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  1. #1
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    Default Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    I've seen boats as young as 10 years old with rotten floors and transoms.
    I can't help but think wood must be the worst material ever for boats but then I thought of tall ships, schooners and man of wars.
    Some of these ships lasted longer than the men that sailed them.
    Better wood? Treated wood? Solid wood is better then ply? Maybe they were constantly rebuilt?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    I think tar and pitch was used to waterproof them.
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Dark + moisture/dampness + exposed to air = terrible conditions that promote the types of things that rot boats.

    Many types of wood are naturally rot resistant; some don't rot when they sit in the water, and some are actually better off sitting in salt than anywhere else. I believe fresh water is the enemy to wood, whereas salt-water boaters don't have the same issues as often.

    Regular ol' wood stuffed down in a dark, damp spot of the boat = growth/organisms attack it. Under a carpet or something and it's just an awful breeding ground and bound to spread.
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Pitch and tar for sure - but then again they didn't use SPF lumber either.

    When I was a kid in the 1950's we had a wood boat. She was built in 1939. Kept her in the water all Summer. Covered, but water in the bilge for sure. When Grandpa sold the cottage in 1961 I asked Dad to buy a trailer so we could keep the boat at home and still use her. He said couldn't do it because the boat needed soak time to seal it up, thus it couldn't be a trailer boat. Then I suggested we trade her in for a fiberglass boat and he laughed. He said they were no good because they rotted apart.....LOL. Those glass boats had a bad rep back in the early days. People bought them because they were marketed as maintenance free, not like a wood boat. They soon found out it wasn't the case. Besides, he said I should never buy a fiberglass boat until I first built the boathouse to store her in out of the sun and rain.

    The old girl was made out of cedar - naturally rot resistant. On top of that all the wood was varnished on the inside and painted on the outside. The second owner kept her outside with a flimsy plastic tarp - even with that abuse she still lasted another 15 years. Back in the day every boatman knew that you covered a boat with canvas if you wanted her to last.

    As others have said, dark, fresh water, dampness - that's the killer. But most of all its the crappy fir plywood they use.

    My wood boat is 60 this year. Not a spot of rot anywhere. Of course she's been garage kept since new. Ditto for my 28 year old glass boat, even with its crappy plywood. But, I listened to Dad and built the garage first!
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  5. #5
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by JimS123 View Post
    Pitch and tar for sure - but then again they didn't use SPF lumber either.

    When I was a kid in the 1950's we had a wood boat. She was built in 1939. Kept her in the water all Summer. Covered, but water in the bilge for sure. When Grandpa sold the cottage in 1961 I asked Dad to buy a trailer so we could keep the boat at home and still use her. He said couldn't do it because the boat needed soak time to seal it up, thus it couldn't be a trailer boat. Then I suggested we trade her in for a fiberglass boat and he laughed. He said they were no good because they rotted apart.....LOL. Those glass boats had a bad rep back in the early days. People bought them because they were marketed as maintenance free, not like a wood boat. They soon found out it wasn't the case. Besides, he said I should never buy a fiberglass boat until I first built the boathouse to store her in out of the sun and rain.

    The old girl was made out of cedar - naturally rot resistant. On top of that all the wood was varnished on the inside and painted on the outside. The second owner kept her outside with a flimsy plastic tarp - even with that abuse she still lasted another 15 years. Back in the day every boatman knew that you covered a boat with canvas if you wanted her to last.

    As others have said, dark, fresh water, dampness - that's the killer. But most of all its the crappy fir plywood they use.

    My wood boat is 60 this year. Not a spot of rot anywhere. Of course she's been garage kept since new. Ditto for my 28 year old glass boat, even with its crappy plywood. But, I listened to Dad and built the garage first!
    That was a great description. I had no idea small wooden boats could last 60 years. Do you have pics of her?

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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by ricohman View Post
    Some of these ships lasted longer than the men that sailed them.

    Better wood?
    Yep, not too many (if any) boats are made of white oak, like the ships of old.

    I had a white oak trolling motor mount on my old boat and it didn't show any signs of weathering after 10 years. A slathering of Thompsons (yeah I know) every spring and it was good to go. I ripped that nice chunk of lumber off a rotted glasser, before hauling it (the glasser) to the dump.

    On that old 72 glasser, the plywood stringers and transom were rotted out. BUT!, there were a couple bare, rough sawn 2x4's below deck that were in good condition. I'm not sure what type of wood the 2x4's were (cedar, redwood, cypress, oak???) , but they were still solid and rot free after sitting in soaked foam for 30 years. Hit them with a hammer and they were solid like a fresh piece of lumber, instead of crumbling to bits like the other wood.
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  7. #7
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by Philster View Post
    Dark + moisture/dampness + exposed to air = terrible conditions that promote the types of things that rot boats.

