The Upside to Relentless Seattle Rains
Updated: Mar 13, 2020
I am a reasonably optimistic person, and I rarely get angry or lose my cool. So, I have come to terms with the fact that all sailors must accept; water will always find a way inside your boat. And with the days upon days of rain here in Seattle, we learn to live a soggy existence where green mold is of greater concern than UV light from the sun.
This past summer I rebuilt my hard dodger. (That will be another blog post in the future.) I have not yet bedded the windows in the dodger so rain water found its way onto the companionway hatch. From there the water flowed down the rail the Lexan hatch slides on, onto a 'tray' hidden by the cabin's headliner that is supposed to funnel the water back out through a (blocked) channel. With the channel blocked with some sort of sealant, the water found a crack between the tray and the slide, flowed across the headliner, and eventually produced a dreaded drip, drip, drip over the navigation table. (I suppose I should feel lucky the leak was not over my berth.)
Now, had I completed my dodger on schedule I likely would not have found this particular leak until 3 days after making the left turn out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. I've always had a dodger that virtually blocked rain water from the companionway hatch. But, I shouldn't count on the dodger to keep me dry below, so I had to find and fix this leak.
Thinking through the process to find and fix the leak seemed simple enough since I had a good suspicion of the origin of the dribble. Being reasonably logical and methodical in my approach to a problem I envisioned the following:
1. Carefully drill out the teak plugs hiding the screws holding up the teak trim with a Forstner bit, or a Brad-point bit.
2. Remove screws and teak trim molding near the leak.
3. Remove any overhead lighting.
4. Remove the staples holding up the headliner.
5. Find and fix the leak.
6. Put everything back together in reverse order.
Pretty straight forward...right? Now, I ask you to pause a moment and think about how long this task might take the average reasonably competent sailor who is good with basic repairs.
Now, triple that amount of time and you might be close to the actually time it will require, double the costs, and quadruple the effort to actually complete these 6 simple steps. So, let me explain what actually took place, and the joys of maintaining an older sailboat.
The first 2 steps are pretty simple, but in reality plan on removing 50% more trim molding than first anticipated. Also Step 3 is brain-dead simple. I installed all LED lighting in my boat with quick disconnect connectors for easy replacement. (Smart move on my part if I say so myself.) Now come the staples. They are removed with a special tool. There are exactly 1 billion and 3 staples that will need to be removed without tearing the headliner. It is a chore that requires infinite patience, strength, a tube of Icy Hot cream, and about 1/3 of a bottle of scotch. Once the headliner is removed, the leak is obvious. The wet wood and the seeping water are surely unmistakable signs of something amiss.
But, getting to the tray just got a little more complicated. Before removing the tray that's supposed to prevent water from coming into the boat via the companionway hatch, the boards used to staple the headliner to prevent it from sagging need to be removed. These strips of plywood are held in place by 2 screws and 57 pounds of epoxy putty mix smeared between the boards, the tray, and the cabin top. As I pondered how to best complete the burdensome task that lay before me, I secretly wished to myself that the knucklehead who did this appallingly shoddy work would be dipped in boiling oil and set on fire. OK...sorry. Maybe fire is too extreme...maybe keel-hauling would be sufficient. Of course, before removing these boards and the tray more trim and more headliner must be removed to get full access. The next 4 hours are spent peeling away the plywood and using a hammer and chisel to chip away as much putty as possible. This part of the job requires even more patience, an ice pack for the hand that gets struck by the hammer (twice), a good vocabulary of swear words, and the remaining 2/3's of the bottle of scotch. The only thing left to do at the end of day 1 is to put a towel on the nav table, another on the floor (because it is still raining), and pass out in bed.
I wake up to the gentle tap, tap, tapping of raindrops on the deck. I smell the cool fresh air through the open port, and hear the cry of seagulls. It's soothing actually. Then I roll over to see the hell I'm about to walk into. Tools scattered about, bits of epoxy putty and pieces of torn plywood everywhere, a few droplets of blood speckle the floor, the headliner hangs from the ceiling like torn drapes, and 2 soaking wet towels. Reality sucks!
After 3 cups of black Vietnamese coffee and a bowl of oatmeal, I know I cannot procrastinate any longer. Today the tray must come down. So, I kick things out of my way removed the obvious screws, pound in a few chisels between the track the companionway hatch slides on and the tray itself and the tray is free of the hatch slides, but is not coming down. The geniuses in the boatyard used silicon sealant between the 2 untreated pieces of teak used as the hatch slides, and the 3/4 inch piece of plywood with 1 layer of mat fiberglass. I mean really...what kind of muttonhead puts silicone on untreated wood on a sailboat and expects that it will actually seal anything after 48 hours?
