Inheriting an old Sunfish in need of repair - can I do it myself?

Thread starter #1
I recently moved to a house on a lake and a prior owner (not the most recent one) left a 1986 Sunfish there. The prior owner was fastidious and I believe all the parts are there. But the boat has been unused for 15 years (the folk I bought the house from were not sailors) and I think it's taken on a lot of water. More seriously, some of the expanded polystyrene buoyancy material has decayed, where an inspection hole has been left open. I am a sailor, but have never owned a boat. I'm game for learning to maintain this Sunfish, but the advice on replacing foam buoyancy is intimidating, and I don't have a dry shop to put the boat in. Which option would you choose: a) sell the hull as is b) try to fix it myself c) look for a local enthusiast who'd like to help fix it up in return for launching rights?
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
#2
Presently, the owner of a "seasoned Sunfish" doesn't need to worry about being arrested for having deteriorated foam. ;)

I'd say you were lucky, as in our world of Sunfish, a 1986 is a fairly new model; lucky twice, for living on a lake. :cool: Lucky, again, as you've come to the right place. :)

The Sunfish's internal blocks are to keep the hull relatively rigid. (Buoyancy, although required, was a benefit). If adding your weight doesn't cause concern, the hull's structure is probably sufficiently strong for lake sailing. I'd mostly be concerned about the weight added by internal water, as a "dry-out" will consume the rest of this summer's weeks up there. (Heavy weight would also hurt the selling price, should you decide to sell). There's the possibility you may get the hull's weight below 135 pounds before this sailing season ends up there.

Put an ordinary bathroom scale down, stand the Sunfish on its edge, and peek over the deck side to read the scale. Weighing the Sunfish always benefits with a second person to help steady the hull. (But I've weighed a few alone).

'Twer mine, I'd find a sunny location, tip the Sunfish on its edge—with the deck drain down and opened. Run a cord to a $10 muffin fan mounted to an open inspection port. If there aren't two ports, I'd cut a second port of the same size or larger. (Or cut the handy and accessible "Ultimate Inspection Port"). If you don't have a "local enthusiast" nearby to do the cutting, the fan can be taped to a PVC pipe that fits loosely in the existing port. Direct the airflow as deep into the hull as possible. Returning damp air will flow outwards through the same hole.

I'll stop now. ;)
 

Ghost Rider

Planing into eternity...
#4
That waterlogged condition might be due to improper storage and condensation... or heaps of rain runoff pouring directly into an open deck drain or inspection hatch. You can build a simple curved wooden cradle for your boat to store it up on its rail, leaning against a wall, the drain always down and open, with any or all inspection ports or hatches also open to facilitate drainage. Since my Minifish deck drain was small, I installed two inspection ports in the cockpit, not only for inspection purposes but to air out the hull after each use. If you're on a budget, a simple blow dryer will help you air out that hull... direct the hot air into the hull, no need to point the gun at whatever foam may still exist. You might want to inspect all seams and joints in the hull, particularly those small seams where the daggerboard well (or trunk) meets the hull, a notorious problem area in many boat classes... poke a small LED flashlight into the mast step tube and look for problems at the lower joint where the tube meets the inside of the hull, another problem area since all the drive created by the rig above is transmitted directly through the mast step. Any cracks or glass rot in the upper joint where the tube meets the deck should be clearly visible... if there's a problem, fix it before you go sailing, otherwise the problem(s) will only get worse, I personally guarantee it, LOL. :confused:

P.S. Good advice from other members, and pictures wouldn't hurt... if I were in your shoes I'd fix the boat myself and sail her on the lake, but even if you sell her you'll get more money once she's fixed and operational. If you post pics, post pics of everything, not just the hull. :rolleyes:
 

Webfoot1

Active Member
#5
Two inspection ports and a muffin fan and non rainy days. You'll be blowing for the rest of
the summer but a month of blowing might get the boat light enough to sail. It's really surprising
the amount of air a muffin fan can push through the hull.
 
