Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Coffs Harbour, NSW
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Re: Engine access hatch
Happy to share some lessons learnt when I replaced the glass fibre cockpit in my 33'9" OA timber cutter rigged Alden Malabar Senior. Sounds like your boat is set up rather like mine. The engine is effectively under the 'bridge deck' or whatever passes for one on a smallish glass fibre boat. That means you have to get at the front of the engine from the cabin and through a hatch or similar to reach the gearbox and the prop-shaft gland etc.
First, I should mention that the aft end of the engine would have been accessible to me from the cabin if I had left enough room to get myself between the motor and the hull on the side opposite the exhaust outlet. I didn't leave the room because I have been filling the boat up with things like extra batteries and a fridge freezer. So, if I need to get at either the gearbox to change the oil or at the prop-shaft gland, I have to get there through the cockpit floor.
The first mistake I made was to build a cuddy cabin in the aft end of the cockpit. This excellent navigation station and out-of-the-weather watch-keeper's resort turned an 8 foot long cockpit into a 4 foot one. I also increased slightly the depth of the seats either side. The result is a hatch in the cockpit floor about 20" x 28" wide, nearly one third of which is filled with the front end of a fuel tank. The seats are about 18" high from the floor so I have to squat on the tank with my feet either side of the gear box to work down there.
I'm an agile just under six footer and I find the space works for short periods and then it gets to me and I get tempted to pull the tank out to make some more leg room. The size of hatch is a compromise that I think is worthwhile because the advantages of a small deep cockpit offshore are so great. In retrospect I could have made the hatch a few inches wider by sloping the seat fronts back under the tops an inch or two rather than have them at right angles to the top.
Although the cockpit is self-draining, I decided that screwing the hatch down would limit access at sea. I found some heavyweight waterproof s/s latches and installed 2 on each side with a rubber gasket in a slot in the cover that rests on a raised edge around the hatchway. It may leak a bit with more than a little water in the cockpit but a wooden boat doesn't mind that occasionally.
I guess the main advantage of reducing the cockpit by 50% is that the other 50% is a small cabin that, when battened down, would act like a large floatation device in the back end of the boat if I ever get pooped or have a big wave top jump over the side and into the cockpit. A small cockpit also earns its place on board by limiting the number of people who can sit in it to drink my beer at sundown!
Happy hatch-making! Just check that it is large enough before you make the top.