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From a Bare Hull:  The Cockpit (Page 6)

After I applied the high-build primer coats to the cockpit and sanding the new paint smooth, I continued with a few small projects in the cockpit.  First, I applied a final coat of filler to the cockpit sides, to fill the grain of the plywood that had not been filled by the high build primer.  It only needed a thin coat, which I sanded smooth the next day.

Next, I turned my attention to the hatch opening I had previously cut in the sole for access to the bilges and engine room beneath.  I needed to make these hatches essentially watertight, at least for normal amounts of rain water and spray that might be encountered.  My solution wouldn't hold up offshore, but then the boat is not designed for such work.

After considering several solutions, including some complex drain installation possibilities, I decided to stick with the simpler approach and built a slightly raised hatch overlapping an internal lip like a shoebox lid that would prevent water from entering the bilge space.  To create a flush cockpit sole in the end, I decided to also build a full grate system that would surround the new hatch at the same height, thereby providing the flush sole desired.

I began by milling a series of 3/8" x 3/4" wide mahogany strips, which I installed around the edges of the opening to serve as the lip.  I installed the pieces in a bead of 5200 and secured them with bronze screws.

Next, I began to modify the existing plain plywood hatches.  To raise the surface as needed to overlap the new lip, I installed a framework of 3/8" strips over the plywood using epoxy and bronze screws.  The new framing was designed to support a piece of 1/4" plywood above, which I cut to the size needed to overlap the lip as needed.  I secured the plywood to the framing with 5200 and screws. 

Then, I milled a final piece out of solid mahogany, which I installed around the edges.  The new piece provided the edge of the "shoebox" lid and hung down over the lip beneath, and also provided an edge for the plywood top.  To eventually cover the plywood, I planned to install solid wood strips for a pleasing appearance, but that would come later.  The total thickness of the new hatch, and the distance it stood proud of the cockpit sole, equaled 3/4", a standard size from which I would later make the cockpit grating.

To cover the plywood hatches, and bring the surface up even with the trim around the edges, I decided to install teak strips on the plywood, using epoxy and filling the seams with black polysulfide.  From some larger boards, I milled a number of 1/4" thick strips, about 1-1/2" wide--a width I determined after calculating the approximate seam width and the width of the plywood hatches.

With the strips dry, I laid out the planking, using two thicknesses of steel washers as spacers between each strip; this provided open seams of about 1/8" or a little more between the strips.  Working from each edge towards the center, I ended up ripping the final strip slightly narrower to fit properly in the final gap at the centerline.

Then, I used a notched trowel (1/16" notch) to apply a bet of thickened epoxy to the plywood, and set the strips into the epoxy, using the washers to space them and securing them temporarily with drywall screws.  I secured the screws along pre-drawn lines to keep the spacing consistent and the screws in even lines, for the holes resulting from the screw removal later would be plugged with teak plugs.

I repeated this process for each of the two hatches and set them aside to cure.  When the epoxy cured, I removed the screws and left the hatches for later steps for the moment.

Later, I trimmed the overhanging teak strips flush with the end, and cleaned out any epoxy squeezeout that might interfere between the strips.

To fill the seams between the strips and complete the traditional look of the hatches, I chose black polysulfide caulk (one part).  I applied the caulk into the seams with a caulking gun, a time-consuming, slow, and tedious process.  To complete the caulking in the two hatches at hand--a four-foot hatch and a 2-foot hatch--required about two hours behind the caulking gun. 

The process was simple:  fill the seams with an overabundance of caulk, and then use a plastic squeegee to press the caulk more deeply into the seams, hopefully eliminating air voids.  This made a mess of caulk all over the teak strips, of course, but later steps (sanding) would take care of that.  The polysulfide required several days to cure to a sandable extent, so I set the hatches aside for the moment.

Later, when the caulk was cured, I sanded the hatches with 36 grit on a DA sander to remove the excess polysulfide and smooth out any unevenness between the teak strips.  With the bulk stock removal completed, I continued sanding with 80 and 120, and finished with 120 grit on a vibrating finish sander.  The sanded hatches looked great; I was pleased.

The construction process had left 120 screw holes in the teak, which I now needed to fill with teak plugs.  I enlarged each screw hole using a 3/8" Forstner bit, and then glued in a teak plug with resorcinol, tapping each into place.  I left these to cure for a couple days.


Once the glue cured, I removed the excess bungs and sanded the surface of both panels smooth once more.  Then, I prepared for the final details:  lifting hardware and some trim on the smaller piece to cover the seam between the hatches when installed.


I ordered three flush bronze lifting rings from Spartan Marine, and now prepared to install them in the hatches.  After some layout to locate the rings--two on the large hatch, one on the small hatch--I traced the outline of the hardware on the teak and prepared to chisel out the material inside as needed.  I left some outlines in the corners for the screw locations, which would need to be chiseled less deeply.

After scoring the outline with a sharp utility knife, I carefully pared out the material with some chisels.  This took a long time, and required great care.  In the end, I discovered that the teak overlay was not thick enough to allow the whole depth of the lifting ring to fit, so this meant that I'd have to extend my cut into the plywood substructure beneath (the thin 1/4" top layer; see above to refresh your memory on the hatch construction).

For this, I turned to my Roto-Zip tool, and cut out the plywood inside the opening.  Now, with some additional chiseling at the corners, I could make the ring fit flushly, after a few test-fits. 

Armed with this new information, I attacked the remaining two ring locations with the Roto Zip.  After laying out the outlines as before, I simply cut out the center portion with the power tool, saving all the futile chiseling that I had done on the first opening, and then finished off the openings with the chisel on the corners and edges.

To install the rings, I first applied lots of black polysulfide caulk to the inside of the opening, and sealed off the void beneath the top layer of plywood.  I also applied plenty of the caulk beneath the new fitting itself, to essentially glue it to the bottom of the hatch inside.  With a small bead around the top of the mortise and around the screw holes, I installed each ring with four bronze screws, and cleaned up the excess caulk.

Finally, I milled a thin strip of teak, rounded the edges, and epoxied it to the after edge of the smaller hatch.  This trim would overlap the seam between the hatches and not only improve the looks, but would also help keep the seam from leaking.

The cockpit hatches were complete!


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