Can I trust wood-core con­struc­tion?

Yachting Monthly - - ANY QUESTIONS? -

QI am in­ter­ested in buy­ing a boat in Hol­land which, I am told, is con­structed via vac­uum in­fu­sion with a sand­wich con­struc­tion. I've per­formed the usual Google di­ag­no­sis and dis­cov­ered that weak­nesses are wa­ter ingress com­pro­mis­ing the wood core if the lam­i­nate is punc­tured in any way – pretty likely on my dry­ing moor­ing even­tu­ally through wear and tear – and also the de­lam­i­na­tion of the core from in­ner and outer skins for var­i­ous rea­sons.

She’s a Koop­man Foxx 30 and is only a few years old. The bro­kers tell me she’s made of 15mm Core­cell wood, vac­uum in­fused with epoxy, two lay­ers of lam­i­nate in­side and out, with ex­tra thick­ness be­low the wa­ter­line. Apart from this con­struc­tion method, she’s as near per­fect as my dream boat will ever be, but I'd ap­pre­ci­ate an 'ex­pert' view on whether I can trust this tech­nique. Are there many boats around built like this? Robert Durn­ford

ABen Sut­cliffe-Davies replies: The boat you are look­ing at will prob­a­bly be stiff, light and is well in­su­lated so will suf­fer lit­tle con­den­sa­tion, It is an af­ford­able and strong way of build­ing a boat and it seems to be back in fash­ion, hav­ing been out of vogue for a few years. Core­cell is a closed-cell foam used for sand­wich con­struc­tion rather than wood, so it might be worth check­ing ex­actly what the core is made of.

If it is a wood core, cedar pine used with good con­sid­er­a­tion for mois­ture con­di­tions will be as good as any other boat. If it is balsa, I would be more hes­i­tant. Balsa is ex­tremely ab­sorbent, and loses its strength when soaked. Wa­ter can seep in through even a tiny crack and send the whole boat rot­ten. A foam core is much less ab­sorbent, though it can still soak up wa­ter slowly. All types of core can also be vul­ner­a­ble to de­lam­i­na­tion from the outer skins, par­tic­u­larly if there have been col­li­sions, over­heat­ing, or in­ad­e­quate ap­pli­ca­tion of epoxy.

The im­por­tant thing to look at are the skin fit­tings. Hull ap­per­tures must be prop­erly sealed to avoid wa­ter ingress. Then check hull strong points, which should have sig­nif­i­cant re­in­force­ment.

If the boat has been well built and cared for it should be fine, but the only way to find out is to take a sur­veyor along to go over ev­ery inch of the hull to check for voids or mosi­ture, which sig­nify trou­ble.

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