The Case of the Curious Leak and other tales from afloat.
New Orleans weather radar
W32 in the rain

It has been raining quite a bit lately and every time I’d venture to the boat the port side cabinets have been soaked inside and out. UGH. We always knew there were some kind of leaks but weren’t ready to tackle it yet.  With so many things on the to do list there a tendency to stay away from new areas, cabinets, underthings and behind things etc. You never know what you are going to find and get yourself into.

I mean we can only do so many projects at once and the boat was sitting in neglect for 6 years when we got her, what’s another year going to hurt? The leak on the port side has been ruining the veneer and surrounding wood but still we let it go. Did we really have time to go tearing apart the interior ad-mist all these other things?

Screwed into the underside of the cabin-top sole was a woodbacked Formica sheet. What was behind that? For three years since we’ve had Sundowner I’ve been afraid to find out. It might be a talking lion, a colony of termites, a portal to another dimension and possibly:

Similar to bonding with your boat as we work through this refit I am getting to know the ins and outs of Sundowner. I’m slowly slaying all the dragons and putting away the calculators and graph paper. Each new “scary” project I undertake turns out to not be that bad after all and possible for me to fix.

Take this ruined veneer for example. Last weekend I got fed up with wet cabinets and rotting wood so I started tearing things apart, one wet and soggy veneer piece at a time. First I unscrewed the cabin-top sole Formica cover and found another piece of wood rotting away. Warning Graphic Pictures:
Veneer in the salon
Starboard water damage

I suspected now the hull to deck joints under the caprails were leaking (common on W32’s due to old caulk) and the “decorative” Formica panels were catching the leaks and holding the water subsequently rotting the board it was covering up. Whenever the Formica panel was holding too much water it would overflow and pour into the dinette area causing all of these problems.

How does the hull to deck joint leak? The joint was sealed long ago in 1974 with the bedding compound Dolphinite. By now the Dolphinite is failing and many Westsails are having irritating leaks. Below is a diagram of how the hull to deck joint should have been constructed:
W32 caprail joint diagram
And this is what the caprail looks like on our boat:
W32 caprail

Now there are really only two options when fixing the hull to deck joint. Scrap out and replace the caulk along the seam of the caprail (inside bulwark/outside hull) or remove the caprails completely, scrap out and replace the old caulk then reattach the teak. Of course the second method is better but it is also WAY MORE WORK!!

Another fellow Westsail SV Galena correctly fixed the caprails and sailed off into the sunset. You can see how much bigger Galena’s gap is, proving there is no guarantee our joint looks as depicted in the above construction drawing.

To me the second and more extensive option is a last resort only. Many times I’ve heard the teak caprails don’t come up in one piece, don’t go back down correctly and replacement teak is EXPENSIVE like $1k or more! Oh don’t forget about everything screwed into the caprails like the 9 foot long Genoa track as well. Besides we don’t know for sure the hull joint is leaking, we just suspect.

Putting suspicions aside I decided to find this pesky leak ruining my beloved dinette sitting area once and for all! I’m ready to paint the plywood and inside of the cabinets with bilgekote but can’t touch it until its dry. I had a free day to hunt for dragons since yesterday Tate went racing in the Mardi Gras Regatta with Skipper Glen aboard Quest. I had to politely decline the offer as I’m still healing from my terrible pulled muscle and not quite ready to go tugging on jib and main sheets.

First I removed the Formica panels and teak slats making it easier for me to look up under the caprail at the hull to deck joint. Go go lemming neck! This is easy enough for me but may be hard for someone with a bigger head. We needed these slats removed anyways to replace the chain plates and now I’ll be able to clean and refinish the teak with ease.
W32 port dinette before

Removing teak slats
Luckily they were already numbered top to bottom:
Teak slats numbered
More blue formica!
Teak slats removed

Then I strategically put a hose on various parts of the caprails starting with the first chain plate working back to the tieoff Ubolt bolted all the way through the bulwark to outside of the hull.
Hose on the caprial to find the leaks on a boat
Hose on the ubolt to find the leaks on a boat

And to my GREAT DELIGHT I found the major leak! Amazingly only a small piece of the hull to deck joint 2 feet aft of the 3rd chain plate was leaking. I expected to see Mega water breathing dragon spewing water along the entire joint, but no. Just a little water over about 4 inches. The MAJOR leak that has been causing problems was the Ubolt.
W32 caprail

W32 port dinette after

THE UBOLT of course! Of all the difficult things to fix on this boat the Ubolt is one the easiest. Since it’s bolted from the inside of the bulwark to the outside of the hull both the nut and bolt are accessible. Should only take about 20 minutes to fix. No dragons after all. This is great news because it most likely means the similar leak on the starboard side is also caused by this snake in the weeds.

I’ll simply go to the boat today, remove both Ubolts and cover the holes with temporary duck tape until next weekend when we can properly rebed them. Just like that. I don’t really like duct tape as it messes up the topside paint but I find it incredibly useful if you use it only UNDER backing plates or other areas you won’t see.

I also found that the leak in the kitchen cabinet was caused by another bullwark to hull through bolt. Coming very soon we’ll rebed all of these and hopefully make our boat a much drier place to be. If you own a Westsail or similarly constructed vessel I recommend checking these throughbolts!!

As far as the caprail goes, when the weather is nice I’ll choose option 1 and scrap out/replace the old caulk on the sides with Boat Life polysulfide. With luck this will seal any other areas the hull to deck joint wants to leak.

I hope this post will demystify others afraid of brandishing a sword in search of dragons on their own boat. No dragons today, tomorrow the world!