1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Salon Hatch Hole Problem Formulation

All of the big Chris Craft cruisers I’ve seen with the headline out had built-in hatch framing in the salon roof. Chris Craft built them into the boats to make repowering that much easier. Our Roamer was repowered with Super SeaMaster twin turbo engines back in 1973, so the hatch had already been cut out once. By the time we had acquired the boat in 2007 the hatch had begun to collapse, which allowed rain from the salon roof to fall inside the boat, eventually filling the engine room. After dejunking the boat, I removed the hatch so I could get the old engines and other big stuff out and put new stuff in.

While the original Chris Craft hatches are well conceived and executed, the reinstallation of the Roamer’s hatch in 1973 was not; hence the collapse.

This is the basic framework for Chris Craft salon hatches.

The mahogany salon roof frames are 1 3/8″ thick and of varying height. They follow the crown of the salon roof and support the 1/4 plywood that underlays the FRP and gelcoat salon top.

The hatch itself is a “box within a box” design, with 1/4 solid mahogany spacers between the two box sections and 3/8″ bronze bolts and washers spaced every 12″ to hold it all together. The open hatch hole on the 1969 Roamer 46 measures 5’x10′.

To remove the hatch, you simply remove the headliner and drill a small hole at each corner of the box. Then strike a line on the top side between the four holes and cut with a saw set to a shallow depth so as not to cut through the bolts. Then, support the hatch from below, unbolt it and out it comes!

Here’s what the frames look like installed in as-found condition

The outline of the hatch in 2007 was a tell-tale that the seam had broken

Upon closer inspection, I found that the seam was only covered with one layer of 3″ fiberglass tape, not much resin and the rest was fairing compound that had long since cracked apart.

All of that was topped with various forms of goo: both rubber and silicone, neither of which kept the rain out for long.

Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand, and I can…take out a salon roof hatch all by myself!

The hatch came out in January 2008. Little did I know it would remain out until 2013.

By 2009 I determined that the hatch skin was shot. Water intrusion through the broken seam around the hatch had rotted out the 1/4″ plywood between the frames and the FRP skin.

This longitudinal outside hatch frame wasn’t horrible, but the plywood was rotten.

Port side aft, the plywood was the worst.

The rot caused the plywood to spread apart, pushing the fiberglass skin up and cracking it at the drilled out hole in the corner.

The plywood rot was really bad on the port side in the middle of the hatch.

The Cause of the hatch collapse: relief notches.

Nobody’s come up with a good explanation for why they cut notches out of the frames when the boat was repowered in 1973. This is definitely not something Chris Craft did originally. This longitudinal frame is actually the best of them all because it only has two small hairline cracks leading away from the tip of the notch.

Three of the four longitudinal hatch frames.

The fourth one was broken entirely at the notch that somebody cut out back in 1973. I’ve already recycled it into cleats (1″x1″ mahogany strips). The bottom one in this picture was almost (but not quite) completely cracked into two pieces.

So, what I started with was rotten plywood, broken frames and a cracked and deformed fiberglass cabin top skin. To fix the hatch and surrounding salon top structure would require stripping out all of the rotten old plywood and bonding in new. Then we’d have to cut new frames to replace the broken ones. Finally, we’d have to reassemble the whole structure that Chris Craft originally created upside-down in a mold from the gelcoat up, but I’d have to do it from the inside of the boat looking up and from the outside looking down!

Next up in our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Rebuilding the Salon Roof Hatch.

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