A Slightly Boring Discussion Of Rhodes 22

  Construction Details

  for those who won’t be bored . . . .


                                                                                                                                                                                              Only a handful of New Rhodes are built each year (in this economy we are building mostly recycled Rhodes).   So, when boat manufacturing is measured by nose count, we lose.  When our industry is measured by performance, the Rhodes is always in the money.  And when the purchase of a Rhodes is measured by quality, You win by a lot more than a nose.   For those who want to go beyond Madison Avenue’ boat sales hoopla,  here are hard nosed details of Rhodes’ construction facts that support its competitive surface puffery.

        The unmatched Rhodes solid deck construction:  Note the thickness of the composite cabin trunk’s horizontal surfaces:  The fiberglass outer deck glass, then a non rotting plastic core for never an eventual softening deck and then the separate fiberglass of the interior molded fiberglas headliner.   Jump on any trailing boat and experience the difference.  Now note the vertical double wall construction for exceptional dead air insulation with space for present and future utilities.


“What you get is what you see”; notably the case when you look at boat molds.  If the mold does not “have it’,  does not sizzle, neither will the part that is pulled from it.  Molds, like mortals, wear out.  So chances are the thousandth boat from company “A’s” mold this year will not have the same finish as company “B’s” 50th. The volume motivation can be even more sinister, such as less time-out for mold care and/or pulling parts before their time or: curing deprivation.  A tip off is the size of a company’s patching department - does the plant even need a patching team.  The finish of a boat tells part of the construction story.

The number of molds is another part of this behind the scenes story.  Molds must have relief - that is, be shaped so parts can be pulled from them.  This limits functionality of the part’s design.  More function can be built into a given space by employing more molds.  One of the great unsung features of Rhodes’ cockpit seating is that feet can go back under the seat, as they automatically do when you sit in a chair - an impossibility when a boat uses a single deck mold which also forms the cockpit seats and floor.  Twenty five separate molds work to create each Rhodes 22; an incredible number of molds, even for a boat twice its size.  More molds can also equal better aesthetics, more strength, easier upkeep:  The pop top, sliding hatch and lazaret hinged cover have their own second mold for an outside and inside gel coated finish: more attractive, easier cleaning, greater laminated structure.   Two more molds form cockpit coaming compartments with not one but two (upper and lower) handy (how did I ever live without them) cockpit storage areas. The mighty cockpit liner mold gestates a heavy duty fiberglass part that turns itself into the self bailing, full boat width, cockpit floor and creates the 6 foot wide aft storage compartment as it also encases the aft hull-shaped foam floatation section, that itself is formed in one of the two foam flotation molds.  And the huge cabin headliner mold is the tooling that turns out  the separate laminated part that makes the Rhodes cabin the bright, clean, mold resistant, insulated, exceptionally strong-roofed compartment that it is - as we will be visiting later on.   

The Gel Coat

Laying up a fiberglass boat is like building a house - backwards.   You spray the air with paint, put your siding against the paint and then frame the studs against the siding.  The gel coat (paint) is sprayed into the mold.  No fear of it sticking to the mold because the mold is first coated with a parting agent (wax, chemical or film)  Then layers of glass (sheathing and siding) are laid onto the gel coat and wet down with resin (liquid chemical mixed with catalyst that causes it to harden - eventually).  The number of layers and the weight and the type of glass fiber used are controlled to give the strength needed.  When the cured part is pulled from the mold, what you and the world see is the gel coat side - so General Boats invests in premium grade gel coats.

The Lay-up

When it came to matters of the heart of the boat’s structural construction, the Rhodes started off rather conventional, following the leaders.   At first, glass work was done by outside contractors using chopper guns.  Boats were very light, very fast and bottoms flexed embarrassingly when on their trailer.  Later contractors used chopped matt and hand laid up roving.  Bottom flexing subsided, as did the beautiful gel coat finish with the pattern of the roving now clearly printing through.  At that time boat builders seemed to be accepting this kind of print through finish as a badge of honor - but we could see it was bothering our prospects and probably time for us to make our own mistakes.  So we moved our glass operation in-house.

