Thursday, November 26, 2009

Portlight gasket replacement

Replacing the portlight gaskets on a 1990 Pacific Seacraft 37.

This post is offered to other Pacific Seacraft owners who may want or need to replace their portlight gaskets.  I don't offer this solution as The Ultimate solution, but it was the best I could come up with.  If anybody solves this problem in a more elegant or reliable manner, please let me know!

Luckness is a 1990 Pacific Seacraft 37.  The portlights are the rectangular New Zealand portlights.  If you look closely at the portlight lens, bottom right corner, there is a logo from the company in New Zealand which produced the glass.  This solution will likely not apply to other portlights.

The portlights gaskets are moulded and one piece.  The glass lens fits into a slot in the gasket, the gasket is fitted into a bronze frame and the frame is clamped down to the portlight frame bolted to the hull to form a seal.  Or that was what used to happen - after 20 years the gaskets were starting to fail and several of them no longer formed a reliable seal.  Three of the 10 were leaking, with the others on their way.  I could see no way to repair the gaskets other than to replace them.  An example of an old gasket follows:

The portlights were made by a company that is no longer in business.  The gaskets for the portlights are custom and I had no luck in sourcing them.  The Pacific Seacraft factory could offer no advice in sourcing the gaskets.  After searching around Seattle and online, I finally came upon a solution which appears to be working for me.

An example of a completed portlight, with a brand new gasket follows.  The white flecks in the picture are rain drops, not damage to the lens.

Be warned that if you start this project, once you take the gasket out of a portlight there is no going back.  Removing the gasket is a destructive process - you won't be able to put it back again.  Once you take the gaskets out you are committed to solving the problem of finding a new gasket somehow!

If you proceed with this project it may also be worth while buying the material and constructing a gasket or two to get a feel for it.  Before you destroy what you have, you will want to gain confidence in what you're replacing it with.

Also, you will need patience for this project!  It will take several weeks to complete.

No warranty!

I'm not an engineer.  I have not had the new portlight gaskets installed for a long enough period to really know how reliable and robust this solution is going to be.  The result appears to be working, but I won't really know for a few years.  I need to subject the new gaskets to some real world abuse.  It may well be that this solution starts to fail a year from now.  If that's the case, my next option will be to buy new portlights from New Found Metals and have them installed.  The approach described here is much cheaper and allows you to keep the original bronze portlight with the boat - but it is offered without any guarantee or warranty!  I'm some random dude on the net - if anybody follows these steps you would be well advised to think through each step carefully, examining the materials and seeing if they or the process can be improved on.  Or perhaps you want to try some completely different approach.

Enough about that.

Materials required

The solution I ended up with was to build a new gasket out of two pieces.  In a nutshell, I glued the pieces together, fit the result to the lens and used Sikaflex to bond the new gasket into the bronze frame.

I found the gasket material from McMaster Carr.  The two items are:
    Self-Gripping Vinyl Edge Trim with Metal Core.  1/4" opening, 1/2" wide: 24175K16
    Neoprene rubber bar, 1/4" thick, 1/2" wide: 90125K53
I bought 50' of each and have some left over.  You should plan on building three or four extra gaskets to experiment on or to replace failures.

As I live in a wet climate, I also needed to build blocks to fit into the portlight frame once I had removed the lens.  I built three of these (two small, one large), using starboard with gasket material glued onto one side, two bolts attached with a piece of wood to hold the block into the frame.  To build these, the gasket I used was:
    Neoprene rubber sheet, 1/4" thick, various sizes.  durometer rating: 30A   9455K156
cut the board to size, cut the rubber to the board, glue the two, drill holes, attach bolts, attach small boards.

The gasket adhesive I used during the project was 3M Super Weatherstrip and Gasket Adhesive, in black.

I also used Sikaflex 291 for bonding and sealing.  Many paper towels and q-tips for cleaning, many latex gloves, styringes found in the epoxy section of my local chandlery (Fisheries.)  Tin snips are handy for cutting the vinyl trim.

The process

There was some trial and error involved.

