No Small Leak
One of the great joys of living in the Pacific Northwest is that we can usually sail our boats year round. Even when not sailing, I often head down to the docks during the off-season and spend time on Anastasia, our Islander 28, studying and reading. One cold October day I was aboard as several rain squalls passed through, and I heard a distinct dripping sound. At first I ignored it, thinking it was coming from somewhere outside, but by the third squall I was up investigating. It seemed to be coming from inside the head. Sure enough, I found that the “drip loop” in the electrical wiring coming off the deck-stepped mast was doing just that—dripping!
The mast wires were connected to a bus bar on the compression post in the head, and they were routing all the water coming down the inside of the mast onto the floor around the post. Noticing the carpet in the head was wet, I removed it and saw that the plywood floor around and under the compression post was spongy. The more I examined the damage, the more depressed I became. I was not only concerned about the floor, but also about the plywood-cored coachroof under the mast.
After a few days of feeling sorry for myself, I consulted some friends and a couple of repair shops and formulated a plan. To fix this problem I figured I would need to: 1) remove the mast to unload the compression post; 2) cut out the rotted floor and replace it; and 3) find a way to keep water from leaking down the mast into the cabin or deck core (which would probably involve redesigning the mast step).
While the mast was down, I figured I should also consider replacing the mast lights and all of the old mast wiring.
Getting it done
I scheduled a crane and rigger and proceeded to disconnect the wiring from the mast’s electrical bus. As I did this, I drew a sketch of the bus in which I numbered all the connections and then numbered each corresponding wire with masking tape. The process of disconnecting the rigging and lifting the mast with the crane went without a hitch, and I felt relieved when this was accomplished. We placed the mast on a rolling mast dolly and stored it in the rigging yard on sawhorses.
With the mast removed I was able to inspect the hole in the deck through which the wiring passed and was relieved to see no evidence of water damage. I then unbolted the mast step for a better look and saw the plywood core was dry with no discoloration. Covering the hole with tape, I went below and removed the carpeting and some floor decking in the head so that the wet and rotted floor would begin to dry out. I also placed a fan in the affected area to help speed things along.
While waiting for the floor to dry, I tackled the mast wiring and lighting. Some, but not all, of the old wiring was marine grade, so I decided to replace everything with brand-new marine-grade wiring. I also replaced the old spreader lights with new Guest Compact Spreader Lights, the old navigation light with an Aqua-Signal Series 25 Combo Deck and Masthead Navigation Light, and the old anchor light with a Lopo masthead tricolor and anchor LED. The latter is expensive, but so is sending a rigger up the mast to change a burnt-out bulb. When mounting all the lights, I sealed them to the mast with Fast Cure 4200 Polyurethane Adhesive/Sealant. I wanted to eliminate as much water incursion as I could.
Two weeks later I went below to start work on the water-damaged floor. First I drilled a hole in the floor so I could get a small sheet-rock saw through to start cutting out the affected area. I cut a 5-1/2in x 18in area out of the floor under the compression post and then cut a piece of solid oak to size to replace it. I painted this with several coats of West Marine penetrating epoxy. I chose oak over teak because I planned to cover the floor with epoxy and cloth when I finished the repair.
The next day I lifted the compression post with a crow bar and slid the new oak piece underneath. It took some persuasive tapping with a mallet to get it in place, and there was some damage to the teak panel right at the floor, but this did not present a problem, as it would be hidden by the carpet. I stabilized the area with colored epoxy to match the wood.
There was one small water-damaged area of the floor that I had not cut out, so I drilled some shallow holes and applied four coats of penetrating epoxy. Several days later I applied WEST System epoxy and a layer of glass cloth, and then a final epoxy coat colored white the following day. This completely stabilized the floor and gave a nice consistent finish to the floor in the head.
The next project was to design a new mast step. My goal was to prevent water coming down the inside of the mast from reaching the deck core where the electrical wiring passed through. One advantage of living in Everett, Washington, is that there are a number of machine shops in the area doing work for Boeing. I took the old mast step and sat down with the owner of one of these, and we designed a step that would drain any water coming down the mast or its wiring out through four drain holes. We added a pipe with a cover to make absolutely sure no water could come inside the boat. The idea here was to bring the wiring down the mast’s electrical conduit to a drip loop about an inch above the bottom of the mast step. It would then enter a pipe leading through the deck to the bus bar on the compression post.
The mast step was fabricated out of 6063 grade aluminum. Once it was finished I had it powder-coated to give it a professionally finished look and to further protect it from the saltwater environment.
Putting Things Back Together
Now I was ready to re-step the mast and have the rigging tuned. With a crane and my rigger on hand, we started the job at noon. With the mast in the air hanging just off the deck we ran the wiring through the new mast step and down through the deck. Once we were sure all was right, we applied a liberal amount of Fast Cure 4200 around the step’s perimeter and then bolted it to the deck. It was reassuring to see a nice bead of sealant leading all around the outside of the step. We then stepped the mast and attached all the standing rigging. This took about an hour. The next four hours were spent getting the rigging all tuned and ready for a final tuning under sail.
At the end of all this, I motored back to my slip with a real sense of accomplishment and relief. All that was left was for me to reattach the mast wiring to the electrical bus on the compression post. Thanks to the sketch I made, this took just 30 minutes and everything worked properly when I was done.
It has been three years since I completed this project, and I have seen no water or heard any dripping anywhere in the boat. Let it rain! Now enjoying a good book and a cup of coffee aboard during those cold wet days of winter is more relaxing than ever.
Photos by Michael Holtzinger