We could not afford a chopper gun so went the easy route of solid, hand laid up matt.  Hull flexing was no more and our admirable finish was back.  Boats were very heavy, the ride was softer and very comfortable and hull strength was outstanding (you would not want to be hit by a Rhodes)  But efficiency was down and costs were up.  So we again looked over our shoulder.  There had to be some pluses for chopper guns with so many builders continuing using them.  We bought one and decided the trick was finding the best combination of hand lay up to glass by gun for, each individual glass boat part.   The hull was easy.  Its shape was not intricate but its shape was inherently extraordinarily strong.  It was the ideal part for staying with our all matt construction.  The hull sides, with the stiffness of the Rhodes unique flare, could be half the layers of the flat bottom aft of the keel.  The keel itself, being a molded-in part of the boat bottom, and to be filled with our proprietary ballast mix, adds the tremendous strength of a “T” beam section so the layers of matt here could be correspondingly adjusted.  And the transom, home for the boarding ladder, the stern rail connections, the rudder gudgeons and the weight of the motor with its forward and reverse thrusts, no longer would have to have wood reinforcements sent in, if we made it continuous, extra thick and solid glass.  The weight of this solid glass, non- cored, varying thickness layup schedule would not be a handicap - actually, distributed in this manner, would be an asset because all weight below the water line is effectively additional ballast.  (Below the water line, water in the bilge is what the water ballast boats rest their stability upon.)

Decks also share the strain of sailing: From variable weight crews in motion to all sorts of needed fixed hardware.  From the starting gun all fiberglass boats relied on some sort of core material in the deck layup.   I would watch the installers at other boat companies, tapping each individual tiny block of vertical grain balsa to make sure it had successfully bonded before putting on the covering glass layers.  Most builders opted for plywood; and we followed, uneasy in our recollections of continuously replacing rotted boards in our childhood boats.  We pre-coated each wood part with resin hoping for at least  a 20 year run, after all we do not expect our cars to last forever. But fiberglas does last forever and depreciating that advantage by combing it with wood, remained disturbing.  We did have one advantage:  We sell our boats direct to the buyer and, in most instances, buy it back from the owner for rebuilding and moving it on to another owner.   In autopsy surgery we therefore had the opportunity to see how the wood cores were faring.  In some the wood was going or gone - in others the wood seemed as good as new.  So we developed techniques for saving those in the softening deck group.  Still, when water impervious plastic foam core became available, we jumped on board and today use it on all new Rhodes, without asking its cost.  Unfortunately, now the whole fiberglass hull lasts forever and we have to rely on aesthetic considerations and new features to attract new boat buyers - a sell that is becoming increasingly tough with our recycled boats now coming out look almost brand new.

Layup and blistering:  We have our own theories on this ailment, based on observation and not solid science, so take it for what it may be worth.  None of our very early boats ever sprouted blister so we think they just made better gel coat and resin in those days.  Later on very few of our boats blistered and when we found one that did we noticed that the buyer had left his or her boat standing for long periods with water in the bilge.  So our other half-baked observational theory:  Knowing that the resin/glass structure of the boat is not as good a water barrier as is its outer gel coat finish, we assume that bilge water eventually makes its way through a boat’s bottom and comes in contact with the back face of the gel coat, where it remains trapped until it forms a blister it can break out of.   Getting to the bilge and keeping it dry is extremely easy on the Rhodes - we have not taken a boat in for recycling for years now that has had blisters.  In discussing the fact that we have not been plagued by the blister plague, with boat builders, one suggested that the big boys are forced to keep their eye on the bottom line rather then the bottom gel coat so tend to adopt mass production techniques and lay-up short cuts - while our not-planned-that-way, non-profit organization, ends up putting in less time on the bottom line than on the quality of the line.   For those who want a few hundred dollars insurance for the conventional wisdom that blistering is from water permeating the gelcoat from the outer side of the hull, new boats can be ordered with an epoxy barrier coat for further sealing of their underwater gel coat finish.


