Monday, February 25, 2013

Stairway to the Cabin - Hatch Boards

One of the most common pieces on old boats that end up needing replacing are the companionway hatch boards.  Most of the boats I have been on, owned, or shopped have had replacement boards.  Worse yet, is the variability of craftsmanship among these.  I am guessing that my original boards were long gone, having been replaced by the mock-up in the pictures posted previously.  These replacements were made from simple plywood laminated together and just didn't stand the test of time.

My budget didn't allow for solid teak or even Starboard for replacements of these old boards.  These both would have been great options.  I wouldn't have worried about my project breaking down as much with solid teak and the Starboard is virtually maintenance free.  So, what other options are available for the cost-conscious?

I have seen many hatches that were fabricated out of plexiglass and plywood.  The plexiglass, especially in the smoked finish, is a great choice.  It is maintenance free, cheap, and relatively easy to work into the desired shape.  Unfortunately, this is your most used (read abused) piece of hardware on a sailboat.  The plexiglass is prone to scratches and chipping.  Additionally it will become checkered in the sun and bow after a couple of years of use.  The plywood is another often used option.  Easily available and workable with a great price.  If fabricated appropriately with the right amount of waterproofing this is a viable option.  The maintenance is significant though.  Any finish you will put on this wood does not stand up to the sun and water exposure for long.  If you go with this option, remember that you can epoxy it for a more durable finish.  I was fed up with delaminated wood though, so this option wasn't very attractive for me.

A solution presented itself to me as I was milling around a major home improvement retailer, as I am prone to do.  I came across a PVC product used for trim in houses.  I did some quick math and realized that one board would work for my hatch using three fitted boards.  I include the picture of the price tag for reference only, I am not condoning this product.

I brought the PVC board to my workshop where I routed down the face side on one long edge of the board and the back side on the other edge.  You can use any size rabbeting bit that you have to make what will become a lap joint between the hatch boards.  You just want to make sure that the depth of route that you cut is half the thickness of the board you are using.  The size of the rabbet will be the overlap on the boards providing a "water-tight" seal between your hatch boards.

With the backside rabbet at the bottom it allowed a better fit on my slanted sill of my companionway.  I then used the old hatch boards to measure out the angle to cut so that it fits in the slots of the companionway brightwork.  In retrospect, I should have measured this with a tape measure.  I am not satisfied with the finished fit and would have been happier if I measured at the bottom and then the vertical height of the board and used those measurements to cut the angles.

These PVC boards are very workable.  They cut very easy with a circular saw or table saw.  The top of my companionway is curved.  I went below and put all the boards in place.  I then drew a pencil line on the inside edge of the hatch sliding top to get the proper curve so the board matches the slide closely.  I measured 1/2 inch from that line for my final cutting line.  A little sanding of that curved edge and I was done.  No other finishing required.

Here are a couple of thoughts I had about this project.  I am slightly morally opposed to using this PVC product.  I don't like all the garbage toxins used in manufacturing of this product and their effect on our ecosystem.  I also have no idea how this is going to hold up.  These boards work great on a house for many years but will they hold up to frequent use?  When they are on the house, there is no moving or banging of these boards.  PVC tends to get brittle and oxidized in the sun.  How long will these boards last me with environmental exposure?  I will let you know more about my experience with this product as it unfolds.  I hope that this gives you another option for replacing your companionway hatches that apparently are just doomed for untimely demise.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Callinectes, Or How I "Restored" a Cruising Sailboat in a Month

Last summer while I was finishing up one of my last required clerkships (the clinical portions of 3rd and 4th years) in medical school, my trolling of used boat websites paid dividends.  That is, if you can rationalize spending money on something as unnecessary as a sailboat as getting paid dividends.  I definitely do.

I found a 1978 Columbia 7.6 for $1500 dollars.  The bad news was that it was on the hard for about 6 years and had significant damage on the inside from water and who knows what else.  The hull and decks seemed solid though, so I was interested in checking it out further.  It came with a full allotment of sails and a 1991 Nissan outboard that "runs like a top."  I felt that as long as I had the essentials covered that I could deal with some cosmetic issues that has left this boat on the block for as long as it has.

The crux, was that I wanted to do everything myself to get this bad boy on the water before Labor Day (when I would have to start paying summer storage rates).  I had a month to gut the inside, repair, repaint, replace all of the lines, new companionway hatch boards, bottom paint, replace all of the windows, and in general clean and wax.  Being a sporting type, I gave myself a bare bones budget and the limited time span to complete this project (which amounted to a little under a month).  What I still haven't addressed to date is that the teak sole (floor in the cabin) was delaminated to the point of making a huge hole in the flooring if you forgot and stepped on the wrong parts.  I also have not gotten to refinishing the brightwork (teak trim on the outside of the boat).

