Monday, 23 April 2012

Steel Boats

What About A Steel Boat?

Thinking about wood as a boat building material the other day, led me, sadly, to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me. Wooden boats are truly beautiful, and if you’re looking for a more individual design, rather than something which dropped off the end of a production line, wood might be the obvious choice. The issue for me however, is that I simply don’t have the skill to build or maintain an old one.

So, what about steel? It seems to me that steel has some obvious advantages for a low cost cruiser, the main one being that a steel boat will be tougher, cheaper and more forgiving than other materials. It will dent rather than shatter or crack so some would argue it’s stronger than wood or GRP. In addition, if I needed a repair I'd find someone who could do it. There are steel workers and welders all over the world. The same cannot be said of GRP technologists.

If I were having a new boat built I think steel would be my material of choice. And, of all the steel cruising boats I have seen, the ‘Tahitiana’, from the drawing board of a US designer ‘Weston Farmer’ is the most beautiful, practical, blue water vessel I have ever seen. Ketch rigged, she would take you anywhere, she's a 36 footer.

Thirty foot seems to be the point at which volume overcomes the additional weight of the material. Under thirty foot, a steel boat is very heavy in comparison to wood or GRP. Unfortunately, this simple sailor ‘low cost cruiser’ will have to make do with an old used boat and this is where my problems begin. 

By definition, she would have to be very cheap and therefore she would be old. Old steel boats were susceptible to corrosion inside and out. To address these problems designers and builders often built them much heavier than need be so that a steel hull could lose a significant amount of thickness through corrosion without losing strength. As a result steel vessels were considered good as heavy duty workboats that could take a few knocks, but too heavy for pleasure boats - especially yachts.

Recent improvements in insulation materials have cured the internal condensation problems and modern coating materials have also significantly reduced outside corrosion. These days a modern well built steel vessel can be a light, dry, comfortable long term investment. Such a boat will be outside my price range though – so for me it’s back to dreaming of trade wind sailing on Tahitiana.

For more information on Tahitiana try :-  http://www.duckworksmagazine.com

or click on the link way below


Seaward