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Progress on the Duckling

Posted by Tom Benedict on 27/03/2012

It’s a little hard to write about the work that we’ve done on the boat. It’s not that no progress is being made. It’s that we just never stop making changes. By the time I finish a draft for this post and set it aside to edit the next morning, the state of things has changed enough that I need a complete re-write! So this will be a rough and ready post, at best. But I wanted to put down something.

And no, “Ugly Duckling” will not be the name of this boat. Each member of the family gets to write names they think are cool on the white board at home, and once the boat is ready for the water we’ll vote and pick the best name. But for now we have to call it something!

When we received the boat, it had been sitting out in the sun and weather for roughly ten years. Since coming to our house it has continued to sit outside in the weather, but not the sun. It’s been cold and rainy. So forgive me if the color cast on some of these photos seem off. They are.

After a brief scrub and a bunch of chattering teeth, the hull started to look a little less moldy and a lot more like a boat:

Pacific Catamaran 001

In addition to the hull and trailer, the boat came with a mast, one foresail, two mains, two jibs, a complete tiller assembly, and a five gallon bucket full of stuff. Ok, it came with other stuff, too: PFDs, dagger boards, and what turned out to be two complete sets of standing rigging. But ready to sail it was not. Not all of the hardware in the bucket was usable, and not all of it made sense. Most of the pins for the standing rigging were missing, and much of the jib sheet hardware is damaged, dead, or just plain gone. Half of the blocks for the mainsheet were left out in the sun and were destroyed. And the upper deck is a nightmare of alligator cracking. . But considering this boat is likely to be over forty years old, that ain’t bad!

As a quick aside, earlier today my wife and I were flipping through Phil Berman’s Catamaran Sailing and ran across a picture of three Pacific Cats sailing in a group. Only one of those cats had a sail number smaller than ours. And that book was published in 1982!

Pacific Catamaran 002

So where are things now? Moving along, actually.Earlier this weekend we stepped the mast and took a look at what it would take to get this boat out on the water.

Stepped Mast

Here’s the list:


The mast is intact and remarkably straight. The diamond wires were not tensioned symmetrically, so I spent some time adjusting them. Unlike every other mast I’ve seen with diamond wires, tension is set by adjusting the width of the spreader bar rather than by turning turnbuckles near the base of the mast. This was a little weird to me, but it worked.

Looking Up Mast

The mast on the Pacific Catamaran 19 is odd in other ways, too. There’s an integral winch in the mast for the main halyard. It has a ratchet lock on one side and sockets for a winch handle on either side. The winch was frozen when we first tried it out, but some dry lube and a little exercise of the mechanism freed it up enough to work smoothly. The bushings are clearly shot, and will have to be replaced. But right now I can’t figure out how to disassemble it. It looks like there used to be a set screw in the side of the winch drum that let you remove it from the spindle. But it’s so nasty in there right now, I can’t figure out how to remove it. We’ll have to re-visit this down the road. For now, it works.

Main Winch

Both booms appear to be in good shape as well, though all three show signs of saltwater corrosion. I cleaned the shorter of the two booms, and will do the same to the other boom and the mast as time allows.

The Pacific Catamaran sail threads into a track on the boom, so there’s no downhaul on the mainsail and no outhaul car on the end of the boom. Instead, luff tension is adjusted using the main halyard, and outhaul is handled by a line threaded through the clew of the sail. Sorry, no pictures of this yet. (Did I mention that it’s been blowing hard in addition to the cold and the rain?)

Rudder / Tiller Assembly

The rudders are in remarkably good shape, considering their age. There’s some chipping of the gel coat, and one rudder has had one of its tips ground off. I’d like to seal this up before putting it in the water, simply so the foam core of the rudder does not degrade from saltwater exposure. But eventually I’d like to rebuild the tip, using the other rudder as a pattern. For now, they’ll do as-is. For what it’s worth the rudders are in far better shape than the rudders on our old Prindle 16. Looking back, I have to shake my head at what we were willing to put up with back then. I’d like to do a better job on this boat.

