Chopping Our Boat (with a SAWZALL)!

Cockpit combing cap boards. At least that’s what I’ve been calling them. Replacing ours was a project way far down on a long list of upgrades. Folks, this is intimately invasive work, and so hopefully you understand our consternation upon finally accepting that the time has come to replace them! For one’s floating home, replacing them is like grinding off the broken enamel of an old tooth and installing a dental crown! Here’s how it went for us.

By preference, our boat had been sparsely adorned with exterior teak. We enjoy looking at the deep lustrous finish of varnish, but avoid the dreadful toil of its upkeep. Our goal was comfort, safety and self-sustainability, with a sprinkling of good looks. The highly visible teak boards were beautifully finished when received. However, after 32 years of stripping, sanding and revarnishing, they’d become so thin and brittle that another refinishing would not be possible.

I imagine the original teak trees were hand-sawn by a bronzed native at a remote tropical Thai paradise, then carried in raw bulk for months over ocean-expanses by a series of cargo ships. About the time I was graduating high school, the rough-cut boards were delivered by Pierre with calloused hands, carried from his open-bed pickup truck through an overhead door at the Wauquiez sailboat factory in northern France. The quartersawn boards were painstakingly planed, shaped, mounted and drilled out by hand to be the durable and beautiful trim for many years aboard our Fayaway. And then as with many of us, the years took their toll.

Thinned and brittle to the point of breaking: starboard side teak.

Upon jumping around the starboard sheeting winch, behind the binnacle to the helm after some type of sail adjustment, a dreadful cruuuunch resulted as my foot pressed through the thin and dry wood. It was at an unsupported area above a little cubby hole where I frequently stashed smaller items like gloves, sunscreen or cellphone. The brittle wood folded into spiky splinters and flaking varnish. I cursed myself for not being more careful, but knew this day was overdue.

Since our Fayaway was in otherwise exceptional condition, we desired to not let this upgrade delay for too long. With time on our side we thought we’d start looking into finding some new teak. I called several tropical hardwood lumber dealers down the coast. Our needs wouldn’t be so special… or would they? We found out that finding quality teakwood boards isn’t a big problem. However, the fact that we needed them 6.1/2 feet long made it a bit more difficult. But, then offerings became almost non-existent for two matching boards measuring a whopping 11 inches wide.

Earlier, before the boat was launched that year, we found a cabinet wood supply store in Medford, MA that sold teak. And all it took was a phone call to find they actually had two boards to meet our needs. However, the $800 price tag didn’t exactly make us pounce on the offer. There had to be more choices elsewhere!

Various hardwood lumber from a typical supplier.

But it was beginning to get cold here in September, so we packed our saws and sander, and made our way south anyway, making calls and visits to wood suppliers as we meandered down Chesapeake Bay. Our last stop before heading offshore was Hampton, Virginia, where we got a dock slip for three weeks as we waited for our new dodger to be fitted. Aside from busying ourselves with numerous preparations, we did some asking around the marina for recommendations. A local supplier was within the reach of a friendly Uber driver only about ten miles away. We were shown inside to their racks of vertical wood, in varying widths and lengths. And so only a few days before departure, we had delivered to our dock two beautiful golden boards. But the install must wait, as we were about to depart on a 1600 nautical mile offshore journey to Antigua.

And this is how two unwieldy pieces of wood became our companions on a lovely sea voyage. Yes, they were very much in the way, and made no attempts to take any watches. Two heavy 7ft x 1ft hardwood boards can’t exactly fit anywhere comfortably on a 35ft sailboat. And for the price we paid there was no way I was going to strap them to the rail or on deck, getting wet and twisted by the repeated salty wetness and dry sun. No way!

Our precious tropical wood carefully wrapped in a blanket temporarily in the salon as we’re digging for something from one of our storage spots.

While offshore we hefted them into the vee berth. But then we had to carefully move them whenever we wanted something from a storage location beneath. Need a bar of soap? Ok, give me an hour and we both received a nice workout. While at anchor, we painstakingly relocated them again to the quarter berth. But guess what? All my tools and maintenance supplies were in a cozy storage spot beneath. Fun. So, they got moved I-don’t-know-how-many-times, over the next several months, traveling with us to every beautiful island and anchorage, being pampered and treated like the valuable golden cargo that they are.

Fast forward to July, eight months later. We returned to Newburyport to take care of “things”. One of those “things” was to do something with those damned boards!

So we dragged them once more out of the quarter berth to reach my tools. Firstly, the original wood had to be removed. Of course, things didn’t exactly go smoothly from the start. The original cleats were through-bolted, but the backing plates and nuts were buried in fiberglass and resin. Out came the Sawzall while Kelly searched online to find two shiny new cleats identical to the originals.

Technically, my Makita is a “reciprocating saw”.

Then off came the winches, each with six lengthy bolts. And of course, some were barely accessible. I had to practically lay across the stove on my back, feet in the sink, with my arms first, and head up into the wet locker, holding an extended socket wrench. No fretting here though; we have long been acclimated to things being difficult to reach on a boat. And plenty of times we did have to sweat and swear.

From repeated and numerous sanding over the years, the wood under each winch was almost 1/2 inch higher than the surrounding wood!

For the next few days, I then cut, and hacked and pried, and splintered the old dry wood off from the gel coat. For hours and hours, the pieces came off, many not larger than a matchstick. Wow, they were really well-glued on!

Until we reached the bare gel coat underneath. I then filled in the holes with epoxy, a bit more sanding and some final acetone made the areas ready for their new tops. We made paper templates, and pre-cut these into thin Masonite to first verify the new fit. Fortunately, someone was kind to leave a couple handy sawhorses outside at the yacht club, which gave us a pseudo workbench. (Thank you!)

Making templates; measure three times and cut once!

Once satisfied after tweaking a couple times, then a few more head scratches, we loaded up the “real” boards onto Korykory for the trip from our mooring to the dock. Let the cutting begin!

Cutting and pre-sanding the final product.

Between the summer heat, rain and only working during quiet times at the club (this is during the pandemic, don’t forget!), we managed to complete the final cutting and fitting within a week.

Then all we needed to do was glue, drill, screw and plug the new boards down, touchup with some sanding, and… done! Well, sort of. What about all the winches and hardware? So it was back to laying on the stove and scrunching into the lazarette!

They sure do look pretty! But what about the winches and hardware??

We’re very satisfied with the results. This was the last major project aboard Fayaway. Time certainly is a valuable commodity, especially when without a workshop. We congratulated ourselves that evening, watching the orangey sun set over Newburyport with a couple cold cans of delicious Sloop New England IPA. Where to next?! Have a great day!

Fayaway on the mighty Merrimack River at sunset, sporting new set of cockpit combing cap boards.

4 thoughts on “Chopping Our Boat (with a SAWZALL)!

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