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Deck Core Replacement

2011/07/02 - I started small by opening up an area under one of the stanchion bases that made up the gate on the port side. These stanchions had always been loose for the past few years. As expected, the balsa core under the base was crushed and saturated with water. Using a screwdriver to probe under the surrounding deck, I found everything else was wet and mushy, too, so a plastic mallet was retrieved and the deck was sounded. The soft spot extended at least six inches in all directions, so a section of deck about 8 inches wide and 2 feet long was opened up next using a pocket router and a cut off wheel.

The good news is that the deck came off quite easily. The bad news is that the deck came off too easily, meaning that the balsa was no longer bonded to the fiberglass. Once the deck was peeled back, it became clear that the deck job just got a lot larger.

Upon opening the deck, evidence was found of a prior repair. The original deck appears to have been made with 2x2 balsa squares. Looking at the photo below, you can see a piece of plywood on the right side of the opening. Although the plywood was still reasonably solid, it was saturated with water along with the balsa. The photo below to the right shows just how wet the balsa is. Note the dark spot on the bottom corner of the square where the water is pooling (dark spot).

Once the deck was opened, a heavy duty scraper was used to clean out the wet balsa. I also probed under the surrounding deck with a long screwdriver and confirmed that the moisture extends for some distance. Soundings with a plastic mallet suggest that nearly all of the port side deck will have to be opened up. (Bah!)

2011/07/04 - Got a couple of stubborn deck fittings off of the stern of Tomfoolery yesterday with the help of Scott and now we can start to open up the deck to get a look at some of the really soft spots. Some time on the web lightened my wallet a bit as I ordered new core material (Divinycell) for the side and aft decks allong with another gallon of epoxy resin to glue it all together.

Today's primary objective was to open up the aft deck around the lazarette hatch as this area has been really soft for a couple of years already. The router made quick work of the main perimeter and then a 3-inch cutoff wheel at 25,000 RPM in a pneumatic hand tool made quick work of the areas the router couldn't reach well.

The port side was opened up first. There was a dry spot near the center of the decking which made for more work to pull the top skin off as it was still bonded pretty well to the balsa core. The rest of the area, as you can see in the photo to the right, was wet to the point of spraying water when hit with a chisel or pry bar.

Once the skin was off, the remaining balsa core was chiseled off. Here, the spraying water was refreshing as the outdoor temperatures were in the mid-80's today. After the big chunks of balsa were removed, a 4-inch grinder was used to clean off the bottom skin of the fiberglass.

After the port side was done, then the starboard side received a similar treatment. Fortunately, the top skin of the deck came off with a bit less tenacity than the port side.

2011/07/07 - Materials for re-coring the deck arrived today, so work can proceed in this area once more. Because of the high traffic and the numerous deck penetrations around the lazarette, I decided to use plywood as a coring material rather than the Divinycell foam. The latter would be saved for work on the side and fore decks.

2011/07/09 - Took a 4x4 sheet of 3/8-inch plywood and started cutting it into 2x2-inch pieces to use as deck core around the aft lazarette. This should be twice as much as is needed, but it will give me a better feel for how much of the more expensive Divinycell I'll need for the side deck.

First the plywood sheet was cut in half so that it would be easier for a single person to handle on the table saw. Then the fence was installed to cut 2-inch wide strips.

Once the strips were cut, a "jig" was clamped in place so that the strips could be cut into consistent 2-inch lengths.

The finished product was put into a bin to be carried to the deck and epoxied into place.

2011/07/10 - Took stock of the deck situation and determined that more fiberglass and mat would be needed before starting any glassing operations. Checked online and ordered some glass cloth and mat from Jamestown Distributors along with some foam brushes for all of the varnishing and painting that will need to be done. Expected delivery date is Thursday (7/14).

2011/07/14 - Twenty yards of fiberglass cloth and mat arrived today via UPS. Now I'll be able to start putting things together as soon as everything is ready.

2011/07/15 - Aft deck top skin was also cleaned up in preparation for glassing. A chisel was used to take off any remaining balsa. A grinder with 24-grit sandpaper was then used to take off any remaining wood and to provide a fresh fiberglass surface to which the epoxy can better bond.

2011/07/16 - A productive day.

With crew member Jon's help, the starboard side stanchions were removed in less than an hour. Both side decks are now open and ready for work on the areas where the core is suspect.

