So now you have acquired an older wooden Hampton, and you are trying to figure out how to fix it up, get it on the water, and make it more competitive. This article will discuss some of the things you may need to repair, and what some priorities for improving the boat might be. If you have some ideas or experiences that are not mentioned in the article or know of some different approaches that you would be willing to share with the fleet, please send them to Mark Merriner so that they can be incorporated into the article.
The article is structured to help guide you through the process of restoring a wooden Hampton. Click on one of the following section headings to jump immediately to that section:
- Determine your objectives
- Hull repairs
- Removing excess weight and stiffening the hull
- Basic fittings and rigging
- Fittings and accessories
- Standing rigging
- Mast ram or deck support
- Determine your objectives
The first and most important thing to do is to set reasonable objectives. If you are the proud owner of a 100 series Hampton (probably over 60 years old), probably no amount of effort is going to make your boat competitive at the top level of the fleet due to its weight. There are lots of improvements that you could make, but you have to decide how much money and time you are willing to risk investing in "go-fast" equipment on a boat that might be best suited to cruising. If your goals are to be competitive at the top levels of the fleet with the minimum amount of effort, you should consider purchasing and racing a more recent boat to become familiar with it, and then selling it and buying a better one when you are ready.
An older wooden boat probably does not have a light rudder, cut down centerboard and trunk, current sails, and a Proctor Gamma spar and boom rigged to current specifications. You could add all that; upgrading to a contemporary rudder costs around $400, a new centerboard is around $500, a new suit of sails is about $1,300, and a mast and boom are about $1,400. You could spend $3,600 on your boat, and you have not even started repairing the hull and updating the control systems! These investments are probably not reasonable for a hull prior to the 300 series boats, but might very well be for a later one in good condition.
There are lots of things that you can do to make your old Hampton better and more competitive without spending an obscene amount of money. Some of your priorities for improving an older boat might be:
- Determine your objectives
- Making necessary hull repairs
- Removing excess weight
- Stiffening the hull
- Setting up the boat to standard tuning numbers
- Making basic control systems work
- Fairing the blades and bottom
- Hull Repairs
One of the most common repairs that must be made to wooden boats is splits in the planking and frames. Most commonly, splits are repaired by opening them up and filling them with thickened epoxy (the cheap approach) or opening them with a circular saw or router and then epoxy gluing wooden splines in the seam (the preferred, more expensive approach). This stiffens the boat and prevents leaks. The disadvantage of doing this is that after you make this type of repair, you must dry-sail the boat. If you leave the boat in the water for an extended period of time, (several days) the planking will expand and cause stress to build up in the hull, possibly causing severe structural damage. You should read a copy of the Gougeon Brothers/West System pamphlet on restoring older wooden boats before you attempt this job.
Other types of hull damage such as localized rot or holes in the planking or deck due to collision can be repaired by replacing the plank(s) that have been damaged, or scarfing and gluing-in a new section of planking or patch.
Frames in some boats may be split or rotted. Any damaged frames should be removed and replaced. Be certain to remove all of the old fasteners before replacing the frame. This reduces weight. Most wooden boats have been fastened with bronze screws; however, some have also been built with bronze anchorfast nails, galvanized nails, and stainless steel screws. If the planking is damaged in the process of removing fasteners, overdrill the area and plug the hole with an epoxy-glued wooden bung of the same type of wood as the hull planking.
The mast steps and centerboard trunks of the boats often need repair or reinforcement due to the extreme force they endure. Ensure that the centerboard trunk (1) is securely fastened in the boat and to the adjacent frames, and (2) is leak- and rot-free. Water tends to accumulate in the bottom of the trunk, allowing rot to attack the adjacent wood. If the trunk must be removed to make repairs, it is a good idea to seal the inside of the trunk and the hull, both where the trunk fastens and in the slot, with epoxy resin and light glass cloth. This precaution should prevent the trunk rot problem.
Deck frames in the area of the mast partner often fail because of the high loads they are subjected to. As with any other frames in the boat, you should replace them instead of "sistering" in new frames to keep the boat as light as possible.
Your guiding philosophy at this stage of the process should be to stabilize the structure of the boat and prevent further deterioration.
Removing Excess Weight and Stiffening the Hull
Very few wooden boats are at or near the class minimum weight of 500 pounds with all equipment. The lightest wooden boats tend to be the Lauterbach cedar boats and the Harrell plywood boats. Some competitive Serio boats weigh in as low as 530 and as high as 600 pounds. Some of the Lauterbach and Harrell boats weigh between 510 and 530 pounds. Of course this is without the cooler of beer, spare tire, and ample buttocks that some skippers and crew may carry around with them.
For optimum light-air performance, you will want to eliminate as much weight from the boat as permissible under the Class rules.
