Aft Companionway

In order to provide a traveler and track for our mainsheet we needed to fill in our aft companionway. Also there were shoreside security issues in securing the aft companionway.

The HR 41s were built with two companionways: the primary one leading to the main cabin and a secondary one facing aft which gave access to a ladder down into the aft cabin. The ladder for the aft companionway had been removed on Maringret and a radiator fitted where the ladder had been. The result was that our aft companionway was really only of use for providing ventilation. The simplest solution would have been to replace the missing ladder, thereby making the aft companionway functional once again (which may have necessitated removing the radiator). In addition to providing an alternate entry and exit for the boat, the aft companionway provided the emergency exit for persons in the aft portion of the boat should there be a fire in the engine room. Persons forward of the engine room could either flee via the main companionway or if that was compromised there were hatches in both the saloon and forepeak.

For the dual reasons of securing the boat when ashore and installing a track for the mainsheet and traveler (click here for details) we wanted to close out the aft companionway. As a structural issue this implied removing the washboard and wood trim, removing the hinged cover and then simply “filling in” the resultant hole. But more importantly, as a safety issue we had to provide an exit path for anyone in the aft portion of the boat. This implied a hatch in the aft cabin (click here for details) similar in function to the hatch in the forepeak.

When it came to “filling in” the hole from the aft companionway there were 3 main activities:

  1. fix the lid (hatch) down permanently
  2. fill the “vertical” portion of the void
  3. fill the curved (or radiused) portion between the previous two areas

Fix down the lid (hatch)

The main issue in fitting down the hatch lid was matching levels. The two raised pieces that the hatch used to rest on were cut off. Because the curvature of the coaming is different than the two pieces that the hatch rested on, the hatch will not match the coaming curvature immediately. We attached the hatch lid to the sides of the former hatch with screws temporarily while we glassed 2 iroko strips across the bottom. Once the glass was set then the temporary screws were removed and the lid could be lifted out – it now had the approximate curvature of the coaming where it would fit. We used screws again to pull the 4 corners of the hatch lid to the same level as the neighboring coaming when we glassed it in place permanently – in our case only the aft starboard corner needed to be pulled down while the glassing was done.

iroko glassed in for support lip partially removed lid glassed in place

We then filled the remaining gaps with epoxy filler and sanded them smooth. Painting was done across the area and once the paint is set there is no trace of the differing materials lying underneath. The textured part of the coaming (what looks like the pattern of elephant hide) ends up being different on the starboard where it is continuous across the coaming and the port side where the margins that were part of the hatch cut across the textured area. Although noticeable this is not a major problem as the eye accepts it as it is.

Take a “splash mold” to lift the curves

There are two radii where we were filling – the radius from the vertical face to the horizontal area at the base of the mizzen mast and the radius in the vertical face as it runs from the port side to the aft side. We needed to take both of these curves from the starboard side to invert (or flip) and use on the port side. To do this we made a single mold of the complex double-radius on the starboard side and then cut it into two pieces which could be fitted separately to the two curves.

mold constructed to “lift” the both curves mold before laying up against it

Fill the “vertical” portion

For the vertical portion we used one piece of the casting which was done against the splash mold. This was cut to approximate size to fit the vertical portion of the hole. The piece was held in place with dabs of 5-minute epoxy while proper epoxy was used to fill the joint from both sides. Then the outside was faired and refilled as necessary until a consistent finish was achieved. Polyester glass was used on the inside to strengthen the fill once it was in place.

radius in vertical face before fitting cut to size and cutout rebated

Fill the radiused portion

This was the trickiest portion as the radius is not constant. We used a Fein ultrasonic saw to cut the casting from the splash mold into pieces and tack them into place with 5-minute epoxy. We then filled any gaps with proper epoxy with filler and then faired it all by hand.

first half of radius fitted fairing half complete finished product after painting

Numerous applications were required to get it all right but in the end it all came together. As a by-product of this work we discovered how asymmetrical the cockpit moldings are. However it wasn’t apparent to the eye with the original and neither is it apparent with our modifications.

  • everyone knows that there are no right angles on boats, we now suspect that one side is never symmetrical to the other
  • approaching a fill like this is not rocket science but reading a good book that at least points out a sensible approach to the problem is advisable, alternatively get someone experienced to review your approach
  • be prepared to do this work in many many small operations – trying to do it in “one go” will definitely not work

The filled aft companionway now looks like it came from the factory. Essentially it is invisible, there are no traces of its existence and anyone unfamiliar with HR 41s would assume that they had been built this way. Certainly we have gained full use of the cockpit, before people could not sit or lean back where the aft companionway was if it was open (which it usually was during pleasant weather). Also the issues with securing the aft companionway are now removed and we were able to precede with installing the track for the mainsheet traveler. In combination with adding the aft cabin hatch we are very happy with how our modification turned out.

Funny enough we went on to fit the mainsheet traveler across the glassed in lid and then eventually discarded that solution (before it was even used for the first time) and went with a welded horse for the mainsheet traveler (click here for details). In hindsight we could have left the aft companionway in place but we would still have had the security issue and lost full use of the seating in the cockpit. Given all of this we are still glad we closed in the aft companionway.

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