Build the blocks for the portlights:

Pick a portlight.  Put the block into the portlight frame:

Now you need to remove the old gasket.  Read the warnings above about this step - you can't go back once you do this!

Cut around the gasket, freeing it from the sides of the frame its in:

The gasket can now be pulled out.  Grab a piece of the gasket with a pair of pliers and pull.  You're trying to pull the gasket out from around the lens - you're not trying to pull the lens out at this point.

Once you have a piece of the gasket free of the lens, removing the rest will be easy - simply keep pulling and the lens will pop free.  If the gasket you first grab breaks off, move over and try again.

You'll need to clean the bronze frame of all the old sealer as well as cleaning the lens of old sealant as well.  The sealer is a little tenacious, getting it off the bronze frame is a little tedious.  I ended up scraping most of it off and then using a circular wire attachment on my Dremel tool to get the rest off.  This step was messy, I hung pieces of plastic up to try to isolate the black pieces flying of the dremel as much as possible.  If you have cushions on board, you may want to move them to a different part of the boat, this is messy.

Cleaning the glass is easy - I used a glass cleaning tool with a razor blade attached.  This tool was also useful for trimming the neoprene gasket to size.  There is a picture of it later.  If you are removing multiple portlights, it would be wise to label the lens so you know where it came from - I kept the lenses matched to their original portlights.

Clean the lens and bronze frame with mineral spirits.

I covered the lens in blue tape in order to keep the new sealant off the glass in later steps.  When you do this, make a mark on the tape to indicate where the New Zealand logo is.  You will want to place the finished portlight back into its frame in the correct orientation, so you need to know where the logo is.

At this point you have a clean glass lens, and a clean bronze frame - time for the gasket.

Building the gasket to wrap around the lens will initially take some trial and error.  I first built a gasket set, let it set for a few days (the adhesive gets stronger over a period of 4 or 5 days) and then tested it to destruction - pulled it apart.  I built another, installed it on the lens and again tested it to destruction.  I encourage you to do the same.  Get a feel for the materials.  Also note what type of stress the gasket will likely endure in practice.  Pulling the old gaskets out wasn't too difficult.  The new ones need to be strong in the right directions, not all directions.

The new gasket will experience its strongest loads while under compression in the closed portlight.  So things like the gasket adhesive and sealant needs to be strong enough to hold the pieces together when the portlight is open, but when it is closed everything presses together.

To build the gasket you first need to determine a good length for the vinyl trim.  Press some of the vinyl trim onto the portlight.  Arrange for the start/end of the trim to be on top of the portlight when its closed, not the bottom.  Go around the portlight pushing on more trim, coming back to the start and cut it off.  This step is actually a little tricky.  You need to adjust how far you press the trim onto the glass so that when the portlight is closed the gasket hits the frame at a good place.  If you press the trim on as far as it goes, the gasket may end up being too far inside the frame.  You also have control over how tight a radius you make at the corners.  It will likely take some trial an error for the first piece of each of the small/large portlights to decide on a good length for the trim.  I ended up with the vinyl trim being 38 3/4" for the large portlight and 27 1/2" for the small.  You may end up with something different.

Once you decide on a good length for the vinyl trim, cut the neoprene bar roughly an inch longer.  I found it easiest to glue the two pieces together while they are lying flat and straight on a table.  I had two boards which I placed the trim between.  I also had a bar that I could press on top of the bonding pair overnight, and two clamps to keep them tight.

The vinyl trim has a tab inside of it - I put that tab on the outside of the boat.  Sand down the outside of the trim to roughen it up slightly.  Do the same with the neoprene bar.  Clean them both off with mineral spirits.  Apply the 3M gasket adhesive, follow directions.  Attach them, clamp, put on bar, weight it down.  I offset the neoprene bar from the start of the vinyl trim - I didn't want to have one spot where they both met.

After drying, the gaskets now look something like this:

Let the glue dry for a day.  Once I started this project and got the sizes right, I could build one gasket per day.  This was sufficient as the other steps are slower.

