SJ23 Tech Tip H07, (Issued 2002-08-22, Bob Schimmel)

SJ23 Hull Construction and Assembly.
INDEX - Keel attachment, hull liner, water under floor, deck, deck construct, weight, hull assembly.

Some members have asked where to place a bilge pump in a SJ23 and others have concerns about water freezing between the hull and the hull liner during winter storage.  In a discussion with Gene Adams (Port Gardener Sailboats), I learned some very interesting information.  Remember that Gene was the "last 20 feet of the assembly line".   He corrected any flaws in each hull. 
HOW IS THE KEEL ATTACHED TO THE HULL - While the keel (ballast) on certain San Juan models is bolted to the outside of the hull, the ballast of the shoal draft keel of a SJ23 is encapsulated inside the keel stub.  The ballast consists of lead shot (pellets) mixed with resin and poured into the keel stub.  The bonding process ensures that the ballast stays in place when a boat broaches.  With this pouring technique it is difficult to control the exact position or the density of the ballast as is possible with a bolt on keel.  On the other hand there are no keel bolts to corrode or leak and it creates a water tight seal around the ballast, provided you don't run into a rock.  Compromises again!  To compensate for a slight off balance in the position of the ballast, Clark equipped the SJ23 with an adjustable center board.  In practice though, the position of the center board has more to do with balancing the center of lateral resistance with respect to the center of lateral force. 
On some boats the ballast sits so low inside the keel stub that it leaves an air gap between the top of the ballast and the hull liner.  This is great for sailing performance but this gap should be filled to prevent water entrapment, especially if you live in a northern climate where it freezes.  One symptom of an air gap is a stress crack around the center board lift cable attachment on the cabin sole.  To test for an air gap, gently tap on the floor above the keel area.  If you hear a hollow sound, you have an air gap.  The fact that it sounds hollow is the indication that it is dry down there, which is good.  Water inside this void is definitely not a good thing in a freezing climate.  A test should be made to determine the size and depth of the void.  On Panache I drilled a 3/8" hole through the floor, just behind the pedestal, and poked a stick down till it bottomed out.  I filled the void with cold cure epoxy poured through a tiny funnel.  The void required 1/2 litre of resin to fill.  It goes without saying that if the void is filled with water, it must be pumped out and dried before pouring in the resin.
 Another thought on this void.

HOW IS THE HULL LINER ATTACHED TO THE HULL - After the keel is cured (and cooled) in the manufacturing process, a thick layer of mush (lightly catalyzed putty called Thicksol) is sprayed over the inside of the hull in the area where the liner will sit.  Then the liner is lowered in place and a vacuum pump attached over the liner so air pressure compresses the liner uniformly to the hull.  Any excess mush is squeezed out along the edge of the liner.  The fact that it squeezed out is verification that the bonding process has worked.  The vacuum is maintained for 24 hours till the whole works solidifies to a cured state.  If done correctly, all voids are eliminated, creating an extremely strong hull to liner bond.  If you look inside the cockpit lockers, near the front, you might see some of the cured mush that oozed out.  Oozed out mush is quite weak on its own and can easily break off.  Mush that adheres between two rigid layers creates a very strong sandwich.  (Gene Adams thinks the mush may go by the trade name of Fix-All.  It consists of resin and filler mixed to the consistency of mayonnaise). 

REMOVE WATER BETWEEN THE HULL & HULL LINER - It's a fact of life that eventually water will get inside the hull from leaks, condensation, spills or replacing the knot meter impellor while the boat is floating.  A popular location for the impellor is just forward of the keel, under the head.  While the impellor performs very well here, a lot of water can easily flow under the liner from where it is difficult to remove.  On Panache I enlarged the hole through the floor under the head so my arm can just reach aft to the mush by the compression post.  This allows me to soak up the water with a sponge.
Regardless of how the water enters the hull, all of it will flow to the edge of the mush
that bonds the liner to the hull.  While the mush is closed celled foam and can't absorb water, the edge is NOT sealed against the ingress of water.  The mush may have separated from the hull or liner for a myriad of reasons, like pounding the hull too hard into steep waves.  If areas of the mush are no longer bonded to the hull the water will fill the gap between the hull and the liner, where it is "impossible" to remove. 
While the mush is water proof, Gene suggests: 
"If you are concerned about water freezing between the mush and the hull, a possible solution is to drill a 1" diameter hole through the floor liner, just forward of the table pedestal.  This is the lowest point on the curved floor, directly above the ballast.  Drill very carefully, about 3" deep, stopping at the top of the ballast.  DO NOT drill into the cured resin that seals the top of the ballast."  Assuming this space is filled with foam, the 1" hole will create a "tiny bilge," that water can flow into, leaving the area under the liner dry and OK to freeze.  Use a suction pump equipped with a small tube to suck the water out of the "bilge."  Once its dry seal the floor hole with a thermos bottle plug or a vinyl plug with a decorative finish to prevent spilled water from flowing into the "bilge". 