Next we attacked the bow pulpit. This was a bit trickier because the mast was secured to it. A saw horse over the forward hatch solved that problem (need to keep the foredeck clear for deck work and the gunwales are due to be refinished as well).

With Jon in the anchor locker and me on deck, we removed the 12 bolts holding the pulpit down and removed it from the deck. The wires for the navigation lights had to be cut, but this was expected and they are due to be replaced, anyway, so no big deal.

Next, the platform for the anchor rollers came off. This could be done single handedly as the square-headed bolts were countersunk into the platform and would not turn as the nuts were loosened from below.

2011/07/17 - Started replacing the core in the aft deck around the lazarette hatch. First, had to patch a couple of holes in the underside of the deck that did not correspond to any gear that's currently mounted to the deck. Also, note that the locations of existing gear were labeled so that coring would not be located there.

Next, some fiberglass mat was wetted out with catylized resin and pushed under the borders of the deck to reinforce it.

Finally, some thickened epoxy was spread out on the deck with a notched trowel and squares of plywood were glued down into it to begin laying up the new core. Areas for deck gear will be filled in later with either thickened epoxy or with solid fiberglass.

2011/08/13 - Finally it's time to put the aft deck back together again. With the plywood in place, a grinder was used to smooth off the top and then the dust was vacuumed off.

Next some thickened epoxy was troweled down as if we were going to lay some tile, the top skin of the deck was pressed into place and then some weights were put on it until the epoxy kicked.

With the aft deck epoxy setting up, the deck on the starboard bow was opened up where it had gotten terribly soft over the past couple of years. As expected, the balsa core was soaked. There was some evidence of a prior repair to the deck where the top skin split while it was being pried up, but this will be easily fixed before the skin is glued back down. The pile of debris behind the hole is the original deck core. Despite its compromised state, nearly all of it had to be removed with a hammer and chisel.

Not shown in pictures, but deserving a mention is the port gunwale that was sanded down to raw teak by Rebecca, one of Tomfoolery's loyal racing crew. Many thanks also to Jon, another crew member, who assisted with mixing all of the epoxy needed to glue things back together today.

2011/08/20 - Seams on the aft deck were feathered back with a grinder to allow them to be taped up.

Other deck work included drilling out oversized holes for stanchion bases and grab rails so that they could be filled with epoxy to prevent the deck core from being crushed and to minimize future water intrusion into the deck and below.

2011/08/21 - Didn't get to spend a lot of time with the boat today, but did get a lot done thanks to Dennis and Jim who stopped by to help.

We managed to glass in the new core along the starboard bow. With Dennis mixing the epoxy and me putting down the squares of foam, this step went very quickly. The stanchion base also got a good reinforcing with a structural filler where the bolts penetrate the deck.

In addition, the oversized holes for the cabin top grab rails were also filled with epoxy and high-density filler. Duct tape was used to hold th epoxy mix in place until it cured.

2011/09/05 - The rains started last night, continued all day long, and are still coming down late tonight. The runoff from the tarp over the boat got into one of the deck openings, so that will have to dry off before the core can be put into place there and the deck skin put back on.

The deck skin on the starboard bow was epoxied back into place this afternoon. Hopefully it won't get too cold tonight to prevent the epoxy from fully curing.

2011/09/10 - Today the coring on the last remaining hole in the deck was finally replaced. This shot shows the coring in place as the epoxy is curing. I had given some thought of putting down the skin at the same time, but there are a few spots that I think will need to be ground "level" before doing so, however.

2011/09/25 - Another beautiful day, weather wise, but pretty dusty and dirty as far as the boat work goes.

With the warm temperatures, I tried to focus mostly on those tasks requiring some warmth. Seams around the areas of the deck that had been removed were faired with thickened epoxy today. The piles of dust and debris were also vacuumed from the deck to make this work a little easier and to minimize the dirt that was getting tracked around.

The aft deck was sanded and "smoothed" using all of the electric and pneumatic tools I had available. In the end, the disc grinder with a piece of "dull" 24-grit paper on the wheel worked the best at leveling the deck and preparing it for fairing.

2011/10/08 - By early October the epoxy and glass work had all been completed. The remainder of the work with the deck now involves repainting and reapplying the non-skid.

Click HERE to see how that went!