Updated: Jul 27
I was reading a book about the ancient Greek Myths when I came across the story of Hephaestus (Vulcan if you prefer his Roman name). He was the first-born son of Hera and Zeus, who by some cruel twist of fate, had such an ugly distasteful appearance, that when he was born his mother hurled him down the mountainside of Olympus in disgust. When he landed, he broke his foot and was forever lame and walked with a limp. During his exile he learned from the Cyclopes how to work metal forges and became renowned for his ability to turn metal ores into shields, swords, spears, and armor.
Yet, had the ancient Greeks ever asked one of their many Oracles what kind of materials man would invent some twenty-five centuries in future, they would surely have included the sculpting with fiberglass, carbon fiber, Kevlar and epoxy glue to Hephaestus suite of industrial talents. The magic of modern chemistry can take a fabric, soak it in a potion and expose it to the sun transforms it into a hard but lightweight shell of any form imaginable, tough like a metal, and yet light as a breath of air.
I arrived for my boat repair lesson with Jay early on Saturday. He gave me a full explanation of the types of glass fabrics that are available. Immediately he pointed out that the one that comes in the boat repair kit I purchased, was not the best.
“You see, the fiberglass they provide has loose ends and is going to fray into thousands of loose strings of glass filaments the moment you cut into it. What you need is a fiberglass roll with the sides weaved together so that it looks like lace ribbon.”
“Before you even start to do anything, I’d say the first thing you have to make sure you do is to be somewhere that you know you can camp. If you can’t, you might as well throw in some layers of the marine tape both on the inside and outside of the crack and get somewhere you can spend a couple of days because you don’t want to do this in the rain. If you do a rushed job, it’s going to come out bad…”
“Ok, so once you are in a calm clean place, you’ll need to clean with acetone the whole area with the crack. You don’t want any dirt or salt water on it. After you’ve done that, you must sand the crack to remove all the gel coat at least one finger’s width around the fracture. That will give the epoxy glue more surface to bind to.”
For this part of the lesson, he brought out a fiberglass panel which he promptly folded until it fractured down the middle so that the two pieces were only loosely held together.
I used a rough number 40 sandpaper and scrubbed the cracked area clean of the gel coat until the underlying fiberglass was exposed.
“Make sure you also scrub off any loose fibers from the panel that way the fiber will lay as flat as possible. Ok, you’re good. Now blow off all the dust, but make sure no one else is in front of you when you do that, you don’t want anyone to breathe glass dust into their lungs.
“The next step is the most crucial. Before you mix the epoxy, you should have to plan how you are going to lay the fiberglass and have the fiber sheets pre-cut. You almost always want to have three overlapping layers and make sure you alternate the direction of the fibers by 90 degrees in each layer to maximize the fabric strength. The top layer should also be the widest to cap over everything below and leave no loose ends.”
“Got it!” I said while taking notes.
I looked at the longitudinal fracture on the panel and decided to make one long strip for the base layer to go along the length of the fracture, then several smaller roughly square pieces to be laid perpendicular to the first, then followed by a final long strip to cap it all in the third layer. I used a serrated pair of scissors to cut the fiber and immediately noticed that the fibers started fraying at the ends.
“Don’t worry too much about that, if you start pulling the loose strings, the whole thing starts to unravel like a sweater.”
“Now that you have the sheets premade it’s time to mix the ingredients for the Epoxy.” He pulled two small clear bottles out of the repair kit. They were labeled, Chemical A, and Chemical B.
“Chemical A is the Resin; this is what is going to bind the glass fibers together with the different layers. Chemical B is the Hardener which will cure the resin into a solid. It’s important to get the correct ratios in the mixture. Too much hardener and the solid will be brittle, too little, and it will not solidify. Two to one of A and B. Use a measuring cup you don’t mind throwing away.”
I mixed the two chemicals being very careful to measure each amount. As I stirred the potion together it soon started to give off heat. “Go slow on the stirring, you don’t want to have bubbles.”
I stirred the mixture for about two minutes.
“Ok now, get a paintbrush you also don’t mind throwing away. Let the liquid soak up on the brush head, and then apply to the sanded area. Not too much, you don’t want to drench it. Just tap all the areas we’ll be laying the fiberglass until it’s all even.”
After wetting the entire area with glue, I laid the base sheet of fiberglass over the fracture. The white material immediately became translucent. “There you go, you got it. Now, those small white dots in the fiber are bubbles, you must sweep them out with the brush, because they will become points of weakness otherwise.”
We repeated the process for the next two layers, and then placed the panel in the sun to speed up the reaction. After half an hour the crack was no longer visible, and the panel was again one solid sheet. “Well, that’s it! In the kayak itself, you will also want to lay some fiberglass on the inside of the crack as well if the crack goes all the way through, it gets kind of tricky to sand and layer in the fabric if you need to get deep inside the hatch. Much easier to do it in the shop than on a beach.
“Thank you so much Jay! Hopefully, this is the only time I will ever have to do this.”
“Oh, trust me, it won’t be. Paddle enough miles, and eventually almost everything that can happen happens. It’s one of those things you can never be in control of, only be prepared for when it happens.”
“At least I hope that when it happens there will be phone reception so I can video conference with you to check up on my work. A thumbs up from you will be a huge confidence boost before I get back into the elements.”
“I’ll keep an eye out for any messages from you while you’re out there.”
Sea kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation