The right tool in the wrong hands…

“Oh, you mean the fellow with the belt sander,” came the reply on the other end of the phone.

A bad feeling crept up my spine. Belt sander? When you work in a boatyard, you often identify customers by certain traits, distinctions, or habits. The guy with the blue-eyed dog. The woman who always wears tie-dyed shirts. The dude with the long ponytail. But the fellow in question, the one with the belt sander, was at that time the owner of a boat I was coming to see. The boat I ultimately purchased. And the previously mentioned belt sander was, tragically, his preferred method of keeping the teak decks bright.

By the point my boat and I came together, the decks had been sanded, for the most part, clear down to the fasteners. In some cases, even the fasteners themselves had been sanded smooth. Which didn’t exactly aid in keeping the planks secure, or water out.

Not much holding this teak down, aside from the black goo, which was sticky in some places, dry and crumbly in others. Best we can determine, this was a result of the prior owner’s fondness for certain quick leak cures that ultimately could not cure the issues,  but temporarily hid the symptoms.

As a result, the decks suffered an abundance of leaks, seeping through the fiberglass beneath that teak, and into the coring.

The only saving grace was that the now saturated coring was also teak, sparing it from turning to a rotted mess. I knew this, and it was one of the reasons I was wanted this specific boat, despite the work I suspected she’d need. But it’s the work I couldn’t begin to imagine that bit me in the backside, to put it politely. Years of repeated freezing and thawing had taken their toll, delaminating a significant area of the bridge.  And the more things came apart, the more apparent the extent of the damage became. And the more we began to realize this wasn’t going to be a simple repair.

This was around the point my husband began grumbling under his breath about taking a saw to the boat, and I suspect he wasn’t referring to repairs. Either way, it was time to take some drastic steps. Pictured below is the first section of the ceiling/deck being cut away. Ultimately, two thirds of the bridge deck were removed.

Hmmm. Now, WHERE is that leak coming from?

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There was no turning back now.  We constructed a new core, consisting of three layers of 1/4″ marine ply, laminated over a mold to duplicate the original camber.

It was easier to work on ground level, so we did this in the garage, then trucked the whole thing, mold and all, to the boat, then had it forklifted to a support set to bridge height.

At this point, folks around the yard were speculating that we were building a new cockpit enclosure. Not quite. But the structure supported the new core and allowed us to ease it into the space between the outer sides of the bridge, secure it, then laminate new ‘ribs’ into place. The screws you see were used to temporarily secure each layer as the epoxy cured.

Then the whole the whole area was glassed over with glass cloth and yet more epoxy.

And then it was time to tackle things from above, in this case with three layers of biaxial fiberglass/mat cloth, laid up with epoxy resin.

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We’d saved the ‘skin’ of the rear contours of the bridge so we could more easily duplicate the original contours, and you can see that in the left side of the picture.

Next step, one more layer of biaxial, covering the entire bridge from end to end. Yes, it might fall along the range of overkill, but I can confidently tell you at this point the bridge is now rock solid, leak, (and possibly even bullet) proof. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.

As for those hole running along the sides of the bridge, I had cut access so I could pour in epoxy, filling the gap between the inner and outer walls of the bridge where it meets the deck — which was probably already completely sealed in previous steps, but then again, if you’re going to go with the overkill approach, you might as well go all out.  It was an interesting process involving a funnel and section of hose, but sorry, no pics. I saved the cutouts, which were glassed back in place and faired out.

Today’s task will be the first barrier coats, and then topside paint and non-skid. It’s been one hell of a long, itchy, sticky road to reach this point, and in the end we’ll have a deck that looks like any other normal deck, which, I suppose, is a good thing. And lest anyone think the deck is the only thing we’ve been working on — the engine room, steering, and countless other mechanicals have been getting a complete overhaul as well.

As spring rolls around, we’re drawing closer to actually being afloat once again. Throughout the Sandy-battered boatyards, there’s a sense of optimism as things gradually return to some level of normal. Some boats are gone forever, hauled away to salvage yards, while some new (and new-old) boat have taken their place. Other boats have been professionally repaired and you can’t even tell what they’d been through. Some owners bought their storm damaged boats, or someone else’s boat, back from the insurance companies, and they’re learning the fine art of DIY fiberglass repair. Yet other boats escaped unscathed, and their owners are happily prepping for launch…including one merry fellow I passed the other day, blissfully sanding away at the teak decks on his boat.

“Yeah, they leak a bit,” he explained, “but all decks do. And they look so nice after a fresh sanding.”

