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Building Boats: Gelcoat

Taking a closer look at what goes into a first-rate finish.

March 11, 2013
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Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats places a priority on keeping technicians for decades, and understands that happy employees produce high-quality boats.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

The low turnover of line employees means experience is passed forward with every new model.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt boats run smoothly and silently thanks to employees that take pride in the brand’s reputation.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Multiple layers make every Cobalt boat feel solid.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Strength is enhanced with a spray core layer that has every bubble rolled out by hand.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Handcrafted components add to the fit and finish.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt molds its contoured dash panels and contoured coaming panels in its factory then carefully upholsters them with leather-grain vinyl.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Because they’ve become an integral part of the process, builders can tell if a boat is up to quality standards by the way it feels.

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Cobalt Boats Factory Tour

Close attention to detail ensures that Cobalt boats are vigilantly inspected before leaving the factory.

The first of an infrequent series of articles designed to help you better understand boat design and construction.

Fight for the Finish
Let’s start at the top with a glimpse at what goes into a first-rate finish. While we could have chosen from a select number of boatbuilders as an example, we’re going to detail the techniques employed by Cobalt Boats to achieve long-lasting good looks.

Mold Maintenance
The finish of a molded part depends upon the quality of the mold. Any imperfection in the mold surface is likely to show on the outside of the finished product, particularly in sunlight. So a strict regimen of mold maintenance is mandatory.

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In Cobalt’s case, this includes polishing by hand between every boat. Though an electric polisher would make the job quicker, even in experienced hands these leave slight swirl marks that might be mirrored in the final finish. Going for “best” leaves little room for compromise, takes longer and costs more. So the molds get polished by hand.

Another way in which Cobalt achieves its heralded finish is by allowing parts to cure in the mold longer than the industry average. The exact times aren’t that critical to cite, since various molding techniques and choice of materials all dictate the optimal in-mold cure time. Suffice it to say that builders that allow the parts to cure longer end up with better-looking boats. The reason? With the part cured more fully, it’s stiffer and harder, and so it’s less subject to damage when being pulled from the mold.

What Lies Beneath
Any boat can look good for the duration of a boat show. But a truly good finish, in our opinion, stays looking good on the water, in the sun and for the long term.

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Gelcoat is brittle, as far as resins go, and if the underlying structure moves a lot or shrinks and expands too much, even the highest-grade gelcoat applied to the best-maintained molds is not going to hold its showroom looks.

Cobalt bonds the stringer system to the hull with methacrylate adhesive, ensuring fluid paths for the loads that a boat must withstand under way. Fittings are backed with plates, so when a cleat is loaded, the laminate doesn’t flex enough to cause stress cracks. Kevlar reinforcement is used in key stress areas to ensure the stiffness required for parts to retain their shape at high speed in rough water.

Material Wealth
Builders like Cobalt use custom-blended gelcoats. But there’s more to a fine finish than just the quality of the finish material itself. I encourage you to tour the plant before buying any new boat. You’ll see that much more goes into a shine than just some wax and elbow grease.

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