If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Lessons in Being Persnickity

This post is by way of doing the harsh thing that bloggers of life transitions and of sailboat ownership sometimes have to do: Post about failure. File this under ‘brutal honesty’, and also many expletives and stomping of feet; perhaps throwing a few things for good measure. I’ve never tried that, but I understand how it could be cathartic.

Remembering more relaxing times. Keep this feeling as you read on.

We’ve owned three boats. We thought we were not amateurs at this point, even though we’re always learning. Oh, hubris. What a harsh mistress you are. This summer, because the weather was fine, we got a little twitchy and decided to replace our hatch lenses. It sounds so simple, no? You just remove the lenses, clean up the frames, and rebed in the same stuff that was used in the first place.

Why did we want to replace them? Because they were old and crazed and didn’t let in much light. Did they leak? No. They did not. Did they work as they should? Yes. They did. So basically, the only thing wrong with them was cosmetic. We wanted them to be pretty. We wanted to see through them. We wanted to lie in the V-berth and look at stars while at anchor. Such petty problems to have. I guess we were a little persnickety. Joke’s on us! Now who feels old and crazed? Not the hatches.

The old but serviceable lens. Notice how you can’t see the side of my foot through the thing?

Now it’s the rainy season and we have hatches that leak. That’s right, readers, we are hatch refit failures. #Amateurs #Pissedthehelloff. Somehow, after literally spending hours scraping, using harsh chemicals that probably shortened our lives, and sanding with expensive sand paper, leaks have developed in all three hatches. All. Three. See what happens when you try to fix something that ain’t broke?

Recall that we decided to use industrial silicone to rebed those hatch lenses. It was that or butyl tape, and we couldn’t get any solid information that butyl tape would stick to silicone any better than anything else. The information is probably there, but we didn’t find it for whatever reason. People posted their thoughts. Everyone who has ever bedded anything on a boat has an opinion about the best stuff to use. In the end, we made the wrong choice, or maybe we didn’t use enough of it, or maybe there was invisible silicone left on the hatch frames. Silicone is evil, so who knows? The hatches don’t leak everywhere so probably it’s a silicone residue problem.

Except that this was a total win. Thank goodness.

The feelings we have about this are second only to the issue we had with getting a proper exhaust system for Hiram, our engine. But we rose to that challenge and, I assure you, we will not be beaten by this one. Never mind that we’re getting the house ready and the holidays are bearing down before us. Never mind that Mike has been transferred to another job in Boeing and doesn’t have the time to think about this problem. Never mind that I’m increasing the number of coaching clients I see on the boat because I’ve made a commitment to using Galapagos as my office space until I completely retire. (I’m loving this, by the way.) At least the hatch in the salon only drips a tiny bit, and the drips don’t land on my clients’ heads. I’m grateful for small things.

This weekend it’s going to be un-rainy. Lots of people will be outside enjoying the sunnyish weather. We will be outside too: removing the forward hatch lens once more. It’s the one that leaks the worst. We’re going to do that one, particular hatch and then sit back and observe the results. We’re going to clean the hell out of the frame until our fingers are tiny nubs of skin and bone. So far, we think we’re going to use butyl tape. So that’s the situation on the ground here for the moment. Keep your fingers crossed we do it right this time, and if you think of it, spit three times and turn around.

Because this is the goal.

Because this is the goal.


27 thoughts on “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Lessons in Being Persnickity

  1. I’m looking forward to hearing how your second attempt works out. This past summer, bashing back up the Baja, green water over the boat finally resulted in a couple of small (but persistent) leaks around the main hatch on the bow. I have butyl tape but plan to put the re-bedding off until Spring. Good luck with your second attempt!

    • We will certainly post how this turns out. I feel sure it’s an issue of the residue of old silicone not being completely gone. Hopefully yours are not currently bedded in silicone as ours were.

  2. We never had a leak in Pelagia’s hatches. At least, not until we returned her home to Vancouver this Summer; then we discovered very quickly a new significant leak. The Mexican heat had shrunk (shrunken?) the caulking. (A warning for your future travels: the Mexican heat and sun are 1000s times more deadly than up here.) We are waiting until Springtime sun to repair (currently using a clear large garbage bag tightly wrapped to kep out water).

