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Rebuilding the Cockpit

During the deck rebuild I often pondered my approach for the cockpit. Quite a bit of it was rotten, but worse there was an iron fuel tank that was underneath it, and could only be removed by removing the cockpit. I contemplated trying to rescue the iron tank until I realized that the fuel was seeping right through the iron like a sponge.

In the end I decided the only way to do this right was to remove the entire cockpit and rebuild it. What a nightmare scenario, and even before finishing the deck I would putter along trying to get the teak off and dreading the hidden details. I had no idea then how I would restructure the cockpit, and still have no idea. I just keep moving ahead, and the path clears its way for me.

There was excellent quality teak over the top of really crappy plywood, so the first thing to do was to get this teak off without damage so I could reuse it. Of course that meant taking down the mizzen mast which I agonized over in advance for many weeks. When the time came that I couldn't wait anymore, I went up the mizzen to loosen the stay between it and the main mast. Then I went up the mainmast to remove the stay after securing the mizzen forward to the windlass using the halyard. Then I began to loosen the shrouds with no idea of where to go then. After loosening the shrouds a bit I thought I'd see how heavy the thing was so I tried to pick it up. Whoop up the thing went until the shrouds got tight. This thing was not heavy at all, certainly well under 200lbs. At that point I was off and running, I had Xuan Nga lower the forward line using the windlass and then I hollered for help from a neighbor and before we knew it the thing was down. Less than half a days work.

Now we could finish removing the teak. This meant removing all the teak bungs and backing out all the screws by hand. It was clear that two different people put this together. I was partial to the guy that didn't bury the screws so deep. This was brutal labor with a flat head screw driver, but a power driver just doesn't have the power or control for a job like this. The end result, though, was teak still 3/8 inch thick and in perfect condition. The Mariners are a strange mix of really good and really bad materials.

After the teak was removed, I tore into the remaining structure with my little sledge and a pickle fork. Tearing things apart I've got skills for and it wasn't long before the entire thing was gone, leaving a huge six foot square hole in the boat. This is where the real fun began; hours of laying on my back torqued into the lazarette, or standing on the sloping hull surface.

Anyway, the first thing I took on was to install a 20 gallon fuel tank in the lazarette. This sounded and seemed like it would be much easier than it turned out. The lazarette was largely wasted space so I determined to put a fuel tank there and make some use of it. I epoxied 2x4's across the hull to which I attached 1/2 in marine ply for the tank to sit on. I also covered the face of this shelf and filled in the mystery space with spray in foam. Then I put a 2x4 vertically in front of the shelf to both secure the fuel tank and to support the aft deck which seemed a little soft to me. After this came paint, the fuel tank and then another vertical 2x4 on the other side.

At this point I put in two partial bulkheads made out of 1/2 inch marine ply outboard of the aft end of the cockpit, and one partial bulkhead in the center that was also glassed to the bottom of the rudder shaft. Continuing a theme I put two vertical 2x4's on the outboard extremes of where this center bulkhead would go. These were glassed to the hull with large filets all around, and then met the timber crossing the aft end of the cockpit. Epoxied onto the face of these vertical supports was the 1/2 ply. The bulkheads were glassed to the hull with several layers of glass tape.

Here is when I turned my attention forward to the area just aft of the deckhouse. This area was quite complex and rotten in many places. In addition there was a stainless steel ice chest that had rot under and behind it. I dismantled this area in pieces being careful not to destroy any interior features. The ice chest I cut in two with a Dremel Tool after trying with a four inch grinder and nearly starting a fire in the rot behind the chest. I ended up removing the ice chest entirely and am still putting back together one of wood and fiberglass.

After everything was removed, the thinking and seat of the pants engineering really took over. I decided I would build the cockpit in stages. The first stage was to rebuild the area just aft of the deckhouse where the mizzen would be stepped. I figured I couldn't do a whole lot worse than the plywood that was cantilevered off this area and then set on the fuel tank. I decided I would have a 1x4 oak piece spanning the cockpit and glassed to small plywood gussets that I put under the narrow side decks meeting the hull for about 18 inches down the side. Supporting this 1x4 I put two vertical 2x4's on either side of the engine. At this point I removed all the rotten plywood from behind the interior pieces and replaced it with 1/2 ply. Then I put a 1x8 oak plank across the front of the cockpit. From one side of the hull to the other. This plank was made in two pieces and the starboard side was fitted around remaining timber, while the port side replaced entirely wood that I removed completely. Over the front of this two part beam I glued and screwed another 1x8 oak plank that went from just under the knee on one side of the cockpit to the other. Into this plank I had put notches where I would set 1x4 oak cross pieces. These corresponded to notches I also put in the 1x4 cross piece.