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Way back... In the Spring of 1992, I had the experience of mail ordering, receiving, trying to return, waiting to have repaired, and ultimately; fixing much myself - of what could only have been called a "Friday Boat" from the good folks at HMS MARINE: once producers of the West Wight Potter 15 sailboat in the early 1990s.
NOTE: The new Potter manufacturer is: International Marine. Hopefully - the only thing International Marine will ever have in common with it's predecessor is that they also produce a boat called:
the West Wight Potter 15.
Below is the actual painful text from the letter, (which I found on an old - 5.25" floppy; who says they don't last) which I wrote to the boss man at HMS Marine... once my new boat arrived damaged and after days of long distance phone calls to little avail! Ugh. Please, review the full letter and look beyond for the surprisingly: Happy Ending!
April 17th, 1992
Joseph Edwards, President
HMS Marine, Inc.
904 West Hyde Park Boulevard
Inglewood, California 90302-3308
Dear Mr Edwards,
As a summary to our several hours of discussion we have recently had concerning the delivered condition of my new boat (1-West Wight Potter Sailboat, Model #HMSA1981C292), the following details, to date, all the varied defects and faults in materials and workmanship which I have found to present on my West Wight Potter 15 from HMS Marine, Inc.
Please note that I have not assembled or carefully inspected any of the sails, rigging, mast, motor, boom, or other accessory materials ordered and received and that an omission to address any of these items does not endorse their correctness or my satisfaction with them.
This communication centers itself on the basic boat in general, that is; there have been so many defects and problems observed in the primary item ordered, there seemed little need to proceed further to supplementary materials at this time.
Therefore, with the above in mind, below you will find a detailed listing of currently observed problems, please note that a diagram is also provided.
I. CRACKS IN GEL COAT
1. Keel Slot Area.
The entire perimeter around the keep slot on the bottom of the boat is devoid of the gel coat material. It is clearly cracked off, it appears as a result of the pressure of the trailer roller as the boat was loaded on the trailer. Where the gel coat has cracked off, the under surface is covered by wide paper masking tape which is actually under the remaining gel coat and extends for a some considerable length forward and aft of the slot. This appears quite improper since the gel coat cannot properly adhere to masking tape, and the tape itself is quite porous to water.
The keel slot also is in a very "rough" condition. A small attempt to fix various mold and slot defects, by the application of additional epoxy materials is clearly evident. Also, much of the remaining gel coat around this area is bubbled and flakes off easily when even the slightest pressure is applied. One must assume that the rough and lifted edge of the remaining gel coat around the keel slot opening would continue to degrade and chip, whenever the boat is beach, even in the most sandiest of areas. This would allow even larger areas of the sub-surface to become exposed and further work loose remaining gel coat material on the exterior hull.
The general appearance of this areas is entirely unsatisfactory and appears quite substandard for any competent producer within the boat building industry.
2. Cracks in Right Stern Corner.
A cluster of 4, line type cracks can be found in this area radiating about 3-4 inches around the corner of the boat. They appear to be of an impact nature and are quite unacceptable. Perhaps this occurred during transit.
3. Crack at Left Mid-Ship Deck Area.
A single deep 4 inch fine fissure is observable here on the deck, running fore and aft. It appears to be of a stress nature and is very unacceptable.
II. FAULTY HULL AND DECK JOINT CONNECTION
The hull and deck joint is not constructed as stated in the mailed advertisement brochure you forward to me on Feb. 6th, 1992, prior to the purchasing of my boat. Your advertisement brings special attention to this aspect of the craft's manufacture as follows:
"In construction, the deck is actually fiberglassed to the hull as a single continuous fiberglass bonding, making the hull and deck join as one piece. Many boats are still produced by attaching the deck to the hull with screws and although this method may give adequate strength there is always the possibility of water getting through the connection. Try to look under the side molding to see what method of connection is used on any boat you are considering. With so many years of experience in production and testing, the Potter is one of the most proven of all the cruisers available."
This area of construction, your advertisement clearly addresses as being of paramount importance and your advertised construction method states how it eliminates the "chance of water getting though the connection" (since it is not a caulked seal - which always has a chance of leaking). Having a bonded connection in this area is clearly a desirable condition since any water getting through the connection would collect in the inner hull or cabin of the boat, essentially filling the volume, creating a "swamped" condition.
Since your advertisement claims how the Potter has been successfully sailed between California and Hawaii, and also across the North Sea, it is easy to understand how important this bond is to a successful trip. That is, if the bond is not proper, sea water might enter and swamp the craft.