    Many types of wood are naturally rot resistant; some don't rot when they sit in the water, and some are actually better off sitting in salt than anywhere else. I believe fresh water is the enemy to wood, whereas salt-water boaters don't have the same issues as often.

    Regular ol' wood stuffed down in a dark, damp spot of the boat = growth/organisms attack it. Under a carpet or something and it's just an awful breeding ground and bound to spread.
    You nailed it, wooden boats in salt water that have rot, actually rot from rain water.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by Philster View Post
    Dark + moisture/dampness + exposed to air = terrible conditions that promote the types of things that rot boats.

    Many types of wood are naturally rot resistant; some don't rot when they sit in the water, and some are actually better off sitting in salt than anywhere else. I believe fresh water is the enemy to wood, whereas salt-water boaters don't have the same issues as often.

    Regular ol' wood stuffed down in a dark, damp spot of the boat = growth/organisms attack it. Under a carpet or something and it's just an awful breeding ground and bound to spread.
    Ayuh,.... Have to Agree,.... Saltwater is a Good place to hunt down a Project hull,....
    So long as yer intention is to completely gut the driveline, 'n go back with New/ freshwater used....

    Wooden sailing ships were more often sunk by Worms, than rot....
    I believe the pine tar is a Worm, more so than a Water barrier...
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  9. #9
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by ricohman View Post
    I've seen boats as young as 10 years old with rotten floors and transoms.
    I can't help but think wood must be the worst material ever for boats but then I thought of tall ships, schooners and man of wars.
    Some of these ships lasted longer than the men that sailed them.
    Better wood? Treated wood? Solid wood is better then ply? Maybe they were constantly rebuilt?
    I think that there is something unique and perhaps not fully understood about taking wood and then encapsulating it in resin and/or fiberglass. In ways it probably promotes rot as much as it prevents rot.

    I just got thru reading a thread on OSO this morning about a guy with a 10 year old boat from a quality manufacturer and the boat had developed stringer and bulkhead rot after about 10 years. There were no voids or exposed edges, it just rotted from within.

    Most ships of old were made from hardwood. Even small boats of yesteryear were made from hardwood. Much of the wood spent a lot of time in the water, but it was also exposed to the air, so it could breath. I remember having a wood cat boat when I was young . . . the boat was probably 40 years old and pretty much original structure (mostly oak). Can you imagine the wood in a production fiberglass boat after 40 years?

    I am in the early stages of a stringer and bulkhead repair on my boat and I am contemplating what sort of material to use. Conventional wisdom says use wood, but I'm thinking a composite would be better. The current stringers look like they are Douglas fir. If I did use wood, perhaps I should use oak.

    It is also often advised to replace with what was there, because you get a predictable strength that is similar to the original design. However, my boat has a stress crack at the top of of the port stringer. So, perhaps the original stringer is not adequate.

    Anyway, the more I read about stringers and related repairs, the subject becomes clear as mud.
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    rot is a freshwater problem. among wooden boat people, fresh water is called "sweet water" and it's death. Those of us salties who keep our boats in the water for years don't sweat it. problem comes with fresh water trailer boaters.

    Next door to my house, the one I grew up in, is a wooden row boat built by my great uncle around 1920. All wood. No rot. Ha.
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  11. #11
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    learn something new every day, Thanks

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Wooden ships also get regular maintenance. Constellation and Constitution are two very old ships (~200 years). But they periodically get major overhalls on top of more frequent preventative maintenance. Not that long ago Constellation was laid up for a couple of years while a lot of the timber was replaced. After a number of major overhauls I doubt that much of the ship is actually original parts.

    Same thing occurs for ships on dry land. The HMS Victory (UK) is also very old and hasn't been in the water for a long time. They will admit that most of it has been replaced.

    While hardwood will last longer than the softwoods used in recreational boat manufacturing. It will not last forever.

  13. #13
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    You can get wood that is lifetime guaranteed not to rot. It's specially treated ply construction. If you then encapsulate it in resin there is nothing that will change it and you've got a very strong base for fibreglass.
    I love wood in boats. it floats, dampens vibration, is light and very strong.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by rallyart View Post
    I love wood in boats. it floats, dampens vibration, is light and very strong.
    Absolutely! Better yet if the whole boat is made out of wood. It beats any other type of material. The extra maintenance is merely a labor of love. That is, if you're a boatman, not just a guy with a boat.
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    A boat made out of cedar I would think would last for who knows how long 100 years??... I still have old stumps on my property that are still hard as a rock where the pine stumps rot within about 6-8 years or so. I tried to burn a cedar stump out, what a mistake, that thing smoked worse than a pile of green leaves. There must be some serious oil resin within a cedar tree. I finally had to hose the stump down with water, it was taking forever to burn that stump. This Spring I'm going to just hook a chain to it and pull it out with my Jeep.

