Replacing Hatch Lenses and Battling the Silicone Monster

We spent the better part of this Sunday the tragic victims of project-creep; that thing that happens when you start a small project and it morphs into building the Parthenon. Still, life cannot be all rainbows and unicorns and we’d already had a rousing good time on Friday night. One night per week of fun is our given allotment. Bunches of friends and family members gathered at the now-famous Dawson’s Bar and Grill (Motto: knife fights are infrequent)  in the grittier part of Tacoma to celebrate my birthday and dance away the pains of being a year older.

Galapagos anchored in Bedwell Sound

Here’s the kicker to that: I’m actually not a year older. I’m actually the same age I thought I was last year. It dawned on me that all last year, while I was thinking I was 57, I was actually an innocent 56 years old. I missed it! I will never have the chance to be 56 in my mind. But at least the pain of another passing year was muffled by the sound of everyone laughing at me as I realized my actual chronological, if not psychological, age.

So because we have the Protestant work ethic and had partied kind of hard for us, then spent the better part of Saturday hanging out with our kids (our favorite activity besides bear watching), we toodled down to Galapagos to spend the night so we could get an early start on self-abuse today and thereby keep the scales of justice fairly balanced.

This punishment is taking the form of removing the old lenses and their silicone caulking from the hatches. That’s right. We’re replacing the hazy and crazed hatch lenses.  The small hatch over the galley was leaking a little bit when it rained. We do not like leaks so it had to be fixed. Mike removed the hatch cover and brought it home and while he was at work at his day job, I spent a useful hour removing the lens and starting on the silicone caulking.removinghatchlense

I will admit to a small feeling of power as the acrylic began to bend to my will because that lens was bedded really well.   Actually, the stupid hatch wasn’t even leaking around the lens. That thing was in the frame so tight nothing could get past it.  It was leaking where the lower frame is bedded to the deck. But whatever. Seemed a shame to put that cover back looking so bad. There was no turning back now. I was right proud of my work but maybe this is why Mike looked a little chagrined when I showed off my progress. He knew what was in store for us.

I took the old lens down to the local plastics place; Keltech, and asked for a bid to have a replacement cut. When I discovered we might be able to buy a replacement AND food this month, we decided to just replace them all. We don’t need to eat no stinkin’ food. Let the creeping begin.

Down at Galapagos, now that I had the routine down on how to get those things out, the removal of the other two lenses was straight forward. Mike was going to remove the hatch covers from the boat, but this turned out to be much harder than he thought and I, not wanting to get sidetracked and grow a monster with yet another head, just started working on the lens above the v-berth, leaving the cover attached to the boat. This worked just fine so we saved ourselves a lot of trouble leaving them in place and went to work.

The first step in removing the lenses is to break the seal all the way around. It’s pretty interesting how Mike and I approach a project like this from different directions. He has brute strength on his side, but I have to use finesse and cunning. For Mike, breaking the seal involves using a series of screwdrivers that increase in size. He’ll get a small one between the lens and the frame by working it in and shoving it at the same time. Then he’ll apply enough pressure and leverage to get a bigger one into the same area. This allows yet more pressure and leverage. It also requires more muscle than I have and I worry I will knick the frame. My way is gentler and is less likely to cause bruising. Of my body.

Using the brute force screwdriver method of removal. No, he did not use the Kroil on this project. That was for something else.

He’s making that face because he is using his man strength to pull that lens out, popping the rest of the seal as he pulls. Swoon!

I prefer to use a straight razor blade to cut all the way around the seal on the outside. Then I go underneath with another blade and, using a screwdriver as a block, I gently tap the blade until it slips between the lense and the frame. Then, using the same screwdriver and hammer I taptaptap on the blade and scoot it across the lense, cutting the seal as I go. After I get the seal cut top and bottom, then I can go in with the screwdriver from underneath and apply force through leverage. In this way, I am never applying leverage to the edge of the frame. These frames cost about as much as our car.

Tapping with the hammer against the screwdriver, to move the blade through the seal.

Now I can tap the screwdriver between the frame and the lense without fear of knicking the frame.

The frame releases the lens with a gentle tug.

Now it’s time to remove the old silicone. You know, silicone is the gift that just keeps on giving. You remove it, then realize there is more. Then you remove that, and discover you haven’t actually made a dent in the total amount of this stuff that exists on your project. Still, it is satisfying to think about having clear lenses on these hatches; lenses that are not all crazed and cracked. Think of the light we’ll have! And we are dead motivated for those lenses not to leak. So we kept at it.

Since silicone resists the attempts of razor blades and scrapers, preferring to cling tenaciously to whatever substrate it’s on, we quickly determined we needed the help of some kind of solvent. We gathered all of the chemicals we have on board Galapagos to see what would work best. You can find all kinds of information on the interweb but we like to entertain ourselves this way. Removing old caulk is boring. So we gave each of these caustic unguents a test.

We had all this on hand.

The silicone laughed at the alcohol, acetone, and lacquer thinner. The thinner worked a bit, but not until we had the thicker stuff off. The LiftOff is a gel that you can let sit for awhile to do its work. It works fairly well, but the Release by BoatLife really got our attention. This was on the boat when we bought her and there was only a bit left in the bottle. Too bad because this stuff really did the trick. I made a pass with the Release by BoatLife on my hatch cover and got most of the silicone off. Then made another pass with the LiftOff when I ran out of Release. We were going to make a trip to West Marine to see if they had some of the Release stuff, but I didn’t want to give up my parking place at the marina.

