Most production boats from the 60’s,70’s, and 80’s are really well built.
One of the worst jobs I ever had was cutting up hurricane boats leftover from Hurricane Marilyn. The job entailed being dropped off on a beach with a chainsaw, a can of gas, and other tools of destruction so I could salvage any worthwhile gear before cutting the sucker up into small enough pieces to take to landfill.
To say it was a horrible job would be a gross understatement.
On the upside, cutting up a dozens of boats that had wound up on the beach or rocks taught me a great number of things about how boats are built, what works, and what doesn’t.
For instance, about half of the boats I cut up were missing their bow cleats or/and their windlasses. The reason these boats had come to this terrible fate was simply that their cleats and windlasses did not have adequate backing pads and, at some point during the hurricane, they simply pulled out of the deck leaving the boat at the mercy of wind and wave.
Another thing I learned is that most fiberglass boats are actually really well built. Sure they all have minor flaws, but when you look at how almost all fiberglass boats hold up to something as powerful as a hurricane or a chainsaw, you really have to admire the overall quality of construction.
It’s not just hurricanes or a demented guy on the beach with a chainsaw either. Most fiberglass boats hold up very well confronted with decades of ownership by idiots who do stuff to their boat that would bring tears to the eyes of anyone who knows how a boat should be treated. That spongy deck on a Columbia 26 MK2 has zero to do with how Columbia put the boat together; it has everything to do with how a previous owner installed something on the deck and did not do it properly. You’d be surprised at how many stanchion bases, blocks, and other assorted deck gear are mounted without any sort of bedding compound. It never was a factory issue but but some idiot afterwards who did the damage.
Which is not to say that some boats don’t have factory/design issues. Luckily for us, any factory or design issues of classic plastic boats are already well known and there are a plethora of fixes in existence to sort them out. A couple of hours checking with the boat’s class organization will give you all the information you need. If you can’t find a class association there’s always the internet but avoid forums like the plague as that’s where all the practitioners of previous owner fuckery tend to hang out.
Most of the issues on a 30, 40, or 50-year old boat are going to be simple wear and tear or previous owner butchery. Either of which is almost always a simple case of looking at the boat and using your various senses of sight, touch, smell, and hearing.
Which brings us around to what I think defines a well built boat as simply one that looks well built. Before I look at a boat I always try and find a brochure of the design to see how it’s supposed to look. If 30/40/50 years later it still looks like the brochure, albeit somewhat worn and tired, you’ve found yourself a well built boat.
More on what passes for reasonable condition next…