Refurbishing a Vintage SF - Where to Start

Thread starter #1
Hey folks! I'm about to start a refurb project of my father's Sunfish, estimated circa late 60's model, and I really wanted to start the discussion of where I should start. I'd also like to make some contacts here that I can touch base with throughout the project to tap into your experience and expertise, and to make sure I'm not screwing something up.

The boat has a lot of dings in the hull, particularly around the nose where it bumped up against the trailer over the years. Additionally, there are a number of chips and scrapes along the hull as the boat has, for many years, been stored on a floating dock hull-side up (exposed to the sun). As for the deck side, the halyard lead (I think that's what it's called) and cleat are both loose and in need of repair. And about a foot or so of the trim piece is missing from the port side of the boat.

As a start, I've ordered two 6" hull access ports and plan to install them whenever they get here, both in the fore and aft sections of the deck. Once these are installed I can begin the process of drying out my boat (BTW, I have printed out the PDF file for how to properly dry a fish).

I hope to post pictures in a few days which will show the condition of the boat in greater detail.

I'm looking forward to this project, and I look forward to working with some of you experts!

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Welcome, you found the right spot. Photos are a great help.

Can the boat be sailed in current condition? If so, enjoy the Summer :)

One quick thought - cut the holes to fit your 6" inspection ports - but don't install them until after all your repairs are complete. If you have to reach into the hull through the holes, the extra space is sometimes nice. Have you weighed the hull yet? That will give you an idea of whether it is overweight.

I'd see if someone on this Forum has a small piece of the aluminum trim they could sell you.

Good luck!
Thread starter #4
Thank you for the replies. I was able to get some pictures this weekend. We moved the boat off the trailer and onto some sawhorses for the repair process. I have not yet had the opportunity to weigh the boat yet, and I hope to do that sometime this week. Thank you for the recommendation about cutting the access holes without yet putting on the panels. I will do that.

In the meantime, I have posted some pictures....lots of pictures. There are some

Condition of Deck
- hole punched in deck by bridle (image 4211)
- daggerboard area looks OK (image 4213)
- does the mast hole need work? (images 4217 and 4224)
- missing trim piece on port side (image 4216)
- halyard cleat needs replacing and work to re-seal (image 4218)
- halyard fairlead is very loose
- gouges on splashboard

Condition of Hull
- structural damage at stern (image 4222)
- significant cracking and flaking, especially around daggerboard area
- damage done and repairs attempted around daggerboard (image 4253)

Regarding the flaking on the hull, there doesn't appear to be any significant breach of the fiberglass except for the stern damage and the repaired area near the daggerboard. Is this mostly gelcoat that is flaking off? The fish would typically be stored on a floating dock deck-side down, which would leave the hull exposed to full sun and elements.

Given the condition of the boat that is evidenced in the photographs, where would you start?


signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Your boat is a 1968 model, there might be a faded double stripe on the bow. My priorities would be two things.

1. Weight the boat. If it is way over 139 pounds, say 155 or more, plan on inspection ports or splitting the hull to dry it out. If you know right away that you will be getting inside the hull, you can plan other fiberglass repairs accordingly, i.e. you might be able to access areas that need patching through a port or through the deck seam.

2. Start removing flaky gelcoat from the hull. If you have a gelcoat pro for a buddy, you are in luck. Otherwise I'd sand with a random orbital sander, then fair, prime and paint.

And this is important, don't take out all of the hardware screws at once. There are backer blocks inside the hull that may fall off when both screws are removed. So save the ones you can by only removing one screw at a time.

The daggerboard trunk and mast step look good. Lots of gelcoat to repair or paint, but fiberglass looks pretty good. You need some old style rudder parts or a conversion to the new style rudder.

Everything there is repairable or replaceable. Have fun!!

Thread starter #6
Thanks, Kent, for the reply! I do not have a gelcoat expert currently on my friends list. Is this something that I might take on myself, or is it something that you would leave only to a pro? Regarding the hull, you mention that I could sand, fair, prime, and paint. Would you "fair" the hull just by sanding, or does this require application of gelcoat or some other material on top of the fiberglass? I would really like a smooth surface for the hull prior to painting, and I don't know enough to know whether it's a good idea to prime/paint directly over fiberglass (my gut tells me "NO" but I have no experience).

