For some time I had planned to repair and modify Britannia’s companionway. The hatch housing leaked, allowing rainwater to seep into the plywood sliding hatch top, that had also started to delaminate. My wife and I were also heartily fed-up with the two heavy washboards used to close the companionway. When they were in place they completely blocked all light through the entrance and they were very heavy and cumbersome. Mife could hardly lift them in and out, and when they were out there was nowhere to store them in the cockpit. I had an idea how to improve the actual companionway access, and also be rid of the horrible washboards.

                                                                                                             REFURBISHING THE HATCH

This shows the rot in the underside of the hatch.The hatch is completely dismantled and varnished, prior to reassembly. The large sliding hatch had been built as yet another, “permanent” structure and it could not be taken out without one side of the guides first being removed. It came as no surprise to me to find the guides weren't just fastened with self tapping screws, like 90% of the rest of the boat, but bolted through the glassfibre deck with 1/4” inch bolts, and the nuts further encapsulated in the fiberglass underside. The guides disappeared all the way into the hatch housing so I could only reach three of the fasteners. I then had to remove part of my new saloon ceiling panels and chisel the resin off round the nuts before I could hold them with vice grips to unbolt them. Having unscrewed the bolts I then had to cut the guide in half with my oscillating saw to be able to remove it and enable me to finally lift the hatch completely out. Who was it who said “When working on boats, one job leads to another,” Oh yes! It was me!

I lugged the deceptively heavy hatch to my garage workshop where I dismantled it by drilling out all the wooden plugs and withdrawing the long stainless self-tapper screws holding the four sides to the top. The top was made of ” inch marine plywood with another 1/4” inch sheet glued on top. This top had rotted and was beyond repair, but the ” inch base was still good, except for some delaminating of the edges. I wanted to re-use it because I didn't think I could curve a new sheet the same shape. Using screwdrivers as levers I pried the damaged laminations open, one edge at a time, then squirted wood glue into the seams. I then clamped the panel in my woodworking bench vice and left it overnight. I wondered what to replace the rotten wooden top with?

Having dismantled the hatch, I made short work of the flaking varnish with my belt sander on the solid teak sides and stringers. I also needed to sand and varnish the companionway surround, that was now much easier to get to with the hatch removed.

I then took all the hatch parts back to the boat because I wanted to see if it was possible to make the hatch slide further into the housing, to give more headroom down the companionway ladder. By trial assembly I found I could cut 2” inches off the back of the frame and it would slide that much further into the housing and make it easier when going up and down the steps. The frame was then carted back to my workshop for modification, re-assembly and final finishing.

I bought a sheet of glassfibre paneling, made by Crane Composites inc. ( from my local hardware store. It is only a little over 1/16” inch thick, but very strong and completely waterproof and mold proof. One side is dimpled and the other smooth, so I used the smooth side uppermost to match the rest of the deck on either side of the hatch. This would waterproof the top and be as strong as the original plywood. I glued the glassfibre sheet to the plywood using Loctite Power Grab adhesive, a type of waterproof glue suitable for glassfibre and wood. After the glue had set I trimmed the new top flush with the edges of the frame.

This is the top of the hatch being glued to the curved frame.The underside of the hatch was a teak veneered face, so I carefully sanded this before reassembling the hatch.

I assembled the hatch with waterproof woodworking glue and fastened it using the same stainless screws that came out. The original hatch had been built dry, without glue that I think allowed water to eventually seep into the end grain of the plywood. With its glassfibre top and glued sides, that won't happen a second time. There followed quite a bit of finishing off by hand, sanding the side trim flush with the new top and gluing twenty eight teak plugs into the screw holes, then sanding them flush. As an added touch I ran a molded edge along both sides of the top using my hand router.

After masking the top panel I applied a coat of Cetol Natural Teak to the sides. Then I turned the hatch over and rolled Cetol on the teak underside. I then applied three coats of Cetol gloss all over, rubbing down between coats with 250 grit. This produced a beautiful glossy finish that further enhanced the appearance in the saloon when the hatch was closed.

The finished hatch sat in my workshop for a week, while the varnish hardened and I cleaned out the housing. I then sanded and varnished the remainder of the fixed teak surrounds. When everything was thoroughly dry I simply lifted the hatch back into the left side guide and refitted the right guide, but this time I used 1/4” inch stainless self tapping screws to fasten it to the deck, bedding it with 3M 5200 adhesive caulk. This will be more than adequate since the guides carry no load and just guide the sliding hatch. I filled the screw holes with 1/2” inch teak plugs and the hatch was finished.
                                                                                                                            NEW DOORS.

This shows the original washboards in place.The two heavy 3/4” inch thick solid teak washboards stacked one on top of the other, into slots each side of the companionway.

Washboards are part of a tradition that hypothesizes if a giant wave floods the cockpit the boards would stop water entering the saloon. That of course presupposes they would actually be in place. I consider permanently closing off the companionway in this way to be quite dangerous because it prevents quick access both in and out. Also, the prospect of a total cockpit flooding is rare, although not unknown, but then why have a vent in the washboards? 

Doors can now be half opened as required.When in port or at anchor - that was most of the time - if we wanted to “shut the doors,” for the night it was a struggle even for me, standing on the companionway steps to lift the boards high enough to slide them in and out of the slots. Nor could my wife lift them out in the morning, and if I wanted to lie in bed, it was not conducive to harmonious living. They had to go!

A view from inside, showing the lock on the doors.I first planned a smooth flat edge on both boards and clamped and glued them together, Then, after the glue had thoroughly set I sliced them right down the middle with my  bench saw. I then glued and screwed an overlap piece on the inside, and an opposite piece on the outside of the other door. To complete the ensemble I bought two oval glass panels of lighthouses from, and recessed them into each door, adding a touch of elegance when daylight filters through.

Quite a bit of trimming was needed, but eventually my new doors were hung on piano hinges either side of the companionway. One side locks with a sliding bolt into the bottom sill, and the other with a heavy dead-bolt into the solid beam of the sliding hatch. We can now easily close one door, or both as we wish.

I left the two washboard slots in place so that boards could still slide into place in front of the doors, if any future owner wanted to fit them while in 40’ foot breaking waves in the southern ocean...

In addition to now having a waterproof companionway hatch, the refurbished entranceway and doors present a very classy appearance for our new “front doors.”


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New front doors we made from the original washboards.