Thread starter #6
Now that the rain has stopped I got some pictures, and weighed the boat, per advice. It's only 140lb so I'm optimistic I can dry it out enough. So, I'm definitely on the project! Attached are various pics of parts of the hull, daggerboard, tiller, rudder etc. Bear with me because all my names for stuff are 25 years old and British (I had to look up 'muffin fan' and discover it's what I would call a 'pancake fan'! I welcome any advice on what repairs might be needed here. The rim seems pretty sound except in one place (pictured) but there's wear on the bottom of the hull that looks like it needs covering.

Heading out to cut a second inspection hole and fit a fan. Wish me luck!

Oh, and I misspoke, it's a 1984 Sunfish apparently.
 

Attachments

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
#7
The boat is at a decent weight for one of its age. It likely left the factory at close to that weight. It is no newer than 1970 or so, and quite possible older. They stopped using Sunfish in that font around 1970, and 1971 was the last year for that rudder fitting. The deck will help date it more closely so If you have a pic that would help. There is also hopefully a metal serial number plate aft of the splash rail.

That metal edge hopefully is the only issue with the deck and you can just pop rivet it in place.
 

Ghost Rider

Planing into eternity...
#8
Give the boat a good washing and let it thoroughly dry before tackling any repairs... you'll be able to assess the damage better with the hull clean. Some of those gouges in the hull look deep enough to fill. Might buff the hull to see how far it'll clean up before attempting further repair. Looks like the daggerboard well will need a little work, a file will help get rid of some of the trash... worst-case scenario, a bit of glasswork to seal and reinforce that area. If that inspection port is messed up, replace it, they don't cost that much... I like the clear hatch covers myself, one can see at a glance whether the hull is taking on water. If you decide to paint the hull to brighten her up, start by cleaning up and filling those gouges, sand the entire hull smooth, wipe the hull with acetone and let it dry before applying primer. Two coats primer and two topcoats, linear polyurethane is a good choice IF you're going to paint. Some here don't hold with painting, I'd rather have a good-looking boat than some crappy-looking weathered old hull... you can always slap new numbers on, plus you can choose colors for hull & deck, a light color will reduce glare on deck as opposed to gleaming white. The other stuff looks minor: some light sanding and varnishing for the wood, cleaning up the spars (looks like you have an extra upper & lower boom set, pick the best one for regular use), replacing hardware & fittings if necessary... it ain't rocket science. Where's the sail and running rigging? Is it all MIA? Didn't see any pictures of it... :rolleyes:

P.S. These are only suggestions, you might choose to go another route... as a boat owner and skipper, the choices are yours to make. :cool:
 

Ghost Rider

Planing into eternity...
#9
Meant to add this earlier, but I got caught up cleaning all my hummingbird feeders and giving my little feathered friends fresh sugar water... I have a bunch of feeders hanging right outside these banks of picture windows in my house, there's a hummer in front of me as I key this, LOL. But what I was going to add: on second glance at those pics, you've got age-or-stress-related cracks in the original gelcoat, as well as simple gouges, and all of those need to be addressed while you overhaul the boat. No big deal, you can do one area at a time, using only as much material as you need for each repair. One step at a time, no worries, the boat still gets done... some folks who aren't familiar with glass repair and gelcoat cracks and whatnot, they get flustered or intimidated, but there's no need for that to happen. You can easily do this, especially if you have access to a few good tools. It'll cost a little money for materials, not that much, and besides, boat work ALWAYS costs money, aye? You can reduce the cost by doing the work yourself, and you can take pride in your work once you're on the water. :cool:

There are a few problem areas to be addressed on that hull, but it's really not in THAT bad shape... on "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly" scale, it falls somewhere between good and bad, with an ugly spot here and there, but NOTHING like some hulls I've seen and repaired. Of course, we haven't seen the deck yet, there may be issues there as well... but the first thing to do is get the boat cleaned up as best you can, lose the dirt and crud and whatever else so you can see the damaged areas well. Looks as if at least one previous owner liked to sail Polynesian-style right up onto shore, or maybe that individual liked dragging the boat around without a dolly... no worries, that damage can be repaired. It also looks as if the boat was stored improperly, when you finish your overhaul you wanna take better care of your boat. I take it you don't have a trailer because the boat and property are right there on the lake? Think about a rack or cradle for storage, and get a cover or tarp for protection, unless you have a garage or carport handy. Long-term solar abuse is not good for boats or sail gear, you understand. :confused:

Another option is to use a shed as a boathouse, if you happen to have one handy. The whole idea is to NOT leave your boat in the dirt, exposed to the elements---same goes for spars and all sail gear. Padded wooden racks are good, and those large plastic-coated utility hooks one can buy at Home Depot are great for storing spars once you've rinsed and dried them after use. Maybe you won't need to worry so much about rinsing, I was thinking of saltwater sailing. Everything should be stored out of the sun when the boat is not in use, that's a good habit to adopt, otherwise it won't be long before your refurbished boat looks the way it does NOW, LOL. If you have to store the boat in the sun, get a cover for it... I used to store my Minifish up on her starboard rail in a simple curved & padded wooden cradle, the boat leaning against the north wall of the old beach cottage where no sunshine reached, and even then I had her under a tarp. With regard to sail gear (and as a technical rock climber), I can assure you that line & sail fabric are degraded and weakened by long-term solar abuse... same goes for everything else, store it properly and you won't have that problem. :rolleyes:

ENOUGH TEDIOUS SERMONIZING, GET YOUR BOAT FIXED UP AND GET OUT ON THE WATER... ONCE YOU REALIZE WHAT A TREASURE YOU HAVE, PERHAPS YOU'LL COME TO LOVE HER AND TAKE GOOD CARE OF HER, AYE??? :D
 

L&VW

Well-Known Member
#10
My first repair to this hull would be to get that trim back on the Sunfish. I had a similar circumstance. The trim became a spear, which managed to catch the halyard, my electric trimmer's cord, and some arrowhead plants near shore. :confused: Finally, when it caught the mainsheet, it pulled out another three inches, and couldn't be ignored any longer. :( Fortunately, there were no injuries, the trim didn't crease, and one pop-rivet made everything right. :cool:
 

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
#11
AMF bought Alcort in 1969. Since the hull sticker says only “Alcort”, my guess is this boat is 1968 or older. My second guess is there are no racing stripes on the deck, dating the boat as 68 or older. I see the NJ registration sticker says 1984, but that has nothing to do with the age of the boat.
 

Ghost Rider

Planing into eternity...
#12
George Orwell must have been working at the Joisey DMV that year, LOL... :eek:

Or his corpse, which would explain the long wait... ;)
 
Last edited:
Thread starter #14
This, and the other posts, are very helpful for me getting going. I'm excited to report that I found the serial number - 41690 - which puts the manufacturing year as 1967. Coincidentally, this is my own year of manufacture! The boat and I have both weathered fairly well, but I think I've taken on more water.

I did a lot of cleaning yesterday and ordered a replacement inspection port and some glue! I'm in no hurry, so I'm happy to do what's needed. If you or anyone else can point me to more information on the alternatives to painting that would be great. I'm good with tools but not very tidy with a brush, and I don't care too much about the look of the thing. I'm also curious about a beginner's guide to 'glass work'. I've been dotting about this site and found lots of people talking about that work but no "Read this before you try it!" page. Pictures of the deck now attached. Buying a cover next as there is nowhere to store her out of the sun, though I do have the potential for building a rack.

Also, I'll take care of that pop rivet asap!
 