Regarding the rudder, I do have the original wooden rudder with accompanying attachments. I just recently re-attached the bottom plate (see image 4243 above - don't know the technical term for this). I'll was planning on dealing with the rudder in a separate post, but maybe I could include it here since it is an entire boat overhaul (with the exception of the sail, which is relatively new).

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
Hi Inland Sailor

In my opinion there is too much gelcoat damage to economically repair with new gelcoat, considering tools/time/talent. The old gelcoat has to be chipped/sanded off, then the area faired with a fairing compond, sanded, regelcoated, polished etc...You will never get a factory finish. There are some folks working at the factory who could, but you said you don't know them :)

The gelcoat protects the fiberglass and makes the boat pretty. The fiberglass is the structural form of the boat. So if you lose some gelcoat but replace it with a coat of primer and 2 coats of paint, you will have rebuilt that protective layer.

What a lot of people do is sand off the flaky stuff with a dual action (random orbital) sander (80-120 grit pads) down to the fiberglass, then apply a fairing compound like Pettit EZFair to smooth out the remianing gelcoat/fiberglass surface, sand again, prime with EZPrime, lightly sand and paint with Easypoxy one part paint, probably 2 coats. Can you tell I am a Pettit Paint fan? There are other good brands of Marine paint, like Interlux and even Rustoleum marine paint. You want a good marine paint because it is a little tougher and has UV inhibitors. If your friend owns a pro paint shop and sprays 2 part paints, get them to shoot a couple of coats. Keep in mind where your boat is going to live, ON THE BEACH, so don't get too wound up about a $1500 paint job for a free boat.

As for the rudder, bottom plate is a good descriptor, that is the latch plate. I attached the patent that has all the names, you might be missing the rectangular spring plate that goes on top. Also the rudder pin should have a little keeper chain that attached to the deck, you'll find a small screw hole on the starboard side of the top deck rudder plate. old style rudder fittings.jpg

Check out this thread, we detail a lot of the challenges and opportunities that you will come across. We refinished a boat named Merci, she was in bad shape when we started.
Merci starboard tack.jpg

Have fun!


Thread starter #8
Your restoration of Merci is an inspiration! What a beautiful boat.

Your excellent documentation of your restoration process is just what I was looking for. Thank you for taking the time to do such a thorough job. It sure does make my job seem a bit easier now.

I hope to get a chance to weigh the boat this week and start the process of sanding down the hull.

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
GO to the thrift store and get some long sleeve shirts, plan on tossing them after sanding, epoxy and painting. Wear a dust mask and ear plugs, maybe get some work gloves.

Just keep sanding just keep sanding......

Thread starter #10
Sanding is going well. I purchased a new sander and some 60 grit paper and I'm making some real headway with the old gelcoat on the hull. I'll have some pictures of the progress to post soon.

While sanding the hull I was able to spend some time examining the hole/crack in the bow of the boat

Is this something that I can fill with a mixture of epoxy and fiberglass strips? If so, should I use epoxy putty or some type of gel or adhesive? Will there be a problem with shaping this to match the shape of the bow? Is there a particular product one would recommend for this? I've seen examples of how to patch holes and gouges in fiberglass, but only on the sides or the bottom. I have not run across anything related to patching a hole in this particular location.

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
You can do either epoxy putty like Marine Tex or fiberglass cloth layers on the bow. Gently file away the broken gelcoat, avoid the fiberglass below unless it is soft, then you need to repair it. Sand lightly to improve adhesion. With what I see there you van probably save the layer of fiberglass and use it as a backer for the repair.