Thus, with the above in mind, I hope you can understand my extreme aggravation and frustration when I observed that my boat had been assembled by simply having the hull and deck joint rather sloppily riveted together... and with absolutely no caulking material present in the joint!
Further, in many places all around the perimeter of the boat, the rub rail, which hides the joint connection, and which was riveted over it, has many gaps of 1/16 to 3/16 of an inch between it and the hull section, allowing a totally unobstructed passage of water from the exterior into the interior.
In shock, I tested my assumption by casually splashing low pressure water on the connection to simulate a wave splash - a totally realistic condition when at sea in a boat this size. In every case, the water flooded directly into the primary hull. From the interior, not only can daylight be clearly observed through this "connection", but in several places 3/16 inch diameter holes, without rivets, are present. These go directly through the hull and appear to be riveting mistakes. No attempt had been made to seal them.
I would assert that if my boat was sailed on the ocean, in a very mild one foot sea condition, with the craft on a beam reach, a 30 degree heel would allow this connection line to come in contact with the sea water allow it to rush in and flood the cabin! Many other sailing and sea conditions would also allow this to happen. How could my craft safely transit the rough and turbulent North Sea ?
If I had used the product you sent me, here on the rough waters off Rhode Island, it seems almost certain that the interior of this craft would have flooded with sea water, most likely causing damage to the craft, material aboard, and possibly injury or loss of life to myself or a passenger.
The misinformation on the hull and deck connection and its assembly without concern for safety, quality, or proper function is terribly incorrect. I believe this is a major design change in your product and frankly, I would not have purchased this boat at all if I had know that you would be assembling the top and bottom halves with rivets, even if it had caulking...(which seems incredible that you did not do). Clearly, your advertising was totally misleading and no attempt to address changes in your design was present. How much trouble would it have been for you to include a supplementary sheet, addressing changes in your design?
III. DEFECTIVE HATCH DOOR
The wooden hatch door was cut incorrectly and has two large rectangular gaps present, when the door is in place. This allows for the free and unobstructed leakage of water into the interior of the boat, whenever it rains. A closed boat should not allow water to flood in! Additionally, the door is made of cheapest very low grade vernier plywood like material, not the "mahogany" listed in your advertisement. Further, it is very rough and not straight in its cutting, with no effort given to sand or finish bare rough edges. It does not fit properly in the companionway and I would venture that a 7th grade student in any woodshop class across America could have produced a superior product. It elicits laughter and is most incorrect.
IV. DEFECTIVE SLIDING HATCH
The sliding hatch does not operate properly and binds about two-thirds of the way down its track. Also, it digs into the side of the deck scoring the deck surface. The forward ends of the hatch are over cut and allow the free passage of water into the interior during any rain. Again, this is most incorrect.
V. LOOSE HARDWARE
Much of the hardware arrived on the boat in a loose or untightened condition. In particular, the craft's stern cleats are loose. Although tightening the bolts and nuts in the forward section of the boat is quite accessible, The stern is another matter.
Since the design of the inner hull, prohibits access to the space under the seats which is the only way to get at the underside of the hardware in the stern (less the entire hull and deck joint be removed), a modification to the inner hull must be made. This will include cutting off the vertical flaps of the rear inner hull just after the foot wells. Only with these removed can the next step proceed. The flotation blocks measuring approximately 12 x 12 x 48 inches need to be bisected to 6 x 12 x 48 inches and removed as two pieces each.
The bisection of the blocks is required since they cannot slide forward of the diagonally placed half round reinforcement strut, which rest in a pre-cut cavity on the bottom surface of the flotation blocks. With the blocks removed a slim individual can shimmy down the passage and tighten the hardware at the stern of the boat (a helper is require to secure the other end of the bolt with a phillips head screw driver so the nuts can be tightened by the person inside.
This is another clear design error, which seems so obviously lacking in thought, it is perplexing.
VI. INAPPROPRIATE USE OF SILICONE SEALANT
This sealant was used in an extremely sloppy and haphazard fashion throughout the boats construction. In many places it is lacking where it should be, and appears smeared where it is not required or needed. In most cases it appears oozed out, well over the connections and was never trimmed when cured.
VII. DEFECTIVE MOTOR MOUNT CONSTRUCTION
The motor mount is not properly sealed on the top to allow water to stay out of the plywood support material. Water will enter the plywood and rot it out from the ends. It needs to be sealed over with fiberglass.
Additionally, the interior of the mount is most unsightly, being left as raw fiberglass and not painted or coated. It is clearly observable from both inside and outside of the boat and is cosmetically very unattractive.
