There Are No Easy Boat Projects

We’ve all experienced situations where you tackle what you think is a minor project that snowballs into a massive all-consuming time suck that eventually has you on your knees begging for mercy. Boats are special.  It seems that everything you do on a boat spirals out of control. Rhonda knows that if I head to the boat after breakfast with a cheery “this should only take an hour or two,” she’ll be lucky to see me before dark, and there’s a good chance I’ll be headed back the next day as well. This is going to be a pretty long post. Because it describes what started out (in theory) as a pretty small job. (Click on any of the images for a closeup)

See these? They go by a variety of names, such as drop boards, pin boards, weather boards, and so on. They’re the boat’s front door, and their primary job is to keep the weather on the outside of the boat. For reasons lost to the mists of time, the Eagle’s previous owner apparently wasn’t happy with the set that the factory provided. He made his own. 

Cheesy Drop Boards

Cheesy Drop Boards

<snark>Look at the amazing level of craftsmanship he exhibited. Check out the tight fit between boards:</snark>

Cheesy Drop Boards Closeup

Cheesy Drop Boards Closeup

You could actually stick a finger in between them. So guess what happened whenever it rained? Boats aren’t supposed to come with interior water features. At least not boats in our price range. But whenever storm clouds gathered, the Eagle had a soothing, murmuring waterfall flowing down the companionway. Very Zen. But very damaging. So that was the job. Fix the water leak, and repair any water damage.

This is what the companionway on Eagle looked like when we bought her. It wasn’t in the best of shape, but it seemed sound, so we thought with a bit of refinishing she’d be like new. I’ve looked at a lot of pictures of other H336’s though, and I’ve never seen one that had that ugly steel step at the top. Very odd.


I’d noticed that some teak veneer on the rear of the engine enclosure was starting to peel (the engine is behind those steps), probably from repeated soaking during rains. No problem, I’ll just knock out the panel and replace it, refinish the rest, and wham bam good as new. So off comes the teak trim strips, and with a little persuasion from my friend Rubber Mallet, the panel pops out. Uh oh.

This is not good

This is not good

That’s rot. It’s directly below the companionway, where the water undoubtedly trickles from the beautifully crafted drop boards whenever it rains. This is bad. Better yank out that ugly steel step and see what’s going on there.

Ugly Metal Step Removed

Ugly Metal Step Removed

Crap. That’s Swiss cheese. I can practically poke my finger through it. I can’t refinish that. The varnish would be the only thing holding it together. OK, time to switch gears. This is now a recovery operation rather than a rescue mission. This has all got to come out for evaluation. 

The good news is that I eventually found the limits of the water damage (let’s not talk about the many fine compliments I paid the previous owner and his elegantly crafted drop boards). The bad news is, well, this is what was left when I was finished: 

A Room With A View

A Room With A View

See that white rubber mallet laying back there where Rhonda and I are supposed to sleep? Be very afraid if it gets anywhere near your boat. It has tasted boat flesh, and there is no telling what the limits of its appetite are.

OK, let’s get all this home and throw it on the workbench and see what we have.


Wow. That’s…that’s just ugly. There’s no way any of that is going back in our boat. Well, the stair treads may be OK. They’re solid teak, and with enough sandpaper and Cetol, there’s hope. But the rest is history. Time to start pricing teak veneer marine plywood.

How much? Two hundred and fifty dollars? A sheet!? Sigh… I’ll take two, please.

I should probably apply for membership in the International Brotherhood of Shipwrights by the time this is done. But at least it’s looking good. And I do so love the smell of sawdust in the morning. Here are some pictures that show the process, with the new parts I’ve made sitting next to the original ones I removed. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to tell them apart.


The last one was a real challenge, because in addition to being an odd shape, the backside of the panel faced into the shower compartment and had to be laminated with Formica.


Since I’m in the mood to laminate (and probably a bit high on contact cement), let’s go ahead and make the other parts we need. And what the heck, I don’t like the look of those old engine access panels (center). If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right!


As long as we’re rolling around in this big pile of lemons, let’s make ourselves some lemonade. Access to the engine will never be easier, so let’s hook up a chain hoist and lift the engine and give the old girl a new set of shoes (I mean motor mounts). 

Hang 'em High

Hang ’em High

Finally, we can start putting things back together! Here are the new  lower and upper panels installed:


Then let’s add the new deck:


And start putting all the little trim pieces back:


That first step is a doozy though. But there’s no way that ugly steel step is going back in this gem. I know, let’s build a really neat locker there that can be the first step and be a cool place to store the pots and pans that we currently have to crawl under the sink to reach. Add an access panel so it’s easier to check the fluids in the engine, polish it all up, and voila

Now That's What I'm Talking About!

Now That’s What I’m Talking About!

I find myself just standing there taking it all in. Then I realize I’m over two months into this little project, and I still haven’t addressed the original problem those exquisitely engineered home made drop boards that also double as water strainers for the interior of the boat. If I don’t replace them with something that actually keeps the weather on the outside, then all is for naught. Now as much as we love the appearance of freshly varnished teak, we don’t consider the work to maintain it to be worth the effort. This is a job for polycarbonate! A brief hour of exploration on the internet and I have a half sheet of smoked 1/2″ polycarbonate winging its way to us. The cool thing about it is that not only can I use it to make a set of durable and maintenance free drop boards, but it will be bulletproof also, and you just never know when that might come in handy.

The new drop boards cut to size and ready for a test fit:


After all this work, I want to make darn sure that nothing short of a hurricane will push water past these boards. So rather than just butting them together in the normal way, I decided an overlapping joint was the way to go: 

Let Me See You Leak Past That!

Let Me See You Leak Past That!

So remember these?

Cheesy Drop Boards

Cheesy Drop Boards

Now we have the most un-cheesy and watertight drop boards imaginable!  

Awesome And Completely Cheese Free

Awesome And Completely Cheese Free

Done and done. Nothing to do now but stand back and admire!

Ta Dahhh!

Ta Dahhh!

Well that weekend project only took  2 1/2 months. Wait, does that salon table look a little odd to you? Hey, I can fix that in just a day or two!


3 thoughts on “There Are No Easy Boat Projects

  1. Robert Post author

    Yeah, it’s amazing what can happen when you give a bunch of tools to an engineer with too much time on his hands! Thanks for the compliment. Wait till you see this winter’s refit projects.

  2. Phil Gow

    “See that white rubber mallet laying back there where Rhonda and I are supposed to sleep? Be very afraid if it gets anywhere near your boat. It has tasted boat flesh, and there is no telling what the limits of its appetite are.”

    One of the funniest things I’ve ever read on a boat blog. Also so reassuring to know that I am not the only one who starts out with a slightly shabby sweater, and after pulling a bit, and at least for a while, ends up with a useless pile of worn and crinkly wool.


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