Companionway Hatch

As most of you know by now, we are preparing the boat for the worst.  Whenever we start to tackle a new project the first two questions are always about strength and safety.  After that comes function and then finally form and aesthetics.

The companionway is how you get from the outside of the boat to the inside.  Its also the single largest hole in the boat.  If for some reason we were knocked down or rolled the companionway could let in enough water to sink the boat before we could say “oh shit.”

The great news is that the A37 has a substantial bridgedeck which not only prevents water from entering the companionway if a breaking sea were to overtake the boat and poop the cockpit but it also minimizes the size of the companionway all together.  This was one of the things on “my list” when we were looking at boats.  I value small cockpits and high bridgedecks.

In storm conditions the companionway will be closed to prevent water from entering.  However this means that the companionway sliding hatch and the hatch-boards that close up this huge hole have to be super strong!  Our sliding hatch was definitely not super strong.  It was well made however the teak faced plywood that made up the arching top had seen better days.  It wasn’t rotten or delaminated however I could tell that years of water and sun had taken a toll.  An upgrade was definitely in order.  Since strengthening the companionway required taking it off I decided to take apart everything and re-do it all.

As I took everything apart I noticed a few things: the aluminum rails on either side were in good condition but the screws holding them down had stripped out and were not bedded properly, the two teak face boards needed replacement, the sliding hatch could use some more strength, and the spray guard needed re-bedding.

First I cleaned everything up, sanded down the fiberglass where the aluminum rails attach, and filled all the holes with epoxy.

While that was curing I sanded all the teak facing off of the sliding hatch.  It became apparent that the fasteners were completely rusted out, so much so that when I put a driver on one the head literally disintegrated.  I decided that was no big deal, they certainly weren’t hurting anything in there but in between each old fastener I drilled, countersunk, and put in a new silicon bronze fastener.  Silicon bronze is better in applications that will not see the light of day (or get oxygen) than other fasteners because the bronze won’t rust away into nothingness.  Stainless steel needs oxygen to keep its protective coating and remain strong for long periods of time.

After the hatch was refastened I purchased some teak tongue and groove boards, measured twice, and carefully cut them so that they would form a perfect new face to the hatch.

Here is a dry fit after cutting to make sure everything was cut properly:

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I then epoxied the touge and groove boards together and epoxied them to the hatch.  I wet out the materials first and used a large thickened epoxy batch to secure them together.

Once all the pieces were put together I clamped and weighted the boards to the plywood and let everything cure.

Once cured I put the hatch in place and fastened the back end of the boards down through the main structural support at the rear of the hatch.  I then drilled and countersunk two filled epoxy holes for the stop that prevents the hatch from moving too far back.  After drilling I tapped each of these holes to accept a fastener.

Once the fiberglass was threaded I cut two bolts to the proper length and got them ready to fasten down the stop.  Before hand I covered the bottom of the stop in butyl tape and filled each threaded hole with epoxy.  The butyl creates a good bedding for the teak stop that will remain water tight for a very long time and the epoxy in the threaded holes ensure that we have a super strong attachment point for our stop.  This style of fastening is great when you do not have access to the other side of what your bolting to.  In our case, we don’t want to drill through the headliner and put a backing plate just for this little stop that will be out of sight on deck.

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After everything was in place I sanded and sanded and sanded some more.

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After a few hours it was just too hot working out in the sun and I decided to finish up for the day.  Next time I go out I will finish sanding and hopefully it will not be so hot and I can lay in the black teak decking caulk.  The black caulk will go in each seam you see and the finished product will look exactly like a teak deck.  Not only will it be super sexy but this thing is heavy duty strong.

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The grey wood that you see still has to be replaced.  We are going to replace the two boards on the side with heavier duty teak boards as they are what keeps the sliding hatch from sliding right on out!

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