The refit #1 – the foredeck

 In Refit

Thanks to Ben Meakins’s article in PBO this is really the second refit blog. If you haven’t seen this you can find it here:

I’m going to keep this series refit blogs quite focused. Each one will be on a specific job and how I tackled it. Ben had some pictures of the foredeck repairs in his article. This was quite a big repair, especially as I had only done small glass projects before this.

Problem: It was clear on the trip to Spain that when it got rough we were taking on a lot of water. While close hauled off Ushant both the bilge pumps failed and me and my fantastic crew – Dan MacArthy – had to resort to buckets. We had water over the floor boards and both of us were definitely getting that sinking feeling. After a good few hours of regular bailing I eventually redirected the electric pump that served the galley drain to empty the bilge. This at least got us to Spain. The Baba 35’s anchor locker drains into the main bilge via a 1/2″ pipe that runs down the length of the boat. When sailing to Spain this was gushing water like a garden hose. So at least it was clear where the problem was.

Of course a leak like this makes the front of the boat heavy – the anchor locker is full of water – so the bow buries into each wave even more – it’s a vicious circle.

4. So many holes!

The offending area (Pic. 1) all looked deceptively solid. I started to investigate the foredeck by having a look inside the anchor locker and also removing the windlass. It was a bit damp – but because the deck is covered in thick teak – and everything else is made from massive sections of solid teak – it looked OK. The amount of water coming in meant there was a big problem somewhere though. Also I was worried about the rig. All the stresses of the rig come down onto this area. The bowsprit works in compression against the Sampson post, tons of pressure pushing up against it, which basically holds the mast up.  Making sure this was all solid is really important.

I removed the switches for the windlass (Pic. 2 – these are the two holes next to the sampson post) and it was clear that the balsa core in the deck had badly rotted.  This rot extended towards the Sampson post. The only way to repair the core was to take up the teak deck and re-build the glass/balsa sandwich.  I cut a straight line across the teak decking and started removing all the screws. The teak was well glued so it all had to be chiselled off. Just removing this section alone took me and Nick about a day. Taking all the screws out is a real fiddle. If I left one in I’d probably rip a big hole in the glass and at this point I was trying to keep as much intact as possible.

(3) I started repairs on the various holes around the sampson post – which were within my comfort zone – but I knew I was avoiding the elephant in the room – the rot round the post. I knew the structure had been compromised but I wasn’t sure how seriously. The sampson post was glassed into the bottom of the anchor locker so removing this wasn’t going to be easy. Also to repair this I’d have to take down the whole rig. But there was no option. We lifted the mast off, I borrowed a mini chainsaw, climbed into the anchor locker and started sawing. This was now turning into a big job! But with the post removed I could at last see the problem. There basically wasn’t any deck around the sampson post. No wonder this thing was leaking.

While working in the anchor locker, cutting through the sampson post, I saw a sliver of light coming through from just above the stem. It was clear that the deck and the hull had separated at the front of the boat. I pried this open with a chisel and it easily opened 1/2″.  Water would have been pouring in from here as well. How I repaired this – and redesigned the fixing is for a future blog but at this point I was definitely getting that sinking feeling again.

(4) This picture shows the foredeck with all the screw holes opened up and the rotten balsa core removed – ready for the first bit of glassing. The rot extended over a big area. The odd shape was so to keep as much original material as possible. In hindsight it would have been easier to do this repair if I’d made this a more regular shape – even if that meant making this a bit larger.

As you can see from these pictures this area of deck has been peppered by holes for different fittings. What’s amazing is that none of these had been installed properly. What you’re meant to do is excavate the balsa core round the hole and fill with glass – so there is no balsa exposed by the hole. No wonder this had rotted out. I decided that this area of the deck was going to just have one hole in – a square one for the sampson post – and this was going to be well supported as it takes some big loads from the rig. After repairing the bottom layer of glass I got two thick sheets of fibreglass and sunk it in where the bowsprit goes (5). New balsa core surrounded this. As soon as this balsa and epoxy putty set the whole front part of the deck stiffened up and felt strong again. Jim Dominy is in the picture here – his help and advice was invaluable with getting this all back together.

Filling and fairing (6). The core was back in so it was just a matter of putting the top layer of glass back on.  We decided to do this whole job in epoxy.  This was mainly because how close to the edge we were on the port forward part of the repair, giving me very little original material to stick onto. After some testing I found epoxy to be a lot stickier than polyester resin. Once we glassed over the whole repair I found that it was all very uneven, so there was quite a lot of sanding and filling, with fine epoxy mix, to get the camber back.

Once I got the shape right I cut a lightweight piece of glass and epoxied this over the filler. We figured this area could easily get an anchor dropped onto it so it needed some impact protection. The epoxy was dyed with some cream pigment – mainly just to make it opaque for UV protection (7) until I decide what non-slip paint to put on it – and on the rest of the deck…

Of course doing this job convinced me that this deck construction, with teak screwed through the top layer of fibreglass and into the balsa core, was going to start to cause problems on a 35 year old boat. This teak all has to come up and the thousands of holes filled. Hopefully there aren’t too many other areas like this where the core needs replacing. At least without the teak deck Black Sheep will be lighter. It won’t look as pretty though.

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