Don't know how long you'd had this boat, but Cheoy Lee Clippers were made in the 50's and 60's, so this incident could be due to simple age. My experience with Cheoy Lee has been their hardware is of very high quality and their hulls of that era were quite over-built. Most "Bonze" shafts, propellors, seacocks, and general fittings have some zinc, though I can't remember the exact percentage. Boats that spend time at the dock, particularly where other boats have shore-power plugged-in have a tendancy to de-zinc many of their bronze underwater fittings due to stray eddy current in the water. Also the Dolphin Striker assembly is usually not disassembled during winter storage so is never checked and unfortunately is a fairly common point of failure for this reason.
Bob from Maine, it sounds like you'[re suggesting this may not be a Made by Monkeys problem but rather a simple wear-and-tear-over-many-years problem. Are there ways to check this before it causes a serious accident?
Brass and bronze are two different things. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Bronze is usually an alloy of copper and tin -- although there are also aluminum bronzes, manganese bronzes, and silicon bronzes, which are alloys of copper with aluminum, manganese, or silicon, respectively. Each of these catagories (brass, bronze, aluminum bronze, etc.) includes many different alloys with different properties.
I'm not quite sure what "shop brass" is, but cheap screw machined parts are often made out of free-machining brass (UNS C36000). This is an alloy of copper, zinc, and lead. The lead helps to make it readily machinable.
As the article correctly points out, copper and zinc are very far apart in the galvanic series, so when a brass part is exposed to a good electrolyte (like seawater), the zinc acts as a sacrificial anode for the copper. Ultimately, all of the zinc dissolves out of the brass, leaving a spongy mass of copper with very little strength. I'm willing to bet that if your uncle looked at the failed part under a microscope, he would have seen this sponge-like structure. This process is called dezincification.
Naval brass is a type of brass (usually approximately 60% copper, 40% zinc) which also contains a small amount (0.5 - 0.8%) of tin. Small amounts of arsenic, phosphorus, or antimony might also be added. The presence of these elements help to inhibit dezinicification.
The absolute best copper alloys for saltwater service are copper-nickel alloys. These alloys have excellent corrosion resistance. However, they also tend to be fairly expensive.
This article is a good example of why proper materials selection is so important. It pays to do your homework -- or, better still, ask a metallurgist.
@Rob: As one of the articles I linked to mentions, one telltale sign of dezincification is a loose, powdery white deposit. This is usually zinc oxide or zinc chloride, which are corrosion products of zinc. (Of course, in a marine environment, a white deposit might also be left by salt).
Yes, checking all underwater fittings each haul-out is important. The dolphin striker is a rod or cable that goes from the outward end of the bowsprit to a fitting, usually underwater, on the bow of the boat. There is no reason to disassemble this part except for the occasional inspection for corrosion. The part doesn't move and for the most part would be considered a permanent fixture - until it breaks. Most underwater hardware is designed to be taken-apart and cleaned, lubricated or inspected fairly easily and it is really unlikely that a turnbuckle on a dolphin striker would be made of an inferior alloy unless it was installed at some later date. I don't think I have ever seen a soft-brass turnbuckle or pin outside of a novelty shop.
The Article doesn't say when this took place, but seems to imply a recent event.
Cheoy Lee's coming out of the Kao Shung yard in HK were known to have crappy metal fittings. Lifeline stanchions and pulpit/pushpit are likely out of 303 or 304 stainless, not marine grade 316. As a result, pitting and corrosion, and premature structural failure are known endemic problems with those vessels.
The author's uncle is lucky the fitting didn't fail when under dynamic load, or he would have lost the stick.
I'm not an expert on metals, but I couldn't help recalling how an Englishman (with a fairly un-English name) made his fortune by developing an alloy of copper and zinc which came to be known as 'Yellow Metal' (or Muntz metal, after its creator). This was used extensively in ships, and clipper ships particularly as it happens, and the Cutty Sark and Thermopylae were full of it. Cheaper and stronger than copper alone, it was even used for bolts in some applications although its main use seems to have been for sheathing.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muntz_metal. It was the comments about battery electrodes that I found strange as Yellow Metal seems to have been in great demand for maritime applications in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
@steveod21: Muntz metal is a particular kind of brass called a duplex brass. Like most other kinds of brass, it is susceptible to dezincification, but since sheathing was not structural, this may not have been considered to be very important. More important were its antifouling properties -- barnacles, seaweed, algae, and other marine life don't like to attach themselves to copper, or to copper alloys such as brass. The development of antifouling paints (most of which contain copper) brought an end to the era of metal sheathing.
Naval brass, which I described below, is very similar to Muntz metal, except for the addition of a small amount of tin (and sometimes some other elements) to prevent dezincification.
Although it is subject to dezincification, Muntz metal is resistant to many other kinds of corrosion, so it is still used in some applications.
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