Wind moves your sailboat - wherever it wants to move it.  An underwater fin is the only tool we have come up  with to divert some of this energy to allow moving in the direction you have in mind.  A compromise.  This underwater structure adds more wetted hull surface, which is a drag that slows you down, and more depth to the hull which means you have to find deeper water to float in.  More complications.  You do not always need this fin, or need it to be the size it is.  For instance, when the wind  happens to be pushing you in the direction you want to be going.   Holmes may be saying, “All Elementary Dr. Watson” but the Rhodes attracts a wide range of potential buyers so this paper will attempt to be as inclusive as possible. 

Designers are constantly playing with new approaches to fins.  Articles are endless and still there are questions. But so far, for the kind of boat we are considering:  A boat that floats when flooded.  Can sail in shallow water.  Is easy and comfortable to launch, retrieve and trail.  And do it all while providing great sailing performance; the published conclusion is the one the Rhodes has stayed with from the start - with one slight alteration.  I write this on the day the Academy Awards are about to start.   I have just been handed the envelope.  And the winner is,  The Combination Keel Centerboard.  In Rhodes tinsel land we have renamed this type of fin the Combination Keel/Diamondboard - because the cross section of the centerboard part of the combination is diamond shaped.   Three elements make up this Fin system:  The Centerboard.   The Keel.  And The Trunk.


Shape:  We picked up on a theory of Nils Lucander’s, the naval architect who designed our first sailboat, the Picnic 17.  We could not resist the logic of an elder statesman naval architect saying builders had been getting the shape of the centerboard, backwards.  We reversed the conventional centerboard 180 degrees, so that more of its surface would have water flow that created side pressure leaving the smaller part of its surface dedicated to its water flow break away turbulence area.  We are not going to bother you here with theoretical explanations because at the speed a sailboat moves through water, the contribution difference in centerboard shape to the totality of other sailboat speed variables, is probably so small as to not be worth the expense of double blind controlled testing.  We have gone with the “diamondboard” for other reasons:  It draws less water, it has a greater Area where “A” is one of the positive variables in a fin’s efficiency equation, it allows for much simpler fin depth control, maintenance is much less and, if ever needed, much easier, it is almost indestructibly constructed and shaped to harmlessly and automatically raise itself when hitting bottom.

Construction:   The Diamondboard is molded glass for a finer shape than can be had with cast iron.  It is made solid with a proprietary composite that makes it just shy of being indestructible, no matter what it hits.  It weights about 70 pounds, heavy enough to stay down unlocked while sailing, light enough for a child to pick it up, put it down or set it at any in-between sailing depth.

Control:   Simple, direct pull 1/4” hard braided pendant can last the lifetime of the boat.  Location, conveniently ideal and unobtrusive in cockpit through a small servo cam cleat (winch-less - no going into cabin).  Connection to board, bullet proof hardware-less (no noise, no underwater growth harvesting). 


This sweeping entry fixed part of the fin system is an integrated part of the one piece molded hull, creating a super strong “T” beam seamless hull bottom configuration - not a bolted on element (wing keels) with strong connection failure and leakage possibilities.   The keel bottom is strategically bevelled to cut down end plate turbulence.  This small, low wetted surface, beautifully shaped keel, allows sailing the Rhodes on keel alone in 20” of water.  The keel houses the external ballast that contributes to the Rhodes’ non-capsizability under sail.