Now you need to put the gasket back onto the covered lens for a final test fit.  Start with the two pieces:

Attach the gasket, fit it into the frame, adjust the tightness of the fit, repeat until you have a good fit.  Its surprising how as you vary the size of the radius and how far the gasket is pushed onto the lens how you can change the length of the gasket used by several inches.  You'll probably end up redoing your first few after you complete all the steps - don't sweat it, by the third or forth you'll have the hang of things.

Test fit the gasket, you want some overlap between the vinyl trim and the frame, but not too much:

Once the gasket is on, you want to add more blue tape to the vinyl trim and make registration marks so that you can return the gasket to exactly this position.  Also draw around the gasket in the blue tape so that you can cut the tape back to inside the gasket.  You'll want to leave a bit of a gap between the gasket and the edge of the blue tape to allow for a good seal with the sealant.

Remove the gasket and cut the tape on the lens:

Now you can seal the gasket to the lens.  Squeeze a bead of Sikaflex 291 (or an alternative sealant you use) into the trim.  Again, you'll get a feel for how much to use after a few experiments.  You want enough to seal well, but not so much that it interferes with pressing the gasket onto the lens.

Once the trim is full of sealant, put it back on the lens.  Start in the middle, lining up the mark you made to indicate the middle of the gasket and lens.  Press it on toward both ends.  I preferred to have a small amount of sealant advance as I pressed the gasket onto the lens.

Once the gasket is again on the lens, clean up the sealant that has come out and then fit the lens into the portlight frame and clamp it in.  You want the gasket to adapt to the frame shape as it dries.

Let it dry overnight in the frame.

You're getting closer now!

The neoprene bar is too long and you need to cut it back to the right size.  Take care with this step - if you cut too much you may end up with a gap which will cause you to start over with this portlight.  Been there, done that.  I used a glass cleaner razor for this step, putting the razor blade on the neoprene at the spot I picked and then rocking it back and forth to cut.

Apply the gasket adhesive to the vinyl and neoprene.  I would stick a small nail into the corner where the neoprene meets the vinyl to keep them separated while the glue gets tacky.  Then press together with a clamp.  I used a short popsicle stick (bought a bag from the kids art section of Fred Meyer) to spread the clamp force out across the seam.

Give it a short while for the glue to fix.  While the portlight is out of the frame its easy to add more sealant to the edges of the vinyl trim to create a good seal.  I used a small syringe I found in the epoxy section of Fisheries which I filled with Sikaflex.  This gave better control over a small bead.

Apply sealant to the edges, then cleanup to give the bead good shape.  I used q-tips and paper towel cut into small rectangular pieces for this.

Let the portlight lens dry overnight again.

The final step is to seal the lens and new gasket into the frame.  Rough up the outside of the vinyl trim with a piece of sandpaper.  Apply a bead of your sealant into the frame, then put the lens in, cleanup the sealant that oozed out.

The vinyl trim will not meet the corner of the frame.  Fill this gap with more sealant if its not full already.

Cleanup the sealant again.  I found small popsicle sticks useful for leveling the corner areas.

Let the combination dry overnight.

This is also a good time to clean the portlight clamps.  I used my dremel tool with a wire brush attached to clean out the threads on the bolts.  Apply a little lubricant so the clamps close well.

Come back the next day, take off the clamps, rip off the blue tape and admire your new portlight!

The first few closings will be difficult, but the gasket will form to the portlight over a short amount of time.


This is a pretty tedious project and takes some time.  But the result seems satisfactory so far and the benefit is that I have new portlight gaskets and was able to keep the original portlights in the boat.

If anybody has a better solution, I would love to hear how you've solved this problem.

Feedback is welcome.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A plan, coming together

The work on the boat is progressing.  My original estimate of two or three weeks looks like it was optimistic.  Boat projects almost always take longer than you think.

