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Date Posted: - Monday - 02/25/08 - 1:50am
Author: Randall
Subject: REPORT #6: Cutting the companionway hatch; dealing with the slats
In reply to: Randall, M31, Murre 's message, "Aft Cabin Bulkhead Replacement" on - Monday - 01/21/08 - 9:56pm

One wonders if this type of work is at all like building a new boat. Certainly Murre hints how she should go together by the way she comes apart, but it’s not like there are plans. Maybe this is the more interesting endeavor; maybe the restorer is envied by the builder forced to revisit someone else’s drawings at every turn. Somehow I doubt it.


Having cleaned the grooves on the companionway hatch frames, the next piece of this jigsaw puzzle was cutting a space for them in the new bulkhead. It gives one pause to think what a mistake here will cost.

To start, I wanted to “permanently” dry fit the bulkhead so that when it came to final installation, there would be no discrepancy. But how to accomplish this without the slats in place (which must come later)? The batten I used for shaping the top edge of the bulkhead happened to be ¼”, the depth of the slats. I cut a few short lengths as spacers and fastened them with tiny brads to the deck beam and side joint. I also bought some thinking time by filling the fastener holes along the beam and side joint with epoxy.

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Then I drilled and fastened the bulkhead at a few key points, top (outside) and bottom (inside). Once the bulkhead was solidly affixed, I placed the hatch frames on the outside of the bulkhead and fastened them with clamps from above and finishing nails under the lower frame. I eye-balled the location, tapping the frames gently with a hammer until they were correctly aligned, and then drew a fine line describing the outside of each frame.

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Then I moved the whole assembly to the dock. A result of cleaning the hatch grooves of goop and glue was that they had become a little uneven on the inside, so I placed the frames on their drawn lines, marked stations every 4” along each of them, and measured the depth of the groove at each station, marking that on the bulkhead. Originally the groove was 7/16” deep on all three sides; the variance I found at my 4” stations was generally less than 1/16”.

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I cut the starboard side piece first and then tested its fit. It took a tiny bit of shaving, but otherwise was right on the money. Same for the port side. And the hatch boards fit as if nothing had changed.

Having got to this stage was immensely gratifying, and I took about 20 photos of an otherwise unsexy hatchway—you’d think I was Michelangelo or something.

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Next came preparation for the glassing of the exterior and refastening of the interior slats. I had originally intended to ditch the slats in favor of more glass, but a local boatwright down a few slips from me who was doing a teak deck with nothing but West and colloidal silica (“I did my first 15 years ago, and it’s still going strong) has changed my mind. Luckily, I’d not only saved the slats, even the outer ones that were destroyed, but had marked their positions carefully. I laid them out like puzzle pieces on the new bulkhead.

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There are a couple oddities to slat configuration you may find on your boat as well. Notice in the first photo that the coloring of the top of the slats indicates that all slide under the deckbeam, EXCEPT the two just to the right of the porthole. These had small spacers inserted between beam and bulkhead. Also notice that at the far right, one slat describes the outside edge of the vertical bulkhead-to-cabin-side joining piece but the other one does not.

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More or less the same on the other side. Here slat “D” does not extend into the deckbeam (there was a spacer instead), and what is not very clear in the photo is that slat “B” and “C” only go as far as the joining piece. The rough pieces in the photo, the slats under the joining piece, are separate slats, except for “A”, which is one slat above and below the joining piece.

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Not all mysteries are to be solved, and it matters little, so I moved on, spending the rest of the afternoon prepping the slats for gluing. On the back side, one or two were very heavily gooped up, like the slat right above the sander. But most were like the slat above that, lightly coated, and buffed to a nice yellow in less than a minute.

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Now all the various pieces are in the garage—bulkhead, slats, epoxy, and glass. I want to see if I can get the front and back of the bulkhead set before next weekend.

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[> REPORT #7: Glassing and Slatting -- Randall, - Monday - 03/10/08 - 2:50am

“I was beginning to wonder where you were,” said Mark.

“Family stuff last weekend,” I said, panting, setting down a large box of supplies, my third load. Murre is at the end of the dock—my truck in the parking lot, so far away. It amazed me how much stuff I’d needed to take home for the glassing stage—tools and resin and glass and tape and sand paper and a respirator and a bag of plastic yogurt containers and gloves and rags and more tools and don’t forget the bulkhead or the slats, and …

“How’s your project?” I asked.

“Good. Now that it’s stopped raining I got the windows in—go figure! And as you can see, I’m building stairs. I find some of my friends won’t visit me if I make them board using a regular old ladder.

