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Refurbishing Shirley Rose: Part 2

If you missed the first installment, click here.

It was easier to do the deck work and work on the rubrail, in particular, with Shirley Rose still on the hard

It was easier to do the deck work and work on the rubrail, in particular, with Shirley Rose still on the hard

Thankfully, the deck and cockpit of my decades-old Santana 27, Shirley Rose, were in pretty good shape. The balsa core, in particular, was for the most part nice and solid. Nonetheless, there was still a fair bit of work to do.

First, all the mooring cleats needed to be replaced. I was amazed the boat was ever secured to a dock, given the fact the two stern cleats were so corroded with salt. The forward cleats fared better, but because I wanted to change things around a bit, they had to go as well. Fortunately, there’s a cool marine consignment shop in the Bay Area called Blue Pelican Marine ( that had plenty of replacements.

Removing and installing the cleats was a two-person job. One person on deck held the bolt with a screwdriver; the person down below wrenched off the nuts. Thankfully, I had a friend willing to help out me. It took a bit of elbow grease and a few well aimed strikes with a hammer, but we got them all. I was also lucky in that the bolt holes of the new cleats aligned with the old cleat holes in the stern. (Score!) We used a bit of Sikaflex to seal the holes against water. I also upsized the washers to diffuse the loads over a larger surface area.

The forward cleats were a little more complicated. Instead of a port and starboard cleat on the bow, I’d decided to install one big cleat in the middle of the foredeck, with a pair of chocks to guide the line overboard where the old cleats had been. Access to the forward cleats was excellent. There’s no headliner in the boat, and there’s also an open chain locker, which gave me total access to the cleats’ undersides through the V-berth. The issue was that two of the four bolts on either cleat were covered with fiberglass tape, which had been added to cover the hull-deck joint. I used a fine-tool saw to make what I thought were some surgically precise incisions to uncover the nuts. Well, sometimes even surgeons make mistakes, and because I didn’t realize the wiring for the nav lights was also there, I ended up nicking it. I didn’t cut through it completely and the lights worked, but the wiring will definitely have to be replaced—eventually.

A bird’s eye view of the new foredeck arrangement (left); The plywood backing plates under the ring and foredeck cleat (right).

A bird’s eye view of the new foredeck arrangement (left); The plywood backing plates under the ring and foredeck cleat (right).

After I removed the old cleats, I used Dynaglass to fill the holes and blended them into the deck with gelcoat. That done, I lined up the new chocks, drilled the holes and, with a friend and a little Sicaflex, sealed in the new bolts. (Because the laminate was solid in this area, I didn’t have to worry about sealing the new holes from the balsa core with epoxy.)

At the same time, I was installing the cleat, the guys in the boatyard convinced me a stainless-steel pad eye would be another handy addition to the foredeck, so I figured why not install both? With my friend’s help, I aligned the new cleat and pad eye, drilled holes and made sure they were secure. Because these would be taking a significant load in the middle of the deck, I used a wooden backing plate underneath. Again I lucked out in that this was another area with no balsa core.

After that, it was time to replace a pair of horn cleats in the cockpit. Many older boats have these kinds of cleats aft of the primary winches to secure the jib sheets. However, I don’t like this setup, because it can be tough to correctly secure the sheets in heavy winds. I, therefore, replaced them with clam cleats. The clam cleats require a quick and easy motion to secure the line and an even faster one to uncleat. I adapted the cleat by adding an angled spacer to give it the proper angle to bite and hold the line as it came off the winch. Unfortunately, I had to do so twice, because the first time around I placed the new cleats too close to the winch, which made it awkward getting the line-locked in.

Soon afterward, things got even better, when I was able to replace my old primaries with a set of self-tailers! Oh my gosh, what a difference!

Mounting the new winches was similar to replacing the cleats. To start out, I made a cardboard template of the new winches’ bolt holes, which I then used to align the winches in the same position as the old winch, but with the new holes slightly offset. I was a little worried so many holes in one place would weaken the fiberglass, but it seems fine so far. If I notice any fracturing or damage, I can always add another layer of fiberglass underneath.

The rest of the repairs topside were mostly cosmetic. The companionway slider, for example, made a horrible screeching noise when slid back and forth. It’s not on a track, and I believe the screeching is caused by fiberglass rubbing on fiberglass with the paint having long since worn off. This was an annoying project because I had to take off the companionway hood to see what was going on. Worse yet, there wasn’t enough space to install a track, so I copped out and just created a thick layer of electrical tape and Teflon on the bottom edge of the slider. Problem solved (temporarily), though at some point I’ll have to figure out a proper repair.

Hard at work smoothing things down

Hard at work smoothing things down

Alas, I had some trouble rebedding a few of the screws when I put the hood back on, and it rained before I could get the entire job done correctly, which lead to some water leaking into the saloon. Eventually, though, I rebedded all the screws and (fingers crossed) it seems like the leak is now gone.

Last but not least came the toughest part of all, replacing the rubrail. Shirley Rose’s existing rubrail was rotting, and I was advised it’s way easier to do this kind of job with the boat still on the hard. I looked high and low but could not find a replacement rubrail for a Santana 27. The best I could do was go with a guy in Alameda who sold precut lengths for Catalina 27’s out of his garage. Once again, I enlisted a friend’s help, with one person pulling and clamping the dense rubber in place while the other one quickly screwed it down. This was terribly hard, because the rubber didn’t want to fit properly, and even on solid ground it took us four hours in all, working under a blazing summer sun. It’s on there now, though, and looks good. With the rubrail installed, I cleaned up Shirley Rose’s topsides, buffing and waxing the old gelcoat into a dull shine.

Finally, there was changing the boat’s name. I had decided early on I wanted to rename the boat, and coincidentally, a few weeks before I bought her, I had a dream about both sailing and my grandmother. I felt inspired and promised myself that when I owned a boat, I would name it Shirley Rose in my grandmother’s honor. Hence, the rechristening. The old name was painted on, so I went to work with a sander and soon had it off. After that, the transom was primed, painted and ready for the new decals.

Of course, as is so often the case with boats, I already have a growing list of other deck projects I also want to complete. These include: 1) repainting the nonskid deck 2) re-gelcoating the cockpit sole 3) polishing all the stainless steel and 4) replacing the lifelines. For now, though, there’s plenty of other work that takes precedence. Next up, the rig!

Update: Read part 3 here.

Photos by Greg Maciver 

July/August 2021



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