Restoring the Beehive Hatch for the Aft Deck

(A guest post by the Cat’s Father)

My dad is a legend. In fact we could (and frequently do) go so far as to call him a Mantelpiece (i.e. a really big ledge). Here follows his account of how he restored our beautiful-but-quite-frankly-on the-brink-of-dereliction beehive hatch that lives atop the poop deck. It took him ALL SUMMER. Thanks, First Seahorse. X

‘I confess that although I knew restoring the hatch would be “a lot of work”, I did not realise how true that would turn out to be!

On 30th June, the Owl managed to get the hatch off its mountings on the aft deck and into the back of my car – a feat of great strength, as the hatch has no hand holds and is very heavy, and the back of the car is relatively narrow.

Once home, I muscled it through the garage, up the garden steps, and onto the table by my shed – surprisingly without damaging the beast or myself – and I made a detailed inspection of its condition. It was not good. The timber carcass was so discoloured that one could not tell what type of wood it was, and the varnish inside and out was peeling and had long since failed.
All the varnish would have to be removed and renewed, and the 8 glass panes replaced.

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My first task was to remove all the glass so that I would be able to move the hatch more easily. I started with the circular panes in the vertical front and rear faces, and they came out quite easily without breaking because the mastic and putty were so degraded. I was relieved to find that the wood recesses had not rotted despite having leaked water for years.

Then I started on the 6 long rectangular panes that formed the curved lateral surfaces, and they were quite a different story. Despite the poor condition of the outer layers of sealing mastic and the many places where the seals had failed, the remaining sections of bond between glass and wood were (sadly) in good shape, and rendered it impossible to get the panes out without breaking the glass. I eventually got them all out, breaking every single one in the process.
The great advantage of removing the glass was that the hatch immediately became less heavy and much easier to handle, but that does not mean it was light!

The great disadvantage of having removed all the glass was the knowledge that it would all have to be renewed and replaced for full-time exposure to a marine environment… a prospect I found rather daunting. However, I could now proceed with stripping off the varnish and the mastic back to the bare wood, a welcome and rewarding change of occupation after all the glass.
Stripping off the old varnish was pretty straightforward once I had the right technique, and it simply required time and effort which, as a retired old codger, I could offer in shedloads. I started with an ordinary scraper to get the peeling layers off, and following that I decided (erroneously) that the corners and joints would be easier stripped using a patent liquid varnish stripper. The liquid stripper worked in rather a half-baked way and it was a very slow and messy process, but by far the most effective method proved to be a hot air gun combined with a sharp triangular scraper, followed by sanding off with coarse paper. I had to be careful not to scorch the wood surface with the hot air blower, but once I got the hang of it, not only did I make good progress, but after sanding down, the wood turned out to be a beautiful pale pink mahogany colour underneath and the whole job became a real delight.

Stripping and sanding was a very long job. Every groove, every angle, and every recess had to be dealt with until the entire carcass was bare wood. I did the work in the open air on our garden table, and during the summer of 2014 it was frequently too hot to work. Better that than pouring rain of course, but it did slow my progress which was breaking no speed records anyway.

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Once stripped, the carcass was ready for structural repairs. One corner needed to be strengthened with dowels and glue, and the inner supporting frame of pinewood had rotted so badly it needed to be completely removed and replaced with new mahogany. I managed to buy new mahogany timbers cut and planed to size with remarkable ease, and I drilled and dowelled and screwed (using marine grade stainless steel screws and wooden dowel bar) to effect the essential repairs.

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After that I bought some epoxy mahogany filler, and attempted with very limited success to fill all the holes, sanding scars and structural gaps tidily. It was technically the most difficult task, and I have to admit with some reluctance that I didn’t make a good job of it. The material was very difficult to handle, the colour match was poor, and every peccadillo of my efforts became obvious.

Slightly disheartened, I sanded down my poor efforts at filling, and started the varnishing; my morale was instantly lifted. I used International Clear Wood Sealer Fast Dry diluted 20% with International Thinners No.9 as first coat, followed by another 2 coats of the same with no thinners. It was a rewarding experience.

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I followed the clear wood sealer with 2 coats of International Perfection + (plus), and with every coat the colour and shine of the mahogany became darker and richer. I needed to be careful to avoid getting varnish into the recesses for the glazing, and in that I was only partly successful.
I had therefore to return to sanding clean the glazing recesses ready to receive undercoat, a fiddly job made easy by my flexi-drive mini drill with a sander attachment. It was an absolutely indispensable tool for the job.

Once the recesses were all clean again, I applied a single coat of undercoat as advised by the glazier so that his seal and putty would bond properly to the structure.
I decided that the third and final coat of Perfection + would best be applied after the glazing had been done and the Hatch replaced on board the boat. This would enable any scratches during glazing or transportation to be varnished, thus making a much better finished job.

With a certain amount of inexplicable trepidation, I loaded the hatch into my car and drove off to the glazier’s workshop in Horsham, taking with me samples of the glass I had removed. There I was advised that the 5mm original glass was no longer available, so I would have to choose between 4 or 6mm glazing. After discussing the pros and cons I allowed myself to be persuaded that 4mm glass would do best and I placed the order.
Two weeks later I collected the newly glazed hatch…

IMG_0333.JPG(Lee the Glazier presenting the hatch NB: not my dad!)
… And the following day, the 6th September, I delivered it to the boat where the Owl gave a repeat performance of the Herculean feat to get it back on board the boat.
Although the hatch looked wonderful, there was still some finishing work to be done that I could not do, mainly colouring and varnishing the glazing putty after a 7 day drying off period, and applying the final coat of varnish inside and out after sanding down.

Unfortunately I do not have a picture of the completed hatch, but I am sure that either the Owl or the Pussy Cat will pick up the story from here.’

(Me again):
Ta daaa!
So we’ve now finished varnishing the putty, and the hatch is newly installed as of yesterday on the newly painted, nearly-finished-just-one-coat-left-isn’t-it-smart) aft deck, just in time to impress the parents/ in laws who are staying in our newly converted captains cabin for a couple of weeks (oh yes, we’ve been very busy…)

Unfortunately by the time I got to posting this it was dark and raining outside so I couldn’t take a photo, but I’ll update it tomorrow… (Just to make your Monday mornings that little bit brighter, you know… I’m such a giver).

Over and out x

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One thought on “Restoring the Beehive Hatch for the Aft Deck

  1. pmshak says:

    This is marvellous John, well done and clearly a big effort!

    A hearty cheer for the retired men!

    best wishes
    Peter S

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