Centerboard, Extraction and Analysis, Part I

Oystercatcher, during her survey, Sept 2009
One task that almost all owners of the Ericson 25 face, at some point in their possession of the boat,  is centerboard repair. The original boards, as constructed by Ericson, had, as their foundation, a length of 1/4 inch carbon steel. This steel (along with lead plates on either side of it) was encased in a dense, pour-foam shell, which itself was wrapped in cloth and mat that had been soaked with polyester resin. This construction technique produced a rigid foil-shaped board which was able to withstand decades of use (and abuse). At some point, however, these sturdy boards do begin to fail (due to water intrusion) and whether or not you can maintain the original board is often a matter of how quickly you can identify and repair the problem area. The trouble, though, with identifying a problem area in the board is that the board is inaccessible for inspection - that is, unless you pay a boatyard to haul the boat out of the water (or off of your trailer). If you plan to keep your boat in the water, as many Ericson 25 owners do, it would be a good idea to make centerboard inspection and repair a part of your regular haul-out and bottom-painting regimen. If you plan to keep your boat on a trailer, and if you have no maintenance record from the previous owner, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pay a boatyard to lift your boat off its trailer, so that you can inspect the board. Some boatyards will perform this service for a lesser fee.
Oystercatcher, during her survey, Sept 2009
When I was in the process of purchasing Oystercatcher in 2009, I knew that she had a centerboard problem. The current owner as well as the original owner had kept the boat in salt water her entire life. The current owner stated that he had had the boat hauled-out on a regular basis for bottom painting. He said, though, that in the two years since the last bottom job, he had not been able to lower his board. This, for him, was not that big of a deal, because he was elderly and seldom sailed the boat like he did when he bought her from the original owner some thirty years earlier. In order to get an independent opinion on the condition of the hull and the existence of the centerboard, I hired a diver to conduct an inspection at the time of the survey in Sept 2009. He confirmed that the hull was well cared for and blister free and that the centerboard was indeed in its trunk, but when he tried to inspect the centerboard itself, he could not free it from the trunk. This problem with the centerboard and various other problems resulted in me obtaining a significantly lower purchase price. Nevertheless, I knew that I was purchasing a project, or I should say a series of projects, and when I sailed away from the former owner's remote dock for a transit to Oriental, NC for haulout, I knew that I would soon come face to face with problem number one - the centerboard.

What I didn't realize when I sailed away from that dock was that I would actually come face to face with the centerboard problem during the transit itself, since the centerboard is an essential component of the boat when sailing into the wind.
Oystercatcher, the day after her purchase, Oct 2009.
The former owner was kind enough to allow my friend and me to spend the night at his dock before we began the transit to Oriental, NC the next day. Note the make-shift awning above that we threw up to keep out the rain.
Oystercatcher, during her transit on the Pamlico Sound, Oct 2009
 After we made it to Oriental, we were fortunate to find dockage for the night. We arrived not long before dark. I took the picture below the following morning. Note the PFDs used as fenders. The former owner had decided to keep his fenders when we left his dock the day before. I decided not to press the issue, since he'd let us spend the night at his dock, and since he'd let use his shore-head facilities the next morning. Some things aren't worth arguing over.
Oystercatcher, the morning after her transit.
Later in the morning we had the boat hauled out in preparation for placing her on her new trailer.
Oystercatcher being hauled out, the day after her transit, Oct 2009

Soon after haulout, I asked the boatyard owner to extract the board. This proved to be a difficult task. The first stage in the extraction process was the removing of the centerboard pin. After removing the two screws (which secure the pin to the hull), the boatyard owner hammered one end of the pin with a screwdriver. You can see it in the picture to the left of the trunk. He then went to the other side and clamped a pair of vice grips to the partially protruding pin. It took a lot of wrestling on his part. You can see it in his face. The sawhorse was there to break the fall in the event that the centerboard fell free.
He finally got the pin out, but this did nothing in terms of freeing the board from the trunk. At this point, he called in an assistant with a big crowbar. The assistant stuck the hooked end of the crowbar up into the trunk and got a good grip on the top side of the board. He worked at it for quite a while before it started to budge. First an inch or two, and then . . .
At last it broke free and dropped to the gravel with a thud. The owner removed the stainless steel pendent, and at that point the board was truly free from the boat.
The owner then had the assistant carry the board to a nearby table, so he could attend to other business with the travel lift. My friend and I inspected the board, and the reason why the board had been stuck in the trunk became immediately obvious to us - it had been painted shut, sort of like window in a house. Recall that the former owner had reported to me that ever since the last time he had gotten the bottom painted he had not been able to deploy the board. If you look at the picture below, you'll see a black streak running the length of the board. That is mud and other debris that was trapped on either side of the board in the centerboard trunk. Beneath the black streak you'll notice a rough streak or patch of red. That is gooped-up bottom paint. Based on this evidence, we concluded that the boatyard (not this one in Oriental), where the former owner had had his boat hauled and painted, had hastily winched up the centerboard into the trunk before the bottom paint within the trunk and on the board itself had fully dried. With the board painted shut within the trunk, it was only a matter of time before mud and other gunk accumulated in the area above this paint-bonded area.
It was also obvious that the boatyard workers where the former owner had gotten the bottom of the boat painted had also, in their haste, not bothered to remove the board from the boat. In the picture below you can see that the topmost part of the board (the part that remains within the trunk when the board is deployed) was not painted.
We also discovered that the board was damaged on its forward bottom edge. Actually, we knew this before the board ever dropped out of the boat. When the boatyard assistant was trying to extract the board with the crowbar, he (and the boatyard owner) thought that the board was stuck on account of this crack in the board. In other words, they thought that the rusty steel within the board had caused it to swell and thus wedge itself into the centerboard trunk. Maybe they'd seen this sort of thing before. One thing is for certain, in the time that has passed from that haulout, I've heard of many an Ericson 25 owner having a centerboard stuck in its trunk for this very reason. The cause for this common point of damage on an E25 centerboard is clear - this is the first point of contact when entering shallow water with the board fully deployed. If you look closely at the edge of the board to the left of the crack, you'll see an exposed section of pour-foam. This section is exposed because it's missing its bottom paint. It's missing its bottom paint for a reason, and that reason seemed to me at the time, and even more so now, that the former owner ran the boat aground (with the centerboard stuck within the trunk) sometime in the two years between the last haul-out and the time I bought the boat. Other evidence I have discovered since that time has reinforced this view. More on this later.
This ends the first part of my two-part article on the extraction of the centerboard from Oystercatcher at the time of my purchase of her in October 2009.

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