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Want to buy a Wharram... how to avoid unnecessarily hiring a surveyor?

Hello everyone.

I want to buy a Wharram (in my case I'm looking for a Tiki 38) and I am not that knowledgeable about boat construction. The process would be to visit the boat and if I generally like it and the price is right for me, have it hauled out and have a surveyor thoroughly check it -- and of course discard the boat and take the loss if the surveyor's findings tell that the boat is unreliable in ways not worth fixing.

This is, however, an expensive process -- even more so in remote places where a local knowledgeable surveyor might not be available.

Can you please list symptoms of poor construction or serious damage that you've seen and which I could look at to quickly discard the boat without needing to call (and pay) a surveyor? I'm not talking about things which can be fixed at reasonable cost/effort, such as replacing a beam or a mast, but about serious stuff which would make the boat best described as a "floating wreck".

Thanks,

Jordi.

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Surveyors work is not guaranteed, the fees are though. I met a yachty whose boat felt to pieces and sunk at the first run after buying a boat which a surveyor past as seeworthy. Another case I worked on to repair extensive rot, was passed by a surveyor as in sound condition. The reality is that rot, like a cancer, is undetectable when is in his first stage and is painted over. Timber changes colour but it still sound strong at tapping. However, once the bug is in it, inevitably will eat away the wood.  

That's why Surveyors fees are quiet high, a lot of that fee goes to PI. If a surveyor fails to do his job correctly they're liable and in both cases mentioned above the person who paid for the Surveyors services should be compensated for any financial loss.

I don't know why you say rot is undetectable though, if you have the right tools and know where to look and for what, you'll find it!

If you are going to hire a Surveyor check their background, make sure they have extensive knowledge in the material your boat's made of.

If you are looking to buy a boat, you are free to look and look and look.   So ask that all the lockers be empty (if there is somebody living aboard they can empty a few each day) and then take only a piece of wood the size and shape of a hammer handle, and tap the boat and listen to the wood singing to the tap.  A healthy boat has a nice sound.  Tap and tap and tap for hours if needed and the song of the wood should be pleasant and soon you will recognize healthy wood sounds.  Then if you find rot, it will sound THUD and that is the sound of rot.  You must search and see if the thud is only caused by maybe a bulkhead being under the hull sides at the point of the thud - you need to see for sure if it is rot or just healthy structure and you will soon train your ear.  Search and search and tap and tap and try to understand what you are seeing. Next, ask the owner or his representative to poke the boat right there where you think there may be rot and see if rot is found in that place.  A phillips head screw driver is all that is needed and a moderate pressure should show if there is rot.  Certainly one should not take a sharp instrument like an ice pick and go poking around a nice wooden boat searching for rot.  That would let rot in to the wood in the near future because the sharp pick would penetrate the paint which protects the wood.  You have no right to damage a boat.  You do not need to.  Just tap and tap and use a phillips head screw driver.  IF it is true rot, you will find it.  Look for paint problems and search harder there.  But sometimes there is paint problems and good epoxy under the paint doing its job.  God bless the epoxy!  Sand paper and fresh paint are frequently needed on old boats. 

   Nev and I once bought an old plywood monohull which was built before epoxy and before fiberglass and we searched several boats of this particular designer which we had to reject before we found one we thought we could manage.  We had no survey for the purchase and only a quickie survey for insurance and we soon enough discrovered that we had a lot of rot in that old boat.  We ended up putting new decking on the aft deck, replacing five feet of topsides, half the transome, most of the port lazarette, and all of the plumbing, much of the electrics, and the engine.  The boat cost around 12k pounds back in the early 90s and we worked hard to bring that boat up to some standards including the new engine which was a gift from family. 

   Nev's expectation for the amount of work that boat needed was somewhere around one tenth of the time it actually took.  He also did not realize the true situation of the engine which was not something we could live with either.  Believe me, we did inspect that boat before we bought it so we knew of the rot, but our emotions got in the way and that gave us too much confidence that we could fix it easily.  We liked the way she looked.....   I think it is kinda like a guy looking at a gal and not seeing if she would be a good cruiser companion or not.  A guy might see the pretty legs and bright smile and miss that she is not going to be a gal for the ocean life.  A surveyor can help you see the seaworthy qualities of a boat.  God help you trying to find a woman who truly wants to go to sea. 

