Welcome to the inaugural edition of BoatBITZ, a new column to The National devoted to maintaining and repairing your boat. Look for new tips and articles every month designed to help you prolong the life of your boat and keep it in Bristol condition for years to come.
If you’re like me, the winter months are a seemingly endless stream of grey days spent counting down to launch day; punctuated occasionally by brief bursts of excitement when the next edition of Sailing World comes in the mail; followed by bouts of extreme sadness gazing out upon the boats wrapped up on a snow covered hard when you come the Club to burn your monthly minimum at the bar. Throughout those gloomy days we’re always thinking about the next great whammy or ding-dong we plan to add to the boat for the coming season to make sailing easier, or to make it go faster; or simply so we can say that we have the only boat with the special thingy that goes “DING!!!”.
Let us say for example that you’ve decided to replace those old bar cleats or jam cleats you use to tie off your halyards at the mast with something a little more user-friendly for single handing by running them back to the cockpit. After beetling off to your local chandlery and lightening your wallet by several hundred dollars for rope clutches and deck organizers, you skulk home with your booty and hide it in the garage, safe from your disapproving spouse until it’s time to head to the boat and install them.
Remove Old Hardware
Your first step will be to remove the old hardware. Both this and the mounting of new hardware are best done while “on the hard” due to the inherent tendency of tools to drown themselves at dockside. Since it will likely be through-bolted into the deck, this is a two-person job removing it. If you have an agreeable spouse who shares your passion for the sport, this is an ideal bonding experience for the two of you. If however, yours is the spouse you need to hide your boat purchases from, never fear – there’s always a willing hand floating around the club willing to turn a wrench for a can of beer.
Fill Those Holes!
Since it’s unlikely that your new hardware will fit in the same spot as the old junk you’ve just removed, you’ll need to fill these holes. In fact, even if it does cover the holes, they’ll still need to be filled. Place tape on the underside of the deck to cover the holes; then mix up a small batch of 2-part epoxy (West System Epoxy is probably the easiest to use) and inject it into the holes slowly using a large syringe (the kind you use to administer medicine to toddlers). Be sure to poke into the epoxy with a toothpick to pop any air bubbles that may have formed. Don’t overfill the holes since hardened epoxy a) isn’t the same colour as your deck, and b) is hard to sand off without butchering the surrounding gelcoat! Surface pressure will cause the wet epoxy to “cup” inside the holes, but resist temptation to fill it to the edge of the hole; instead this last 1/16” will be filled with gelcoat.
Wait 24 hours to be sure your epoxy has cured (it needs to be at least 10°C constant temperature to allow it to cure – any lower and you risk it just becoming bubblegum). Once cured, fill the remaining void with gelcoat using the same syringe method. Gelcoat dries hard within an hour or so, allowing you to sand it smooth quickly using wet/dry sandpaper (start with 400 grit working progressively up to 1200 grit; lubricating with water will produce a shiny result).
Preparing to Install New Hardware
Now that the old holes are filled it’s time to mount the new hardware. Before you go drilling holes in your deck to mount your newfound treasures, there are some basic steps you need to follow, the first of which is laying out where you’re going to position the hardware on the deck; in this case, the coach roof. Run your halyard through the organizer and cleat so you get a sense of how they will run when affixed to the deck; does it work for you? Will your rope clutches be easily accessible? Will the lines run smoothly without binding or chafing?
Wait, now – it’s not time to drill quite yet. Regardless of the age of your boat, you should check for core delamination in the deck areas where you plan to install your new goodies. A non-penetrating moisture meter is the best tool to determine if your deck is wet inside, but most of us aren’t boat surveyors and don’t have one of these handy $400 gadgets in our toolboxes. My tool cost me $6 at Canadian Tire; it’s a small mallet with hard plastic ends on the mallet face. Using this wonder tool tap (don’t bash) rapidly on the deck where you want to install the hardware. You’re listening for a solid sounding “TACK, TACK, TACK” sound. Hearing a dull thud like “DUM, DUM, DUM” is a bad thing – your deck is wet and needs to be re-cored in that area. Failure to fix this fault before installing your new hardware makes you “dumb, dumb, dumb”.
Now it’s time to drill. Whoa! Not so fast, Stinger. There’s a system to drilling that will eliminate you saying numerous 4-letter words that only sailors use. Position your hardware where you want it, then using an awl and the mallet wonder tool, mark where the first hole will be drilled. The awl will make a small divot in the gelcoat that will prevent your drill bit from “walking”. Drill the hole using a bit the same diameter as those stainless steel bolts you overpaid for at the boat store. Drill the first hole and then put a bolt in it just to hold the hardware in place while you drill the next hole (you should now be able to drill through the mounting hole in the hardware for the next hole). Dry fit the next bolt which will allow you then to drill the remaining holes, all of which are now perfectly aligned.
Fill It and Re-Drill It
Remove the bolts and hardware and using a drill bit 2-3 sizes larger than the diameter of your bolts, enlarge the holes you’ve just drilled. As before, tape the back of the holes and fill with epoxy (no need to worry about gelcoat). Once the epoxy has cured, take your awl and make a divot in the centre of one of the filled holes and drill it again with a bit the diameter of the bolts. Go through the same drilling process as before and you’re now left with the same perfectly aligned holes as when you started this process. The difference, of course is now you have holes that are “plastic” lined all the way through; had you not over-drilled and epoxied, you leave the balsa core exposed to potential moisture that eventually lead to the “DUM, DUM, DUM” deck.
Finally, before permanently mounting the hardware, use a countersink bit to chamfer the edges of the hole. This chamfer will allow the sealant to be drawn down into the hole and seal around the bolt when it is tightened; if you don’t countersink, the sealant will be pushed out the sides and won’t give you a 100% seal.
You’re ready now for permanent installation of the new hardware. There are lots of sealants that you can use, but be careful to use the right one. 3M 4200 / 5200 sealant can be used and actually cleans up with lacquer thinner; silicone isn’t recommended because any lateral movement can cause the seal to break. You can even use exterior grade MONO caulking from the hardware store – this cleans up easily with water and never fully cures, so you are guaranteed a continuous 100% seal.
Don’t use too much sealant – remember it’s going to ooze out the sides when it compresses onto the deck, so the less cleanup the better. Make sure you caulk around the holes as well so the sealant can be drawn into the countersunk areas and seal the bolts.
Admire your handiwork while drinking beer.