Repairing the Damaged Toerail
This page was last updated on 13 November 2003.

Back in June, in an unfortunate incident, Glissando's toerail was damaged on the starboard bow in a collision.  The damage, amazingly, was quite slight, and I made a temporary repair with caulk and duct tape that saw the boat through the remainder of the season.  Knowing at the time that the boat would be stored inside my new boat shop for the winter, I didn't attempt to effect "real" repairs with the boat in the water.

Later, with the boat inside the shop, I turned my attention to the toerail.  Earlier, when removing gear from the boat, I discovered that the toerail had leaked inside the boat beneath the damage, which I had been unaware of; the water stain was hidden behind my stash of rolled-up charts in the vee berth.

Click here to refresh your memory on how the toerail is constructed.

tr1.JPG (166100 bytes)The first step, after removing the old duct tape, was to cut back the wood toerail to solid material.  With three sections of wood--inside, outside, and caprail--I chose to stagger the joints where the new material would be added in.  On the caprail, I chose two preexisting seams from the original construction.  On the inside and outside rails, I picked random points and created new cutlines.

To remove the old wood, I first scored and cut the material where I wanted the repairs to end.  I used a small backsaw to make sharp, accurate cuts in the wood as needed on the horizontal caprail and on one end of the inside and outside rails where the cutline was going to be exposed by the removal of the caprail.  At the after ends of the inside and outside rails, where the caprail would remain undisturbed, I couldn't use the saw to make the cut, so I scored the line with a sharp knife and then chiseled out the material at that end, before continuing with the rail removal.

IM009329.JPG (133849 bytes)This shows the after cut on the caprail.  I removed the wood sections with a chisel, and found that it was not particularly difficult despite the 5200 securing things in place.  I was careful in all cases not to cause any damage to any rail sections that were to remain in place.

IM009331.JPG (179588 bytes)This photo shows some of the damage to the fiberglass toerail inside the wooden and epoxy structure.  The chisel is stuck into a splintered gap above the tabbing securing the hull and deck together.  Only a small opening into the interior of the boat was present, so this damage, while it looks terrible, is actually quite insignificant, structurally.  This was the point of impact, and I have cut away and removed the worst of the splintered wood and broken epoxy from the area.

IM009334.JPG (168183 bytes)This shows the forward cutline on the caprail, which was a pre-existing seam in the original construction.  I later removed the bow pulpit for better access.

IM009336.JPG (163443 bytes)Here is the forward cut on the outside rail.  I carefully made this cut with a backsaw, and then carefully chiseled off the wood up to the cutline, being very cautions not to damage the hull paint in any way.  The 5200 was tenacious in its grasp, but still succumbed relatively easily to the chisel.

IM009337.JPG (148272 bytes)This is the cutline at the aft end of the outside rail.  I scored the wood just forward of the screwhole, and then chiseled out the material at that end very carefully before beginning to pry any of the wood off.  The caprail above the after part of this section will remain in place, as the cutline for replacement is further forward on the caprail, so I also chiseled carefully along the seam at the top edge so as not to damage the caprail.

The series of photos below shows several different views of the toerail after all broken wood was removed.  New material will later be installed after repairs are made to the broken fiberglass in the center section, the point of impact.  

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lifelinedamage1.jpg (38128 bytes)Along with the damage to the toerail, the lifelines and forwardmost stanchion received damage as well.  The impact stretched the upper lifeline substantially, to the point that taking up the turnbuckle all the way, while leaving the lifeline just tight enough to avoid sags, did not really provide enough adjustment in order to get the lifeline as tight as I liked it.  Also, the vinyl coating was compromised on both the upper and lower lifelines where they had been stretched through the stanchions during the impact.  Therefore, I planned to replace both lifelines.

stanchiondamage1.jpg (35128 bytes)The forwardmost stanchion was also bent very slightly where it exited its base.  It was hardly noticeable when the boat was in the water and all rigged, but when I removed the stanchion from its base later on the kink was obvious, and I decided to replace that single stanchion as well.

Even though the damage to the fiberglass portion of the toerail appeared severe at first glance, in reality the damage from a structural nature was so slight as to be virtually negligible.  The raised half-circular shape of the original toerail is cosmetic only, and serves no real purpose--all the more so in my modified toerail design.  Beneath the cosmetic shell, the deck was originally tabbed to the hull along its full length with several layers of fiberglass, which was pushed partly into the void formed by the molded toerail, but not all the way to the top.  Therefore, beneath the shattered outer portion of the old toerail, the tabbing was nearly completely intact, with only a small void that had allowed the leak into the vee berth below.  As a result, I determined that there were not any substantial fiberglass lamination repairs that were required and, as with several damaged areas that existed on the toerail that I addressed during the restoration project several years earlier, I proceeded with repairs along a similar vein.  Had I been concerned about the integrity and strength of the surrounding hull-deck joint, I would have made other repairs as necessary. 