The furnace is almost installed.  The installation looks really good, its clean and tight.  There were many options with how the ducting for the Webasto AT 3900 could be run.  The best quality of heat would come if the ducting was run low in the boat, with the outlets close to floor level.  That way the heat is able to rise and the temperature can be raised uniformly.  While this option would result in the best heat, and could be done on my boat, it also consumes the most amount of locker and cupboard space for the ducting.  Everything is a compromise and I chose to install the ducting in a way that minimized the amount of space lost.  As my choice for a furnace came down to either a diesel bulkhead or the forced air diesel I ended up choosing, I think that even with a less than optimal installation in terms of heat, I will still have better heat than a bulkhead furnace.  Bulkhead heaters optimize for other things (simplicity, power draw, cheery flame in the cabin.)

The ducting for the hot air is mostly unseen, runs inside below the side deck on the starboard side, from the lazarette to the forward berth.  There are 5 outlets: one in the galley; two in the main cabin; one in the head; and one in the forward berth.  The first three are always open to guarantee the heater has sufficient airflow, and the other two are closable.  All of the outlets can direct the heat in different directions.  I've been able to test the furnace now and have had the heat on when the outside temperature was 50F, not a very cold evening - but it was easy to get the boat so hot it was uncomfortable.  Sweet!

As far as the other projects go: the tank was pulled and cleaned.  After the cleaning process it was apparent that the tank was in worse shape than we thought.  There is a lot of pitting in the aluminum, and some of the pits with very little prodding resulted in holes right through the tank.

At this point, I'm glad the tank was pulled and these problems found before they caused a problem.  It might be that I could have gotten another year or more out of the tank - but at some point it was going to start leaking diesel which would have been ugly.  We've found the manufacturer of the tank and are having another one built.  We'll coat the new tank in epoxy and it should be good for at least another 20 years.  This is going to take longer than I was hoping however.  The tank manufacturer is:

John Justin
15171 Pipe Lane #102
Huntington Beach, CA
Work: 714-642-8941
Fax: 714-898-0740

The autopilot project is set to start next and appears to have no issues.  Which is to say, there are things to figure out, but nothing looks unsolvable yet.  Its surprising to me that adding all this equipment to boats ends up being custom work for everything.  I used to think you could just order an autopilot and it would be obvious how to install it for the boat.  That's so not true.  There is a lot of experience and craftsmanship required to perform a good installation.  I'm glad to have YachtFitters do this work for me.

The windlass arrived recently and Terry and Justin at YachtFitters did a test fit - and then called me down to the boat.  It turns out that the Maxwell RC10-8 isn't an ideal fit for this boat. I want to have the chain fall as far back in the enlarged anchor locker as possible, with the goal being that I can raise 300' of chain without having to go below to manually flake it.  With the Maxwell, I was going to have to move the deck pipe about 12" forward - which puts it into a shallower part of the locker, further away from the back.  They could install it, but wanted to give me a chance to think it over.  I've now all but convinced myself to go back to a horizontal windlass which can push the deck pipe as back as far as possible.  The best horizontal appears to be the Lighthouse 1501.  Its an awesome windlass, completely stainless seel and rated at a 1000 lb continuous pull.  The people who own them seem to rave about them and everything I've read (blogs, experience reports, reviews, recommendations) sound good.  Nigel Calder has had three, one on each of his last three boats (it might be more now, that was an old article.)  It will probably take a little while for the order to be processed and the windlass to arrive - so again, this is another project that will push the boat into December.

I have a couple pictures of my anchor locker as it is now - the before pictures.  There is quite a lot of space further down in the locker, aft of these photos.  The hole we're looking through is the wall at the end of the forward berth, it has doors on it so you can access the locker.  There is also a hatch at the base of the doors you can open for more access.  Note that the locker is divided into two area - one about 1/4 of the whole volume to the left (port) and forward in these pictures and then one for the remainder of the space.  I'll be cutting this 1/4 section to make it shorter.  Its already too small to hold a long rode and the wall interferes with chain falling - chain piles up against the wall.

Along with those big things, I've been treating my time at YachtFitters as a kid treats his time in a candy store.  I've added a number of things to my original list: a plexiglass companionway slat; a new teak fiddle for the galley; teak liners for the deck hatches; two d-rings added to the cockpit to clip into; a couple of rainwater leaks have been identified and are in the process of being fixed; added a anchor swivel - a WASI PowerBall.