I then had an idea to help other people in this same situation by writing about my work and my troubles, that is of being poor and loving sailing.  I will post pictures and articles of the renovation of this great old boat to get her seaworthy once again.  It has been a fun project and has already been a great place for family and friends to enjoy the beautiful waters of Michigan.  We spent many hours of adventure over the past summer and looking forward to the same in the future.  Hopefully with these last few projects wrapped up.  I hope that you enjoy this segment and if you have any questions or comments please let me know.

As for the name, I called her Callinectes after an exhaustive name search.  Nothing seemed to fit.  Her name was originally "Wind Seeker" which is a nice enough name but unfortunately generic.  While trying to figure out a name that seemed to work while gutting the cabin I found this old plastic crab.  You know the type of design that graces the walls of the finest Red Lobster or Long John Silver restaurants.  I didn't throw this thing out immediately and it definitely grew on me.  My son has named him crabby and he has stayed on as our boat mascot.  It also solved the naming problem.  I bought a white and blue boat that came with a crab.  This reminded me of the Chesapeake Blue Crab, whose scientific name is Callinectes sapidus.  Callinectes comes from the Greek meaning, beautiful swimmer.  Now that is a name for a boat...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cross-Michigan Canoe Trip

I had a thought a couple of months ago about shedding all the stresses of daily life and going on an adventure to explore the natural world.  I thought about tackling the North Country Trail across the lower peninsula of Michigan.  I also thought about sailing my boat up the coast of Lake Michigan.  I then stumbled upon a book by Timothy Kent called "Paddling Across the Peninsula."

I thought this might be the ticket to sow this restless spirit.  The book covers research on the old canoe routes across the state of Michigan that have been used by Native Americans and early fur traders for centuries prior to the development of railroads and automobiles that have replaced this mode of transportation.  In fact, the present expressways across Michigan have followed this ancient canoe routes and their nearby Native trails.  Grand River Avenue out of Detroit and the present route of I-96 are great examples of this.  So in the spirit of Verlen Kruger, I was caught up with this endurance canoe journey.

This is my first attempt at carving a paddle.  I thought traditional ottertail paddles would be a great way to get in the spirit of this journey.  This one is made from a single piece of red cedar, although I laminated the handle for additional strength.
The trouble in the planning is how to navigate this state that is so different than what it looked like two hundred years ago.  Drainage ditches, that have created farmlands where swamps once stood, and dams have signficantly changed the course and navigation of many rivers around the state.  Additionally, the original routes included portages, or land crossings, to move between these early "highway" rivers.  Is it feasible to carry my canoe and supplies while crossing modern roadways on a trip like this?  Are there enough places to camp along this very urbanized route?  My plan is to paddle up the Saginaw River to the south branch of the Bad River.  From there, a short portage to the Maple River and down to the Grand River and Grand Haven.  To work out the exact portage routes that were once well worn paths I have found another book by James C Woodruff entitled, "Locating Michigan's Old Canoe Portages."  Another extensive piece of research from an impressive civilian researcher.  I am much appreciative for this book as well.

So, over the next few months I will be sharing my research and planning for this trip as these challenges get worked through.  I am excited to take on this challenge and hope you enjoy reading as the adventure unfolds.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


I am starting this blog because I love Michigan and its outdoors as well as a strong consciousness of the environment and the damages it receives from people.  Through this blog I hope to share my projects and adventures to hopefully stimulate others to go out and enjoy the world around them.  We don't need loud motors and oil-slicks on the surface of water to have a good time. 

There are a couple of projects I want to develop on this blog.  I am currently working on my 1978 Columbia 7.6 sailboat.  I have a lot of pictures for the restoration of this great boat that I saved from a boat yard this past year.  I also am planning a canoe trip across Michigan following the first great "road" across the state that was used for hundreds of years by Native Americans as well as early fur traders.

In the meantime, I would like to start by referring you to a couple of great projects going on in the state.  There is an initiative that is developing for building interpretive water trails across the state. The first ones are being established in the Southwestern side of the state.  Here is a link to this fascinating project called, Michigan Heritage Water Trails.  It seems like another way to get people to enjoy the beautiful waters that abound.

The Quiet Water Symposium is also coming up quickly.  It takes place at the MSU Pavilion the first Saturday of each year.  This year it will happen on March 2, 2013.  Check it out, another great way to stay active and explore the natural wonders of Michigan.