The trunk is a molded entity that resides inside the keel.  The trunk has a removable cap that allows the diamondboard to be installed (and removed) with the boat on its trailer.  The trunk incorporates internal molded slots that precisely position the diamondboard’s pivot pin, there being no through-the-keel pivot bolt to eventually cause leakage.  The Rhodes’ combination keel/diamondboard trunk’s applause is earned when you enter the cabin.  It is never on stage, not even as a minor foot stumbling hump in the cabin floor; a far different scene than daggerboard system trunks that cut up cabin space with walls from floor to ceiling.

Since this page is for the construction interested:  The pivot pin is of high density plastic that does not wear.  The trunk is made of fiberglass with a heavily constructed flange, as is the matching cap.   They are joined with ss machine screws, fender washers and ss nuts that tension a neoprene life time reusable gasket - no sealant of any type is ever to be used.  While it may take time to undo 50 fasteners, there is zero crane time, it is easy, only requires two common tools and may never ever have to be considered.

BECAUSE the keel is the External Ballast, solid, a non activated, integral part of the one piece hull, drawing only 20 inches, the Rhodes can be bounced off rocky bottoms, sailed in shallow waters, sailed onto a beach, sailed blindfolded onto its trailer and solidly trailed over highways.  Because the diamondboard is the relatively light weight part of this external ballast total fin system, efficiently shaped for less drag and self raising when hitting submerged objects, it is more quickly, more easily winchlessly controlled by any size crew member from the most convenient of cockpit locations.   Returning to our opening paragraph’s  “You do not always need the same size fin” (i.e.., you need no fin at all when the wind is in back of you), you can realize how all these “because-s” add up to a variable fin area to better match your wind/destination course compared to a fixed or swing keel fin system.  And, finally, of course, because the total ballast in the Rhodes is external, the Rhodes is safer in the water and more comfortable on the highway. .

Editor’s Note:  We were feeling pretty smug about our refined combination fin system until two scientists from the USSR space program knocked on my door.  What had I done wrong?  Seems they were sailors and wanted me to come to Russia to help them use their space ship fiberglass nose cone equipment to make sailboats.  (Their choice of an expert immediately destroyed my long standing respect for their “FBI”).  They kept me holed up in a hotel room for days while (I guessed) they were checking the background of this first American to be allowed inside such a hallowed compound.  So I explained to them, “no problem, I have Alzheimer’s”.  Apparently that worked and we got by armed guards and assorted space hardware to a boat from Poland that they had been studying.  It had the same molded-in trunk slots for the internal cb pin we thought we invented.  all world.    


MATERIAL:   Wherever possible, all hardware is stainless steel. 

BACKING PLATES:   There are none.  The Rhodes unusually 1” (and greater) thick deck is one continuous backing plate.

With Rhodes sailing to Catalina, Bimini, Baja, Dry Tortugas, the San Juan Islands, to Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island and out of Nantucket Island (4 out of the 5 Great Lakes, etc.), the designing and then cupping an ear for owner-experienced feedback has proven the Rhode continuous backing plate technique can’t be beat. 

FASTENERS:  Stainless Steel machine screws, sheet metal screws, flat washers, fender washers, cup washers, lock washers, standard nuts, aircraft lock nuts - all used for appropriate hardware installations. 

STYLE:  While we use our own sense of style in choosing hardware (with our accent on the contemporary) boats can be ordered with hardware fixtures in other styles and for additional purposes.  Example:  A bow roller anchor hardware set up can be ordered in place of the standard bow pulpit quick anchor launch that is standard equipment. 

UNIQUE HARDWARE:   A few for-instances:  All trailing boats have a bow eye.  From the start we thought it a good idea that the Rhodes also have two 3/8” eyes on the transom.   The three eyes made it easy to move the boats around the plant.  We knew that in real life boats were crane lifted with straps fore and aft of the keel.  We had never seen any brand boat gutsy enough to hang around by attachments at its two extremes.  So we were taken aback when we noted some Florida owners hanging their boats from back yard davits using the three Rhodes standard equipment eyes.   WE knew our Rhodes was probably the strongest built of the 22s but thought this was pushing the envelope (or the hull) too far - so we made a test.   We lifted the hull only (so it would not have the added strength of the attached deck) from its extreme bow and transom and the hull kept its shape - thanks to the extra stiffness it must be picking up from its unconventional compound flared hull shape.  With this new confidence we upgraded the eyes from 3/8” to 1/2” stock and go for it whether bottom painting or putting a boat on or off a trailer or having a tug boat pull a Rhodes off its trailer at a low lake level boat show.

