Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Lewmar hatches for Oceanus

The new hatch in the head provides light, ventilation and 2.25 square feet of 6'4" headroom.
This week of rainy weather put pressure on Virginia and I to get things done before the real rain starts in a few weeks. On the top of the list for the semi-dry weather that passes for summer on the Oregon coast, was to finish the installation of two new Lewmar opening hatches. I've been working on this project for more than two months and finally drove the last screws last night.

With the change in the boat's layout, the additional hatches are essential to provide light and air to the stateroom and the head. After cutting the two holes in the deck for the hatches I went below and was amazed at the difference it made. In the head, an additional bonus was a precious 2.25 square feet of standing headroom for my 6-foot-4-inch body. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Before I could cut the holes, I had to make combings for the hatches to raise them above deck level and accommodate the generous crown in the Columbia 43's deck. I decided to make the combings out of purpleheart --a dense, waterproof wood that will not rot. It also glues well with epoxy. I ripped a nice board into two-inch strips and cut them to length. I laminated the two square combings, intertwining them at the corners to create a kind of finger joint. The combing for the stateroom was about one-and-a-half inches high, the one for the head was more than two inches high.

Then the fun began. I had to cut and shape the glue-up to match the inside and outside shape of the hatches. I made a template out of thin plywood to the inside dimensions of the metal-framed hatches. Normally, this kind of work wouldn't be a problem, but purpleheart is an extremely difficult wood to work. It is ranked as one of the hardest and stiffest woods in the world -- think working hard stone. By the time I finished shaping the hatches my shop was covered in purple dust, there were several burnt and broken jigsaw blades and I was wounded.
Hatch combings about halfway through the sanding and fairing process.

Purpleheart produces the nastiest slivers of any wood I've ever worked, even worse that wange. I got one so deep while making the combings I had to go to the doctor to have it removed. When he finally dug it out it was more than an inch long. I almost fainted. It felt good to have it out after a week of trying to dig it out on my own. I took it home as a trophy to show Virginia.

I was losing sleep over cutting two, 19-inch square holes in Oceanus's deck. I called my friend, Michael (a.k.a. Doryman) for some backup. Since the hatches and the perfect-fitting purple-heart combings have rounded corners, we made the first cuts with a hole-saw matching the radius of the corners. Then it was a simple matter of connecting the dots with a Skillsaw. I knew it would be easy, I just didn't want to screw it up.

The balsa-wood core looked like new. I was again impressed at how beautifully-built the hull and deck of these old Columbias are.

Before we cut the holes in the deck, we used a grinder to rough-up the surface and prepare it for the glue and fiberglass cloth that would make the combings a permanent part of the deck. We used epoxy thickened with chopped fiberglass to a consistency thicker than peanut butter to glue and fair the combings to the deck. Two long screws going through each combing and into the deck temporarily held the combings in place while the epoxy kicked.
The combing in the stateroom is not as high because I didn't need any extra headroom.

During successive evenings, I removed the temporary screws, sanded, faired and epoxied layers of six-ounce fiberglass cloth inside and out. I filled and sanded the fiberglassed areas of the combings to make them one with the deck. Finally, I bedded and screwed the hatches into place.

Now all that is left to do is paint the outside of the combings to match the rest of the boat. We still need to paint the decks before the eight-month (or is it 10 months?) rainstorm that is winter on the Oregon coast. Stay tuned.

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