When you’re sailing along and someone says, “Something’s wrong with your uppers!!”
The upper shroud for the main mast had gone completely slack on the port side, so we tacked quickly and released almost all of the sail pressure to try to figure out what was going on. On port tack, everything appeared to be in order, the shroud was now tight, everything seemed OK. But looking to the starboard side, the issue was obvious. The chainplate had pulled almost 2 inches further out of the deck. Down below, the bolts through the bulkheads had keyholed the same amount. Now this wasn’t altogether unexpected, but needless to say it was still a surprise when it happened. When we purchased the boat, the previous owner had made us fully aware of soft spots on the bulkhead, and it was a major concern of his. Well, he was right. And it was probably something we should have addressed sooner.
Now the pics aren’t that great, but you’ll get the idea. The bulkhead wall between the main cabin and the head was the major problem. After removing the trim and cabinetry for the starboard settee, we started to remove the rotted wood.
Some of it was so bad you could stick your fingers through and pull out wads of mushy wood fiber.
Leaks? Yeah, they’re bad…
We sliced off the laminate to expose the plywood and used a Fein Oscillating Multi-Tool to cut out the remaining wood and fiberglass that tabbed the bulkhead to the hull. It’s a great tool, but the $15 one from Harbor Freight honestly works just as well for 5% of the cost. It’s just a lot louder. Anyway, we cleaned up the bad wood, and pretty much gutted the head. Eventually we sawed most of the tabbing off of the hull and sanded everything smooth.
Once you’re into a messy project this deep, you want to make sure you do it right – and all of it – the first time. Our investigations led us to another bulkhead and a shroud tab that were rotting and in need of future repair as well. They got the same treatment, removing all of the soaked plywood we could find.
Now that the bad wood was gone, we needed to fill it back in, or else learn how not to be shy with a giant hole in the wall of the head. Obviously marine plywood was used, not so sure that was the case with the original bulkhead. So the patch is perpendicular to the curved hull, with more curves at the top where the headliner sits, a few straight(ish) lines, and nothing easy to measure. Luckily, shipwrights have found a solution to this problem: ticking sticks. You use a piece of inexpensive Lauan plywood (our Kiwi friend called it “doorskin”), cut roughly smaller than the opening you’re trying to fill, then create “ticking sticks” with set marks to measure a few random spots along the curves. We also used hot glue to stick a few thin strips of Lauan together on the longer straight runs to simplify the template.
I wish I had better pictures, and some pictures of the templates, but… I don’t. Here’s the end result though, some snugly fitting puzzle pieces that were able to mend the broken parts back together again. The ones shown below are drying from a recent coat of West Systems epoxy. We coated them completely to hopefully avoid any absorption of water that may sneak it’s way back in there again.
The jigsaw pieces were fitted back into position, epoxied into place with Cabosil thickened epoxy. Cabosil is a Thixotropic Silica product, a white powder used as a thickening agent that is added to resin to prevent run-off and sags on vertical surfaces. It makes the epoxy into a paste that we used to attach the pieces to the hull (with some bracing). We created fillets along the joints with the hull so that the future fiberglass could be laid up without turning a hard 90° angle.
And finally, the bulkead was done!!! Well, I skipped a lot of blood, sweat, cursing, and tears. But it did get done. The plan was always to cover that patch over with a new laminate or paint, but my dad and I just can help leaving the little bit exposed to be a reminder of the job and the fix.