Resurrecting a Glassic  
By Bill Roberts - Whidbey Island, Washington - USA

To me that means using material and methods at hand, and not delaying on the water fun for "yachty" looks. For me, my smile while aboard her is more important to me than seeing my smile in a perfect paint job. I'm a backyard boat builder, and knowing myself, unless I use a fast track process, the boat would never get done!

The classic glass boat (Glassic)

First, this boat is a 1956 Skagit Tyee 20, an early fiberglass boat built in La Conner WA north of Seattle. She's 19'6" LOA, and 7'6" beam. She's pretty flat bottomed, as most boats were back in 1954 when the plug for the mold was made. Also, the biggest outboards were about 25hp back then, so with twin 25's that's a lot of weight to push, a flat bottom helps her to plane with lower hp. Her weight is about 2000lbs ready to cruise.

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Figure 1: Feb 1956 ad in Sea Magazine for new Skagit Tyee

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These boats were built with heavy hand layup, fiberglass U-section stringers (no wood!), and real automotive safety glass windscreens. All of the bulkheads, deck (cockpit sole) and transom core are fir plywood, and various pieces are mahogany or fir lumber. But most wood is plywood in these old gals, and just like Jim Anderson says in Runabout Renovation, there’s a surprising amount of wood in early glass boats. Speaking of books, I refer to that book often.

We had a club for these Skagit boats from 1999 to 2003 that grew to over 50 members, which became FiberGlassics Northwest. We have a hugely active website at Many of us are just like you Duckworkers, always putzing about with our small boats. We just start with a pre-made boat, that's all. Our boats are often termed "blackberry boats", as they're literally rescued from beneath foliage!

Back to this particular boat, she was custom built for a Seattle attorney in 1956, then sold to another attorney in 1961, which sold her to me in 2000.

Figure 2: Initial purchase 6-00, note elderly owner of 40yrs!

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I sold the boat twice myself since then, and purchased her for the third and final time in Oct 2004! No kidding, I finally figured that we were meant for each other. There's just something about this early handmade glass boat that has led to my affair with her. And I could not build a boat for anywhere near what I paid for her the last time, $600.00 on the trailer.

She was last launched long ago in 1975; I graduated from high school in 1976.

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Figure 3: Bad plywood deck, see stringers

Figure 4: She looks like a forlorn puppy

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Looking her over it's easy to see that she needed the basics, a new plywood deck, and paint job, motor and steering.

Please read along my tale of replacing her deck, painting her, re-powering, and launching her for the first time in 30years.....

Deck replacement ala Home Depot

I purchased a Costco shelter to keep the boat dry, the cheapest solution to boat storage I know of. Cost was about $160.00 for a 10' x 20' shelter.

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Figure 5: Costco shelter boat shop!

Then I ordered some 2-sided MDO fir plywood in 1/2" thickness to replace her decks, 3 sheets.

You can see from the pics that her decks were gone, yet this deck replacement was really just a simple methodical process.
First, brace the boat on the trailer so she's level and confirm the planing surface is straight fore and aft. Now rather than crawling under that low trailer, I bought a cheap laser at Home Depot. You simply aim the flat beam down the bottom of hull, and if it illuminates a line you know you’re not concave or convex. This is important since she’s going to plane at 40+mph in her future. These boats had channels in their bottoms so I shot the laser down a corner of a channel, visible in pic.

Figure 6: Cheap laser checking hull bottom for straightness

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Next, remove all the cabinetry and the bad plywood decks. This plywood was 3/8” fir, 3ply, and was original as evidenced by some spatter coat over spray found on the panels during removal. I also fussed to clean the bilges out with acetone and Scotch Brite pads, and wire brushes to a clean exposed woven roving layup. To me this is one of the most important steps, as the bonding operations that come later depend on a thoroughly clean and sanded substrate.
Once the entire bilges are clean enough to eat off of, then it’s time to start planning our new deck pieces.

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Figure 7: Bare stringers ready for scrubbing

That means taking measurements off the boat to transfer to the new deck pieces. I laid out a centerline on the center stringer, then I drew a grid of athwart ships lines every 6" along that CL, then measured each direction port and starboard to the hull, writing down all the measurements in a notebook. My grid looks much like Jeff Gilbert's grid in the Hot Chili plans. Then I transferred those measurements to the MDO plywood panels, and cut them to shape.

Trial fits revealed a little shaping, which goes fast with a saber saw or 7" grinder. This is not cabinet making!

Figure 8: New deck fastened, note gridlines

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A few words about my choice of plywood. Recall that the original plywood was 3/8” 3 ply fir. Well, my local lumberyard has ½” 2 sided MDO 5 ply readily available. Right next to the MDO units they have marine grade fir, AB Marine. I can tell you that in these units the MDO had fewer hull voids than the marine grade. Plus, I personally like the bonded surfaces, which are fantastic for secondary bonds with epoxy or vinylester resin. So the MDO remains my choice for deck replacement.

Now, once the panels were fit to the boat, they were removed to prepare for bonding operations. Having done deck replacements before with System Three epoxy, and 5200, this time I chose to use PL Premium Polyurethane from Home Depot. I paid about $2.60 for each tube and I used about 16 of them, I was very liberal with the stuff. Each stringer had 2ea 3/8" beads along the entire length, upon which the MDO panels were placed. Then, I drove screws through the MDO into the glass stringers. In the end this new deck is glued, screwed, foamed, sheathed.

Wow, at this point the deck becomes very stiff, this stiffens the entire boat.