    Re butyl tape: isn’t some sort of “positive” fixation (i.e., screws) also required (especially to be secure in large seas coming over hatches… which I guarantee will happen)?


    • Yes, this is a concerne we have as well. One of our hatches has screw holes in the metal. We may decide to take the lens back in and have screw holes put in. I can’t remember if that’s the one we are starting on or not.

  3. Ugh. What a nightmare. Why does everything have to be so hard at times? Our hatches are both cosmetically displeasing and leaky so we’ll need to sort them out. Right now, I have them covered with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Not really a long term solution. Will watch with interest how Take 2 goes for you. And, of course, sending you positive energy thoughts full of sunshine, rainbows, unicorns, kittens and chocolate chip cookies.

  4. Oh no! Replacing the lenses on our hatches and ports is something we talk about doing every now and then for the same reason but I think your advice is sound — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Good luck with the repair. I’m glad the weather has FINALLY broken so you can get aboard and back to work: November has been brutal!

    • It really has been the mother of all rains, hasn’t it? I guess that was the ultimate test, and in the end I’d rather it happen now than when we are away from the dock.

  5. As a temp fix, put some duct tape over the frame/lens area, or wrap plastic totally around the hatch and tape in place underneath. It’s what we’re doing while working on some other things and just don’t have time to deal with the leak we found.

    • I’ve been considering using some kind of waterproof tape around the seam on the hatch. Frankly, at this point if I could find some clear or aluminum colored rubber tape, similar to what we used around the ports on the hull, I’d just put it up there and let it stay until we need to replace again.

  6. Our v-verth hatch cracked when the boom accidentally came down on it. We had a leaky hatch for a season, but pulled it out, took out the plexi and had the frame powder coated before we put new plexi back in (using butyl). No leaks! We decided to do the main cabin hatch this year and so far so good. We also replaced all our ports and used butyl on those as well. Had some leaks in the beginning, but worked through them all and now (cross fingers) no more leaks. We are heading out to the Keys and Bahamas next month so it will get tested once again.

  7. One thing you can always count on in the Pacific Northwest is ample testing of the waterslightness of places on your boat where you would prefer complete dryness!

  8. RC Collins, AKA MaineSail is the acknowledged expert on the use of butyl tape. He recommends against using butyl for hatch lenses and in favor of Dow 795 or Sika 295UV with its recommended primer. Both products require scrupulously clean surfaces, which means you have to get rid of all silicone contamination with a chemical debonder like 3M’s Debonder or DSR-5.

    Like your exhaust, this is not a job that will tolerate shortcuts or amateur mistakes. Also like your exhaust, it can have serious negative repercussions if it fails at sea under trying conditions. As painful as it may be, commit to doing it right whether that means spending the time to do it yourself or spending the money to have a pro do it for you.

    • Since posting this we’ve educated ourselves more about butyl and have decided against it. As we talked, we remembered that this was why we had decided against butyl before. We did give it our best go, we thought, trying to get all the silicone off the frame before rebedding, but apparently it wasn’t good enough, especially on the forward hatch. That was the one I was most concerned about. Others have privately recommended Dow 795 or the Sika product so it’s likely we will go with one of those. Thanks for the information about 3M Debonder and DSR-5. We will look into those for sure. We definitely are committed to doing this right and are thankful that our mistakes are being shown now, rather than later. We have decided to put off repair until the weather is warmer so we we can do it right. Look for a post soon about our quick ‘fix for now’. Thanks, again, for your comments. they are always helpful.

      • Debond (which actually isn’t a 3M product, my bad) is available at Fisheries so it’s easy to find but FWIW, I’ve found DSR-5 to be more effective on silicone than Debond and it also works on 5200 and, they claim, any other flexible cured adhesive or sealant.

        The basic idea is to spray it on and let it sit a bit so it can lift the outermost edge of the sealant bead. Once the edge is up, you spray again as you work it with a plastic scraper. It’ll continue to work its way between the substrate and the sealant while simultaneously breaking down the bulk of the sealant, which will start to crumble as you scrape it. Once you’ve got it down to just a thin surface layer, you keep spraying and working it with a towel, 3M pad, or other softly abrasive textile to get it off the substrate completely. Once that’s done, I clean up with alcohol or acetone. It certainly doesn’t eliminate elbow grease from the process but it literally makes it go 10X faster and leaves a chemically clean surface.

