You really never know where a boat’s going to leak until it rains…hard. Boats flex and twist and eventually water seems to find its way in. Sometimes you have to let a lot of rainwater through before the leak becomes visible. Then you have to trace the leak that you see back to where it’s entering the hull, which can sometimes be a long way. Along the route it can sit around wooden bulkheads or in the balsa coring inside the fiberglass and soften it up until it rots, then you’ve got a real mess that must be replaced.
There were times aboard La Creole when, if we just happened to be aboard when a rainstorm is coming, I want to take down all of the ceiling panels so we can actually trace leaks back to their origin. Being in the right place at the right time, however, is seldom the case, so you do your best, which sometimes means you pour water on the deck on a sunny day hoping the water will run across a leak. Some of those leaks were made by us while installing the new hatches. After all, we had to take the old ones out and that left a big hole, but that’s the topic of another blog.
In the aft end of our Workroom (formerly the crew’s head) rain water found its way in around the portlight seam long ago and thoroughly soaked the plywood bulkhead until it became so rotted you could push your finger through it (I did). The only alternative left at this point was to replace the entire section of bulkhead, and then seal up the leak to prevent any further water intrusion from damaging the new one.
Getting the bulkhead out, now that’s a challenge in itself. Taking down nicely varnished trim without destroying it is difficult but essential to replacing the affected bulkhead area. The area in this case was rather small (about 2 ft. square), which is both good and bad news. Good in that the replacement section is easier to work with, and bad because new plywood only comes in large sheets which means you have a lot of plywood left over that you either store, use up or throw away.
Getting a large sheet of plywood out to the boat on a mooring via your dinghy on a breezy, choppy day can be a real source of entertainment. If you ever see someone (hopefully not me) attempting this, get out your video camera; odds are you have a “WATCH THIS!” moment on its way. Hopefully I didn’t disappoint anyone watching on this particular day because I did manage to get the plywood out to La Creole with minimal cussing, and it barely got wet.
Cutting the piece to the right dimensions presents many challenges. The foredeck doesn’t make a very user-friendly workbench, especially when the wind is up, but it works. Since the damaged bulkhead came out in numerous pieces I couldn’t use it as a pattern, and even though I measure my spaces 2-3 times, then measure it again before I cut, the piece rarely seems to fit and additional trimming is called for. So after a few trips back and forth and some “Dremelling” I had my replacement.
The new plywood bulkhead is in place. Now to replace the Portlight and seal it so it doesn’t leak anymore. Working with 4200 or 5200 is one of the more unpleasant jobs onboard our boat. This stuff is the messiest substance known to sailing but probably part of every sailor’s inventory. Getting it to only go where you want it is futile. Wearing gloves is advisable but no guarantee you won’t get it on you. Expect to use excessive amounts of Acetone to wipe it off the surrounding surfaces while trying to leave enough of it in the seam between portlight and bulkhead. There’s always a lot of swearing involved whenever I use this stuff, but perseverance and lots of paper towels win out in the end, and now we have a solid, apparently dry bulkhead in the workroom “annex”.