 

The destruction continues…

I’m counting the days until Annabel Lee emerges from the shed and returns to the realm of sunlight and tides. The quiet corner where she’s dwelled, once solitary and serene, has over the last few months become a somewhat hellish place of earsplitting noise as compressors, grinders and sanders all tear into hurricane damaged hulls, and a constant layer of gritty white dust that coats everything and everyone. These days, I can’t even hear the passing freight trains — I only know they’re rumbling past when the boat begins to shake.  But progress continues. The bridge is solid, smooth, and sealed up tight as a duck’s rear end. Likewise for the transmission, along with much of the other leaks in the engine room. The salon windows will receive some temporary attention until we can focus on them further. But as our days with the boat indoors, under a roof and out of the weather count down, there’s one last region of leaks I’d intended on eradicating, and though I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, it had to be done. The forward and side decks.

I’m sure thirty-five years ago these decks looked lovely and seemed like a good idea. True, they had their charm, but at present they weren’t far behind the bridge, and left unattended I knew only too well where their advancing leaks would lead. It was time to be ruthless.

It was painful, ripping the first planks up. But before long I was discovering how many fasteners were all but gone. These decks were on their last days, with or without my help. And in short time, I’d already cleared a large area.

Once all the teak is gone, I’ll strip off the bedding, drill and fill the holes, and this time around it should (theoretically) be a simple case of laying down some biaxial cloth with yet more epoxy, and finishing it off with some non-skid.  After the structural issues entailed in reconstructing the bridge, this should be a whole lot simpler, easier, and faster. At least, that’s my hope, but whatever the case, it needed to be done. I’m just looking forward to the days when I’ll have more time to focus on my writing, aboard a tranquilly floating, dust-free and relatively leak-free boat.

Looking a bit more ship-shape…

I know. Technically, she doesn’t look much different than she has for far too long,  at least from this angle.  But inside is a different story altogether as things all come together.

WE HAVE RIBS!

And here’s where the new overhead joins with the original section.

Two layers of double-width ‘ribs’ are laminated over an original rib and a new single rib to give maximum strength. The screws in the photos are temporary clamps; we’ll remove them and fill the holes with thickened epoxy, and the bolts hanging down are attached to 2×4″ ‘guides’ on the bridge to keep everything aligned as the epoxy set. Next: hardware out and layers of glass cloth go up, then it’s topsides to glass from above.

And finally, the aftermath of the weekend. This is our cockpit work area by day’s end. I usually just let everything in the Mix-n-Measure pots harden, then pop the set epoxy out, resulting in a clean, reusable container and a levitating chip brush.

At last…

Last week was a rough one that blindsided me, and home feels a lot emptier for it, but I’ve been dealing by lavishing attention onto the other four-footed residents and by keeping busy.  And keeping busy at this time of year means boat work, in this case in the form of the salon ceiling/bridge deck, which is at long last securely in place.

When last I left off, we’d been prepping out the areas where the edges would join. This included the forward edge of the remaining deck, the salon bulkheads and underside of the bridge.

Think of it like a layer cake – one where the upper and lower layers are fixed in place, and the inner layer (the new laminate core) would be *very* carefully slide in between. Only this layer measures approximately 8’ x 8’, weighs I can only imagine how much, has a camber to match the original curves and exact dimensions of the opening with only millimeters to spare and would be eased in by two people, (one of which is only 5’2”.) Add into this equation that every edge, inner and outer, upper  and lower, needed to be prepped in epoxy, and upon alignment, lagged into place before that epoxy set.  In other words, there was zero margin for error.

Below: The space we need to slip the core through. (Small scrap piece of correct thickness in place to test clearance.)

Below:  The Gazebo with the core on top — this made things much easier.

The key to pulling this off was tons of preparation and planning, repeated ‘dry-fit’ test runs, and everything coming together just right. We had everything in place. Resins, mixing pots and spreaders, fiberglass, brushes, hardware, tools, clamps, stands to support the wood, braces for alignment, etc. With the frame we’d used to originally laminate the wood set up on legs and looking like a gazebo in the cockpit, it supported the core at the right height and allowed us to slide it smoothly into the cabin.

Below: the view from the cockpit. This extends slightly further than the original bridge, which will provide more space above and more protection to the cockpit door below.

Once inside, we angled it down, braced it, wet out all areas that would meet with West System epoxy. We eased strips of pre-cut chop strand mat up from beneath where they would extend down, and smoothed the upper halves of these strips onto the top edges of the core.

Next,  we quickly spread West, thickened to a peanut butter consistency with 406 filler, along the salon bulkheads and bridge underside. At this point I wasn’t taking pictures, as we were racing to cover large areas and get everything in place before the epoxy began to cure. That, and were I to pick up my camera it would likely still be covered in resin. Once everything was wetted out the core was raised into final position and screws went in to set it into position, joining it to the leading edge with clamps, the bridge, and temporary 2’x4’s shimmed and angled to match the final alignment.