        The local distributor for DSR is over in Sammamish and he hand delivered my measly order of a single quart a few years ago without even asking. He was on his way somewhere else so I can’t promise the same level of service but I think you’ll find him eager to please. His contact info is:

        Mike Peters
        MSRP Sales, LLC
        2679 230th Avenue, S.E.
        Sammamish, Washington 98075
        Mobile: (425) 351-5468
        Email: msrpsales@gmail.com

        I don’t have any relationship, just a satisfied customer. NB, the stuff’s not cheap (I think it was around $30/qt) but I’ve used it for numerous projects on two successive boats and still have more than half left.

        • I wonder if it works better than the Boatlife Release that we used on the first hatch. I was really impressed with that product and, indeed, that hatch has only one small drip of a leak. By the time we were on the forward hatch, we had run out of that product and I had concerns about tiny amounts of silicone still being on the frame. I am assuming that this is, actually, the problem as I cannot think of any other reason why the hatch would be leaking. I believe we have the technique for removing the silicone correct, but it’s almost impossible to tell if it’s all removed. If you have any tricks on how to do that on a vertical aluminum surface, we’d love to know them. We don’t mind at all paying 30$ for a product that actually works, that’s about what the Boatlife Release costs. Thoughts on the difference between those two products? http://www.boatlife.com/release-adhesive-sealant-remover-16oz/ Thanks for the contact information for the DSR.

          • I’ve never used Boatlife Release but I pulled the MSDS for both products and it seems like they’re different:




            Release contains butanone (AKA MEK), which is pretty nasty to smell and will eat latex or nitrile rubber gloves. DSR-5 seems to contain longer chain hydrocarbons and doesn’t have a strong odor. Latex or nitrile gloves are pretty much all the protection you need.

            I agree that telling when the silicone is all gone is tough. I generally work it until I can’t see any macroscopic evidence of contamination any more and then keep going with clean scrubbers and fresh remover just to be safe. One trick that seems to work well is once you think it’s all clean, wipe it down with alcohol or acetone to get all the remover off and spray some water on the surface you’ve scrubbed as well as an area of the same material that never had silicone on it as a negative control. If the surface you’re scrubbing is still contaminated, the water will bead pretty aggressively. If not, it’ll wet out similar to the control area.

            • Well, honestly I gave that hatch cover my best shot in terms of getting that stuff off. I went over and over it and did use acetone at the end. It’s possible we just didn’t use enough silicone. We were worried about using too much and it squishing all over the lens. We may have erred on the side of too little. Who knows? We will order some of the stuff you recommend, though, and give that a try when the weather is warmer. Many, many thanks for your support and information.

  9. the best temporary tape solution is preservation tape. Seals very well and leaves no residue. It is available from MMM but much more affordable from Dr. shrink. Both are available from Fisheries

  10. Twenty-four years ago, I rebedded the three skylight hatches with black 3M silicone sealant. Mechanically cleaned the old sealant off (I don’t know what was there to begin with). They are still there, no leaks.


  11. I wish that had been our experience, Steve. We play with the idea that the problem might be that too little sealant was used, not that there was residue from the silicone. I guess we will figure that part out when we do it over next summer.

  12. I seem to remember telling you, via WWS, that you’d be glad you did them…..sorry about that. We were more successful by having our hatch covers first sandblasted and then powder coated, by someone other than ourselves. This was a job too messy and difficult for us. One of ours was also covered in globs of silicone too stubborn to come off easily. We then rebedded the new acrylic using DC 795 in a light tan color to ( theoretically) minimize heat-induced swelling and then shrinkage which could pull it loose. So far so good after some biblical tropical Mexican rainstorms. And we can see out of them! Also, new gasketing must have helped as well. Good luck.

    • We are hoping that we’ve found at least a temporary solution to the leaking. Our hatches are raw aluminum, so I don’t know if powder coating would work for us. We’ve had some good communication with people about the best product for removing that silicone, so we’re going to give it another try this summer.

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