But, here is the really fun part. The tray attaches to a board in the companionway. Here the yard workers used some sort of sealant that makes 3M 5200 sealant look like silly putty. I am certain it is Marine-tex. This stuff is stronger than steel and bonds permanently....and I mean permanently! So, the next 4 hours is spent removing more trim, more headliner, more epoxy putty, and disassembling part of the companionway. This will require more patience, a greater vocabulary, and another 1/2 bottle of scotch. In the end, I discover the companionway board attached to the tray is unsalvageable. Why is it unsalvageable? Because it splintered into pieces when I tried to separate it from the tray and a 2x2 that was "permanently" glued to it with a hammer and chisel. Now, I will need to get a piece of teak 5/8 inches thick, 28 inches long, and 4 1/4 inches high. Cha-ching! And so, at the end of day 2, I crawl into bed exhausted and sore with only a few scratches on my arms and 3 bloody knuckles.
This morning I am not even trying to fool myself that it's going to be a good day. I try to be an optimist, but let's be honest...it's going to be a miserable damn day. As I drink my coffee I look around the cabin. It's a mess. I'm tired. I'm sore. And, I am not very happy. But, life goes on, and there is light at the end of this tunnel.
I am finally ready to make forward progress. I cut a piece of 1/4 inch MonoPan to make a new tray. (If you are a sailor and you do your own fiberglass work you should know MonoPan is magical.) Next, spread some plastic tarp on the cabin sole, and apply 2 layers 6 ounce fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin (with fast hardener) to the MonoPan. While that sets up, I drive to Home Builders Center along the ship canal to buy a piece of teak to repair the companionway opening (This unassuming little hardware store has the best selection of teak, mahogany, and other hardwoods in the Seattle area.) Then head back to Discovery with teak plank in hand, but wallet much thinner and lighter. Turn the MonoPan over and lay up 2 more layers of fiberglass cloth on the opposite side. After lunch I trim and shape the teak plank to fit the companionway entrance, and also seal the teak wood track the hatch slides on with an epoxy coating to prevent it from becoming soaked with water again.
Now, I'm feeling pretty good. Everything is starting to come together. I think I'll take a break, cook up a nice spaghetti dinner, read a bit, then sleep knowing tomorrow things will start going back together.
OK. The MonoPan panel for the tray is dry and ready to be fitted. I used 3M 5200 sealant to seal the tray to the slide rails and held in place with a few screws. (Yes, I know 5200 is permanent sealant. I want this to be a permanent fix.) I'll take a long lunch and read a bit while the sealant sets up and I check to make sure it is not leaking. After 6 hours I take some 4 inch fiberglass tape and seal the tray in place with fiberglass. Maybe a bit of overkill, but I did say I want this to be a permanent fix.
The really nice thing about this repair is that the new panel weighs about 1 pound. That's a hell of a light lighter than the 32 inch by 44 inch piece of 3/4" plywood. My boat is happier because she just shed about 15 pounds.
It's a good time to take a shower and wash the dirt and sweat off my body, I'm tired, and I stink. Thus far I've been doing this work alone, but my friend Matt is coming tomorrow to help. So, a shower would be a good thing. Tonight I will sleep well and dream of wrapping things up.
I wake up feeling pretty good. I make some coffee and eggs for breakfast. About an hour later Matt shows up. I warned him the boat was a mess. When he arrived he said, "when you said the boat was a mess, I couldn't imagine it was this bad." So, I warned him to be cautious, and together we worked to get the plywood strips for the headliner up. Next we stapled the headliner back in place, lights go up, and then the teak trim went up to hide the staples, and finally the teak plugs to cover the screws. Things sure went a lot faster today. Perhaps with Matt helping I felt a little more motivated, and there is no doubt Matt did his share of work to make things go much smoother, and a lot less cussing.
Matt and I wrapped up with dinner at Maggie Bluffs. I head back to the boat and sit down with a cup of tea feeling quite satisfied. I reflect on this project and think maybe I should have recut the plywood strips, or at least painted them with a primer. It's easy to second guess, or 'could'a, would'a, should'a' after the project is done. But, it done and time to move on to the next project. Tomorrow is cleaning day, and we should get a break from the relentless Seattle rains.