And there you have it. Next round, screws out and we’ll be laminating ribs in. After that, we’ll re-glass the underside, then go above, fill all the screw holes with epoxy, and glass the bridge deck.

Bonding with the boat…

Technically, not just with, but actually bonding the boat.  When she was first constructed, the bridge was set down after the salon was completed. Seems logical and makes sense.  However, once we’d removed the saturated salon overhead/bridge deck coring, all that held those regions together was a small bit of filler, much of which had separated.  Needless to say, once water found its way in, it was easy to see why this was yet another source of leaks over the years.

Both areas are quite solid and strong, but there is little holding them together. Here’s a closer look at particularly bad spot.

 

Being that this particular joint is the same location where the new core will rejoin the cabin, some reinforcement were in order. We prepped the area, and yesterday I first wet it out with some West System, then filled and faired all gaps and voids. I’d cut strips of fiberglass mat and laid them over these areas, creating a smooth bond between the salon and bridge.  Today, a bit of wet-sanding before the epoxy fully cures, and I’m going to mold in a small ledge in either forward corner to give the new core that much more to bond against when it goes in.

This small but critical step may not look like much, in fact once the glass was wetted out it’s almost impossible to see, but this represents a key turning point. This round of destruction has rounded the bend. Things are now going back together. This coming weekend, with some willing volunteers on hand to assist, the cabin should once again be solid and bonded on all corners. It will take a few more weeks before everything is structurally reinforced and glassed into place, but we’re getting there.

And once that’s done, THEN we can focus on removing and resealing the salon windows as well as (first) replacing all the damaged wood covering the salon interior bulkheads. Fortunately that is a 1/8″ laminate, so that shouldn’t hit the budget too hard, and with that done, she’ll start to look the way she should… on the inside, at least!

The weather’s looking great for the weekend, so the plans are to pack a cooler with some nice steaks, and once the main work is done we’ll be firing up one of the grills the boatyard has by the river’s edge. It’ll definitely be a celebration, and one thing that makes boat work that much nicer is a bit of fine dining. Hmmm. Maybe I should pack a laundry bag… but I wouldn’t want to scare anyone.

Life in the shed continues…

It’s a reasonable expectation that if you own a boat, that’s the place you’d spend the 4th of July.  Of course it’s reasonable to imagine that the boat in question is floating tranquilly on sparkling summer waters, not high up on blocks in the far shed. But I did spend this holiday weekend aboard, with the bridge uncovered I could look out the doors and see the river, and the roof overhead provided some relief from the blistering sun so it wasn’t all bad. Still, how is it that when ever Frank and I find ourselves armed with power tools to cut and grind away old fiberglass the temperature tops 90? More accurately, it bordered 100 as we worked to remove areas of delaminated FRP from the cabin-top.

For those who have never experienced this task, fiberglass work involves wearing goggles, a dust mask and protective clothing of some sort to cover all bare skin, or else suffer the consequences as thousands of pollen-sized glass shards finding their way into every pore of exposed skin. Sweat or itch, that’s your options.  I know some hardier souls are less sensitive the fiberglass dust; I’ve seen them working oblivious to the irritating glitter, but I’ll admit it: I’m not that tough. Needless to say, our weekend would have been far more bearable had the temperature been less excessive.

So, what destruction are we up to this time? We’re onto the next phase of the leaking cabin top/bridge deck. Phase one was removing all the teak from above, revealing the fiberglass and its approximately 900 or so holes from where the teak had been fastened. For the most part, the majority of these holes had not penetrated that fiberglass to the core beneath, though a few, mostly ones changed by previous owners, had.  Unfortunately, a few is all it takes for water to find its way into the coring and that’s where the headaches begin.  That water will remain, saturating the core, and between compression and expansion from freezing over the winter it will eventually cause the fiberglass to de-laminate from the core, compromising the deck’s strength.  This process occurs silent and unseen until ultimately some small drip finds its way through the headliner and into the cabin, and at that point the damage is done. Worse yet, on so many boats by this point the wood coring, normally constructed of balsa or plywood, has begun to rot. All in all, not a pretty picture and certainly not a simple repair.

On a boat of Annabel Lee’s age, the odds are high that there is wet core to be found. It would be more surprising if all was dry. Fortunately, our little boat has a certain unusual, exceptionally rare feature.  ALL her coring, in fact all wood used in her construction, be it structural, joinery or cosmetic, is TEAK.  Aside from the engine and the concrete in the ballast, if it’s not fiberglass, it’s teak. Teak has many wonderful qualities, most important in this case being its resistance to rot.  And as we’ve cut away the delaminated fiberglass, the teak we’ve found is indeed wet, but as solid as the day the boat was built.

