The forward deck hatch on our project boat, Keywaydin, a 1967 Allied Seabreeze, did not let much light into our dark and dingy forepeak. There was no mechanism to hold the molded fiberglass hatch open, and it was hard to adequately secure from the inside. We decided to replace it with a new waterproof hatch.
The Vetus hatch we chose was slightly larger than the original hatch, which meant we needed to rework the opening in the deck to accommodate it. To accomplish this we decided to remove the original interior wooden hatch frame and build a new mahogany frame that would fit on top of the opening’s fiberglass lip and form a base on which we could mount the new hatch.
To create the new frame, I first made templates of each side of the frame out of poster board. Once I was happy with the fit, I cut out the four pieces slightly oversize. The next step was to figure out at what angle each piece joined the other. While the joints were simply end-grain to face-grain, the corners were not square and the flange was out of plumb, creating a compound miter. I made a few different corner joints out of scrap wood before I was satisfied with the fit. Once the correct angles were cut on the final boards, I used dowels and West System epoxy to secure the joints.
One of the biggest issues was the fact that the hatch opening was curved in its vertical plane so as to follow the camber of the cabin coachroof. The new hatch, however, was flat. To accommodate it, I made the new hatch frame deep enough so that it could sit flush with the highest point of the cambered raised flange on the coachroof while still following the curve on the interior. This created a gap the width of the fiberglass laminate and about 3/4 in high at the corners.
In hindsight, it would have been much easier to borrow a reciprocating saw and trim the original flange flat. Instead, I made filler blocks, planed these to fit the curve, and trimmed the whole top edge with 3/8 in x 1 3/8 in wide strips to create a flat surface. This was then routed out to create a rabbet for the hatch to sit in.
The original hatch frame removed. Once it was out, we discovered a substantial void between the layers of fiberglass that needed to be filled in order to provide a solid surface for gluing and fastening the new frame in place.
The four filler blocks glued in place. This was probably the most frustrating part of the project since nothing on a 40-year-old boat is square, even or plumb. The four pieces were planed to 3/8 in and cut to a rough curve. Each piece was then carefully shaped to fit with a block plane and drum sander. Once we had filled the voids sufficiently and the filler blocks fit flush against the fiberglass, they were epoxied in place.
The new mahogany hatch frame in place. I planed each exterior side of the frame (the sides that would be mated to the filler blocks) to get a good fit.
Top trim pieces in place and routed out. I played with the idea of making these four solid pieces each with a complex curved rabbet in them so they would sit properly. Instead, I decided to cut four straight pieces and fill the curved voids with filler blocks and glue these all together.
The trim pieces installed in the forepeak. Because of the complex geometry of the hatch opening, there was inevitably an unsightly gap along the interior base. I cut four pieces of wood to a width that matched the rest of the trim in the boat and hand-planed them down to a thickness that could follow the profile of the cabin top. Finally, I rounded the edges with a spokeshave and sanding block.
Our new hatch installed. Before mounting it permanently, we took the hatch to Select Plastics and had them rout out a hole in the lens to receive a Nicro Day/Night Solar Vent. We had a similar vent in the old hatch and found it made a huge difference to have good ventilation when the boat is not being used. We used stainless steel screws to fasten the hatch in place and bedded it on a thick bead of silicone adhesive. All that remains is to remove the old hatch’s exterior hardware, sand the excess epoxy and apply paint and varnish. We’re happy with the increased light in the forepeak and have peace of mind knowing our new hatch is weather-tight and secure.