VIII. KEEL SLOT TRIM HACK
The veneer plywood like material (advertised as mahogany) around keel slot on the inside of the craft has been glued down off center of the keel slot. As such it is doubtful that the keel can be properly lowered since its metal upper arm will contact the wood molding, as it tries to rotate up and thus will stop its vertical swing. This mechanical oversight easily apparent and most incorrect.
IX. UNCLEAN CONDITION OF INTERIOR
The boat arrived with the interior littered with fiberglass debris material and fine fiberglass dust and particulate covering all surfaces. This dust is very irritating and causes a severe allergic reaction on many people, including myself and my wife. The interior should have been properly cleaned and detailed in every area since wind pressure can easily blow these dangerous particulates anywhere within the craft. The area under the cockpit is a real mess and if fiberglass material blew into the eyes of passengers or myself, severe eye damage could have occurred. It is most incorrect and very unprofessional in appearance.
X. POORLY FINISHED WOOD TRIM.
All wood trim is very rough and very poorly finished with the except of one item - the rudder. Surfaces are unsanded and unsealed and appear to be of a very low grade material. Some wood pieces are cracked.
XI. IMPROPER DESIGN OF KICK UP RUDDER
There is no method of raising or lowering the kick up portion of the rudder, less physically getting out of the boat and doing it, or removing it from the boat and then reattaching it. A retract and deploy mechanism could have been easily designed as is used on a Sunfish. Alternately, a simple rope and cleat system should have been provided. Anyone sailing a kick up rudder understands the importance of this small but significant engineering concern.
Although this completes a discussion of boat problems to date, I would guess that more will be discovered later. Now, I would like to briefly turn my attention to the boat trailer which, like everything else you sent was defective.
1. A lug bolt on the trailer's left wheel was loose and stripped. The trailer should never have travelled over the road with a lug stud defective.
2. The trailer was never adjusted for the boat and the entire weight of the boat rests on one roller. The other two rollers are very low. The trailer should have been properly adjusted at your factory. Then entire stern of the boat is resting on the skids and it is unknown if the hull is damaged under these.
I must now turn my attention to your customer service, which although courtious, has also been rather lacking. Several times I have been given incorrect information. In particular, I am referring to the delivery date of the boat which you listed as the 4th week of March. This delivery date was inaccurate by over one month, my boat arriving by "your driver" a used car salesman from Texas - Odel, on the 3rd of May. I was shocked to learn he had trailered it himself behindhis beat up vehicle... more than 2000 miles!
With all the terrible problems I have encountered with your product, your company, and you... and with a high level of frustration, I called you several times over the past week simply requesting a refund of the $6218 I sent you and a request to pick up the boat and accessories. Incidentally, that request was less the additional $288 I had to give "your driver" Odel.
Although I asked you at least 5 times to return my money, you would not give me a direct answer to my question. In the meantime, I understand that the California Consumer Protection Agency and the California Attorney General have been notified.
From my latest communications with you, I understand you are waiting for a response from this state agency before you act. Also, I must note that your field agent, Mike Hills from Blue Fin Yachts of West Warwick, RI, inspected the boat on Friday, May 15, and was in agreement in observing most the defects in materials and craftsmanship I have stated above. He said they could all be fixed but that you had not authorized all that needed to be done.
The problems you have created through all of the above have caused me to waste an enormous amount of my time and energy. To date, I have no firm answer from you as to which way this situation will be solved and I am highly frustrated and concerned with all the additional work I have had to do.
As a consumer who sent payment in full... $6218... prior to the products manufacture or shipment, I expected a quality, expertly crafted product... not the shabbily slapped together sow's ear you stuck me with... or to be additionally inconvenienced while a local repair company completely rebuilds and patches your product's inadequacies.
Blue Finn Yachts
21 Riverdale Court
West Warwick, RI 02886
How'd it all turn out? No, Joe would not give me a refund and would not take the boat back. He offered to fix the hull... I decided not to legally pursue HMS Marine over 3000 miles away... they sent me a new cabin door and some new wood trim for the keel slot. A few more calls later... Joe and I, kissed, hugged, and hung up. (Okay, we didn't kiss or hug... but we did part on amicable terms). Pretty much I said: "Just help ME fix it... and that will be it." He did. In late June 1992, Blue Finn Yachts of Warwick, Rhode Island took the little bugger, fixed her keel slot and deck gel coat cracks... then return her to me a few weeks later.
(Click Here or image at left for larger view.)
My turn... I tried to seal up the leaky hull and deck joint connection by running a nasty looking bead of silicone all the way around the top of the rub rail, and then all around the bottom of it... (not the best watertight connection for a hull and deck joint, but it would work).
