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 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.
From Lowe's hardware store I bought a sheet of glassfibre paneling, made by Crane Composites inc. (www.cranecomposites.com) . 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 the teak veneered face of the plywood, 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 it’s glassfibre top and glued sides, that won’t happen a second time.