C-400 Keel, is the lead encapsulated or what?

Mark Barendt

My basic question is “can you actually see the lead or is it encapsulated in fiberglass?”


So, here’s the story.


My wife and I were seriously looking at a '97 C-400 about 4 weeks ago, we were about to make an offer when another buyer offered more than we would; their offer got accepted, that buyer did a survey, and now based on the survey, that deal has fallen apart. 


My broker (who is the listing broker) calls me this morning and asks “Still looking?” 


Me “Yep.”


Broker “The other buyer has walked away without trying to adjust their offer.”


A bit of background.


The boat has some deferred maintenance issues and a few ‘less than seaworthy’ repairs and mods which I would expect a survey to find but we haven’t seen any details on paper.


What we learned today has refined our understanding of a few specific problems that we were expecting in a survey. 

  • Some moisture in the deck in one area.
  • Some spots where the deck is hollow/soft. 


All the above, are things that would add significant costs if hired out. My broker and I don’t know how much the other buyer understood about those problems before they made their offer.


The straw that ‘officially’ broke the back of other buyer’s deal though, was;

  • A hairline crack in the lead at the root of the keel which was weeping a bit.


My broker was told by the other buyer's broker that ‘he’ suggested that the buyer ‘take a pass’ on the boat. 


Of course my broker and I don't have the whole story, but we do know that no destructive work (sanding, grinding, …) was done to explore the crack, it was simply visible while in the slings. 


What doesn’t make sense is ‘a hairline crack in the lead that’s weeping’. Lead doesn’t crack easily and it seems that weeping indicates some encapsulation or maybe the joint between keel and hull. 


Any ideas appreciated.



It's not uncommon for unencapsulated keels with keel bolts to experience disturbance at the keel stub/keel joint with a grounding. It's not the end of the world, especially on a boat like the C400 with a substantial keel stub. Your call but if I liked the boat I'd negotiate a fair price based on any assumed repair costs.

robert belichak

Hi Mark,

As you stated, the lead obviously isn't cracked and weeping. However, it's possible that there could be some fairing compound on the lead that has worked loose and is seeping water. If so, that is no big deal.

Likely it is at the keel stub joint. That was very common in the older Catalina 30s (Catalina smile) but I have not heard of that problem on a Cat 400. 

A very hard grounding might show evidence with dented lead on the leading edge or bottom of the keel.  Also, inspect the bilge area for hairline cracks and evidence of stringer delamination.

The 400s are very well constructed and strong. I hope you can work it it and buy it, I know you'll love the boat.

Good luck,

Cat 400 Circe

On Sat, Aug 15, 2020 at 4:32 PM, Ken
<kdg_1@...> wrote:
It's not uncommon for unencapsulated keels with keel bolts to experience disturbance at the keel stub/keel joint with a grounding. It's not the end of the world, especially on a boat like the C400 with a substantial keel stub. Your call but if I liked the boat I'd negotiate a fair price based on any assumed repair costs.

Mark Barendt

Good info guys, thanks. 

K Pitser <Kpitser@...>

I just got done with a haul out last month (2000 Cat 400 hull 0206) for rudder bearing repair. I also worried initially at seeing the weeping crack. The survey made no specific issue of it as a structural defect. My marine Image.jpegtechnician assured me this is no big deal and is well known as the Catalina smile. The crack is apparently the result of the keel stub bolt elongation due to the massive weight of the keel. I was told the crack is usually caulked since glassing it over would usually result in crack reformation due to the weight transfer when laying to from one tack to another. After lifting the boat for launch, the crack will open once the keel is liberated from its support. Since I was having the bottom revolted, they recalled, let it cure and revolted over the caulk. All of this makes good sense to me and I’ll hopefully remember to update the thread once I get her hauled again to report the efficacy. I am not worried about the phenomenon anymore as it would be more well known if if were truly a fatal flaw.  Hope this helps you make a decision. 

Mark Barendt

The saga continues, haven't got the survey yet, still negotiating.

I do have some better info though.

My broker was there for the survey, but he has not seen the survey. The other potential buyer finally got back to us about their willingness to offer the survey to us but hasn't said how much yet. 

The hairline crack did weep and It is in the keel to stub joint, trailing edge. The crack was found as the surveyor was tapping around the joint, there was a slightly different sound and the leak was encouraged by the tapping. The color of the water is being reported to me as purplish red (not rust) which ruined the brokers shirt. The broker's suggestion is that the color is coming from some polyester filler that has been used at the joint and not truly indicative of a significant problem. I'm taking that with a grain of salt.

My brokers suggestion is to make a formal offer, subject to adjustments based on survey, once accepted, buy survey and renegotiate the price considering all the deficiencies and a contingency on the keel, if renegotiation works; a contingency would be on pulling the boat and having another surveyor check the joint by actually grinding and poking.

Does this make sense?

Other thoughts or concerns I might be missing?


Not sure anyone answered your initial question...  But no, the Catalina-400 has a naked (un-encapsulated) keel.  It is cast lead probably with some sort of barrier coat or thin faring coat on it.  My 1997 model has a few casting flaws, including what appears to be a hot-patch repair.  This was probably done at the factory with a torch and some semi-molten lead immediately after the keel was popped out of the mold.  But there is no fiberglass layer on it.

I have had my boat out of the water many times, and I have never seen any evidence of a "Catalina smile" or "bolt elongation".  When talking about the joint between the hull & keel...there is no acceptable level of flex.  The keel should be tight against the hull, in ALL situations.  That includes both sitting on blocks, AND after it is liberated from its supports.  If you have a crack that opens up in the slings, and closes after you sit it down on blocks...you have got BIG problems.

As far as the purple liquid?  I have no idea.  It could be something as simple as sea water trapped under a layer of fairing material.  Or it could be bilge water migrating down internally from the keel plate.  Either way, I would check the torque on the keel bolts and also pry off any loose or rotting caulking to take a closer look.  The great thing is...you haven't bought it yet!  The Catalina-400 is not anything rare or exotic.  There are tons of em out there...most with no keel problems at all.  So be picky and don't be afraid to take a pass.

Fritz Feiten

This echos my experience and my C400 is also from 1997. Good advice.

Fritz Feiten

On Aug 21, 2020, at 10:48 AM, Christian Wilson <wilsonmech@...> wrote:

Mark Barendt

Thanks Christian,

It shouldn't be bilge water, if there is a leak on that path it would surely be going the other way, ocean to bilge, since it's below the waterline.


Not when its on the hard.

Mark Barendt

Good news, I have the real answer. 

Called Catalina's technical line, and got put through straight away to Gerry Douglas. 

So, the C400's fin keel front to rear length matches the stub length exactly.

The shoal draft keel though is longer front to rear, so it sticks out past the end of the fiberglass stub. 

Fairing is used to fill the gap behind the stub between the hull and keel.