Here’s what it looks like when you use the LiftOff stuff. The silicone kind of shreds with the razor blade rather than the usual thing where the blade just bounces off of the stuff.

We have all the big stuff off and the frames are smooth to the touch. Too smooth. Suspiciously smooth. It may be invisible to the eye, but we know there is still silicone on those frames.  We’ll probably buy more of the BoatLife Release product but it’s about 40$ for the pint sized spray. That’s right, it has the word ‘Boat’ in the name. Anyone have a tried and true cheaper product to recommend? Maybe something you can buy at the hardware store? Because we want as much of this stuff off as possible, even though we will stick to a silicone based caulk when we rebed. We kind of have to. These frames are probably ruined for any other kind of caulking.

Then there is this:

We have 4 of these ports on the boat and they have seen better days. The one in the quarter berth leaks so we’re replacing that one and the one in Mike’s shop. Anyone know what this black stuff that looks to me like butyl rubber might be? It’s crumbling off, it’s so old. The acrylic is beveled and sits against a thick rubber liner against the hull. Then there are many screws into the rubber liner and wood, then the seam is covered with this stuff. I have some ideas about using the black Lifecaulk when we replace these, but wondered if anyone may know if this might be some kind of tape?

I believe we see the problem here.  Some of these screws were way over tight and cracked the acrylic. There were several cracks in this one.  The screw holes were countersunk and the screw heads fit into them exactly. We can’t understand why they had to be so tight.

Like this.

Here you can see the thick rubber liner behind the lens. It is in good shape and we are leaving this in place. 

Tomorrow we’ll go order the new pieces and cross our fingers that it won’t take them too long to fill the order. Stay tuned.

13 thoughts on “Replacing Hatch Lenses and Battling the Silicone Monster

  1. ironic that we were both fighting with the silicone today. I spent many hours with a scraper and blade. It. will. never. be. completely. done.

    • No kidding it won’t. I guess that stuff used to be what they thought of as the sealant of the future! Little did they know that meant you could never get rid of it.

  2. Silicone is evil. It is banned from our boat. Nothing else will stick to it no matter how much you think you removed. I had to sand and epoxy over any area with silicone else the port would leak again within the yr.

    You guys do nice work. Come to Georgia. We’ve got two leaky hatches and plenty of beer. We can even visit the local dive bar for some good ole low country fun and then maybe dig through the spoils pile for sharks teeth. Gators might be a problem but we always bring along a large, physically slow person to keep their attention. Let me know. We’ll buy an extra fan.

    • I have a special place of loathing in my heart for silicone. But at one point in the boat’s history, it was the choice product so we’ve had to fight with it before. Once silicone is used, you pretty much are stuck, true. So these babies will be bedded with a silicone type sealant. At least the ruination will be limited to the hatch lenses. Then we’ll throw away the tube lest it touch anything else. Georgia? Hmm. I think I’ll stick with our heat without your humidity, and water without things that hurt you just underneath the surface. Now if you want to go to Maine for awhile, we can talk. I understand they drink beer up there.

  3. Happy Birthday! I love that you’re actually the same age you were last year. I honestly can’t remember how old I am these days either. Denial I guess.

    Very informative (and humorous as always) post. We need to deal with our hatches too. I’m getting tired of looking at all of the towels I have strategically placed around the place for when it rains.

    • Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt when it comes to age and cunning. At least only one hatch was leaking. The other two are just ugly and don’t let us see the sky. Towels. Wet towels. Those would never dry up here, except for this summer when we have the drought of the century and it’s like 90 degrees.

  4. Ah ha! Someone who has experience putting butyl tape over what was once a siliconed surface! Tell all. What did you use to remove most of it? I will go read your post, of course. And you say the butyl is sticking? We’ve been wondering if that would work for the overhead hatches but there is mixed information, as usual, on the interwebs about whether it will actually stick or whether you will have leaks within a year. I’m going to go down and hit these frames with bronze wool and mineral spirits, as well as some other solvent I’ll probably have to order.

  5. What you want to use is a structural (dare I say?) silicone called Dow Corning 795. It’s less expensive than marine sealers and is used to hold windows in skyscrapers. The butyl is a brilliant bedding compound, but not an adhesive. I’ve rebedded several port lights with DC795 and it’s easy to work with and is holding up well. Yes, the bear is cleaning off the old silicone. Using a scotchbrite pad with your solvent of choice is helpful. I think I used a silicone remover from Home Depot. Hope this helps

    • Too funny! Yes, that is very helpful. We were discussing that since silicone has already been used on these, we may as well stick with it. We love the butyl tape for many applications, but I do not think it is the best choice for this, not to mention that it is grey and would show and be less neat than the silicone. We’ve bought some stuff called Contractor’s De-solv-it that is supposed to be good, and some very heavy duty scotchbrite pads, along with some bronze wool. I think this will work. Thanks for the info!

  6. Pingback: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Lessons in Being Persnickity | Little Cunning Plan

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