Refurbishing the Rubbing Strake by Bill Redgrove

As with most Westerlys Camomile has a rubbing strake along the deck to hull joint but after 30 years and much rubbing of the strake, some of it not all that gentle, it had had its share of repairs, apart from the transom section which was replaced when the davits were fitted. It had also eroded so far that some of the bolts that clamp the join together were standing proud of the surface and so could no longer be plugged. At various times I had seen sufficient of the bolts to be certain that they were of good quality and in good condition but the time had come to renovate the timber.

As we live aboard, avoiding the mess of removing head-linings and digging out nuts along the length of the boat is a priority but it also seemed unnecessary to disturb a deck/hull joint which appeared to be operating satisfactorily. For this reason I decided to clad the existing strake with one strip on top and one on the side, the underneath being in good enough condition to be renovated with sanding. The key to this process though was to produce fair and true surfaces which would take a bond. Unfortunately nothing was fair or true to start with as the timber surfaces were grooved with slightly protruding bolt heads and had been scarred by the passing of time and blunt objects (like jetties and locks). Added to this the deck moulding was not square due to moulding taper and the strake was also not perfectly parallel to the deck. The nearest thing to a good surface seemed to be the underneath of the strake where the weather and sun had not got at it too badly. This was duly renovated and trued by sanding and, where necessary with a hand plane.
Next, the upper face could be approached by cutting parallel to the underneath one. A circular saw with a conventional fence was needed to do this however most machines are far too large and unwieldy to safely carry this operation out. A special lightweight 4” saw with a TCT blade was selected and fitted with a suitable fence etc. As the saw was going to travel over a slightly lumpy surface care was taken to reduce the depth of cut to a point where it would not slice into the GRP behind the strake.

Using the bottom of the strake as a guide for the fence and holding the machine on its side, the desired size was selected and carefully cut away. The bow end required hand finishing where the strake meets the stainless capping but otherwise the TCT blade left a surface almost good enough for gluing, however some hand work with a block plane improved this even further.

To form the outer surface teak would have to be cut as well as the occasional tip of a bolt head. Fortunately the very few bolt heads that did protrude came out less than the depth of their slot meaning only a sliver off and no serious challenge to their structural function. With a little experimentation an angle grinder was fitted with a 40 grit 100mm diameter flap disc and a fence similar to a router with adjustment for depth.

This tool was easy to hold vertical with some accuracy and would be guided in depth and height by its fence. The flap wheel was easily capable of removing teak and, used carefully, ground a sliver off the few errant bolt heads.

Again the very front end where the strake meets its stainless bow piece could not quite be accessed due the machine’s fence, so had to be finished by hand using a sharp paring chisel. It should be noted that these processes, though guarded and guided, require full proficiency and confidence with saw, grinder and later the router. The strake is now clean on all three visible surfaces. 12mm was removed from the top so 15mm thick timber was chosen for the cladding which would leave the strake just a few millimetres larger than Westerly made it 30 years ago. 30 years ago though it was possible to obtain teak boards of 18’+ in length and my original strake is testament to this having only one joint along its length. Today 5 meters seems to be a real find and 3 or 4 is more likely. This made it necessary to glue several pieces together (using scarf or lap joints) to form the length needed.

The top cladding profile (20mmx15mm) in three lengths was first on but was too weak to glue up before assembly and so was bonded in situ after the joints had been cut and pre-fitted. A good quality epoxy glue was used for the bonding and the cladding was clamped in place with numerous 60mm G cramps.

The side cladding was drilled and counter-bored along its length at the same pitch as the strake bolts but set midpoint between them. Starting with four lengths the cladding profile (50mmx15mm) was glued into 2 lengths off the boat. After a final clean up of the datum surface to remove any irregularities caused by the bonding of the top cladding the 2 side sections were again bonded together in situ being clamped into place by self-tapping screws with flat pan heads into the original strake.

Plugs were made with a cutting bit from scraps of the same timber as the cladding, so that it matches the surrounding wood as it weathers, then glued into the counter-bores to cover and protect the screw heads. Finally the plugs were flushed off, small radii were routed on the top and bottom of the strake and it was sanded down with a 180 grit then progressively down to 320 grit. It is as well to say that at no time was a ladder used while working or cutting. A stable well found scaffold platform/s with as much length as possible is a safety essential, ensuring a true cut and easy access to carry out the work well.