Outboard wells, Rear Steps

Sit down on the job

Posted by Paul

I have waited a long long time to sit on the back steps of my boat and watch the world go by. I cant watch the world go by just yet, but I can sit down on my back steps. I have moved on to do the roof and the sheet points, all the while trying to come up with a solution to the outboard bomb door mechanism. I have drawn dozens of ways I thought would allow me to raise and lower the motors while also opening and closing the doors. I have given up. It cant be done. Or at least I cant do it, and no-one I know can come up with a SIMPLE solution. Simple is just as crucial as automation. If the solution is too complex it is unlikely to be robust.

The problem stems from the different travel distances and the directions of travel. The doors only travel about 100mm in an arc from open to closed, but the outboards travel about 500mm from up to down. The doors need to open first before the outboards have moved too far down, then the outboard needs to be able to continue on until fully down. In reverse the outboard needs to travel up and clear the doors before they start to close. I gave up for a while but moved on to the roof to give it more thought but in the end I decided that 2 separate actions would suffice. Then I set about trying to see where the most effective place to run the cords or cables (I toyed with using teleflex push pull cables) but again in the end I opted for a simple push and lift solid rod to open and close the doors. More on that later.

port well outboard leg door dilemna

But the solution I came up with required me to have the steps in place before I could figure the exact positioning out, or fit anything, or see where anything would fit. So guess what I did this past month.

First step to closing the steps was to fit the halyard pipes. OK, let me go back a step. The working lines (halyards – main or foresails) on the bi-rig sails come down the inside of the mast then through the top of the post and exit inside each hull. They then travel along the hulls inside copper pipes and then exit the boat interior into the outboard wells to travel up the bulkhead then back onto the deck behind the winches on each side deck. Because the exit onto the deck is essentially a hole in the boat for water to get in I felt it better for the lines to go through the bulkhead into the outboard wells rather than up the inside of the bulkhead inside the boat. The outboard wells are wet wells so having water getting through the deck exits for the lines is of no matter.

The only problem with my plan was that the point where the ropes would exit the inside of each hull are only a couple of hundred millimetres above waterline in a well that is flooded to waterline. So I had to raise the point where the holes through the hulls occur. I thought about running the lines up the inside of the bulkhead then zig zag through the bulkhead up high just below the decks but the zig zag would mean a bit of work. Do-able but in the end I opted to run the lines through bent copper. Using a pipe bender to avoid too much crimping of the line at the bend, and bending them on a gentle curve (bend radius of about 300mm) from vertical to horizontal. The bend is at the bottom of a 1 meter fall, so the actual opening of each pipe is more than a meter above waterline. And the hole is filled with the ropes, the inside diameter of the pipe is 12.5 mm (half an inch) and the rope will be 10mm or at most 12mm spectra. So with most of the hole filled with rope, water ingress will be very minimal if at all. There will be more water on the rope than coming through the hole by dripping through the deck holes and into the gaps between the rope and pipe.

The gentle bend does 2 things. It minimizes any grabbing point (friction of a tight bend) or wear point where the rope would rub its way through the pipe and secondly it gets the vertical pipe away from the bulkhead enough to fit a turning block (sheave) to turn from the vertical through the deck to horizontal again to travel to the winch (via a jammer or clutched cleat). I created ply spacers to glue to the bulkhead face, decored the hole walls a further 20mm around the holes the pipes would go through (using an allen key in a drill) and once the ply spacers were set to the bulkhead I glued the pipe into each hole including the back fill of the decoring. Once set the pipe are held solidly in place at the base and I will screw a ply pad (with 3 troughs routed into the inside face to hold the pipes) to the top of the pipe fitting. This gives me the ability to slightly move each pipe so the ropes line up with the blocks above which will in turn line up each rope with the clutch/jammer or maybe a rope guide might be needed first and then on to the winch.

port halyard pipes from inside

Out of the 6 pipes only one was glued in a little off its intended position so the inside opening was not aligned well with the next pipe (so that the rope run was as close to dead straight as possible, to minimise rubbing friction) so I simply inserted a solid piece of metal (the end of a rope cleat) and gently applied some force until the pipe bent to the exact position I needed. I did not need to bend it far so there was no risk of the pipe crimping or having another bend in it (creating a “s”) I simply bent the existing bend to suit. Its the middle pipe in the pic above. It is not far off but over the travel of the meter or so until the next pipe that difference in angle makes the difference quite pronounced. The glue needs a grind back to clean it up but other than that the pipes are hidden inside a cupboard once the ropes are all run. Very easy solution.