Foaming the bilges

Next step was to foam all the bilge cavities.

I realize this is a controversial subject, at least over in the world. However, up here in the Fiberglassics Northwest area, we are self-proclaimed foamers!

I purchased my foam from US Composites, see the back of Michalak's book (which everyone should have...) or Google them.

It is closed cell polyurethane foam, and resists water absorption. Now, all foam can absorb water. We tested it, Marty and Island Boat Shop took a large piece, put it in a 5 gallon bucket of water, leaves it out to freeze and heat for a couple years up here. Guess what, it weighs the same as when he poured it! Plus.... we Duckworks/Fiberglassics fans don't treat our boats like freakin' flower pots in the yard either, at least mine gets the "de rigueur" Costco shelter.

So, holes were cut along each of the separate stringer bilges of 2" diameter to allow pouring into each bilge and relieve pressure.

You have to work fast with the foam, and use gloves, eye protection, and a respirator.

Remember how I wrote about cleaning the substrate? Well, this foam adheres the cleaned/sanded fiberglass like an adhesive; you literally have to chisel it out.

I used nearly a 10-gallon kit for this 20' boat.

Once the foam was poured and cured, I had to replace all the hole cutouts; PL glued them back in place just fine.

Now, the deck is REALLY stiff!

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Figure 9: See foam erupted through 2" holes

Covering with glass cloth and resin

For the sheathing operation, I’d ordered some Knytex and vinylester resin from US Composites, who are recommended in the appendix of Michalak's book. (Did I mention all of us should have that book)?

I filleted the sides of the boat to the new MDO decks by gluing triangle section wood strips purchased at HD, along that edge with PL adhesive. For me this is faster than fillets.

Then I sanded and vacuumed and wiped the prepped new deck with acetone. MDO surfaces make a great substrate for covering with vinylester or epoxy resins.

I laid the cloth out and cut it to shape, running up the hull side a bit.
Once that was done I setup an area to mix the vinylester resin with catalyst, and had my squeegees and cheap brushes out. I also keep water and vinegar on hand in case I splash resin or catalyst on myself. And lots of cheap latex gloves from Wal-Mart.

I did two layers of the biaxial.

Wow, you can now drop a hammer on the deck from chest level and it goes "ting". It's as solid as walking across the street to my mailbox. This deck will outlive me, the boat already has.

New Paint

Another sometimes-controversial subject. Look at the pics of the boat. I haven't got to finish her bottom yet, but she looks great right? As Renn Tolman says, a five-yard finish! Well, I have a Woolsey marine paint card from 1956, so my friendly Home Depot gals mixed me some Pacific Green in Behr Satin Porch and Floor Enamel. That's in acrylic latex enamel.

Figure 10: Half green, painted right where you see her

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You have to forego a glossy finish, but I have painted a couple boats with this paint and it goes on well, covers nicely, and won't kill you. It is forgiving of non-perfect surfaces. It does stain more easily than yacht finishes, but I enjoy the smell of the acrylic latex in the summertime as I paint a boat.

Hey, I'm lazy and like to get results quick!

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Figure 11: All green, nice paint booth huh?!

Plus, I painted another 1956 Skagit 20 with this same paint in May 2000, and she was moored in saltwater in the open at a dock and pics taken in June 04 show she looks respectable!

Launch Day

So, I rigged my 1985 Mercury XR2 150hp V6 on her.

I'd made the decision to launch her without her bottom paint done or her interior finished.

She's seaworthy, and she looks respectable, and she was first launched 50 (fifty!) years ago!

So, on September 8th we took the pic you see off Snakelum Point, and I beach moored her in front of my place. First time I’ve ever seen a boat that big come into my lagoon inlet.

Figure 12: in the water at last

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So what do I think of the work I did while underway? She's noticeably quieter in chop compared to my non-foamed boat with identical hull, feels like the street underfoot. She draws smiles from all onlookers, while 200 yards out on the water we heard people yelling and honking at the old boat. For many older folks here, a Skagit was the first fiberglass boat they'd ever seen, remember this was "miracle material" back in the day...

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Figure 13: Hauling out day after launch, compare to pic at beginning of article

So, like with any boat, I'm still not done. I have to finish painting her bottom, finish the interior. She has her original cable over pulley steering which works great, see the super article here on DW by Max which de-mystifies the old reliable cable over pulley steering systems.

Figure 14: Underway with my other 1956 Skagit cabin cruiser

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Figure 15: REALLY underway at 40+! Note level ride

All the above represents how I, a fellow Duckworks reader, went about re-launching an old boat in disrepair. The methods used were what seemed right to me at the time. I respect the fact that there are other methods and materials, and that others proceed with their projects to a much higher level of finish than I'm capable of. So if you have a suggestion for an alternative method or material, please chime in and share with the rest of us.

Thanks for reading.

So what's next?

Now that I have my powerboat collection done (under control), I've decided I want a sailboat. I have lots of Bolger plans, Michalak plans, and some McNaughton plans, Glen-L and more.

But Michalak's great book really got me thinking of a simple boat. I like boxy boats!! However I don't really like heeling under sail, so thinking about a catamaran.

Now, I want a small project, so the Hot Chili plans by DW designer Jeff Gilbert were just ordered from Duckworks. They just arrived today and now I'm Really Excited....

Stay tuned, thanks for reading, and see you on the Duckworks newsgroups or over on And please, if you are from the Pacific Northwest then contact us as we’d be happy to hold joint messabouts.

We float our boats year round!

Whidbey Island (near Seattle)