Mark has the end-tie next to Murre, and he lives on a massive ferro-cement sail boat bare of any hardware having to do with locomotion. “I’m turning it into condos,” he told me on the first day. The boat is a good fifty feet on deck and the freeboard is at least ten feet if you count the massive cabin. Still, his use of the plural, “condos”, made me smile.

“Well,” said Mark, looking at my glassed and slat laden bulkhead, “keep going on like that and you’ll be out of here in no time.”

“Thanks,” I said, “but there are two more projects down stream of this one. I’ve got plenty to do.”

“That is the way,” said Mark, turning to his stairway.


Before trundling everything home, I had taken a pencil tracing on the bulkhead, this of the deck line and the inside edge of the two splashboard shoulders. I wanted to cover the bulkhead exterior in more than one layer of glass, but couldn’t afford to thicken the ply too much inside the splashboard groove or below the deck as it would throw things off at the coach roof beam. In this photo the bulkhead is laid out, and you can see the line made again with a felt pen.

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I intended to cover the bulkhead in one layer of 18oz roving and one layer of 1.5 oz mat. The roving would cover the entire exterior, the mat just those sections above the tracing. Here the roving is being cut. Note the very large scissors, bought at a fabric store just for this job. On previous jobs I’ve had no end of problems cutting heavy glass, but these functioned perfectly.

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To cover the cut separating the two pieces of bulkhead and to help lock it in place, I created a small rectangle of glass to be set aside and added after the bulkhead is glued-up. The rectangle is entirely above the deck line and extends six inches each side of the cut. I’ve taped the outer edges of the rectangle so as to help the roving retain its shape, but I wouldn’t be surprised if removing the tape at some future date destroys it. It can easily be remade.

If the rectangle looks lopsided, remember that the cockpit deck slopes upward at its ends.

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Next came laying out the 1.5 oz mat. With the roving cut and set aside, it was easy enough to pick up the black felt pen tracing on the bulkhead and trace that onto the mat. I also traced and cut a line 7/16” in from the companion way hatch (not visible here). Given the way I’d separated the old bulkhead from the companionway hatch, some of the internal grooving on the frame had been lost. Thus, building up the bulkhead with the roving was admissible, but not roving and mat.

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I did one side at a time and because I was only using two layers of glass, I went very heavy on the resin.

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Here is a detail shot of the bulkhead below the companion way hatch and with both layers of glass on. Unlike roving, mat holds its shape well during both the cutting and epoxy phases, and so is the proper glass if “precise” lay-out is necessary. Note the groove left for the companion way hatch frames and the empty space left aside for later.

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And on the interior of the bulkhead?

I had intended to leave off replacing the slats as they were nothing more than decorative paneling. But I thought better of it … or at least I thought differently. Here’s how the slat game went.

I only had enough clamps to do six slats at a time (thank god this is weeknight work).

So, I first coated the back of the slat with clear epoxy.

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Then, with the companionway hatch frames in place as a guide, I applied WAY TOO MUCH resin mixed with colloidal silica to this six-slat area.

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After removing the excess, I clamped each slat lightly with a very straight 2 x 4 wrapped in wax paper. About an hour later, I unclamped each slat, wiped away excess epoxy that had filled the grooves, and re-clamped.

Learning from projects past, I also wrapped the necessary areas of the work bench in wax paper, this so my precious bulkhead could refuse an invitation to permanently bond with the pine tabletop.

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Next night. Six slats in place; six more being positioned.

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Some of the outer slats were destroyed during demolition; specifically, those inside the splashboard shoulder and below the cabin-side-bulkhead joining piece. These I fashioned out of 1/4” thick red oak as mahogany in anything approaching the right size I could not find at any lumber yard open on a weekend. But even the ¼” oak was too thick and had to be planed down using a loose slat as a guide.

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The final gluing of the run of slats across the bottom of the bulkhead, and then two detail shots showing the exterior red oak slats clamped in place.

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Hindsight is 20 / 20. If I had this to do over again, two things come to mind. One, I’d have held out for mahogany. I’m on a schedule and lost a week due to family issues, but I should have figured a way to find the right wood. Luckily most of the oak is inside the joints. Second, I should have let the new slats run straight. For reasons that baffle me, the original slats describe the curve of the inside of the cabin-side-to-bulkhead joining piece. This has no functional value that I can think of and should have been avoided in the new construction. My mistakes here, if such they are, will matter not at all when strength is considered, and that is my major concern.



Back at the boat and after a good gam with Mark, the fitting begins.

Especially with the addition of the 18oz roving, some planing of the outboard ends of the bulkhead is required.

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And then before installation time was needed for fashioning the spacers—one on the starboard side and two on the port (pictured here). Again, it’s tough to imagine why the slats were irregularly truncated for these three slats, only. There’s no evidence that these were added later.

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And finally, a shot of the bulkhead fitted, just so.

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