This page is about the X4, a French dinghy.
It's June 2005 when this story begins.
An other club member whishes to sell his dinghy because it's broke, and he does not want to repair it. He bought an other one already. It's the dinghy that I have been watching for the last five years, sailing in my own handmade John Gardner's design "14 foot sail and row" called Bertha. By numerous occasions (especially during calm weather) I was thinking: look at him: he's sailing and I am floating. Now there are at least another fifty or something boats of whom I could think the same, but no, only that one used to fill me with a degree of envy.
Maybe I should have mentioned first that I am an amateur of small wooden dinghies, and that plastic ones rarely charm me. Whatever, this one looks appealing to me and the thing has to go. The owner has already bought another one, an OK Dinghy, and has now two hulls to stow away. Also, he cannot repair it: no space, no time, no knowledge, does not want to anyway.
Right, decision made: I'll buy it. When hauling the hull on my trailer I ask the guy what kind of boat it is anyway. An X4 he tells me. A French craft, you'll find more about it on the Internet. Yeah, the Internet huh, if we hadn't that.
I did Google for it a little, and most, if not all, information about it you find on the site www.x4boat.free.fr .
It is best (and most often) to be compared to a Laser dinghy, although the Laser community will not be too happy about that, since the X4 is on many points just that little inferior performer. For instance, it's heavier, a bit higher on the water (more freeboard), is less refined in general construction and finish, to mention a few points. But it sails more comfortable, is competitive anyway and is cheaper, they say. I can't do the comparison myself yet; I've never been close to a Laser before. Plastic's new to me remember.
Well, time to get to know this specific X4.
Part 1 Details
It's an aluminum cast in which hinges the plywood rudder blade, held in place by means of a shock cord. The aluminum is coated in black plastic and it's starting to peel off seriously.
I think it's better removed completely
The blade looks quite worn, but good enough to serve for some years. Needs an evening attention with sandpaper and epoxy.
Look a centerboard!
This is not an unfamiliar item. Our club is situated at the windward side of the lake. That means that all free-floating items, mostly litter, sooner or later end up in and around our jetties. And oh dear, how many orphaned centerboards have I seen floating there. This one looks OK to me, just wondering how it stays in place in the centerboard trunk.
When assembling and erecting this item fir the first time it was quite a surprise to me to experience the height of it. I am used for the last four years now to sit in my humble wooden dingy "Bertha", staring at the mast, which is barely 3,7meter. This stick is 5 meters. What a difference. Will I be able to control this weightless sandwich box with such a mast poked into it, knowing that my full 70 Kg's of bodyweight is the only thing I have got to compensate the heel? I'll see, there's no way back now.
Look, there used to be four rivets in the top of the lower half of the mast, not much is left of them.
They must have served to mount a stopper plate that prevents the upper half of the mast of sliding completely in the lower half. Looks like I am going to have to mount a replacement of some sorts, because actually there is little substantial material which prevents the upper mast from sliding snuggly into its lower partner. This is going to involve a riveter... Going to have to buy a new one must have gone lost in a lending action. Never ever lend tools to anyone unless in life threatening situations. Advice friendly to go out and buy tools themselves. You will be doing yourself and the person who asked you for the tool a big favor.
The boom is attached to the mast with a tongue and groove arrangement, where the tongue is the foot of the boom and the groove is riveted to the unstayed free revolving mast.
The whole pivots round a stainless steel axle which is a Metric 6 bolt, secured with a... nut!? Great, I just love low tech. Only think this is not the original arrangement. But if it works, then I won't fix it.
Talking about fixing and low tech: The aluminum tongue casting is secured to the boom with some duct -tape. Now this boat starts to have an air of a rat bike. This improvised connection looks crappy, but since the item is never prone to tension forces, it would even stay in place without the tape. I'll just retape it, when it comes loose. Even if it were only to have it as a nonconformist statement.
What looks here, as a old Soviet can-opener is in reality a performant halyard tensioner. Well, as performant as the attachments to the hull are off course. Again lots of duct-tape creativity here, but it does not feel safe to me. I will have to repair this item after that I have sailed the X4 a few times.
Attractive shape, expresses lots of speed and performance, speedboat looks of some sorts. The kind of downscaled Miami Vice vessel where sunbathing reckless centerfolds are lying glued or nailed down on a huge foredeck while speeding 70 Knots over a rough sea.
Serving as bilge water evacuation after sailing, there is a simple round hole in the transom that is kept close during sailing by a colored rubber ball pulled into the hole with a rope. Like that. Simple and easy, until one loses the ball and rope off course.
There must have been a selfbaililer in the bottom originally, but one of the previous owners has removed it for one or other reason. A shame, but at least the operation has been performed in the best possible taste, it's hardly visible that a self-bailer has once been a facility.
And now, since this is about the hull, the big issue. The mast foot, worse, the broken mast foot.
Following the commentary in the X4 forum concerning the issue of broken mast foots it's very much the worst thing that can happen to the boat. On the other side, there is a hope-giving link to an article in the site of the French Laser Club that explains in a very clear way a method of repair. Although the author of the article is clearly disgusted by X4 dinghies, he seems to be well trained in repairing broken mast foots of Lasers, and the principals as well as the fundamental reason for construction failior in the long term are similar for both dinghies.
His solution is to gain acces to the inner hull by cutting two holes into the foredeck, to the left and right of the mast foot. Principally aiming to reuse the original tube-tube. The holes to be closed finally with two clean inspection lids.