The tiller assembly is remarkably tight. One of the things I really can’t stand is looseness in a rudder assembly, and the loud clattering noise a loose rudder makes. Every bit of noise a sailboat makes while under sail is energy being dissipated as sound. That’s energy that’s not going into propelling the boat forward. A loud, loose rudder causes drag. I was glad to see how clean this rudder and tiller assembly is.

I used the rudder blades as my guinea pigs for compounding the oxide off of the boat’s gel coat. The gel coat on the boat’s hulls and rudders is heavily oxidized. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time re-working the hulls, so I got some 3M #09006 marine restorer and wax. This is a pretty fast-cutting compound, and does a good job of removing the oxide from the gel coat. It also contains a wax, which serves to seal the gel coat afterward. I plan to use this for the first two seasons we own the boat. After that I hope the condition of the gel coat is good enough that we can switch to a non-cutting treatment like a good 3M marine wax.

The tiller bars on this boat are apparently made from teak. The wood is in very good shape, but it will obviously need treatment before putting it in the water. I haven’t decided which route to go with this yet. I’m loathe to varnish it if I can avoid it.


The hulls are actually in better shape than they should be, considering the age of the boat and the conditions under which it was stored. Below deck the gel coat is heavily oxidized, but it’s largely intact.

That’s not entirely true. There are some pretty good scratches I’d like to grind out and re-gel coat, and there are a couple of impact marks I need to grind the gel coat off of so I can check the condition of the underlying fiberglass. On the bottom of one hull it looks like the gel coat had blistered when it was applied (which wasn’t all that uncommon at that time), and the blisters wore through, leaving hundreds of tiny pinholes. There’s an underlying coat of gel coat that is intact, but I’d like to address this at some point. This will be a major deal to do, though, so it’s not high on my list at the moment.

Above deck is another story. The gel coat there is utterly shot. I tried compounding some of the real problem areas, and I can’t get a decent finish on it. This was the first real roadblock we ran into.

A Quick Aside

When doing any sort of restoration, one of the key questions you need to ask is this: How far are you going to go? This is not a light question, and there’s no one right answer. For example, if you pick up a classic 1965 Ford Mustang, are you restoring it to factory condition so you can take it to car shows? Or road-ready condition to be a daily driver? Or are you going to soup it up beyond all recognition and blow the doors off unsuspecting rivals at the track? Each of these places different requirements on the restoration job. Factory original means you may spend months hunting down original parts or making perfect replicas. It may delay work on the car for years, though when you’re done you’ll have a truly unique machine. Getting it ready to be a daily driver may mean you skip that process for a lot of the parts, and order out of one of the aftermarket Ford parts catalogs. You won’t have original, but you’ll have functional. (And in many cases you’ll have something that performs better than the original!) And in the last case, of course you have to ask yourself why you bought a classic car if your intention was to rebuild it into something it never was to begin with.

Back to the Hulls

In our case we want a boat we can sail, not one that will be 100% true to the original. There’s no fleet of Pacific Catamarans out here to race, so we don’t have to keep it stock. Heck, there’s no fleet of catamarans out here at all, so we don’t even have to keep it true to a handicap scale. Our youngest child is eight. By the time she’s eighteen and moving away from home, my wife and I will be in our fifties. By all means I plan to restore the gel coat on the bottom of the boat as much as possible. Not because it’s original, but because that’s one more major overhaul I don’t have to do. But doing that for the top deck would be an enormous undertaking. There’s just no way.

Instead we’re planning to repair as much damage as we can using West Systems epoxy, prime, and paint it with a good quality top deck polyurethane paint like Interlux. I don’t have the facilities to spray (nor do I have the personal protective equipment to pull that off!) so we’re planning to paint by rolling and tipping. In the end the color of the top deck probably won’t match anything else on the boat. But it’ll be water tight, it’ll look nice, and it’ll be easy to maintain for the years we plan to own the boat.

Sheets, Roller Furler, and Traveler

As I mentioned earlier, the lower half of the mainsheet hardware was shot. I’d love to refurbish those blocks, but I don’t know how likely that is. Meanwhile someone was selling a 7:1 mainsheet off of a Hobie 18 on Ebay, so I bought it. Similar lower blocks, and with the addition of a bail on one of the upper blocks, those are identical as well. It should bolt straight on.