The photo below shows sections of glass we’d removed, exposing the core teak planks. We’d start by cutting a small square, just big enough to wedge a prybar in, then work out from there.  The dark are is wetter wood that’s freshly exposed. With the  day’s heat the surface was dry within minutes.

 

The fiberglass itself, despite being delaminate, put up one hell of a fight. Once the damp wood is all exposed and allowed to dry over the coming weeks, then we’ll begin the process of re-glassing it back together.

There’s still more to go, but this is the majority of it. Heat exhaustion was taking its toll and we quit for the weekend, with hopes that next weekend is at least a little cooler.

Fiberglass and more fiberglass…

At last! The keel is solid once again, structurally reinforced in every direction and built back out to (almost) proper dimensions. I didn’t take many pictures in the sticky, messy, itchy process, not until we neared the end. And I’m not going into details now, I’m still too tired. It turned into a 12 hour marathon, and that after getting home at midnight the night before after stuffing the entire contents of one dorm room into one brown station wagon. Coherency is low at present. I need more caffeine.

Next step, sand the cure glass, fair it, Pettit Protect, and THEN we can start putting working parts like the shaft, prop and rudder back in place.

The bridge deck… It begins.

There are certain things that go hand in hand with owning a 32 year old boat. A certain sense of adventure, I suppose. Optimism is helpful as well. Determination.Perseverance.I’m sure anyone with an old boat has their share of stories, and please, I’d love to hear them. Pictures are an added bonus. If you’ve been there and done that, I and all those lurkers (yes, I know you’re out there!) who visit my niche on the web would appreciate knowing how you took on your specific projects. What obstacles did you encounter, how did you overcome them, what lessons did you learn? In sharing war stories, perhaps in the end we can save the next soul some misery. Which is why I’ve chosen to document the various endeavors we undertake aboard Annabel Lee.

And so another phase of work begins. Yet again our old Sable Wagon (AKA the Mars Rover) is earning its keep, this time bringing home sections of the bridge decking. But why is the decking being removed from the boat,you ask. (For bigger, higher resolution, and therefore scarier pictures, click here.)

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First, let’s roll the clock back  to last summer. There’s our bridge. Look closely, see all the missing plugs over screws fastening it down. From what I’d been told, the former owner was very fond of his power sander. Evidence is all over the boat, where teak has been sanded clear down to the fasteners in many places. What had once been 1/2″ thick is now down to 1/4″ or less.

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The sad fact is the decks look dismal from above,  and from below… well… here’s a few thousand words in photo form.

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Leaks, leaks, and more leaks. Of course, this was aggravated by one or more run-ins of deck bedding versus hydraulic steering fluid.  We’re only too aware that the upper helm had more than once leaked, and in lowest spots of the bridge, (made even lower by years of zealous oversanding) the fluid ate through the bedding, through the bedding around the screws, and eventually, well,  see above and below.

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Also, notice what resembles a hole concealed beneath the headliner. That’s just what it is. A nice big hole, where the cables run up to the radar mast. You can see the mast in the photo from last summer. The bedding around that mast had long since failed, and the hole and the leaks it created are one of the reasons we’ll be replacing that mast. We plan to set up a mast with a steadying sail, and the radar will be set on that mast, with all cables route properly as not to lead water into the cabin. But that’s another project.

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Some plugs have managed to stay, but some with the aid of a pick they can be persuaded out. The bronze screws beneath, on the other hand…

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…are another story. Some come agreeably. Some snap at the head. Some strip out. They’re almost like machine screws, not very long, and blunt-tipped, and they go only so deep into the very very thick fiberglass beneath. But here and there, some have been replaced with much longer stainless wood screws, and these go further, down into the teak coring beneath the glass. There is, in places, some delamination, but far as we can tell it seems very slight. I’m sure given more time it would have progressed.

000deck4And so here’s where we stand. The planks are coming up in reasonable order. The fiberglass subdecking will need to be cleaned, any delamination addressed, all screw holes (hundreds) drilled out and epoxied closed. And then, well, that’s to be determined. PlanA. My hope is we can salvage the original decking, I’ve seen it done, by epoxying it down to sheets of marine plywood, and refastening that to the subdecking. That’s how they do teak decking these days on new builds. No screws. Of course we’ll have to re-plug all the screw-holes in the teak, so in the end it would look identical to the original decking. It depends on how easily I can clean down the old bedding to prep the wood for epoxy.  Plan B. Frank’s looking into salvaged teak, which would be cut to size and epoxied down in the same manor as Plan A. Plan C. New teak. Less labor than A or B, more $$$s. Plan D. Flexi-teak or some simular product, but again, more $$$s.

One final note as we forge ahead. This is just the bridge. Eventually the cockpit, forward and side decks will all require the same attention.