One of the most rapidly rewarding areas from which weight can be removed is the centerboard trunk and centerboard. In the 1960’s the class specifications were modified to allow the top of the trunk to be lowered several inches to make it easier to tack. The specifications were also changed to allowed for a small triangle to be cut out of the top forward corner of the board to allow installation of a boomvang. Since most wood boats were made before these changes, you should check the class specifications and measure your boat to be sure that these modifications have been made, and made properly. If they have not been made, circular saw and a batten nailed on the trunk to guide the saw at the proper height work best on the trunk. Unless you have access to a plasma cutter or a metal-cutting band saw, you will probably want to have the aluminum centerboard cut down by a machine shop.
You will need to remove the vertical support member between the top of the centerboard trunk and the mast partner in order to cut down the trunk. This is an important structural member which will need to be replaced with transverse bracing aft or forward of the trunk and vertical bracing between the floor frames and deck frames forward of the mast. The aft bracing is commonly provided with a wooden traveler bar and/or aluminum traveler track, both of which are also very handy when the skipper hikes out. The ends of the traveler bars and track are commonly attached to the side frames of the boat, and the center is attached to the back of the trunk. Other options are using wood or metal bracing at the forward or aft end of the trunk in a variety of configurations. The vertical bracing, if installed, is normally accomplished with threaded rod or small wooden members spanning between deck and floor frames forward of the mast. If you install these, consider offsetting them slightly so that there is adequate room to allow you to squeeze by into the bow to make repairs and do rigging work.
Hardware and running rigging are another significant avenue for weight savings. If you want to race and be competitive, pitch the cast bronze. The class keeps boxes of original cast bronze hardware for people desiring to outfit traditional boats for cruising. Donations are appreciated and will go a long way towards reducing your boat’s weight. Install aluminum lifting points, track, rudder pintles and gudgeons, and minimum weight modern fittings to help prevent frustration on light air days. Minimize the amount of hardware you install on the boat, as well. For example, having too much purchase for a control line is a waste of not only money, but also of line and hardware weight. Don’t forget about how much water weight line picks up when it rolls around in the bottom of the boat. Be certain to evaluate the cost and weight advantages of doubling up purchases as opposed to simply increasing the number of multiple-sheave blocks and the length of line on your boat.
I’ll discuss rigs more fully in a later installment, but must mention that the wooden masts in use today are not competitive with the modern aluminum Proctor Gamma spar with respect to performance or weight. This may change if someone makes a daring effort with wood/composite construction, but for now aluminum is the lightest option allowable under the class rules and most sailmakers are building sails to match the Proctor Gamma spar’s characteristics. If you are going to race, buy a contemporary spar. However, with respect to booms, Charlie McCoy sails just fine with his wooden boom. Everybody else seems more comfortable with aluminum. Aluminum and wooden booms can be lightened with lightening holes and tapering in the ends, if you feel comfortable pushing the margin of safety.
If you are performing an extensive restoration, you may want to consider installing a plywood transom and centerboard trunk. Depending upon the type of plywood you use, you may be able to shave some weight off the boat. The rules allow plywood to be substituted for (1) mahogany in the transom, and (2) cedar/spruce in the trunk. If you install a plywood transom in an otherwise non-plywood boat, you will need to provide a shim between the knee and transom to fill the space left vacant by the thinner plywood. If you elect to install a plywood centerboard trunk, you may want to consider installing a conventional plank bed log and rabbeting the plywood into it to prevent the plywood from wicking moisture from the bottom of the boat through the end grain. Before you put it all together, be certain to completely seal the inside and outside of the trunk with epoxy to prevent warping. A layer of light glass cloth or veil set in epoxy on the inside of the trunk and slot will ensure years of trouble-free service.
Plywood boats have a potential weight advantage due to the provision in the rules allowing reduced numbers of deck frames. The additional strength of the plywood relative to conventional planking ensures structural integrity. Laminated wood has also been used to reduce the weight of tillers and rudders. The laminated rudders and tillers are much lighter than the solid ones originally built. An added benefit is reliability, since in sharp contrast to fiberglass and mahogany plank rudders, no laminated rudders have sheared off to date.
As I indicated in the section on basic hull repairs, you should minimize the number of fasteners that you use in the boat. Illustrate this to yourself sometime if you have to replace a frame by collecting and weighing the screws that held the old frame in place. Use epoxy resin and minimal fasteners to glue frames in the boat. The epoxy will hold the boat together better. The fasteners are just there to hold the frame in place until the epoxy cures. Without epoxy resin, every time the boat endures a load cycle (a big wave), the fasteners will move slightly. Over time, they will tend to crush the surrounding wood and lose their grip, with adverse consequences for boat stiffness, and ultimately structural integrity.
Splining and filleting are two other ways to stiffen the boat. We discussed how to go about splining the boats last month. Splining stiffens the boat by stopping plank movement in the seams. Filleting provides a better frame/plank joint and more support for the boat. If you want to have some fun sometime, go out on a heavy air day in a splined and filleted wooden boat and sail beside a plastic boat upwind into big waves.