I then white coated the inside of each well with the thick white epoxy I have been using. I may even paint the wells with topcoat if I have any left but for now, thick white epoxy will suffice. Included in the white coating is the underside of the steps but leaving a strip to glass to, otherwise I have to resand the white coat to key it (all epoxy sets glass smooth). What the epoxy white coat does, besides set to a gloss smooth and mostly self levelled surface is hides a lot of the tapes and sets in any chance of splinters of glass jagging you and more importantly it ensures that any screw hole or tear in the top glass I had not noticed and pre filled gets filled with epoxy so as to completely seal in the core to ensure no water ever gets in. The gloss finish wipes clean easily and water beads on it like paint. The only reason to paint over it is that being an epoxy it will eventually yellow if exposed to direct sunlight for too long. But the lid would only be opened to do maintenance work so that should be kept to a minimum, but as I said, if I have any topcoat left I will apply it inside the outboard wells. By the way, if you are wondering how I reached to paint from top to bottom of the well with a brush, I started by standing in the well and working top down and finished by getting inside the well from below then painting from below lying on my back, needless to say I got a fair bit of white epoxy all over myself. Luckily I was wearing a disposable overall suit.

port engine bay white coated 1 port engine bay white coated starboard engine bay white coated

stern steps underside white coated

Next step was to dry fit the steps again, only this time for the final fit and not just to daydream how the boat would look with them on. And Murphy arrived for a look see. Having seen what I was doing he decided to remind us of his law. They didnt quite fit as intended. They needed some trimming here and there to make them fit square and tight to the side walls and bulkheads. I cut a bit off here, I ground a bit back there and got them to within 5-10mm as the biggest gaps, most less than that. I figured that was close enough and glue and glass would fill the rest, after all, that was plenty close enough when building the hulls.

port outboard well with new step postion marked port steps dry fit 1 port steps dry fit

starboard steps dry fit starboard steps dry fit 1

This trimming moved the single 3 step panel forward. This presented a little problem. The rudder tiller is designed to be removed so the rudder can be dropped out of the boat but with the new step position it compromised this ability. But only just. So with a little grinding and filling and glassing in a piece here and there to fill gaps that suddenly appeared again, I was able to modify and continue. As you do. The build has been littered with such situations. You can see how the step set trimming pulled the curve of the front most step face forward so that it encroached on my tiller well. Of course there was a side benefit of this. The step increased in size by nearly 30mm (yes that’s how much I trimmed off!). That does not sound like much to add to the step, but considering it was only 280mm deep to start with and is now 310mm I have increased its size by 10% for no real loss of function or amenity inside the well. So yet again my dumb luck kicked Murphy”s butt.

With the steps set into place and marked for re alignment it was finally time to glass these things in. I say finally with some irony. I made the top 3 steps some 5 years ago or more (so long now I just dont remember). I made up one side and cut the hatch lid out, faired and painted it with gloss topcoat to show off my LED rope light at the sanctuary cove boat show, back in the day when I was importing hatches and lights to supplement my income. Back when I made up the 3 step panel I didnt even have the bottom steps in for them to sit on, just a rough idea how I wanted it to turn out. So I guess its no real surprise that things didnt line up to the millimetre when it finally came time to final fit them.

ports rear steps finally glassed in port stern steps glassed in starboard stern steps glassed in

I screwed a panel under the top step for it to rest on level and added a screw and ply blocks here and there to hold the entire panel in place level and lined up while the glue and glass set. I then buttered each edge with glue, replaced the screws to hold it down and started coving and glassing (and applying peel ply) to the outside. All the while I had spirit levels checking that the steps were level or if anything fell slightly so water would run off, but alas I got them pretty much exactly level and plumb. Once it had set in place (next day) I climbed inside through the outboard hole at the bottom, removed the screws and blocks and coved and glassed inside. Once both inside and outside were set I knew I could finally walk on them. I could finally enter the boat as intended. A year or so ago, when I was fitting the rudders and making the bottom 2 steps, I took a pic of me sitting on the first step with my feet on the bottom step. I could now complete the set.

second step sit down

 third step sit down fourth step sit down top step sit down

In order to be able to take the above pics, the astute of you will notice that I have glassed the door back into the steps. I did this a few months back because I had to remove the original idea of a step overhang with led rope light inside because the remaining steps were very wonky and only being glassed on the inside meant that the steps would never be strong enough. (the other side is still one piece as I only every cut one sides door out). What having the door glassed back in did was to give me the opportunity to re-think the door. Put simply, my original door was way too big.

