Timber yachts vs fibreglass



I am considering purchasing a timber yacht. I am of the believe that I get more size for my dollar than equivalent fiberglass yachts. The yachts I am looking at are all around the 30ft. Can someone please advise me of the following.

 How strong are timber yachts and timber masts
 What are the advantages of a timber yacht over fibreglass
 What are the disadvantages
 Does the type of timber that the yacht is constructed from come into play
 If so, what timber should I go for ( I live in Sydney) we have many boats constructed from Gum and Oregon.
 Can rot easily be identified and fixed
 Might be a funny question, but do timber yachts leak? (I am thinking of movement within timber.)
 Is maintenance a big and expensive issue
 How seaworthy are timber yachts?
 I am told that they are heavier than fiberglass yachts and therefore have a kinder sea motion.
 Are they slower, in general, then fiberglass yachts?

I am a new sailor and would really appreciate help this area.

Thank you.


This question has also been posted on the PBO Reader to Reader forum, where an intelligent thread is emerging.


Active member
16 May 2001
Cargreen, Cornwall
You have opened up a huge subject, Theo, but to cut it short, as a newcomer to sailing I would recommend you start with a glassfibre boat because it will be less trouble and easier to resell if you make a mistake.
You do not, necessarily get more boat for your money. Wooden boats tend to be older, or of older design, and thus have less volume for their length. You will but more length for your money, but probably less useable space

To cut it medium long, here are some answers to your questions - but Imust add that there are strongly held views to the contrary in some cases.

1. Wooden boat hulls in sound condition are as strong as GRP. Wooden masts are less strong than alloy
2. Timber is more aesthetically pleasing, is easier to work and can be easier to modify/repair, but not always. It is also a better insulator against heat/cold and noise.
3. It rots, is more expensive, leaks (depending on method of construction), is less long lasting.
4.The type of timber is crucial. I can't go into this in detail, particularly as you will come across local woods about which I know nothing
5.In my view some of the best boats are teak on teak, otherwize look for mahogany for planking and oak for frames etc but there are a number of other good woods such as elm, and pitch pine whichhave advantages in particular uses.
6. In advanced cases yes, in the early stages, not necessarily. It can usually be fixed reasonably easily but it can be expensive and almost always reveals other problems which also need fixing.
7. Timber yachts almost all leak after a while - it goes with the territory. Exceptions are cold moulded hulls and modern WEST system hulls. The former is susceptible to rot which is very difficult to treat economically.
8. Maintenance is an issue. You need to keep on top of it. Provided you do, it is neither expensive nor particularly time consuming, though you will be more tied to your boat than a GRP boat owner. If you let the maintenance slip, recovery can be either time consuming or expensive but probably both.
9. Timber yachts are as seaworthy as the design. Its the shape, weight and its distribution etc which is important in seaworthiness, not construction (broadly speaking). However... wooden boats with major leak problems are not seaworthy, nor are those with advanced rot in the hull.
10. It is true that GRP boats tend to be lighter. This is partly a function of modern design, partly the fact that GRP is stronger for a given skin thickness and weight than wood. However, there are also a lot of heavy displacement GRP yachts out there. The question of seakindly motion is also not entirely straightforward. Motion is not all down to weight. Shape, particularly of the bow and forefoot, is crucial as is the distrubution of weight (keep it out of the ends). In general, though, GRP boats are lighter and have a bouncier motion than wooden yachts. People brought up on modern yachts often find the swoopy, slow motion of an older wooden boat more uncomfortable than that to which they are accustomed. Wooden boat owners will find this hard to agree with.
11. Again, yes; this is true in general because they tend to be of older design. However, this is a contentious point and wooden boat owners will state that their boats can be driven harder in heavy conditions and therefore make better overall speed in offshore passage making than their modern counterparts. Once again, in my view, it is down more to design than construction. I will stack my 33ft, 16-year-old GRP boat up against almost any wooden cruising yacht and recon to come out on top. She does slam a bit, though in short waves of over a couple of meters.

I hope this helps.

You will prbably get a lot of replies to this, many of which will be contradictory. This is why I suggest you start with GRP then try wood later when you have picked up a bit more experience of what you want from your sailing.

All the best



New member
16 May 2001

Have owned both sorts, prefer wooden with glass sheathing. Forget wooden masts... things of the past.

GRP boats I have owned are difficult to combat mould and mildew and as well as those smells stink of fiberglass fumes [Ok if you are a glue sniffer].

My current yacht has a wooden hull with a fibre glass sheathing. It always has a sweet smell, never gathers condensation like the GRP ones do and I have not yet found any mould or mildew, however the below deck areas are always well ventilated.

I find that it is easier than the GRP one to keep the hull and topsides looking good, but depends on the age of the GRP hull.

Old GRP hulls suffer from oxidation, osmosis and delamination. Fixing these are difficult and costly if at all possible. Good wooden hulls... I know of some that are 120 years old and have been fixed up real good and still look pretty.

My boat, built in 1976 looks as good as the day it was built, other than a bit of paint every four years or so has had absolutely no other work done or needed to be done on the hull and deck [antifouling excluded].


Re: Wooden

I think you've been pretty lucky with these answers, Theo. And I don't think you perhaps quite knew what a large topic you were opening up.

As a wooden boatie down on Western Port, I agree with most of what's been said (with the exception of Jolly Jack's comments about wooden masts. You mightn't necessarily want to go looking for one, but if you had one you certainly wouldn't just replace it. Apart from anything else, there's nothing noisier than halyards tapping against a tin mast....)

Your best bet would be to sus out a couple of yards (Pittwater and the Hawkesbury would be good places to start looking, I should think,) and see what they're working on. Start talking to some of the chaps there, especially the older ones, who've worked on other than Tupperware, and pick their brains a bit.

James and Jolly Jack have done a pretty good job of answering your questions between them, but this is not the sort of topic you can really explore properly on a bulletin board -- you'll need to talk with people face to face. (Oh, yes, I suppose I'd better add the obligatory IMHO....) Good luck.


Some 30 years ago I was mate on a large schooner (built 1909) with a hoary old skipper who had a sense of humour hard to understand at times. On one occasion when entering a fairly narrow harbour under engine he called for a few more revolutions when to my horror I found myself holding the throttle control, which had become detached from its mounting, freehold if you like. "Don't worry," said the old man reaching for his ditty bag beneath the chart table. With a swift movement using a couple of brass nails and a hammer the control was reinstated, if only temporarily. Looking at me with a grin he said, "Can't do that with your b****y fibreglass," and returned to his station at the wheel.


30 Nov 2002
Best answer

Mike is a fellow Australian so he will be in the best position to give practical advice. I can only say that in 32 years I have owned four wooden boats and been happy with three of them; the fourth was an ex racer which had been pushed too hard and was structurally a bit weak. Number four, currently 64 years old and in excellent order according to the surveyor who just looked at her at my request, will see me to the end of my sailing career, I think, just as she did for her last owner .

If you want a wooden boat, buy one and get sailing!