When we were shopping for Leela we made a list of “Must Have’s” and “Must Not Have’s”. One of them was “Must Not Have Teak Decks!” We absolutely LOVE teak decks but boats that are old enough to be affordable to us were built by glueing the teak decks down on the fiberglass deck and then screwing the teak planks into the fiberglass deck as well. Why oh why?? Why create a waterproof fiberglass deck and then go ahead and screw over 900 holes through it?? Is that not a recipe for disaster? Inevitably over time some screw holes became compromised and some water would find it’s way into the core of the deck resulting in core rot and leaks inside the boat too.
Being endless romantics the second we laid eyes on Leela we fell in love in spite of our “Must NOT Have Teak Decks” requirement. Upon inspecting the boat the surveyor told us the teak decks were in about 6/10 shape. Not bad we thought! But when the fall rains started to pour, we eventually came to the realization that our teak decks were indeed compromised and the screw holes were leaking water in the core and eventually into the boat. I told Saxony we had to remedy our teak deck. No way could we live in a leaky boat. She countered that yes it would be nice but we simply did not have the time during our short period in dry storage.
The common remedy is to strip the teak decks off the boat, plug all the screw holes and re-paint the now bare decks with an anti-skid coating. This is known to be a MAJOR and fairly expensive project. In fact, old boats like ours with teak decks removed have a higher resale value for this reason. Problem with this remedy is the teak deck is then lost. And we LOVE our teak deck. So just to make this more challenging we decided we would remove all the teak planks while preserving them so we could re-glue them in place (yes we are masochists).
Everyone at the yard with whom we shared our plan of fixing our teak decks in 6 short weeks pretty much laughed at us or chuckled saying that was an ambitions (read impossible) goal. So we decided to start with the cockpit as a test.
- Step 1: We removed all of the screws by first drilling down through the teak bung to the top of each screw head. Since most of our screws were flat head we then needed to use a very fine Dremel bit to remove the little bit of epoxy that had filled the flat head notch when they originally glued-in the teak bung.
- Step 2: Next step was to remove the teak planks. This was a Major P.I.T.A. We purchased a Multi-Tool and this with a mix of gentle prying with chisels and the like allowed us to remove all of the planks in the cockpit with surprisingly little damage to the planks.
- Step 3: We then countersank each screw hole with a 1/2″ countersink bit to ensure the epoxy used to fill each screw hole would have a greater surface area for adhesion.
- Step 4: We sanded down the fiberglass, cleaned and wiped all with acetone and filled each screw hole with West Systems GFlex epoxy. John, one of the resident marine trade guru’s in the shop told us GFlex has some elasticity and is not as hard and brittle as standard epoxy. In the long term, this elasticity will better help survive the continuous daily heat/cool cycle of the deck surface. Interesting side note: as we were filling the screw holes, two of them just kept on taking more and more epoxy. No sooner had we poured some epoxy with a syringe that the hole was again empty and ready to accept more. Eventually, we figured we would let everything dry overnight and fill in as needed in the morning. First thing next day I step into the boat and notice a puddle of epoxy on our kitchen counter. The screw hole connected directly to a hole inside the boat! And this folks is why we are doing this exercise.
- Step 5: We decided to plane both sides of the teak planks to make our cockpit look like new (well almost like new!). We decided to glue down the planks using West Systems 106/206 epoxy with mixed-in colloidal filler. In retrospect, we should have used GFlex for this step as well. Boat shop guru Phil who spent 2 years working on his pristine teak deck instructed us to use #8 self-tapping screws with fender washers to keep the teak planks in place while everything dried. Yes, the self-tapping screws were screwed into the fiberglass and yes this resulted in more holes that subsequently had to be cleaned and filled with GFlex epoxy (sigh…).
So in the end, the cockpit project was an epic. Saxony was right. We don’t have time to pursue this approach throughout. So we adjusted our strategy for the rest of the teak deck and you can read our revised strategy in Part 2 here.