Repairs were straightforward.  After removing the remaining shattered toerail fiberglass back to solid material with a chisel, I cleaned the area with acetone and prepared to begin filling the void with strengthened epoxy, much as I had done with the other minor toerail repairs needed during the initial restoration three years earlier.  As I was "auditioning" epoxy brands at the time for another boat project, I decided to use the sample kit I had received from System Three resins.  Using the materials IM009370.JPG (168436 bytes)in the kit, I mixed up an appropriate amount of resin (a 2:1 mix), and added cabosil as a thickening agent.  To strengthen the material, I added in some so-called plastic mini fibers, a finely-ground material resembling cornstarch.  When I had the mix thick enough, I stuffed it in to the voids around the broken area on the toerail, and build up some thickness of epoxy.  I refrained from adding too much, lest it get too hot during curing.  To prevent any epoxy from oozing out of the repair beyond the outer edge of the toerail, I installed a temporary length of wood as a mold, which I covered with plastic to prevent the epoxy sticking.  With the surrounding voids and edges of the damaged area filled with the strengthened epoxy, I left the repair to cure overnight.

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The next day, I removed the "mold" and prepared the area for further work.  First, I washed the epoxy with water in case it formed amine blush (I don't know offhand if System Three blushes or not), and then sanded off the rough spots in preparation for more work.

IM009373.JPG (160499 bytes)Next, I began forming the inside and outside pieces of wood that make up the toerail.  The material is 1/2" thick mahogany, so my first step was to mill some pieces to the proper thickness out of some rough boards I had.  Getting the exterior rail just right took some time, but eventually I fit a piece in nicely.  The curvature and flare of the hull in this area is, as it happens, some of the most extreme on the entire boat, so the job was made more difficult as a result.  In the end, I decided it would be easier to let the top edge of the exterior rail run high, and to trim it off later.

The inside rail was easier to size, and soon I had both pieces ready for permanent installation.  The idea was to install the inner and outer rails, let the adhesive cure, and then trim the top edges as needed before proceeding with the epoxy fill and caprail.

EX000005.JPG (139255 bytes)I installed the rails in a bed of polyurethane adhesive--I happened to have a tube of Sikaflex 240 in a mahogany color on hand, so I used that.  During the dry fit, I had installed and countersunk the necessary screws, so once the Sikaflex was applied I secured the boards with screws.  To help hold the top edge in tightly to the adhesive, I installed several clamps as well, and left the arrangement to cure before proceeding.  Late in the day, I found that the adhesive was cured enough for me to fill the deepest void between the rails (right where the point of impact had been) with some more thickened epoxy, so that the next day I could fill the whole void flush and be done with it.

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IM009402.JPG (174327 bytes)First thing the next day, I trimmed the inner and outer rails down to the proper height with a hand plane, then mixed a batch of epoxy and applied it to the remaining void, filling the area flush with the rails.  I left this to cure for a while and worked on other projects in the meantime.

When the epoxy had cured sufficiently, I installed the top rail.  Using a piece of wood wider than that needed, I dry fitted it first to get the length right and match the angles of the cuts at either end, and to ensure that the top piece overhung the inner and outer rails (to be trimmed later).  Then, I installed the caprail permanently in a heavy bed of the Sikaflex, using some clamps to help pull the piece tightly into the adhesive.  I trimmed the piece to the proper width with a combination of a hand plane (on the outer edge) and a router with a straight pattern bit, on the concave inner edge.  Then, with the adhesive cleaned up, I did some preliminary sanding to contour the edges to match the surrounding, existing toerail.

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toerail111303.jpg (23302 bytes)After a few weeks working on other things, I wrapped up work on the toerail repair by plugging the screw holes with mahogany plugs set in resorcinol glue, and then sanded the whole area again before applying a sealer coat of varnish to the new wood.  There remained plenty of varnish work to be completed on the new toerail--as well as the surrounding areas--but there was the whole winter for that.  With a couple coats of varnish over the new wood, I no longer had to worry about fingerprints or stains, and could work about the new area without concern.

Glissando, Pearson  Triton #381

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