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The hole truth

“A little putty, a little paint,” sing-songs Swamp Yankee boatwright Charlie Koller, “make her what she ain’t.”

Charlie is transforming a tired 22-year-old Down East skiff into a younger and updated version of her former self.

For more than a week, making her “what she ain’t” meant plugging, patching and filling gouges, holes and divots — some 6 inches in diameter — with vinylester resin, fairing and bonding compound, and fiberglass mat. How many holes? If you count the ones from the screws holding the three deck panels in place, the number would be in the neighborhood of 130, give or take.

“The center deck panel alone had 40 holes, big and small, not counting the perimeter holes. And the perimeter had another 50,” says Charlie. “Holy moley! Holes in my head. Holes in my pocketbook.”

Glasswork isn’t something he particularly relishes, but he acknowledges that it’s part of the job.

“It doesn’t have to be messy if you’re careful with it,” says Charlie, who keeps a clean work area. “I learned a long time ago that mess makes more mess.”

He uses dust-collecting tools, and when he’s grinding a rough edge, he keeps a vacuum next to his work.

To patch the large holes, Charlie cut plugs out of 3/4-inch plywood and used vinylester bonding putty to hold them in place. The putty also fills and smooths any gaps between plug and deck.

He then glassed them in permanently using five or six layers of 1.5-ounce mat and vinylester resin on the top side of the panels and three or four layers on the bottom. He used a small ribbed roller to work out any air bubbles.

Charlie built the layups to stand proud of the panel’s surface, which let him grind it flush with the deck and not have to use filler. He also patched the counter-sunk screw holes and other divots with fairing compound; he used about two quarts for the hull and deck.

Holes that went all the way through the panel, such as those for the old pedestal seats, were filled with West System epoxy. Charlie closed one end with a piece of tape and then filled the cavity with a syringe full of epoxy. Vinylester was used for the large holes, along with wood plugs, because of its compatibility with the binder in the mat.

Once everything was filled, Charlie sanded the entire deck and rolled on an Awlgrip epoxy primer.

For others traveling the same path, Charlie has this advice: “Stay organized, stay neat and stay ahead of the mess.” And don’t be afraid to make mistakes with this type of glasswork.

“It ain’t rocket science,” he says. “You can always go back and fix glasswork. You can always go back and grind it out. This is a good place to practice your glass technique because it’s not that critical.”

Tips of the trade:

1. Be neat.

2. Use dust collection when possible.

3. Keep tools organized and clean, which means having a bucket of acetone and a clean rag nearby.

4. Wear nitrile gloves.

5. Cut the glass mat in advance and have it neatly stacked next to the hole that needs filling.

6. Mix rates are much more critical with epoxy and hardeners than with polyesters.

7. Use the largest container practical with polyester or vinylester to reduce the kick rate.