The mainsheet traveler is another story. It’s a 3:1 compound system, which another Pacific Catamaran sailor told me was necessary in order to change the traveller setting while under sail on this beast. One of the cheek blocks in the 3:1 system was seized, so I replaced both with new Harken blocks. The holes these bolt into on the traveler were wallowed out, so I’m planning to re-machine the holes and add Helicoil inserts to bring them back to nominal size (threaded #10-32). The wheels on the traveler are worn as well, to the point where it likes to lock up if there’s no upward force on it. I’m still deciding whether to build all new wheels for it, or to compensate for this some other way.

The foresail system is simply a mess…

Well, not entirely. The roller furler is intact, and rotated freely when we had the mast up.

Roler Furler

The rest of it really is a mess.

Initially, I couldn’t even figure out if the hardware we had was for a jib or a spinnaker. Turns out the foresail on the Pacific Cat is closer to a Genoa than a jib, which caused some of the confusion. The other call for confusion is that the Pacific Catamaran, unlike most beach cats, has a hard deck.

Deck Layout

My only experience with beach cats up to this point was a very decrepit Hobie 14 and a remarkably nice Prindle 16. Both of these had trampolines, and the jib sheeting hardware on the Prindle 16 was built around this idea. The blocks and cam cleats for the jib lay on the trampoline just rearward of the side stays. When I looked at the deck on the Pacific Cat, I didn’t see anything that even remotely resembled the sheet blocks from the Prindle.

It wasn’t until we stepped the mast and my daughter and I measured the foot of the jib and the lines attached to it that we figured it out. The blue tape just in front of the side stays in the photo above show where the clew of the foresail will come back to when sheeted in. It actually extends aft of the mast! It’s an honest to goodness Genoa! The clew of the sail comes down right around where the jib sheet blocks are on the Prindle. At that point I knew they had to be somewhere aft of where I was used to seeing them.

Next, we found something curious. On the Prindle’s jib, the forward blocks of the jib sheet are attached directly to the sail with a single shackle. The sheets run through these blocks and back to the rearward blocks and cam cleats. On the Pacific Cat’s Genoa, though, there were substantially long lines between the clew of the sail and the forward blocks of the jib sheet. We measured that line length and put a second set of blue tape marks on the boat to indicate how far back those extended. They’re visible in the photograph above, almost at the back of the cockpit!

What I thought were spinnaker blocks on the rear wall of the cockpit are almost certainly the rearward blocks of the foresail sheet! Even more strange, it looks as though the sheets then run forward to the base of the mast, where there are the remains of some pivoting blocks with cam cleats.

As I said, it’s a mess. But at least now it’s a mess I can sort out and eventually address.


This is where the story gets more depressing. The trailer is solid, but it’s also completely covered in rust. Introducing it to a salt water environment is just asking for it to be converted entirely into rust. So before we take the boat anywhere near the ocean, we need to strip what paint remains, rust-treat the bejeebers out of it, and paint it with rust-resistant paint.

To make matters even more interesting, the trailer was never finished. I have all the parts I need to build the upright at the front of the trailer to support the mast, but all it is at the moment is a collection of cut steel bars. They need to be welded together. Then they need the same rust treatment and painting the rest of the trailer needs.

The trailer is a project in its own right. Unfortunately it’s one I have no other way to accomplish except to knuckle down, learn to weld, and get busy.

The Plan

My to-do list is currently over a hundred items long. I’m banging out a couple each day. Progress is rapid, but there’s a long way to go before we can take the boat out on the water. The plan is to keep grinding away at the list until I run out of things to do. With time, perseverence and back-breaking work, I should have it done by the time the kids are out of school for the summer. With a little luck I might have it ready before that.

– Tom


2 Responses to “Progress on the Duckling”

  1. Looks like a bad case of ‘boat fever’- enjoy the frenzy Tom!

  2. Tom Benedict said

    Hahahaha! Well, I’d rather finish enjoying this phase of things and start enjoying the actual sailing. That’s one of the reasons for the fever. I just want to get it done.

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