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Beersmith 02-21-2011 10:11 AM

Dealing with a soggy cockpit sole
This past weekend I had a few friends (with better tools than I) come up to St Augustine to help me out with a few big projects on Windsong. The most important task was to start repairing the waterlogged core in the cockpit sole (floor). When I took Windsong around the state, I noticed that the cockpit sole was pretty mushy, and obviously delaminated. I figured I would have to either stiffen it, fill it up with some epoxy, or completely re-core the sole depending on the extent of the damage.

When clearing and cleaning the bilge, I would dump buckets of dirty bilge water into the cockpit so it would drain out. Otherwise I would need to bring a 5 gallon bucket of bilge water out and up the companionway to dump over the side. Since I currently don’t have any stairs and getting in or out of the boat is a chore…the cockpit sufficed for drainage. Unfortunately, the dirty bilge water did a good job of staining the gelcoat. Luckily we were able to clean much of that off before this project began. Picture of said sole from the outside, after the steering column was removed:

Sometime after I removed the engine and began to tear apart the engine room, I finally got an idea of the actual problem in the sole. I always noticed some drips of water coming from the underside of the sole, and could never figure out where the moisture was coming from. I eventually decided it was just condensation, and oh how was I wrong! I discovered the true extent of the water logging after I removed the overhead engine room light that was screwed into the bottom of the cockpit sole. Once I removed the two little screws holding the light in place, I released the floodgates:

Water flowed out of these holes for a good 5 minutes straight, no exaggeration. The cockpit sole was a complete water tank full of wetness. I knew then and there that I needed to do something about it, not just a quick repair.

My plan was to remove the bottom layer of fiberglass from the inside (engine room), replace the core, and glass back in. Working from the underside would ensure the top skin is undamaged and finish work would be minimized. The glass underneath is rough and unfinished, so the repair work need not be super neat.

This weekend I was able to get my friend’s router to use for cutting the bottom layer of glass out. I’m not sure if this was the right tool, but it worked nonetheless. First we had to remove the cockpit drains, something I was hesitant to do since they drained out a lot of rain. While I was busy underneath, I had one of my crew make a plastic covering so rain wouldn’t enter the cockpit anymore. They plumbed to the only remaining seacock/thru-hull.

Here are the drains pre-removal:

Here I am all bundled up and ready to make a mess cutting up the glass. It is the only “before” picture of the sole’s underside I have:

I used the router to cut around the edges. After some prying, the bottom glass layer came off:

Wet, wet core…had to use a scraper and hammer to really get it all out:

After much scraping, most of the core has been removed. Only a small layer is still remaining which I will grind out before adding the new core.

The most incredible part was the fact that even MORE water was hanging out in there. After removing the glass, there was a stream of water coming out of the lowest corner for another 5 minutes or so. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, so I made sure the crew witnessed it.

After a day, the area is mostly dry but I’m going to let it fully dry out for another week or so before attempting to add the new core. I will update this post as the project comes along.


This past week I finally finished the repair work and am excited to have it done. Aside from the hull blisters, this is probably the biggest repair job on the boat. The next step was to grind down the remaining core and get a fairly smooth surface to glue in the new core. Here is the surface post grinding:

I purchased some end-grain balsa to use as the replacement core. Here is the first piece measured and cut. The board underneath it is the backing plate I will use to hold the core in place while the epoxy dries. I covered it in wax paper so epoxy wont stick to it.

After measuring and cutting the core, I painted both contact surfaces (core and sole) with unthickened epoxy to penetrate, then slathered on a ton of thickened epoxy to the core:

Next I smushed it up against the sole undersides, put on the backing plate, then used shower curtain rods to snug it up.

I filled in the edges with thickened epoxy and let the first piece cure. Here it is after it dried:

I then performed the same tasks on the second piece of core. Here are both pieces in place, with the edges sanded round:

Next up I applied a few progressively larger layers of biaxial cloth to the undersides. I used smallish (1 ft or so) strips to keep it manageable while laying up the glass overhead.

ob finished! I will sand it down and paint it along with the rest of the engine room ceiling. I stood on the cockpit sole for the first time in a while and it is solid as a rock!

Lessons learned: doing the job from the underside was a mistake. My initial idea was that working from the underside would ensure the top skin is undamaged and finish/fairing work would be minimized. The glass underneath is rough and unfinished, so the repair work need not be super neat.However, I underestimated the effort it took to glue in the core overhead with gravity working against me. It was extremely messy, with epoxy getting all over me, in my hair and everywhere. My arms were noodles after each work session working overhead. If I had to do this again I would definitely go from the top and just take my time with the finishing work, particularly since I am fairing and painting the decks regardless. Gravity working for you is a good thing. All in all, I am happy with the repair and glad to be moving forward!

tommays 02-21-2011 10:53 AM

I have the 5" and 6" random BUT the 9" Makita variable speed with 24 grit was the bomb for getting the glass clean enough to do new core

If you cant borrow a big sander go with the roughest paper you can get to prep it as even 60 on the randonm is a bit on the fine side

1/8 masonite with freezer paper worked out well to hold the core in place without deforming the deck or sticking to the core :)

Beersmith 02-21-2011 11:05 AM

awesome! thanks for the tips.

hellosailor 02-21-2011 11:20 AM

Beersmith, with that much water in there, I'd run a small electric heater 24x7 to encourage more of it to come out faster than just letting it drain. You really want it bone dry before you reseal it.

Beersmith 02-21-2011 11:27 AM


Originally Posted by hellosailor (Post 700508)
Beersmith, with that much water in there, I'd run a small electric heater 24x7 to encourage more of it to come out faster than just letting it drain. You really want it bone dry before you reseal it.

I have fans blowing at it 24/7, I might add a heater as well but the temperatures are pretty high right now (got into the 80's yesterday)

thehardaground 02-21-2011 04:39 PM

or stick a dehumidifier in there too

CalebD 02-21-2011 06:54 PM

Which make and model is the boat again?

Beersmith 02-21-2011 07:30 PM


Originally Posted by CalebD (Post 700626)
Which make and model is the boat again?

1975 Downeaster 38 Cutter. I am in the middle of rebuilding it:

omaho5 02-21-2011 08:05 PM

I like the statement, "I'm in the middle of rebuildng it." A true statement.
Queston , Would it have been faster AND easier to remove all of the cockpit sole ? Then just rebuild it all. Not a criticism just a different way.
Pretty boat.

CalebD 02-21-2011 08:21 PM

Thanks for clarifying. I should have visited your blog link before asking.
Doing the work from below will be messier but should yield a pretty good looking topside. You might look into using vacuum bagging or at least some kind of mould to help keep the resin in place while you re-core.
Good luck however you proceed.

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