Dec 15

A can — no, a barrel — of worms

Tag: boat workjonny5waldman @ 4:12 am

It’s amazing how little time must pass before you can look back in hindsight and reflect on the way things used to be. Why, just 10 days ago Syzygy was in great shape, clean and spiffy, and getting spiffier every time we took on a project. Over Thanksgiving, Matt and Jon had fixed the engine coolant leak (the cause of our overheating problems), started rebuilding the Monitor wind vane, installed a fuel gauge on our electrical panel, and finished painting the wooden rub rails (which had begun to rot in places). Before that, I’d re-bedded old chimney flu, and finished installing a stainless steel dinghy cradle.

And just like that, a small repair job turned evolved into damage control and then evolved into crisis management, and now there’s a giant yellow patch on the port side of the deck, and no tracks with which to fly the jib…

Remember when I admitted that opening up 62 holes in the deck was a can of worms if there ever was one? Wasn’t that the truth. It was a friggin’ barrel of worms.

Here’s how the scene unfolded:

As I mentioned, after Liz and I spent a day removing the 43 of the 62 bolts fastening the jib car tracks to the deck, I removed the ceiling panels in the quarter berth, so that I could access the remaining 19 nuts. The nuts were hidden behind a thin panel of styorofoam – and upon removing those, I discovered two distinct piles of corrosion, as if mice had been depositing turds there for a couple of years. This was an omen.

I also discovered that the aluminum backing strip (the same size and shape as the track) was corroded through in 3 spots. Another omen.

Once I removed the bolts, and pulled off the port track, I examined the deck and realized the corrosion on the deck was worse than I had imagined. Another omen.

I did a little test: I gently tapped all over the deck with a hammer, listening to the tone of the thuds. What I heard — a hollow, deep, thud, like that of a drum — did not make me happy. The deck was definitely rotten. This was, officially, Very Bad News.

Lest my next move seem rash, I’ll point out that Jon and Matt agreed that such a move was the right thing to do. It needed to be done. By it, I mean an amputation. A rotten deck amputation.

Deck repair is not the prettiest surgery, nor the tools used for it the most precise. With the grinder and cutoff blade — the same trusty blade we used to dismantle our old metal water tanks — I dug in to the deck, cutting out a 4-by-1 foot rectangle (of only the upper layer of fiberglass). Cutting into the deck brought a strange combination of satisfaction and fear, of pleasure and pain. There is beyond doubt a masochistic element to cutting a giant hole in the deck of your boat. Of course, as Matt, Jon, and I like to joke, cutting holes in our boat is apparently what we do best.

Once the hole was cut though the upper layer of the deck, I peeled it back, and revealed…. a patch of rotten, soaked wood — dark, squishy stuff. More surgery was needed. I enlarged the hole one foot forward and back.. and examined the wood below — still rotten and wet. I grabbed the grinder yet again, and cut away a 10-by-1 foot rectangle — and finally got to dry wood. Phew! (The surgery was as tough on the surgeon as it was on the patient).

Once Liz and I pulled up all of the rotten wood, I examined the bottom layer of fiberglass. In 3 distinct areas (probably the spots that had leaked), the fiberglass was warped into a little cone around every hole — disfiguration that certainly compromised the strength of the deck. The track probably hadn’t been too far from ripping out. So I ground down the little volcano-shapes, and put two layers of thick fiberglass (25 oz. Knytex) over the areas. We also used syringes to squirt thin penetrating epoxy into the exposed wood, just to be safe. I didn’t want a rain shower or a heavy dew to ruin all of my work.

After that, I used a sanding disc on the grinder to bevel the edges of the 10-by-1 foot rectangle, so that I’d have some exposed clean fiberglass to stick the new fiberglass onto. This process involved 1) ear plugs, 2) a full face mask and 3) a huge amount of fine dust, which was a pain to sweep given the light wind.

Next up, Liz and I taped together 12 pages of the New Yorker, and used markers to trace the shape of the hole in the deck onto the paper. We cut out our paper stencil, then used it to trace the shape onto half-inch marine-grade plywood (leftover from the water tank project.) Fifteen minutes with the jigsaw took care of the cutting — and the wood fit perfectly. The stencil had been an improvisational stroke of genius.

The next morning, all amped up to fix the damn hole in the deck, I realized I didn’t have enough epoxy to do the job. I got a ride over to Svendsen’s with the Big Wise Mainer (see earlier posts) and spent $150. I should have seen that coming. When i got back, I mixed up a bucket of epoxy, and stirred in enough thickener to make it the consistency of peanut butter. I spread this peanut-butter epoxy all over the bottom layer of fiberglass, and stuck the wood to it. I mixed up more epoxy and filled in the gap around the edge of the wood, so that the wood wouldn’t budge, and so that there wasn’t any air space left in the middle of the deck.

And then I realized, yet again, that I didn’t have enough epoxy to do the rest of the job. I couldn’t believe it. I remembered when I’d bought my first can of epoxy, a year before, in Mexico — a measly 1 liter can, which seemed like it cost a fortune. Since then, we’d smartened up and started buying the one-gallon cans — a better value. Now, it seemed, we should have gone with the five-gallon buckets. Oh, the money we’ve spent on epoxy….

Liz stopped by again (eager to finish the job) the next day, and after putting on two layers of fiberglass, and painting it with the last little bit of epoxy I had left, we rode over to TAP plastics to resupply. Two hours, ten miles, and $200 later we returned, our heavy bags digging into our shoulders. By now it was dark, as yet again a boat project dragged on… and on… and on. We used the paper stencil to trace the shape of the hole onto the fiberglass, and cut out three pieces, (each slightly larger than the last) which fit perfectly. We put on one layer and made some food. We put on another layer and opened a bottle of wine. Finally, around 1 AM we put on the last (5th) layer of fiberglass, and finished the wine. I took a deep breath. The deck was a deck again.

I’m confident that the patch is bomber, but then again, it damn well better be, considering I spent a week on it. Of course, all I did was fix the giant-hole-in-the-deck problem. I have yet to a) get new tracks ($100 each from Garhauer) and backing strips (who knows?) and bolts and b) install them.

At least the deck isn’t rotting — or leaking — anymore. Gasp.

Leave a Reply