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Gelcoat Crazing
For the past (too many to admit) years I have been working on the completion of a Corbin 39. Recently I have noticed that the deck gelcoat shows patterns of small cracks in various locations. These do not seem to be associated with internal bulkheads or other sources of potential stress. Since the boat has not been moved and is well supported, I discount the possibility of stresses from being lifted or moved. There is no evidence of settling or shifting. Also, there are no other sites of cracking, shifting or any signs of stress.

The deck of this boat is fiberglass covered 1/2″ plywood, about 1/8″ of FRP on top and bottom of the wood. Any ideas what may have caused the relatively sudden rash of crazing? How can I tell if the cracks are of structural importance without performing major deck surgery? If they are not currently a structural problem, what is necessary to prevent them from becoming one?

Lou Lieto
Burton, West Virginia


Congratulations on nearing the completion of your Corbin 39. Its good looking, strong and seakindly.

The deck crazing you describe is unfortunate. It is not an immediate threat, but will be time consuming to repair. And we do believe it should be repaired at some point.

One function of gelcoat is to keep water away from the underlying laminate. Being slightly porous, it isn’t perfect at this job. Cracks all the way through the gelcoat allow water to directly contact the laminate. Again, water on the laminate isn’t going to cause any immediate problem, but over time water could work its way into and through the laminate. You definitely don't want the plywood to get wet. Ultra thin hairline cracks obviously pose less of a threat than cracks into which you can stick a knife blade.

Deck crazing can be caused by a number of things, including, as you mention, stress loads. Other causes could include improper application at the time of manufacture (too thin, too thick) or incorrect mixing of the parts, making it unusually brittle. Yet another possible cause could be expansion and contraction of the plywood core. And though weve both discounted stress, 1/8″ of glass on the top seems a bit on the thin side, so perhaps walking (jumping?) on the deck has induced stresses of which youre not even aware. A marine surveyor could probably give you a more accurate understanding of the cause.

The usual repair of crazed gelcoat involves opening up the crack. Some old books show using the V-shape of a can opener. This is crude and risks chipping large areas of gelcoat. A Dremel tool is often used. Its laborious, routing out all the cracks, but unless the cracks are widened, you cant fill them with epoxy and any of several fillers, such as one of the WEST System brand fairing compounds.

Once routed and filled, the problem then is of making them visually disappear as the filler and deck will be different colors (unless youve used a coloring agent and are VERY GOOD at matching colors!).

Another possibility is to fill the cracks with Capt. Tolleys Creeping Crack Cure. Defender Industries (800/628-8225) sells a 2-oz. bottle for $8.95. We haven't tried it.

At this point, youre probably looking at painting the entire deck, or covering non-skid areas with a non-skid pad like Treadmaster.

If the boat were ours, and the crazing does not entirely penetrate the gelcoat, does not cover the entire deck and is not an eyesore, wed leave it be for now. If the above are all true, however, wed start thinking about what color you want to paint your new deck.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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