   When we were restoring that old wooden monohull, I tapped and tapped and Nev hated to hear me searching and searching for more and more rot.  But before we met, I had crossed an ocean alone and I knew about storms and I wanted us to be safe.  So I searched and I found a lot of rot as you would expect in an old boat with no epoxy.  By the time we finished, she was strong and went sailing to Azores and the Med with her new owner.  We were busy building Peace because we had learned that we could work together and Nev secretly dreamed all his life about building a big wooden boat.  Nev saw me mixing epoxy and putting on fiberglass and using a sander and helping with ply as we restored the old monohull and so he talked and talked and sweet taled until we sold that old monohull when we were finished in order to buy some of the timber on Peace.  I promised myself when we finished bulding Peace that  I would never do any boat building again but we  have built two dinghys since.  Small boats are fun to build during a summer here in New England because they are finished quickly.  But I am learning about ways to avoid getting sweet talked into big boat building because I still love sailing better.

    All the best to you, Joral, and may all here help you as much as possible.  Maybe you could send pics to this site of the boats you are looking at.  Most of us know of several Wharrams in our areas and perhaps the particular boat will be known.  Close technical pics of places you are worried about would help folks to help you.  I do love to see a well cared for boat and I admire the heros who restore old ones.  I believe there are heavenly brownie points to be earned when you save a neglected boat.

    But remember that if you are looking for a Tiki 38, you are looking at a big boat and if it is a good and big boat, it is going to cost more than pocket change.  Protect yourself and get lots and lots of help making the decision about the purchase.  NEver buy without a real survey.

   Actually, that well rotted old monohull boat that Nev and I bought, taught us a whole lot about how wooden boats rot and when we were building Peace, we used all that knowledge so we could protect our boat from that kind of rot.   We had a true education in rot reality when we restored the old monohull so when we built Peace, we were extra careful to prevent similar kinds of rot and we took our time with the fiberglass and epoxy and followed the plans.  Peace is healthy now because of what we learned and she is free of rot as far as we know and that makes us happy because we can sail with confidence. 

    Open your eyes, be skeptical, get advice.   All the best,  Ann and Nev

which one are the right tools to detect rot? when the boat is not yours, paint cannot be scraped and beams cannot be lifted out, if the rot is at the first stage, meaning has just started, and is well covered with paint, no expert can find it. 

Thanks Ann, that's an eye-opening story!

Ahoy Jordi,

     The problem with surveying a Wharram is that surveyors are experienced mostly with fiberglass boats, their main job is to verify a boat's value for a bank loan or insurance coverage, and most boats surveyed are production. 

     Wooden hull rot isn't the only source of problems, a survey will cover the power plant, water and electrical systems, safety items.  I did have a survey outline at one time and it is very useful for checking every last thing.

     Ann and Nev's tap tap tapping is the tried and true way to detect unsound wood.  If the wood is encased in thick sheathing, it will be difficult to "hear" it.  The problem areas typically are places where condensation gathers, cabin overheads, interior of gunwales.  Deck fittings can at some point allow moisture into the wood substrate and then rot can begin.  Below the waterline a bump or a grounding can crack the sheathing and the worms can get in.  Look for cracks in the epoxy sheathing.  If you tap and the sheathing kind of flaps against the wood, something is wrong there.  A freshly painted boat makes it harder to determine underlying condition of the hull.  Boats in temperate climates that go through the freezing/thawing process are likely to have issues in hidden places, wherever moisture can gather.

     If all this sounds bleak and depressing, the upside is that a Wharram, which is built using ordinary tools and materials, can be repaired fairly easily.  If you find a boat that is in relatively good condition, don't hesitate to close the deal, if you discover a problem later on, it can usually be rectified as part of general maintenance.

Hi Andy. Thanks for your recommendations -- and for the reassurance that local problems can usually be fixed without building a new boat.

No one mentioned the lash hinges on the ruders and would much appreciate to know from you all if any one did encounter the same problem. Here it is: Lately I ve seen a tiki 30, 5 years old, with total worms devastated timber around the lash hinges. The problem being in the fact that, no antifouling can be apply inside the holes and live exposed timber for the worms to start. Particular attention in the construction method should be taken to insure those holes are properly lined with epoxy resin and regular maintenance should be given to evoid were of the protecting lining. 