Attachments

Ghost Rider

Planing into eternity...
#15
Nice corrosion on that plate... maybe this little boat has seen salt water after all. The apparent "coincidence" with regard to your birth years? Pure cosmic action there, clearly meant to happen, something called "natural progression"---things happen or don't happen for a reason. I must say the deck looks better than I thought it would, going by the appearance of the hull. Already, your job gets easier, LOL. There must be heaps of Internet articles & tutorials on simple fiberglass & gelcoat repair, read up on a few to get an idea of what needs to be done. After you've washed the boat, you wanna closely inspect that dagger well area, it looks pretty cheesy... you'll wanna fill that void where a chunk of gelcoat and/or glass is MIA under the rail, and of course you'll wanna fill those cracks and gouges, though you have options there in the way of products & methods you can use to do the filling. Remember, you can easily do this, even if you just do one step at a time. Moi, I'd still paint the boat, but that's just moi, I'm a fool for fresh paint, same way I'm a fool for chocolate milk on the road... I rationalize this weakness by telling folks that chocolate milk is a heckuva lot cheaper than cocaine or heroin. :rolleyes:

Post shots of the sail & running rigging if you have it, just so these nautical heroes can take a look at it and give ya some pointers... sails that are still serviceable can be washed and made to look better, I used to wash mine on a clean concrete slab out back with a mild detergent and a soft scrub brush, while small rips or tears can be mended using sail repair tape or patches. Line can also be washed, but if it looks too old or cheesy you wanna simply replace it for safety's sake... positive aspect there is that you can upgrade every line aboard the boat. You'll wanna whip all line ends, that's a good skill to learn, and it's easy enough once ya get the hang of it. Any rusty old hardware (talking screws, bolts, nuts here) should be swapped out for brand-new stainless, and any deck fittings which are beyond salvation should also be swapped out... now that you're the proud new owner of an Obamanomic Megayacht, you wanna start thinking "MARINE SAFETY" in every possible aspect, especially if you plan on taking kids sailing aboard this craft. And marine safety begins on shore, before you ever leave the beach, ramp, or dock, with bulletproof sail gear & solid marine hardware you can trust with your life. :cool:

AGAIN, JUST MY $.02, I LIKE SAILING WITH CONFIDENCE IN MY BOAT & ALL GEAR, SURE BEATS EQUIPMENT FAILURE AT SEA... OR CAPSIZING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CHANNEL WITH A 75,000-TON WARSHIP OR FREIGHTER BEARING DOWN AND SOUNDING FIVE ANGRY BLASTS, LOL. ;)
 
Last edited:

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
#16
My 2 cents is getting this boat ready to go shouldn’t be so complicated. I wouldn’t bother fixing gouges unless they impact water -tightness, and imho paint is a maintenance nuisance as it scratches easily.

Also, no one whips line ends anymore - just melt the ends with a match.

Make sure hardware that should be tight is tight. With all that moisture in the boat the wood backing blocks may have rotted. They are under the bridle eyes, halyard block and cleat, rudder fittings and bow handle. If you can easily turn the screws in those fittings clockwise, there is a 99 percent chance the block is toast and you will need to install new ones.
I think there are articles on this site about stuff to use to polish gelcoat and you should be able to get a decent shine on that deck.
 

Ghost Rider

Planing into eternity...
#17
By Poseidon, you're RIGHT!!! :confused:

Those frayed & tattered line ends will be great for fouling blocks, snagging cleats, etc., while the gouges and gelcoat cracks will surely help the boat track or porpoise through the water!!! :)

WTF was I thinking, offering helpful suggestions to this OP in an open forum??? :eek:

Meh, GHETTO IS AS GHETTO DOES, I'll bow out with one final suggestion to the OP: if and when ya ever get around to building a boat dolly, be sure to go with the 22" rims & lo-pro tires!!! :rolleyes:

CHEERS, AND GOOD LUCK!!! :cool:
 
Thread starter #18
Now for some pictures of the sails... There are two. The blue one is in worse shape with a number of repairs that I have photographed closely. the yellow-red-orange one is sound except for some slits in the window. Since I haven't yet put the boat together, I'm not sure which sheet is which yesterday but one looks pretty ropey (ha ha) and the other two in decent shape. All this has been kept snuggly dry for years and I'm pretty sure the guy who was sailing her took very good care.