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  16. #16
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    JimS123 -- You hit it. ___ I'm also curious that you use the proper term "boatman" and not the 'straw hat' incorrect term of "boater" that came into vogue in the early 70's. - Thank you for using the proper term!!!

  17. #17

    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    [/QUOTE]I had no idea small wooden boats could last 60 years. Do you have pics of her?[/QUOTE]
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Santa Maria at 18 meters (59 feet) was the biggest of Columbus's three. The size of the boat back then was determined by the size of the tree you could find for the keel.
    A 20+ year old tall ship was not good business back then, the price to repair vs replace sent many an old ships to the graveyard just like today.
    When they found the tall trees of North America, shipbuilding changed in a big way, then again when they found the Redwoods of the Pacific Northwest.
    I would have loved to seen the look on a shipbuilder's face when they saw those beast.
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  19. #19
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Just a note about 'old growth lumber' of which the older, bigger and more familiar historic vessels were constructed:

    Old growth lumber is very dense and has absorbed minerals from the soil over decades or even hundreds of years. These old growth trees, which are of the rot resistant varieties, are what those ships are made of. There is no way to replicate the durability. Many 'modern' (farmed/renewable) trees (even of the species we consider rot resistant, such as Cedar) have almost nothing over varieties that are not especially rot resistant!

    So, you can have and maintain modern wooden boats, but it's important to keep in mind that the absolute pinnacle of wooden boat construction is when trees of a rot resistant species are harvested from dense forests that are centuries old. Rich with the minerals that make them hardy, along with being extremely dense of grain and properly rigid (yet flexible), these woods are primed to last a long time in ocean going ships.
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  20. #20
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    I had no idea small wooden boats could last 60 years. Do you have pics of her?[/QUOTE][/QUOTE]

    Beautiful! It looks like a new boat. Thanks for the pics.

  21. #21
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by ricohman View Post
    I had no idea small wooden boats could last 60 years. Do you have pics of her?
    [/QUOTE]

    Beautiful! It looks like a new boat. Thanks for the pics.[/QUOTE]

    Yes, Beautiful

  22. #22
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    the wooden boats at least in salt water last longer than all those 1980's-1990's fiberglass cheapies that you all keep finding full of rotten wood!
    I find old ship timbers on the beach--they may be splintered but no rot anywhere--after being buried in sand and water for 200 years or more, then up in the dunes.
    I'm trying to figure out the petrified wood with iron on it.

    Meanwhile, out on the Chesapeake Bay and the sounds of the outer banks, and the seaside of the Eastern Shore--wooden work boats are everywhere--run hard and not "maintained" like the recreational lake boat. Covers? Ha! lucky to have paint!

    For example: this is what some people around here use for the pontoon/party barge--a whole lot more class!

    http://norfolk.craigslist.org/boa/2795452247.html

    Or how about any of these:

    http://norfolk.craigslist.org/bod/2799443903.html
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  23. #23
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Stuff not mentioned yet...All woods have dormant rot spores. When the temp and humidity is right they start growing. Too much water or too low of temp and they stay dormant. Northern temps keep northen boats from rotting as fast as southern boats. All wood can rot, even teak...but some are more resistant. Old growth southern yellow pine is full of pine tar and is highly resistant. Cedar actually is not more rot resistant but is insect resistant. Oak in southern climes is bad...Hard woods tend to hold moisture moisture longer and are more prone to rotting than soft woods when exposed to southern climes. The soft woods dry faster and take that element out of the moisture/temperature formula. Old sailing ships had shelves inside the hull that held rock salt...to keep rot from happening.

    I won't even talk about termites but they have eaten up many boats in the south.

    bp

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    technically water does not rot anything. it is fungus that rots the wood(dry Rot) Salt is a preservative and creates a barrier that the fungus is unable to pallet.fresh water carries the fungus deep into places where the fungis will thrive.It is a disease and it can be spread from boat to boat .Yes a boat that has dry rot can contaminate a boat or all the boats next to it.

  25. #25
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    Default Re: Why does wood rot so fast? Did tall ships rot this quick?

    Quote Originally Posted by BillP View Post
    Stuff not mentioned yet...All woods have dormant rot spores. When the temp and humidity is right they start growing. Too much water or too low of temp and they stay dormant. Northern temps keep northen boats from rotting as fast as southern boats.......... bp
    Maybe that explains a rather dim memory from my childhood. I'm almost 74 yrs old and I remember something about someone connected with my family sinking a wooden boat in the Mississippi river in Missouri across from Alton, Illinois every winter when I was a kid and leaving it there until the spring thaw. I think my dad told me that submerging it kept the lumber from shrinking and developing leaks. I think maybe whoever it was might have made his living as a commercial fisherman. Nothing was said about preventing wood rot but I would think that might have been a factor too.

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