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|A while ago on one of the bulletin boards a question was raised as
to whether wood based construction was inferior and obsolete.
After answering that post, I had to remember how many times I had done
so on our showroom floor. I realized that it was a question that
Nichols Marine as a Champion (wood based) and Skeeter (composite) dealer
might be qualified to address for all of our "cyber
So here is how I addressed the subject on the Bass Fishing Home
Page...Boats & Motors board....
Post # 6257 1/3/98:
I sell Champion and Skeeter boats. Champion uses plywood and end
grain balsa in the construction of their boats. Since 1995 Skeeter
has been making the transition to all composite structural components in
their boats. Hopefully I don't have an axe to grind either
First, I think it's important to define what "composites" are
and the various methods of composite construction. Today, anything
that is not wood is being called composite. That includes
fiberglass, poured or injected foam, honeycomb or foam based products
such as Klegecell, beetboard, aluminum and steel.
You really have two very distinct composite
The first is to use non wood products as direct replacements for wood
components. That is where the basic construction of the two types
of boat is the same (hull /stringers /floor) with the difference only
being whether the components are wood based or not.
The second method is an "inner liner" method which uses
fiberglass cavities injected with foam (forming a glass/foam/glass
sandwich). Those Champion owners out there with Champion's
composite or "liner" hulls have this type of
Also, Gambler uses this "hull within a
hull" method. The liner method really requires a 100%
manufacturing commitment because it is a radically different way of
building a boat. It is a very tooling intensive (outer and inner
hull molds in addition to cap molds) and requires training your people
for a different methodology.
I used to be a Gambler Dealer and I
remember Bob Ackerbloom (Gambler's owner) recounting to me how long it
took him to develop the technique and how expensive it was to introduce
new models (a good reason for Gambler's limited model selection).
Champion dropped this method for two reasons.
The first related to the cost of running "dual" manufacturing
styles and the second related to poor repairability. It seems that
the dual hull injected foam method severely limited access to the
structure of the hull. Once the structural foam was compressed or
damaged (i.e. due to an impact), it was impractical or impossible to
repair and reinforce the damaged area from the outside. This
resulted in liner boats that normally would be repairable (if they had
been conventionally constructed), being total losses.
Using most of the off the shelf composite materials available today
simply as wood replacements also has its problems. Wood as a
structural reinforcement generally has better strength to weight ratios,
panel span strength, durability under compressive loads and resistance
to degradation over time. The major exception is that untreated or
unprotected wood can and will rot if exposed to water over an extended
period of time.
However, composites also have their Achilles heel. Fiberglass
laminates that absorb water delaminate. If you doubt this, just
talk to anyone who has experience with structural damage due to hull
blistering. Foam based honeycombs tend to degrade under continued
compressive loads. This is the reason that Allison Boats used
Klegecell extensively as a structural component and uses steel in the
transom. Products such as beetboard (so called because it is made
from sugar beets), have the the nasty tendency to degrade over
time. Composites usually have inferior panel span strength.
That is why Skeeter strut supports their nested hatch composite
What does this all mean? It all reminds me of the great "hand
laid" versus "chopper gun" debate of the late 80's.
Time has proven that a good chopper gun boat is better than a bad hand
laid boat. Time has also proven that each has applications in
which it is superior. Today just about everyone uses a skin chop
to fill hard to reach voids and to prevent nasty cosmetic conditions
like "print through".
In my opinion, composite technologies will go through a great range of
growing pains from annoying to catastrophic. It is also my opinion
that the increasing cost of wood and the marketability of "no wood
construction" will demand the perfection of the technology and the
invention of new and better materials.
Having wood in a boat (if it is PROPERLY protected) does not mean you
are dealing with an inferior boat any more than a decal that says
composite means you are dealing with a superior boat.
In the final analysis, it's going to come down to your confidence that
the builder has command of whatever materials and methods it chooses to
use and has the history, track record and financial wherewithal to be
able to stand behind their products.
A well made boat will never be obsolete.