If you use epoxy putty you can rough shape it with a plastic spreader., then sand to shape. Same thing with epoxy resin and fiberglass.
We patch these kinds of dings ( ok, maybe this qualifies as a bit more than a ding!') all the time after sailing camp. Make sure it's dry. Chip or grind out any loose fiberglass or gelcoat, and then I would just mix up some some resin and hardener... I use West Sytem because I like their pumps so you know you have the correct ratio.... Wet out the damaged surface (just take a foam brush and dab some of your mixture into the damaged area). Then add some colloidal silica (just ground up fiberglass particles) to the resin and fill in the hole about 2/3 of the way. After this sets I usually drill several small holes a quarter inch or so deep so the next layer bonds better. (I don't know if this actually helps, but it can't hurt). Next, go through the same process but this time use fairing filler. Fill in the remainder of the hole, then cover it with waxed paper and tape the waxed paper to the hull (the resin mixture won't stick to it). If you've got the right amount of filler, you can sort of shape the bow with the wax paper and tape, and should need little sanding.
You could use the colloidal silica for the whole repair, but it can be a bear to fair and sand.
Also the whole repair is easier if the boat is upside down.
Thread starter #13
Closer examination over the weekend indicated that the "ding" in the bow actually penetrates through to the hull. This is now a "hole" instead of a "ding." Would the patches described above still work or is this something that I'm going to have to patch from the interior? Here are some of my thoughts (please tell me if I'm off base):
  1. I could install an inspection port on the deck just fore of the mast step and somehow find a way to maneuver a patch from the interior
  2. I could fill the hole/ding from the outside using one of the methods described above;
  3. I could fill the hold and then lay a couple of strips of fiberglass over the fill to provide additional protection to the bow
Just not sure exactly how to proceed here. I know what would work, just don't know which is the best option.

signal charlie

Well-Known Member
Staff member
What I recommend is to look at the bow handle screws first. Tighten them down a bit and see if they hold.

1) If they hold, the wood backer block underneath is in good shape and you can proceed to bow repair. Do not take all the screws out at once, the backer block may have come loose from its fiberglass hanger and it will fall into the hull. When you put on the new handle leave a screw in until you get a new screw started.

Proceed with bow repair. You can make a "blind patch" that is just a bit bigger than the hole out of cardboard and woven roving, put a wire or string through it, saturate with epoxy, push it into the hole and then pull it flush inside the hull to dry. That is what we did on YoYo:

I also attached the Repair Manual Blind Patch page

2) If the screws do not hold, your backer block holes may be pulled out. :( Drill a small hole next to the screw hole and see if wood shavings come out. If so, you might be able to dowel the old hole or fill with epoxy, then move bow handle over 1/4 inch over new wood.

If the block is totally rotted or fell off, you either have to cut an inspection port just behind the bow handle OR split the deck seam at the bow. That is so you can get inside and put in a new backer block and put in a backer patch for the bow. Our boat Hoops had the block rattling around inside, and needed new expanding foam so we split the seam:

If you put in a new block, use a rot resistant wood like cypress and coat it with epoxy. If you go the inspection port route you could also use a piece of anodized aluminum or stainless with screws and stopnuts.

The same info can also be found in this Forum, thread Sunfish Pickin Columbus GA

Keep a "moaning chair" handy to stop and reflect on what you are about to do or what you just screwed up.

Have fun


Thread starter #17
Good news and bad news:

GOOD NEWS - the screws for the bow handle are fine. Granted the bow handle broke off in my hand two weeks ago when I was trying to pull the boat out of the water, but the screws (and backing plate) appear to be in good condition.

BAD NEWS - weighed the boat. She tipped the scales at approx 207lbs. Yikes! I really, really, really, really do not want to get into splitting the hull if I can help it. The thought of doing that just makes me nervous. I'm guessing that my other option is going to be to begin the long process of drying her out with a blower and a low-level heat source. Also, the backing plate for the halyard fairlead pulley needs to be replaced. I'm assuming that if I were to install an inspection port just aft of the mast step that I can use this to replace this piece of wood.
Yes to replacing the halyard lead. Pretty simple fix. And you REALLY don't want to open it up except as a last resort. It took a long time to get that heavy, so it'll take a long time to dry out, but it can be done.
Not even sure you need the heat source. A couple portholes, a small fan, and a winter or two drying, and it can lose a lot of weight.


Upside down?
Staff member
I guess this is a labor of love, but in reality, this boat is in terrible shape. It will take many hours (labor and drying) and dollars to get it in shape to actually go sailing. But some on this Forum seem to enjoy the journey more than the destination.
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