Should I buy a sailboat that was submerged?

I was researching the Corbin 39′ and ran across your very informational web site. I have an opportunity to purchase a 39′ Corbin that was recently submerged in fresh water. I do not know the length of time the boat was submerged but I was impressed by the boat. I will be sailing the boat in Lake Michigan and was wondering if you have had any experience with submerged Corbins in the past. The hull and rigging seem to be intact. Any information would be great. Thank you, Bob Foster

a. Bob, I sold my Corbin last fall (#095, Coochi). I completed her from a bare hull and deck kit. So I know the structure of Corbins pretty well. For the past 18 months I have been helping my son refurbish a 62′ Gulfstar Sailmaster that was sunk in hurricane Marilyn in the US Virgin Islands a number of years back. She was raised and shipped back to Florida where we took possession years later. Let me relate some of the problems we had to correct. These should be indicative of most any boat sunk (even in fresh water, I should think). The Perkins diesel, the 15kw Westerbeke gen set and all electrical wiring, light fixtures and switches were trashed from corrosion. I suspect that the two engines could have been mostly saved had they received proper treatment immediately after raising her but, alas, they were lost. All the above items were replaced. Three ACs, a refrigerator/freezer, an ice maker, a water maker, a trash compactor, the propane stove, hydraulic pump and hydraulic motors for rigging and furling gear were discarded and have been (or soon will be) replaced. The drive train is complex with two long shafts, CV joints, roller bearing, cutlass, etc. was corroded to non-functioning state. The CVs and bearing were replaced. The remainder was cleaned of corrosion and put back into service. OK these things were obvious from the get-go but the structural items were not so obvious. Structurally you will have to be concerned with wood rot and plywood delamination. In our case, there was subtle damage like core rot and delamination of structural plywood parts. Replacing all bulkheads and interior decks and other structural plywood was not an option due to the time and cost of doing so. We had to remove some delaminated plywood but the fraction removed was, fortunately, really quite small. I find this relatively small amount of delamination remarkable because the boat was really soaked for many days. In the interior at least 75% of the plywood trim and all of the teak trim was salvaged needing only refinishing. This is why replacement of all interior structural plywood would have raised the time and cost. As it was we [removed & replaced] at least 55 4’x8’sheets of 3/4″ plywood in the interior. Some damage was not due to the sinking but due to the previous owners’ neglect to repair deck leaks. Rotted bulkheads where fresh water had entered from the deck were evident in several places. Salt water does not rot wood as quickly as fresh water. These rotted parts were removed and replaced with new plywood. So what survived? During the storm the hull and deck were holed and all rigging was destroyed beyond repair. Due to the holes there was water incursion into the balsa core which we had to repair… the balsa had turned to black mush. The Corbin hull has Airex core which will not rot and will not absorb water as balsa does. A definite plus! Otherwise the fibreglass structure remained sound including the keel and rudder. If the rigging had not been destroyed it would have remained serviceable in my opinion. All winches are completely serviceable. All the plumbing pipes and tanks came through as serviceable. The fixtures were cheap (non-noble metal) and were cosmetically corroded and were replaced. The corroded toilets were coaxed back to life with much oil, effort and repair gasket kits. We may replace them in the future…. but for now….. So as you can see we have been busy beavers…. Chewing out the bad and installing good. As of Sept 2004 the exterior surfaces all have new finish paint. The new mast and boom and rig will be installed spring 2005 and the boat hopefully will go into service next fall in th US VIs again. FRED formerly owner/builder of #095, COOCHI.

b. Any boat that has been submerged under water will require a major refit. My only experience in resurrecting a submerged boat was with a Contessa 26 that had sat on the bottom of Lake Ontario for six months. The hull was intact, the rigging was complete but EVERYTHING inside had to be removed; including the bulkheads. A power washer was used to remove silt buildup and all metal fittings were saved to be re-used. You did not mention how long the boat has been underwater, so it is difficult to determine the state of the engine. If it was a short time then the engine could be salvaged, by overhauling the engine block and cylinder head which may be cheaper than replacing it. All electrical instruments will have to be trashed, all mechanical devices can be refurbished and reused, all sails can be washed and used for a while (get a sailmakers opinion), all tanks will have to be flushed and cleaned, all chainplate knees will have to be removed and rebuilt, the Airex core (closed cell) in the hull should be ok unless it has delaminated in which case it could be a major problem, the deck plywood lamination would also be suspect and would be a major undertaking. What you would be buying basically a “hull and deck” shell with a few “extras” thrown in. With my Contessa experience, it was a lot of work and I wouldn’t do it again even though it was sold for a reasonable market price! J. Priedkalns (#023, Simmerdim)

c. It all depends for how long the boat stayed in the water and if it was salt or fresh water. In fresh water, if the boat did not stay too long in the water, it would be a matter of ventilation and drying the air with heating or a dehumidifier. Electrical connections would have to be revised, fuel system and remove any water from the fuel tank and oil pan and also the reduction gear. It would not hurt the fiberglass and stainless steel parts. I don’t see that as a major problem except it would involve a lot of labor. If the boat sank or almost sank, there should be a water mark inside that would tell how high the water went. If it was cleaned, look inside the seats or cupboards or in the engine room or on the engine itself. Take some oil from the engine from the bottom of the pan to find out if there is water in it. Check for rust under the valve cover. The fact that the fuel is 3 years old does not mean you cannot start the engine. After checking for water in the oil (that would be major concern) get a battery or charge the one on board, connect water to the water inlet on the engine and try to start it. You may want to have the owner or the marina do it. You need to know if you have to rebuild or replace the engine. Water inside the boat could cause rot and you would know when entering the boat because rot smells bad. Check for damage to electrical or electronic connections, to pumps and refrigeration compressor that are lower in the boat. It would not damage the fiberglass part of the boat. If it was salt water, check for mildew under the floors and inside compartments under seats and beds. Major cleanup required. Do not buy without a survey being done first. Hope this helps and have a wonderful day. Marius Corbin

Category: BUYING and SELLING your CORBIN 39