Boat Maintenance Boat Project

My Husband Swears Like a Sailor and Other Tales From the Dockside

Tuesday, May 13, 2014S.V. CAMBRIA

It’s hard to say exactly how long the problem has existed because it only made itself known a week ago (“it” being the cause of the swearing, not the actual swearing itself).  But in hindsight, it started dropping hints days before.  Either way, it was too late to stop the damage. 

I was checking the main bilge in the salon about two weeks ago and found water in it which, unfortunately, isn’t as uncommon as we’d like.  We took a look at the usual suspects – the holes drilled on the radar arch to fish through wiring and the overflow for the hot water tank – and everything was fine, so we shrugged our shoulders and kept an eye on the situation.  The bilge was dry for several days in a row, but so was the weather.

Hint number two showed itself a week later. David grabbed a tee-shirt from his wardrobe and discovered the pile was saturated.  It had rained heavily the day before and the propane locker, which is accessed through the deck but takes up part of the closet, had leaked.  He checked the locker and discovered the drain was clogged and there was standing water inside; so he cleared it, assuming the water had seeped through the connection between the hose and the thru-hull fitting (which runs through his wardrobe before exiting the boat).  But for some reason, we didn’t think to re-check the bilge.  If we had, we would have known then that our problems were much bigger than a pile of wet shirts. 

The next day, Tuesday, he went back into the propane locker to top up the tank we’re currently using and discovered more than he bargained for – wet rot!  Even though the propane locker could easily fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” category unless it’s time to change a tank, we’ve seen a boat blow up from a propane leak and border on being obsessive when it comes to the entire system – from the locker to the stove.  But I have to admit that we’ve never felt compelled to take a screwdriver to the base to check for rot. 

The biggest surprise isn’t that this happened but that didn’t happen years ago because the original design was less than ideal.  The lip of the drain was higher than the base of the locker and it was common to find a little water sitting around after a good rain.  David considered correcting the flaw when we first purchased the boat but put the job in the “too hard basket” because he thought the locker was all fibreglass.  It wasn’t.  But it is now.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so I’ll stop there and let the photos I took over the course of the past seven days take you through the process:

Photo 1 (from left to right): what David saw after removing the propane tank on Tuesday.  Two weeks before, there were no signs of a problem.

Photo 2:  A close up of the wet rot.

Photo 3:  The entire base is rotten and has to be removed.

Photo 1:  David begins cutting the base out of the propane locker.

Photo 2: The base is removed and all that's left is the drooping headliner, leaving a large hole in the boat.

Photo 3:  David glues in false work to hold the new base in position while he glues it.

Meanwhile, we can see daylight inside his wardrobe.

This is where the swearing began.  David had just glued in the new base when it started to rain and we couldn't keep water out of the locker or the boat.  In the end, we rigged our boom tent so everything drained overboard.

Photo 1:  Attempting to dry out the locker after we finally managed to keep the rain at bay.

Photo 2:  Resin and fibreglass cloth on the first base board.

Photo 3:  To avoid standing water, David installs a second base, raising the floor of the locker so that the drain will sit below floor level.  In this photo, the second base has been installed, glued and has the first layer of fibreglass cloth.

Photo 1:  Adding another layer of cloth to the second base of the locker.

Photo 2:  After 4 layers of cloth, the locker is left cure.

Photo 3:  Freshly painted and ready to be drilled for the drain installation.
And there you have it: our newly redesigned propane locker – better and stronger than ever!

All this happened two days before we were due to drop our lines for the season and, once again, the Port of Kingston has been AMAZING.  Not only did they find a berth for us (guest moorage was booked out), Dave (the port manager) came by after hours with his own personal tube of 5200 because West Marine had closed at 5:00 pm. Can you believe it?  David ended up going a different route and not needing it, but the thought was beyond any expectation.  Seriously, if you’re in the area, do yourself a favour and stop by Kingston for a night or two.  You won’t regret it! 

Cost Analysis: 

¾ inch red oak plywood       $25
Resin-Epoxy                       $25
Hardener Resin                   $13
West System Pump Set        $11
Fibreglass Cloth                  $2
A Small Tube of 4200           $14
Labour (25 hours)                $0

Total Cost                          $90

Total Savings**                  $1410 – $1910 

*After using the red oak, David learned from a fellow dockmate who works in the boating industry that white oak, which is more dense and durable, would have been a better choice.  But because he purchased a hardwood ply and used resin, epoxy, glue powder and fibreglass cloth to encapsulate it, it’s a non-issue. 

**Even thought it took David approximately 25 hours to complete the job, a professional could have done it in 10 to 15.  At an average rate of $90 an hour, that’s $900 to $1350 for labour alone.  The consensus at the marina, however, is that the total job would have cost anywhere from $1500 to $2000 to have it done professionally.

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  1. Not a fun surprise project for you, especially so close to "go time!" The final product looks very nice and sturdy. I'm sure you (and David's t-shirts) will rest more comfortably having this problem resolved. We wish the three of you safe travels and good health as you head north. We also wish we could've met up with you, especially since you've been so close! We are at Elliott Bay Marina in Seattle. ~Jessie

  2. Good job and wonderful to see it being done in the photos. It is sometimes hard to find those little leaks or ignore them until it is too late. I also hate it when you stand back from a job you think you have done well and someone says "Wouldn't have used that wood, I would have used this type". Why do they always say that when you have finished. Good post

    1. Thanks, Mark. I'm always impressed with David's work. It may take him longer than most people, but it shows in the quality of the finished product. Now the locker has been finished properly and we won't have to worry about it leaking again -- even though we used the "wrong" wood. ;)