Perspective is important to gauge (and value) you where you are, but sometimes it is painfully obvious without completely knowing where it will end up that something must be done. That, doing something will surely be light-years better than doing nothing. As was the case with the engine hatch on Windward Passage. It surprises me now that I was so fixated on the hatch with so much around it also begging for attention, but somehow the hatch pained me the most with it’s sad aluminum clam shell cowls, remnant holes and caps hinting of a checkered past, half-baked cheap hardware and an pathetic suggestion of a tired coat of paint.
I am also convinced there was added incentive to remove and rehabilitate this as soon as possible due to the fact that it was guilty by association with regard to a most infuriating mainsheet running rigging design.
Pay no attention to that ugly hatch.. just look at that beautiful and civilized picnic plate!
It took only a few sails on her during the first “sea-testing” season to come to the conclusion that this set-up for the mainsheet was an epic fail when it comes to considerate design. spring swivel blocks port and starboard of the hatch triangulating to the boom tapering as she goes impinges on the opening and closing of the hatch. As if it wasn’t obvious in practice, one only needed to look at the forward corners of the hatch to see this was a violent exercise each and every time as one had to work the blocks (sometimes under significant pressure under sail) out of the way in order to lift the hatch or close it as needed. Perhaps if this compartment didn’t house the outboard it would be tolerable, but as it does one finds themselves in and out of this space constantly. Adding insult to injury, the piano hinged door that gave access to the throttle competed with the tiller space.
And it was an eyesore. Something had to be done. I told myself there was no way I would tolerate it for a second season.
It was clear the hatch had to be removed and taken home for the winter to work on, but before I did I spent a lot of time staring at the stern to work out just how to solve the configuration problem. I knew there was a lot of effort ahead to rehabilitate the hatch and door and the last thing I wanted to do was put it back into the same predicament and since it was off why not go all the way and and solve the problem for good. I did enough reading and research to know that, with fiberglass boats, “If you will it, it is no dream”. Once you understand the basic chemistry behind fiberglass, epoxy and resin, and you are willing to be patient and methodical, you understand that it affords plenty of possibility alone or in conjunction with wood.
My solution was to do away with the swivel blocks and replace them with a track spanning the cockpit along the stern-end of the cockpit benches. This would allow for a direct connection to the boom freeing up the back hatch. It would also end up being a better angle relationship between the mainsheet cam cleat and the boom connection (more straight up and down as opposed to reverse angle). The only way this configuration would work is if I did away with the piano hinged throttle access door since the track would obstruct it from opening more than an inch or so. I decided I would remove the hinge, rehab the door and build a slot with accent wood that would accommodate the door. To gain access, the hatch would be lifted and the door panel would simply be pulled up and out and tucked into a holding slot in the inside of the engine hatch compartment. This would be a clean, orderly and logical solution.
Hatch and door removed. Also revealed in this picture is the fact that I embarked on an even more ambitious project of removing and rebuilding the entire toe rail. A story for another day.
My goal was to repair the trauma gouges and and fill the remnant cap hole and random holes on the hatch, add a handle to aid in lifting under sail and replace the clam shell cowls with something a bit more functional and attractive. Finally it was to be painted along with the rest of the topside.
I removed the cowls and then i began removing the remnant cap. As in began unscrewing it, I knew I was in for a bigger project than I expected because it was coming up too easily which alway implies the adhesive and sealant is long since shot and therefore water has been having its way with this spot for go knows how long. Sure enough, the plastic cap and collar came of without any fuss and revealed and unsealed sandwich (fiberglass back-core-fiberglass top).
Probing with my finger inside the sandwich, it was undeniable there was significant core damage. I was not entirely upset since this hatch was the perfect practice piece to perfect my fiberglass and core reconstruction skills since it i could work in my basement and I could work from the back. I flipped it over and began cutting away a circle of fiberglass to get at the damaged area. Not knowing exactly how to but it away, I drilled a series of holes and dremeled between the holes. And it was clear I had underestimated the extent of the damage. I had to go bigger to encompass all the rotten soggy core.
This is what delamination and rot looks like
I got comfortable using the Dremel as a direct cutting tool. Fiberglass is pretty easy to cut through it turns out. I fretted a lot about this and now, after cutting all sorts of holes throughout my boat I chuckle when I think about
how much I fretted. Its very straight forward and exact and if you do happen to screw up, epoxy, fairing material and fiberglass will solve any problem.
I cut out a bigger circumference and still felt it wasn’t enough but rather than cutting out yet another circle I took the hatch and put it near the furnace to dry out. But you can really see in these pictures how soaked and rotten the core was. Healthy balsa should look blond. Dark color signals core damage – moisture and rot.
rotten balsa with no structural value and no hold strength – flattens with the slightest finger pressure and completely delaminated, falling away with no effort.
I then traced the size of the hole and transferred that to the balsa sheet i purchased. once cut out with a box cutter, I saturated the underside of the top and circumference with straight (West Systems) epoxy, painted on epoxy to the underside of the balsa and married the two, putting heavy weights (bricks) on top. I injected epoxy using a syringe around the balsa patch making sure to fill slightly lower than the top of the balsa and left it to cure (straight epoxy is very difficult to fair). Once cured I painted the open surface of the balsa with epoxy and the underside of the “doughnut” and placed in on top in its original position (there was no reason not to recycle this as it was quite solid and strong). Once cured I tapered the edges of both the doughnut and the hatch circumference. This was to make sure the lay up of fill fiberglass had plenty of surface area to adhere to.
note the drill holes in the removed circle. This was where I was probing for the edge of the rotten core. You can see I was grossly underestimating the extent of the damage at first! The second hole was made to accommodate for cowl upgrade
Unfortunately there are no pictures that illustrate the process of adhering the top piece, layering a series of circular pieces of fiberglass – small first and increasing in size up to flush with the surface. This was then covered with an epoxy and fairing mixture and sanded with ever finer paper to create a seamless surface. The same was down to the topside. In the picture below you can see there is no sign the hole ever existed. Once faired, it was ready for painting (discussed in a future entry).
The two holes seen here are for the new cowls. I had to make the existing holes bigger and epoxied the circumference to defend against any water egress even if the cowl sealant gives way. This should have been standard with core construction boats but it seemed it was rarely if ever done. Now it seems regular practice to bore out any hole greater than the size you ultimately need, fill with epoxy, then drill or cut the size you actually need resulting in a wall or barrier of epoxy protecting your core.
Once fully painted I sealed and screwed the cowls and new handle into place. I was very happy with the results. The door design was a pretty straight forward process (next entry).