Custom 9' Baby Virages
By Ron Pratt
The idea of making my three kids mini Virage
Turbo's came this summer when they asked to have their own boats. After
looking in the Boat Trader and not finding anything I liked, I started thinking
about building some. My creative juices were still flowing after making a
'97 EFI cowl mold and a '98 offshore exhaust housing mold. A boat deck
would prove to be one of my biggest challenges yet.
One of our local mobile fiberglass repair guys (John Barcheck) had rented my garage to do a repair so I bounced the idea of making a boat mold off him. John had been a tooler at Atbarr Plastics in the past. He made plugs and molds for various customers including Volvo, Freight liner, and Hi Laker to name a few. He even made a mold for fiberglass bull horns for a guy in Texas. John looked at my Virage and said ,"You know Ron, you could modify a Boston Whaler bottom with some spray foam and bondo for a plug and save a lot of time compared to starting from scratch." I started looking for a beat up Whaler to use as a base plug. A friend offered his 11' Whaler as the "sacrificial lamb". Since I was going to have to build three boats and trailer them, I decided I had to go smaller. My parents neighbor had a 9' Whaler sitting in their yard and after looking at it, I thought, "This is the hull". It had clean lines and in a compact way, it kinda resembled the larger Virage.
The next day I called them and made an offer on the boat. They accepted my offer and I promptly brought the hull home. The next day while stripping the decals and rub rail, a friend stopped over to see what was going on (This happens often). I told him of my plans and he said he had a 9' Whaler and I could have it for free! Well an hour later there were two 9' Whalers in the garage. At this point I decided to initially run with the stock Whaler hull and concentrate on the decks. I could always alter the bottom and pull a mold at a later time.
Since I was on a very strict budget, I had to find as much cheap or free stuff as possible. The first step after pulling the rub rail was to cover the gunnels of the hull with tape and glue down styrofoam blocks. I used outdoor carpet glue that was left over from my Viking carpet job months earlier and the styrofoam was free from a buddy.
After I had the first 4" layer of foam glued on, I used my dads hot wire cutter to trim the sides. Then I added more foam to build up the windscreen area. I made plywood templates to guide the hot wire and and create the center ridge of the deck. Once this was done I readjusted the templates to create the taper of the front deck and windscreen. I had to freehand the centerline while the template guided the outside edge. This was very tricky as the wire would burn into the plywood if you didn't keep it moving. There were several areas that were cut uneven and to be honest I almost scrapped the project. When set up with proper guides, you can achieve laser smooth cuts. My dream deck looked like I had attacked it with a chainsaw!
With everything cut, I looked at the mess I had created and wondered if I just wasted several hours on something that would never make it to reality. I went inside, poured myself a stiff rum and coke, went back out and just stared at it a while. I was trying to figure out what I could put on styrofoam to make it fair. Some areas needed as much as 2" of filler. Bondo was too expensive plus there were too many angles and radius' to attack. I decided to put it in the shelter for a while and "see what happens". (This is something new to me as I NEVER stop on a project once I start it.) I talked to John about fillers and he thought Epoxy and fibers would be good but I figured 5+ gallons would be unrealistic.
A few weeks later I was at Gangles Fiberglass getting some supplies for a project when I spotted a 26' hull plug Gerald was building. I could see that he formed his plug with particle board and had a white putty on it. I asked Gerald what he was using for fairing and he said," sheet rock mud". He liked the Silver set 40 which sets up in 40 minutes. Oh boy, I was on it! I hit the lumber yard on my way home and picked up four bags. Gerald said to use a cheese grater file on the plaster as soon as it starts to firm up. This would save me lots of sanding.
With my 6 years of past body shop experience, slathering mud was second nature. I borrowed some 6", 8", 10" and 14" spreaders from a buddy and went to town. This stuff was slick! Things started to fall into shape pretty quickly. The cheese grater file just ripped through the plaster. The four bags didn't last very long and I even used the swept up filings to fill in some really deep areas in the deck area. I went back and got five more bags and kept going. I spent three hours a day for two weeks to get the fairing done.
The next step was to paint the plug. I had some left over high building primer and black paint from a truck paint job I did earlier so the price was right. Both the primer and paint used catalyst so I knew the gel coat wouldn't hurt it when it came to making the mold. I applied three coats of primer and let it sit over night. The next day I wet sanded it with 220 grit on a block to make sure it was straight. After this I sprayed four coats of gloss black automotive polyurethane. After cleaning up the spray equipment, I mixed up a cocktail, sat down in the garage and just looked at this work of art. I remembered back several weeks earlier when I had my cocktail thinking of scrapping the whole project. I sure was glad I stuck with it. I must have stared at the plug for an hour.
The next day I broke out the sand paper and block and went to work. I started with 600 grit and finished with 1000 grit. Then the buffer came out. I spent about an hour using two different rubbing compounds and finished with a foam pad and a polish. Man!! And I thought she was beautiful the night before! It looked like a show boat! Perfectly glass smooth and you could read a newspaper in the shine. Yea, I was a proud papa.
I approached Gerald Gangle (Gangles Fiberglass) to see if he would be interested
in chopping the mold. He said he wanted to see the plug first.
Gerald was very impressed with the plug and after a few days figuring out costs,
he said it wouldn't be worth it. He said his chopper gun is too big for such
a small project. For the time it takes to set it up and get it fine tuned,
he needs to use at least 20 gallons of resin. He offered to help me lay up
the mold by hand and show me some neat tricks at the same time.
I applied two coats of wax to the plug each day for a week then sprayed on four thick coats of orange (turned out to be pink) gel coat.
As soon as the gel coat firmed up, I applied one layer of 3/4 oz mat and let it sit overnight. Gerald came over the next day and helped me fix a few air bubbles I had gotten in some tight radius'. The mat just wouldn't lay in tight. Gerald had me drill a 1/8" hole in the mat at each end of an air pocket and he filled it in with a syringe full of resin. Once this was done, we worked together and laid on five layers of mat and finished it with a layer of 10 oz cloth.
I cut plywood frames that would fit side to side and notched in 2"X6"'s that ran fore and aft. I made sure the plywood didn't touch the mold surface as a shrink line could develop in the mold ruining the straight panels I had worked so hard to achieve. I used pieces of foam to hold the wood 1/2" away from the mold and glassed it in using wide strips of mat and cloth.
Coming soon...Part II - popping off the mold and much more.