As far as the hardware, I had to cut out the stern flotation (later replaced by bladder air bags of greater boyancy), crawled back in there... and everywhere else for that matter... next
removed the loose unsealed deck hardware... siliconed the holes properly, and re-atttached everything. I got quite the chuckle when I saw how the jam cleats for the jib lines where attached... screws were simply pushed into the oversized drilled holes and siliconed in place. Sure, that's secure! I then knew what the Blue Finn estimator meant, when he exclaimed: "Looks like a Friday Boat!"
I also decided to upgrade the rigging with a larger wire and real turnbuckles (thirty knots of wind on Narragansett Bay is not uncommon).
As far as the hardware, I had to cut out the stern flotation (later replaced by bladder air bags of greater boyancy), crawled back in there... and everywhere else for that matter... next removed the loose unsealed deck hardware... siliconed the holes properly, and re-atttached everything. I got quite the chuckle when I saw how the jam cleats for the jib lines where attached... screws were simply pushed into the oversized drilled holes and siliconed in place. Sure, that's secure! I then knew what the Blue Finn estimator meant, when he exclaimed: "Looks like a Friday Boat!" I also decided to upgrade the rigging with a larger wire and real turnbuckles (thirty knots of wind on Narragansett Bay is not uncommon).
Finally, she was ready to sail. It was late July. First season with the boat was surprisingly challenging, and overall - FUN! However, it did not take much time to see the fixed motor mount on the stern would only work well with a long shaft outboard... the short shaft supplied with the boat, cavitated like crazy in rough water or anytime I went forward.
Another concern that always bugged me was that sometimes when sailing... the boat would take on a little water via the keel slot into the primary hull (this would not have happened if the connection between the liner and keel slot where sealed... The only way I could get the water out was to cut a hole under the cushions in the cabin liner, so I could have an access point to pump it... I was always annoyed when I had to pump!
The second season. I went all over Narragansett Bay with the little pip; sleeped aboard many nights... even went for three day excursions. It seemed a lot to me like sailing a little Gemini space capsule. There were days my back hurt... and I don't think it's a boat for tall or heavy guys... but for someone like me... 5' 7" and 137#, not a bad fit.
I replaced the 2.5 hp Tohatsu, with a long shaft 5.0 hp Tohatsu... This made the boat a rocket under power as she could motor along at better than 9 knots! I beefed up the motor bracket as best I could... I see some newer Potter owners are now using a fancy adjustable alum. and plastic motor mount; that would have been an even better solution than getting the long shaft, as the longer shaft made the engine a tad too heavy for the port side. Oh yeah, I added a longer custom rudder blade as well... this improved stalling in a turn, quite a bit. It was a good Summer. (Click Here or on image above right for larger view.)
But, in the Fall of 1993, I ran into this unique old English Westerly 25 twin bilge keel vessel moored at my dock, that stole my heart... and thus, I took on a second wife it seemed... as well as a third unwelcome spouse - with every damn boatyard and slip she was in thereafter. I sold the Potter 15 a year later.
Funny thing is, after eleven years of sailing a 25' cruiser... I think I am ready for another Potter 15! Yes, with all the crap that I had to go through to fix her... in retrospect - it was still a damn fun little boat, and seaworthy too! Twelve years, hundreds of sailed nautical miles, and three rebuilt vessels later, the repairs and modifications the '92 Potter needed to fix her up, do not seem quite the big deal now... after all. I have earned some boat knowledge and gray hair along the waves... as well a V.I.P. membership card at West Marine! I am now more reflective than excitable... part of the normal evolution of a sailor me thinks.
What does loom big in my mind now, was that with the Potter 15 - I needed no help, no boatyard, no slip... needed nobody to rely on, no one else to move, rig, launch, and enjoy boating and adventuring by the power of the wind.
And, at the end... my efforts, pride and joyful little ship can come home with me and sleep in the garage... sit protected as I tinker with her equipment and polish her hull; and I think perhaps, just perhaps - we might both smile 'til the next adventure... be it a week or year away.
I have been to the West Wight Potter website quite often these days... I see a lot of positive tweaks and improvement to the design... new opening ports, cockpit locker hatches, bimini or dodger options, a blue water hull lay-up, to name just a few smart improvements. These guys are thinking my way... maybe I should give them a call (800-433-4080). Damn... I think I am "potterized" again... or maybe I always was.
Addendum. An email was sent to the folks at International Marine shortly after this page's initial posting... asking them to check it out. They did, stating they enjoyed reading my saga, but also responded:
"...Under new ownership we have certainly gotten past those types of problems and hope to never relive them again. "