I do it's my job, I have a moisture meter that uses non invasive measures to detect dampness in wood up to 15mm below the surface, 15% or above and you're heading for problems, persistent damp turns to wet rot, with the addition of Hyphae spores it'll turn to dry rot which will result in a total break down of the cell structure. The rot has to be cut out and burnt, all wood in a 1.5m radius treated. Dry rot spores can lie dormant for up to 7 years waiting for the right conditions to return. More often than not I can smell it as soon as I get on board the boat. 

Termites can be found by radar and thermal imaging. Powder Post and other invasive Beetles leave distinctive holes , it's important to identify what's making itself at home at you expense and treat it as soon as possible.  
 
Raf said:

which one are the right tools to detect rot? when the boat is not yours, paint cannot be scraped and beams cannot be lifted out, if the rot is at the first stage, meaning has just started, and is well covered with paint, no expert can find it. 

The only moister meter I know of, requires direct contact. The devise have 2 tiny pins that must be pushed into the timber to be measured and to have an accurate reading of moister content, the timber in question must be cut to expose the inner section. Measuring the surface will not give an accurate result.

Rot at the first stage leaves a stain only that, when painted, is undetectable and the timber still feels strong and sound at tapping. As you say it takes some time before the degenerative action of rot reduces the timber to pulp and finally becomes visable and palpable. The time it takes depends very much from the weather condition, the hotter and wetter, the faster the putrification and surveyors get away from any warranty after only 12 months, thats why they do not worth the money they charge.

I can see  that you are a surveyor your self and understand why my statements are contrasted. As for your information my experience in timber is comprehensive, spanning 4 decades of work on boats and other facets of the wood working guild. I mean no offence sir.


None taken,

The twin pin moisture meters are a bit out dated and can only read as far as the pins can go, they're also invasive. The Tramex has two electrodes that sends a signal into the wood the higher the moisture content the higher the signal that is returned.

Yes I am a Lloyd's Qualified Surveyor but I'm also a formally qualified Boat Building Instructor and there is nothing that's as voracious as the rot and invasive pests we get here in the tropics. My students and I make a point to study it, and study it well, we have numerous tests running at any one time. We are currently treating a 42m Feadship with extensive dry rot which means she has to be gutted, treated with ethylene glycol and restored. Which goes to show even the most prestigious Yacht Builders in the world are not immune.
Raf said:

The only moister meter I know of, requires direct contact. The devise have 2 tiny pins that must be pushed into the timber to be measured and to have an accurate reading of moister content, the timber in question must be cut to expose the inner section. Measuring the surface will not give an accurate result.

Rot at the first stage leaves a stain only that, when painted, is undetectable and the timber still feels strong and sound at tapping. As you say it takes some time before the degenerative action of rot reduces the timber to pulp and finally becomes visable and palpable. The time it takes depends very much from the weather condition, the hotter and wetter, the faster the putrification and surveyors get away from any warranty after only 12 months, thats why they do not worth the money they charge.

I can see  that you are a surveyor your self and understand why my statements are contrasted. As for your information my experience in timber is comprehensive, spanning 4 decades of work on boats and other facets of the wood working guild. I mean no offence sir.

Raf,

   Our rudder rope hinges have gone for over 10 years and we see no rot yet.  They are the original ropes.  When we drilled the holes as per plan, Nev and I eased the openings of each little hole and then I used a lot of epoxy coating inside the holes and came back again and again to add more and more epoxy.  As soon as one coat was just beyond being sticky, I added another coat while it was still soft and so it built up and up.  The ropes enter the holes and are fixed in place and closed and faired using 5200 on Peace IV.   We have used antifoul paint right on the ropes at and below the water line and we have pushed the brush all around those hinge areas carefully each time we paint the bottom.  We have almost 50,000 miles on the boat so far and see no problems with the method so long as it is built with care as with everything else.  Just follow the plans and do your best work.  A well built Wharram is a wonderful boat.  Epoxy and fiberglass applied with care prevent rot.

Ann and Nev

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