Another: We noted that show lookers had nothing to conveniently grab onto when they climbed into the cockpit at boat shows, be we at an in-the-water dock or in a land display.   We do not believe that to this day any other boat offers these aft cabin trunk grab rails as standard equipment.

Because General Boats has had the outstanding advantage of selling boats direct to the ultimate user - and getting the users reactions and input, unfiltered, all parties have been rewarded with some outstanding hardware refinement or development, not normally found (or even available) on other boats;  partially covered in this paper:

    The Motor Lift.

    The Rudder Blade Control system.

    The Mast Hoist system.

    The Pop Top Arms system.

    The Cockpit Boarding Grab Rails.

    The Skippers‘ Swivel Seats.

    The Adjustable Height Boom.

    Four Standard Docking Cleats - and two more for spring lines, if wanted.

Editor’s Note:  A volume builder told us that he has a man continually circling his boats to see how they can save a nickel here and a dime there.  And that makes good cents when you are building a thousand boats and have tough competition.  We only build a handful of boats a year so we walk around our boats to see how we can spend an extra dollar to make a better boat - and in so doing,  find we do not have tough competition.


The Rhodes electric lifting/tilting motor lift is a big deal,  when you are 85 - or a gay divorcee who loves sailing, and hates hundred pound outboards.  For all others it is a lovable luxury they learn they would not be without.  It’s evolution took some 40 years and is probably not done.   The heart of the mechanism is now a one  piece, solid fiberglass, artfully shaped molded trolley that the motor clamps to.  This trolley rides the transom on three contacts:   Two of these contacts are high density plastic, self-lubricating sliders, that ride in parallel, heavy duty, extruded aluminum vertical transom channels.   The third contact is a centered large plastic wheel that rides a vertical plastic transom track.  A power in - power out,  electric winch in the lazaret controls a strap that travels over a t turning bar (near the top of the parallel channels) and down to the trolley (to which the motor is clamped).  With the two trolley channel sliders sharing a stainless steel axel and the third contact not confined in the channels, the trolley is free to tilt when the angle of the strap forces alter near the top of the motor raising  run.  At the bottom of the lift run the trolley locks so that when the motor is in reverse the trolley can not tilt.  And what happens when this delightful assembly finds a good excuse to get touchy?  A manual 6:1 ratio emergency kit comes to the rescue.  Of course, the Rhodes is a sailboat and does not need a motor, in which case you can skip the motor lift and, when need be, skull, as below:


The Rhode’s thoughtful rudder is a collection of functions for everything from hands off sailing to single handed motor steering.  The molded fiberglass rudder blade pivots within a plastic rudder head that has 1“ stainless steel tubular pintles that sit in stainless steel channel transom gudgeons and where the rudder blade has a forward looped control line that passes through an adjustable tension clutch and an aft control line through a continuous locking lance cleat and where said rudder head is topped off with a cam that holds a custom fit, cleverly slotted removable linkage arm from rudder to motor and where this rudder head has a friction clip for securing the motor/tiller linkage when not in play.  A beautifully ash and mahogany liftable laminated sculptured tiller (the Rhodes rare nod to convention) pivots between the rudder head cheek plates and holds an adjustable length extension control that is lockable in a recessed gunnel fixture. All of this offers:   A fearless rudder blade fine tuned to stay down and forward against sailing water pressures yet automatically raise if strikes bottom or an underwater obstacle - a blade that can be set at the best angle for sculling or end of day raised for pressure-less mooring.   A boat that can be sailed from any location in the cockpit - or locked on course and be sailed hands free. Hardware that allows for easy, fast rudder assembly removal yet can never pop off boat no matter what the weather conditions.  PLUS the options while under power of:  Steering with just the sailboat tiller and the motor fixed or,  Steering with just the sailboat tiller BUT with the motor turning in unison with the sailboat rudder without need to reach the motor’s own tiller (particularly valuable motoring in reverse) or, Free Wheeling Steering with the unburdened tiller while the motor does not turn - but where the motor automatically does kick in to turn when the sailboat tiller is used to make extreme turns.


