as familiar with it.

    I used biaxial cloth. The number of layers differed above and below the joint. If you look at the before photo, you can see where a man from the yard drew where to place filler cloth. The fiberglass keel stub is narrower than the lead keel. Thus I had to build up the stub until it was flush with the keel. Then I could use cloth over the whole joint. I think I used two or three layers.

    The cloth was very stiff when dry; I think it had some sort of starch in it, which is why it was hard to saturate with the epoxy.

    On top, we used peel ply, which is very slick stuff. The resin is drawn out and any blush that occurs in the outside of the peel ply and comes right off when the epoxy cured.

    I did not come with any of this strategy. What I had planned would have be much worse. All of these ideas came from a very experienced boatyard man named Dave at Seaview West in Seattle. He was the brains; I was the brawn. I was trying to save some money by doing the labor myself. I bought the cloth from the yard and he helped me plan it all and cut it to shape.

    After the fiberglass repair was done, I applied a coating of Interlux 2000 and faired it out with QuickFair.

  • 5 Chris // Sep 9, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Are you sure the source of your smile was a hard grounding? I wonder what gave you that idea. Many sailboats (not just Catalinas) develop a smile in response to improper placement of lift straps, poor blocking on land storage, and just general neglect.

    In a grounding a keel may be separated from the trunk, but it is quite unlikely since the keel bolts would have to stretch in order for the separation to occur. During storage/transport/neglect, the weight of the boat placed on the keel makes it a far more likely scenario for the smile to develop.

    And you aren’t alone in needing to treat it. The smile is quite endemic and something most surveyors would check for in a lift out, at the same time as they checked for blisters, fouled through-hulls, and so forth.

    Glad your repairs went well.

  • 6 David // Sep 9, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    I don’t know what caused the smile. I do know that the boat had a hard grounding. I also know that the keel boats were not tightened to spec. I understand that Catalina used plywood in the stub and that it softens over time, lowering keel bolt tension.

    Yes, I understand that many Catalinas have the smile. It’s clearly a flaw in the design. And improper loading while on the hard could cause it – too much weight in the aft part of the keel.

  • 7 David // Apr 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    Over two years later, I’d have to say that the smile repair has held up very well. On haulout today (4/24/12), the smile is not even noticeable, despite two groundings, one soft and the other a bit firmer.

  • 8 russ // Sep 6, 2013 at 11:24 am

    I have the infamous smile on my 84 catalina, have tighten the keel bolts but seems to also one (or more) under the engine that is impossible to reach. Did you notice this during your repair?

  • 9 David // Sep 6, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Russ –

    I was not on board for the keel bolt tightening, so I can’t shed any light on this. Sorry.

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