HOW IS THE DECK ATTACHED TO THE HULL - The deck is sealed to the hull flange with butyl rubber and mechanically fastened with machine screws through the toe rail as depicted in this drawing.  The toe rail adds a tremendous amount of reinforcement to this joint.  The hull flange is actually an extension of the top of the hull, turned inwards to create a lip that the deck rests on.  It is quite substantial in itself, having a minimum thickness of 1/8".  A bead of butyl rubber is laid on top of the flange and seals the joint when the deck is lowered and aligned to the hull.  A few pop rivets are judiciously set in place to lock the alignment of the deck to the hull so the toe rail can be bolted on.  This starts at the stern and ends at the bow.  I wish I could report that the toe rail is prebent to alleviate stress, but that is not the case.  I discovered this when I replaced several toe rail screws and the and of the rail started to pop out.  I pulled it back into place using long bar clamps and lots of lumber.

NOTE: The assembled toe rail and hull to deck seal is shown at right.  However, the picture is from Tech Tip B26 and shows my improved and stronger bolting technique, not the factory original using the speed nut.  Go to Tech Tip B26 to see the Clark's bolting technique.

DECK CONSTRUCTION - The deck is a sandwich construction using edge grained balsa in the core to save weight.  The majority of the cabin top is balsa core except under the mast step.  Plywood is used to reinforce the decks where a stanchion or winch would be mounted.  You will find plywood under the aft part of the deck as well.  Plywood was the material of choice at the time to create compression strength and save weight. 

OVERALL HULL WEIGHT - "The design weight of a San Juan 23 is just under 3000 pounds.  The cabin and the interior pan were made with a chopper gun that sprays resin and glass.  It is difficult to maintain a uniform thickness with a chopper gun unless you have the touch of Rembrandt.  If you have such a touch you do not need to build boats!  The result is that boats varied widely in weight.  The extreme was the last boat I worked on, which weighed 4000 pounds, empty.  This was 1000 pounds over weight, which is why the people who built it did not stay in business long.  As a dealer I got to install the second axle on the trailer.  The 3000 pound design weight is right at the upper edge of what a single axle trailer can support.  If your boat happens to be on the heavy side, you need two axles."  Gene Gardener.

HULL ASSEMBLY - "Regarding the assembly of the pieces below the sheer line....  There are three sections to a SJ23 hull.  The hull, the centerboard trunk, and the interior pan, which together make the shiny finished fibreglass boat that you see.  The first step in building the boat is to spray gel coat into the hull mould.  If a stripe is required then a striping dose is applied as a separate gel coat color.  Then the hull is laminated, which consists of layers of woven roving that are selected to handle the hull stress.  Call Don Clark on that.  The hull is hand-laid, using woven roving with chop-strand mat between the layers of roving.  Chop-strand mat has a bad rap because those who know little do not understand that a bit of chop-strand mat really helps to interdigitate the layers of roving to make a stronger laminate.  You can drive a wedge between the layers of a pure roving laminate to separate them; not so when chop is bonded between the layers.  Chop makes very good stickum.  However, you need a very skilled chopper gun operator.  The chop is monitored by weight at each lamination.  We were very attentive to this monitoring.

The centerboard trunk part was made in the "small parts" department, on its own mold, and bonded into the hull part by the assembly crew.  The centerboard trunk part also includes the table leg, which is hollow to accommodate the centerboard cable.  If you feel the surface up inside your centerboard  trunk, notice that it is a smooth, finished surface, which means it is cured and water impermeable. 

The interior pan is a very large piece about 18' long, that includes the v-berth and all the way aft to the quarter berth, with bumps and burbles to meet up with bulkheads and flanges to bond with the hull.  The pan is very important in creating longitudinal stiffness in the hull.  Surfaces such as the settee vertical sides (back rest) add a lot of structural strength, as well as making a place for the kids to kick. 

One of the neatest things about how the boat is assembled is the vacuum process that bonds the pan to the hull.  The sandwich gives the dual benefit of providing a finished floor surface as well as added stiffness.  All the pieces here serve dual purposes, while minimizing weight.  Thank you Don.  The inside of the hull is cleaned to get rid of bumps and stuff and a bed of chopped strand mat is shot on the surface that mates with the pan.  The pan is craned into the hull and a vacuum hose is connected to the floor of the pan through a hole.  The vacuum is turned on and a micro balloon putty is spread around the edges of the pan inside the settee lockers to seal the edges.  Suddenly there are no pathways for air to flow to the vacuum hoses and "thwunck!" the pan is sucked down to the hull and is bonded.  The vacuum is eased when the resin gels. 

Anyway...  this description should be corroborated by the construction manuals."  Glen. 


"A construction manual would be very helpful if I could find one.  I have some change drawings, but no complete manual.  There must have been something in the shop, but I have never seen one.  I was in the shop and talked to the people there but never saw one.  A great deal of knowledge about how to build these boats was in peoples heads.  I am starting to put together a manual to put as much information as possible out of my head and on paper.  When I get a finished manual I would be happy to share it with you.  You have done a great job of documenting details of the boats and you have answers I don't." Gene Adams.

PS: I have never received this manual from Gene.  I show you this dialogue to demonstrate the processes during the 1970s and how difficult it is to get accurate answers.

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