Another method I found consists out of cutting a square hole out of the foredeck, the mast foot being in the middle of it, and replacing the whole with a new piece of pre-bent deck, including a brand-new mast foot. Complete kits for Lasers are commercially available. The whole aim of this procedure is to comply within class rules after the repair. Makes sense, lots of it, but I am not into class rules, and have got the impression that X4's with broken mast foots have the choice to carry on as Geranium containers (Quoting the Laser-repair author) or to keep on sailing, being it partially scarfed, no matter what class rules impose.
Now I don't know if the X4 hull has been intentionally built with a flaw (Mast foot breaking seems to be a common decease amongst X4's) but the poor connection of the mast foot to the inner deck is the reason why this deck has not been damaged too much after the break. The mast foot tube just snapped off without damaging the deck in any way.
That is also the main reason why I chose for the reparation method of the French Laser Guy. His starting point is to re-use everything that was there at first, puzzling everything together with epoxy glue again. This puzzle looks pretty uncomplicated to me, let's go.
Part 2 the repair
First thing to do is to remove the mast foot from the inner deck completely, now it is still hanging with some fibers attached. Klonk, there it goes.
Now cutting the holes. Where exactly and how big in diameter you want them Sir?
Oops, have to go to the boat shop to get some inspection lids. They don't hold them on stock, but will order them, and they are 138mm for the cut-diameter.
So there I go, gig sawing two holes in the deck. If I would do that again, I would take the distance between centers 100 mm bigger, say 760 mm. The 660 mm I have chosen is ideal for easy access, but it looks that I have cut into a heavily reinforced part around the mast foot. Look at the picture of the cut pieces. So you are all grateful to me that I am telling you this right? Me cutting my own boat into lumber just so that you out there would have no problems whatsoever!
Now that the holes are cut let's go in there with a camera. Cautions, following images are not suited for sensitive spectators.
I see two polystyrene blocks packed in plastic bags. One of the blocks has left its bag. I see debris from what ever has been a mastfoot-tube-mortice. And surprise: I see a wooden keel glass fiber reinforced, and locally recessed to make fit and hold the mast foot in it's place.
Let's clean up this mess, and take another picture to show you what a fine boy I am.
Before starting to mess with epoxy in here, I have put in a 40Watt light bulb for three days to make things dry up properly. What's more I have hit the electric switch to ON.
After drying it seems that the keel is cut out of some tropical wood, and that this wood is not rotten at all, on the contrary, its in good shape.
Tony is the skipper of the sailing club I belong to, and when I explained him what my intentions were, he stood there humming confirmingly. Saying that I should take into account that boats behave like living creatures, and that they need to give and take where necessary. Excessive reinforcements will weaken the structure when exposed to dynamic forces. Well this was not directly a message to bake bread with directly, but it got me to thinking and changing my initial plan to reinforce the inner bottom with an extra frame.
In order to let the bottom of the hull live and vibrate under the force of the waves, I decided to make a more or less flexible arrangement that holds the mast foot like the spokes of a bicycle wheel. Therefore counting rather on the tension forces taken up by the fibers, than on their ability to react to compression force.
The design looks sort of like a Christmas tree foot, where the tree is the mast foot.
To do this one takes a chunk of isolation foam, and cuts and shapes it like this:
Now stick dubblesided tape to it an have a dry fit. That means a general rehearsal without glue involved.
The mast foot itself has been repaired again. With care that is. Do not fill it with liquid epoxy and let cure! That would be a recipe for disaster, since your mast would end up too high in the tube and push it's fragile sides, breaking it again with the first gust of wind you encounter.
If reparation and/or reinforcement actions have to be undertaken, then do them from the outside from the tube. And measure first, so that you end up with a tube that will fit between the bottom and the deck as originally. I did!
After the first en second dry fitting sessions it is time to move on to the real goowy work: the gluing experience.
Start securing by removing excess and adding epoxy where necessary at the inner top of the mast foot. Be careful there, because every drop of epoxy that falls into the mast foot tube now is a burden to remove later, if not impossible. It's a good idea to put a firm flock of tissue in the mast foot at this stage. I did.
Now secure the foam feet to the tube and inner hull with several layers of fiber tissue soaked in epoxy. I used 280 gramm/m2. This work is about being on you tummy with one arm in the hull, one eye looking into the other, and arranging a light and a mirror in such a way that you see what you do. No fun, no fun at all.
Things that help are a piece of carpet with two holes cut out, so that you protect the deck, and it brings some comfort to your chest. Double tape that carpet to the deck and enjoy.
Bring light into the hull with a fluorescent lamp; it creates no hard shadows, it will not blind you, and does not add heat under there- this will allow for a little longer gel time.
Use a mirror, use several mirrors, remember, one hole is for one arm to stick in to; the other is to look trough. You will always end up with your paint brush smearing there where you cannot see what your doing. Don't count on the third hole; you have just put the mast foot-tube in again. Life sucks.
Look, this is my result after tree times glue experience sessions.
Now the Laser-repair man advises to turn the hull upside down and hang it at a comfortable height above the floor to do the glass fiber job of the top of the mast foot to the inner deck. Well, that was a little too laborious for me, I just did the job leaving the hull where it was, and it worked fine.
I have cut 8 pieces of fiber tissue of 6 by 15cm and have arranged them radial around the tube. In a second phase, I secured these by winding diagonally some more pieces around the tube.
Nearly done, only the inspections lids need to be mounted. I squeezed some transparent exterior-grade silicone between the gaps before driving the stainless steel screws in.
Looks like I am ready to go
Hell, this is no blog; maybe I'll tell you later about that. But there is one thing I already like to say, The third time I sailed this Tupperware box, it was blowing force 5 to 6 and the repair did it's job. Good huh?