I've taken what I thought was my Genoa down to Schattauer Sails to have the UV cover repaired.  They rolled it out in the sail loft and labelled it a Yankee.  They say there is no clear dividing line between the two - I thought it was a high clew Genoa, they call it a Yankee - its a Yankee.  The sail is 114% - I thought it was a 120%.  They are happy to do the work and I feel confident that their quality will be top notch.  When it comes time to buy new sails, it would be sweet to be able to buy some from Schattauer.

I'm having a ready bag made for my Staysail so that I can hank it on to the inner forestay with bag attached so its ready to be raised when I need it.  I'll do this if I'm sailing in conditions where I may want it.  Otherwise I'll keep the staysail stay back by the port shrouds as they are now and sail as a sloop.  Terry added a small snatch block to make storage of the staysail stay even more convenient than it was.  This is a nice setup, its Terry's own design.  Its simple, robust and doesn't lose any deck space.  One of the many advantages of working with YachtFitters is that Terry and Justin have worked with these boats many times before, so I am able to benefit from how they have improved other Pacific Seacraft 37's.

Everything above are the things that others are doing for me.  Some of the things I'm doing myself are to continue with the regasketing of all my portlights.  I think I finally have a set of steps which result in the quality I want.  I have three portlights one step away from done.  I'll then have seven more to do.  This is probably a few weeks of work.

With the tank out, I was able to finally clean the last part of the boat.  The boat has always had a slightly musty odd odor.  The bilge on the boat is deep and connected, from the anchor locker to the rudder post The anchor locker drains into the bilge as does the aft compartment below the rudder post.  Anything that gets into the bilge from forward moves down to the deepest part, aft of the tank beneath the companionway stairs.  This means that mud or other material can accumulate beneath the tank and this is what happened.  After the tank was pulled, I saw the final part I hadn't yet cleaned and got to it.  It took the most part of a day and a half.  The result is a fresher smelling boat.  The first picture is of the bilge looking aft, the second forward.  You can see seven of the 1" stainless keel bolts, there are three more in the section forward of the tank area.   If you cut down you would run into the lead keel - its right there.  Note how clean it all is!

During the furnace fitting Justin moved the fresh water accumulator to test fit a duct (for an earlier plan which wasn't used) - I took the opportunity to sample the water hose.  I've always had a problem with the water quality on the boat.  The water had an odd chemical odor and taste.  It turns out that the hose has the same odor.  All of the hose was also sticky - it seemed like the plasticizers had separated or something to that effect.  Anyway, I've taken the opportunity with the fuel tank being out of the boat and all the hoses being exposed to replace all the freshwater plumbing.  I bought two rolls of hose, each 50' and have used most of it.  There are a couple of areas where I've left the old hose in.  The water to/from the hot water tank is the old hose - replacing this appeared to involved yanking the tank - I never drink from the hot water tank anyway so it should be fine.  There was also one section from the forward tank to the manifold beneath the sink that was hard to replace - from the forward locker under the berth through the head to under the sink in the head.  I just couldn't bring myself to try to yank hose through this section - if I had taken the hose out and couldn't get it back in again it would be extremely hard to fix.  So there is about 8 feet of old hose in this 25' run.  Its better than it used to be.

While I was replacing the fresh water plumbing I thought I would also replace the fresh water pump.  I've gotten rid of the old pump and accumulator and have bought a new Jabasco Sensor Max 14, which has a variable speed drive.  The new pump doesn't need an accumulator, it will speed up and slow down to deliver water as needed.  The claim is that this new pump is very quiet - I'll find out when my installation is done.  I'm hoping this will be the last I see of the fresh water plumbing for quite some time.  If the water still tastes bad, the next step would be to somehow coat the interior of the fiberglass tanks with something, perhaps some sort of water safe epoxy.  I'm hoping it doesn't come to that...

I plan to blog about the portlight project soon, other owners which have the same old portlights might find something useful in there.

Sigh.  I'm looking forward to the time when I can post new photos of my sailing Luckness rather than my working on her....