The bigger the door the harder it is to secure it, because after all, the door is most going to be used as a set of steps and only need to be a door for a fraction of the time. Of course the bigger the door the easier the access to whatever you need to get to below, but so long as getting to what you need is adequate, the smaller the door the better. The white is the original door, the pencil line my re-thought door.

port engine bay lid resize

With the new door size set out I cut them out. Besides being easier to secure (so that you dont fall through when using them as steps) the new door size also helps me in a couple of other ways. First it means that water is less likely to get in from above. This is not really a problem of course because the bottom of each well is open to the ocean below! But it cant hurt to be able to stop rain water getting in through the steps. But more importantly, my mechanism for raising and lowering the trap doors will be through the step below the new bottom of the hatch lid which is now fixed rather than part of the lid. My mechanism would not allow the door to open in its original size without first being taken apart. Too hard. Now I can fit it through that step and it will be able to stay there and the door still open as designed.

port engine bay lid cut out 1 port engine bay lid cut out

starboard engine bay lid cut out starboard engine bay lid cut out 1

Next job is to de-core all the edges of the openings each side and the door edges and fill them with uni rope and filler. The uni rope helps stiffen the panels up. I also have some gaps here and there to fill with pieces of duflex, but they are really minor fixes that will get done as I am doing other taping. Then I will make solid glass pads and glass them into the openings to create a base for the doors. I will seal that base all around the opening and make it wide enough for a rubber strip seal. Then make drain channels in each bottom corner. This will keep rain water out, but also act as a way to stop the doors from rattling when motoring. The flange has to be strong enough to hold the doors with me sitting or standing on the step alone with all my weight on it. I dont think its going to be a problem with the now smaller doors. I have bow hatches with similar size openings and they seem fine. They have ply pads but they wont be stepped on near as much as these will, so I want these to be even stronger and long lived. So solid glass will be much better. I already have the glass, its the remainder of what was made up to make the outboard leg wells. There is plenty left over to rip into strips with 90 degrees bends already in it, for the concave and convex 90 degree corners of each step and riser. In the meantime I have ordered some 316 stainless steel separable hinges so that the doors can be removed when servicing the outboards in-situ.

I also have to figure a way to get 2 outboards that my very good friend Wazza has procured for me and currently sit in his shed in Cairns, some 3000km north of here. His kindness brings me to tearing up a bit. He found me a pair of Yamaha high thrust 9.9’s in what looks like fairly good nick, and the correct age to be the larger 15hp detuned models not the newer up-tuned 8hp heads. And he is gifting them to me. He was going to give me his but he felt they had just about run their race so he found me a better pair and bought them for me. As I said to him, one day I will find a more appropriate way to thank him. He says seeing me launch is gift enough.

outboard motors awaiting my collection

I have also bought a piece of kit I dont actually believe in but it was so cheap I thought I couldnt pass it up. The pic below is Terry’s already mounted to his hull. He paid over $12o for it. I found one on ebay for $25 (US$20) and had it shipped with some blocks I also bought in the US so it maybe added $5 to my shipping cost. I still have to fit it, and fitting it to me means another 2 holes in the hull that might one day leak. What it is, is a grounding block, and being porous copper it is equivalent to a much greater area of copper wire, so in effect it is a massive grounding plane. The idea is you run a wire from your mast to it so if a lightning strike hit the mast it creates a way for all that energy to pass through the boat and into the ocean without a) blowing a hole in your hull and b) frying everything in its path. I doubt they work, and having 2 masts means I have to run 2 fairly heavy wires to it (or buy a second one and have 2 more holes that might one day leak).

lightning plate

I have read stories of people who have had no damage from lightning strikes without them, some who have had massive damage despite having them and all manor of ideas and remedies. It reminds me of the story of the people that wear a garlic around their neck to ward off vampires and claim success because they have not seen any vampires. The only reason I am going to fit one is because a lot of sensitive electronics have a ground wire (not just a positive and negative) and should they fail I dont want the fact I dont have a ground plate to be the reason I get a warranty fix denied. If I have a lightning strike and survive with my masts still up and no massive hole in my hull, well that would be a bonus I guess.

davits dry fit 1 davits dry fit

I have dry fitted the davits and they are next to be glassed in. Then I will complete the rear steps by finalising the shape of the hull side profile and cutting down the panels sitting there to fill that space now, and then fitting the matching side plates (probably from 12mm ply) to the inside of each hull edge, wide enough for a hand rail, fishing rod holder and pad eye as the tie off for the ends of the life lines and a fairly substantial wooden block inside to bolt the aft cleats to each side. To make up for the loss of the LED rope light above each step I will place a courtesy step light into this panel above each step and wire them through to the outboard well where the wiring will meet up with the other wiring inside (including the electric outboard winches, the underwater lights and the exhaust extraction fans that will be fitted to keep the engines oxygenated.) Then the final fairing of it all into the existing hull lines and a couple more pads on the deck above for the winches and clutch cleats and I can start on the hull and deck fairing. It should start to cool enough by then, it is still mid 30’s with 80-90% humidity at the moment.

I am, I think justifiably proud of the steps. I have gazed at them in my mind for years and years. I even had a photo of another boats steps as my guide as my desktop on my phone for all of that time. Considering that the photo is all I had to go on (and I got this photo many years after actually making these steps so it really only acted to reinforce the picture I already had in my mind of how they would look. According to the pictures properties I downloaded it in 2012, I made the steps for the boat show around 2010). Its off a Schionning 1620 so its hulls are somewhat wider than mine but I think I pretty much nailed it.


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