Now that I have two of the three layers of grime off the hull, the project is looking less daunting! I'll dry it out, then repost pics of some of the trouble spots for specific action advice.
 

Attachments

Thread starter #19
By Poseidon, you're RIGHT!!! :confused:

Those frayed & tattered line ends will be great for fouling blocks, snagging cleats, etc., while the gouges and gelcoat cracks will surely help the boat track or porpoise through the water!!! :)

WTF was I thinking, offering helpful suggestions to this OP in an open forum??? :eek:

Meh, ghetto is as ghetto does, I'll bow out with one final suggestion to the OP: if and when ya ever get around to building a boat dolly, be sure to go with the 22" rims & lo-pro tires!!! :rolleyes:

CHEERS, AND GOOD LUCK!!! :cool:
Ooh, please don't bow out! I'm valuing both the 'scrappy but on the water quick' and the 'if a job's worth doing' points of view. I won't be building a boat dolly, probably but buying one. Curious to hear your thinking on the rims and tires tho'.
 

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
#20
Team "Sail It" vs Team "Boat Show". We've been on both teams :) What you have is what our Guru Alan would call a "Beach Banger." My Test Pilot, Skipper and Boat Whisperer says TILEX the hull, fix the rivet, and put some Marine Tex Epoxy Putty of fairing compound where gelcoat has chipped by the metal trim. The weight is awesome for a 1967 boat, you can sail on of those boats without any foam for structure and they sail great, because the woven roving fiberglass those years is almost bomb proof. This 1971 hull had shrunken foam, someone had put some wrong kind of chemical inside, but she sailed smooth.

Buttercup deck yellow afte.jpg

So to get in the water you'll need to attach the sails to the spars and get those lines cleaned up. The halyard and mainsheet need to be about 25 feet so give them a measure. Early mainsheets shrunk down to around 22 feet. I would definitely trim the ends and melt or whip. We put a tight wrap of gaff tape around the area to be cut, then cut it, then whip the end with whipping twine 16-20 wraps, then sear the end. Some cord nowadays has an outer shell and inner core, and burning alone may or may not keep the ends together. And nothing makes a boat look nicer than a new set of lines.

If you have the plastic rings for the sail, use those. If not, buy 50 feet of 1/8 inch nylon line marine grade and attach the sail with a marlin hitch. That was an option back then and how we do any new sail on our boats.


As for the hull, it is comprised of a gelcoat skin over GRP (trying to add a Brit term for you). The gelcoat is mostly cosmetic but it also helps protect the GRP underneath. The GRP is a composite made of fiberglass cloth and polyester resin. So when you look at your hull, if you see all the way through the gelcoat to a pancake syrup colored bit of fiberglass, the gelcoat is gone and you are looking at the GRP. Keep an eye on those areas or add back a protective layer of gelcoat (brushed or sprayed) or paint. Your boat has several scrapes that I would leave alone and enjoy the season. If you see GRP and it is clear, then it is okay. If it is cloudy or frayed then it has been crushed or punctured and need repair. If you can see glass fibres fuzzing out, then it needs repair. I'd tend to the area around the bottom of your fiberglass trunk, a quick repair is to sand that area lightly with 120 grit to get rid of loose chips then apply Marine Tex Epoxy putty sparingly. Let it dry then sand smooth. Remember that the daggerboard has to slide through so don't get a big blob on the inside of the trunk. Check out our blog post on Marine Tex and THIXO (thickened epoxy) repairs. (http://smallboatrestoration.blogspot.com/2018/02/1980-amf-sunfish-sugar-2-21-feb-18-hull.html)

daggerboard trunk fiberglass.JPG
 

Attachments

Last edited:
Top