For some time I had planned to repair and modify Britannia’s “front door.” The hatch housing leaked, allowing rainwater to seep into the plywood sliding hatch top, which had started delaminating. We 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.
I had to first seal the hatch housing, then repair the hatch. I also had an idea how to improve the actual companionway access, and be rid of the horrible washboards.
REFURBISHING THE HATCH
Sealing the cracks in the large teak housing was easy enough. I sanded off all the old varnish, filled the cracks, then rolled on four coats of Cetol Natural Teak varnish, from Interlux paints. This is not just varnish, it is more like brown paint and brings out the deep color of teak, as well as producing a high gloss finish with added UV protection. More importantly, by not sanding between coats results in a very good non-slip surface on the hatch cover, on which I would frequently stand when working the mast. (www.jamestowndistributors.com).
The large sliding hatch had been built as yet another, “permanent” structure, in that it could not be taken out without one side of the slider guides first being removed. It came as no surprise 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 unbolt 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 “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 1/2” inch marine plywood with another 1/4” sheet glued on. This top had rotted and was beyond repair, but the 1/2” base was still good, except for some delaminations of the edges. I wanted to reuse 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 then took all the 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 in the companionway. I also needed to sand and varnish the companionway surround, which was now much easier to get to with the hatch removed.
By trial assembly I found I could cut 2” inches off the back of the hatch so it would slide that much further into the housing,giving more headroom when descending or ascending the ladder. The hatch 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. (www.cranecomposites.com) from my local harewear 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 panel.
Luckily, the underside of the 1/2” inch panel 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 assembly appeared to have not been glued, which 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, and sanding them flush. As an added touch I ran a moulded 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 which 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, just acting as guides for the sliding hatch. I filled the screw holes with 1/2” teak plugs and the hatch was finished.
Originally the companionway had two large solid teak washboards which stacked one on top of the other, in slots in the companionway. They were very heavy and cumbersome and my wife could hardly lift them in and out, and there was nowhere to store them in the cockpit.
Washboards are part of a “traditional” concept 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, since they completely prevent access to and from the cockpit. For a short handed crew I consider permanently closing off the companionway in this way to be actually dangerous, because it effectively prevents quick access, both in and out. Also, the prospect of a total cockpit flooding is rare, especially on a center cockpit boat like Britannia, with its high free-board and coamings.
When in port or at anchor, (which was most of the time), if we wanted to “shut the doors,” it was a struggle even for me to lift the boards high enough to slide them in and out of the holders. It was certainly not conducive to harmonious living. They had to go.
I used the 3/4” inch solid teak from both boards to make two doors, which I hung on piano hinges either side of the companionway. One side locks with a sliding bolt into the bottom sill, (bridge) 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. To complete the ensemble I bought two oval glass panels of lighthouses from Amazon.com, and recessed them into each door, adding a touch of elegance when daylight filters through.
The doors had to open inwards due to the shape of the cockpit seats. So I left the two long teak slots in place, where the washboards slid into on either side of the entrance. Any future owner can still fit washboards if he likes, even in front of the doors.
In addition to now having a waterproof companionway hatch, the refurbished entranceway and doors present a very classy appearance to our new “front doors”