The no-tools-needed mast hoist is an option where its required fixtures come automatically built into every new Rhodes:  That small, unobtrusive plastic block, found at the cabin roof ‘s widow’s peak is for the mast crane’s base connection and the vertical eye on the centered foredeck of  every Rhodes is for the snapping on of the mast hoist crane’s winch strap.  With both these fixtures standard on all new Rhodes, setting the mast hoist is fast and easy.  The second element of the mast hoist systems is the mast carrier, a light weight assembly that fits over the stern rail and transom top.    An operational booklet comes with this option.  


Few of today’s trailing boats have pop tops:  Too costly to build, too awkward to operate.  Half of this factual analysis is applicable to the Rhodes pop top - it is expensive to build.   But being able to sail with the top up, brings a whole new wonderful dimension to the world of small boat sailing; it is worth its built-in cost.   And its half the weight, fast snap up back, fast snap up front, bring sailboat pop tops back into the single crew assignment.  Under sail, under power, under stars at anchor, its all stainless steel construction is never a problem, never a chore.  At the cabin entrance an inverted U member slides within pivoting lower arms on either side of the companionway, like a trombone, as you freely raise its crossbar section until this single upper U bent arms automatically lock at the proper height.  When the top is down, the upper bar is a handy internal grab rail for rough weather cabin entering and exiting.  At the bow end, the pop top is continually connected (except if trailing) to a slider on the mast that automatically snaps into level when the front end of the pop top is raised.  The operation and advantages of the Rhodes pop top design and construction will spoil you for any other cabin trailerable.

The Cockpit Boarding GRAB RAILS

In the course of giving demonstration sails we noted boarding prospects looking about for something to grab onto - or a spouse, already \on board, thrusting out a hand to a unsure boarding other half.   We also noticed, while under way, having encouraged prospects to try sitting on the gunnels for great visibility and a faster ride by being able to fly more sail when using these built-in hiking seats, that same looking about for something to grab onto.  The solution would be, in addition to the standard handrails on the cabin top, a strategically located additional pair of grab rails.  It worked so well these extra rails became another Rhodes standard and, so far, another Rhodes exclusive.

While we are admiring the cabin side grab rails, note the wide side cabin deck walking area and the 110v shore power inlet box and the second set of the three genoa sheets leads hardware on the side of the cabin trunk and the three cam cleats on the cabin top:  The nearest of these cleats is for the genoa furling line for locking the genoa size wanted. The middle cleat is for hoisting any future spreader flags line that may be added, or any banners that maybe wanted atop the mast.  The larger inner cleat is part of the third set of genoa sheet leads choices (probably rarely to be used but there if and when wanted).   This Discussion of Construction page is probably a good place for us to admit to our hide-the-fasteners phobia; a drive to make hardware and parts appear a natural holistic part of the boat and not something thrown at the boat.  One builder, admiring galley touches, asked, “How do you attach the upper and lower counter fascias?”.  He could see no fasteners.  In our current focus of the stainless grab rails, stainless steel studs are welded to the bent tube section ends and terminate in a recess in the interior headline and plastic capped for easy accessibility; as are the cabin top handrails, bow pulpit and dual section stern rail.


(balance of this page remains under construction)