1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: De-SMIB-ifying the Helm Door Opening

SMIB: n. Acronym for “Southern Maryland InBred”. Refers primarily to the residents of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, who are obsessed with lite beer, pro wrestling, and NASCAR. It also refers to SMIBs’ alleged predilection for inbreeding and its unfortunate genetic consequences, including limited mental capacity.

While working around the aluminum aft enclosure recently, I noticed that the starboard sliding door could not possibly work. Like one of those M.C. Escher lithographs of physically impossible structures, e.g. a waterfall that drops into the pool that feeds the waterfall or an endless square staircase in which the bottom tread becomes the top one, the St. Mary’s County fabricator who built the aft enclosure had assembled the pieces in a way that made it impossible for the slider door to slide. He SMIB-ified my Roamer!

I first noticed a related problem back in 2008 when I came to the boatyard the weekend after he had welded the panels in place.  I was surprised to find that the forward-most panels had twist in the top half, which made it impossible to install windows in the resulting openings. The starboard side had about one inch of twist, while the port side was only 1/4″ out. It looked like maybe he’d tacked the bottoms in place, then pushed the top halves around until they matched the lines on the hardtop. Since it was the weekend and the welder wasn’t around, I wrote “How can flat windows fit in a twisted window opening?” on the panels with a Sharpie.

Apparently, he got the point because when I returned the next weekend, I found he’d made some cuts and fastened the panels in place. It wasn’t an elegant solution, but a straight edge revealed that he had, in fact, resolved the twist problems. I was so focused on the twist being resolved (and distracted by the paperwork SNAFU that was unfolding) that I didn’t see the new problems the SMIB welder had created with his “solution.”

Fortunately, though, the Roamer is an aluminum boat and I have a good sawzall, a Miller 280NT Trailblazer welder, and a Miller Spoolmatic 30A spool gun. De-SMIB-ifying the helm door opening only took part of a day.

Port helm door opening

The forward panel of the aft enclosure on the port side is positioned such that no significant modification is required to the original Chris Craft hardtop to install a sliding door. We removed the gelcoat outboard of the panel so we can apply a heavy layer of fiberglass to bond the aluminum to the hardtop. The place where the gelcoat is removed is where the upper slider track will be mounted. This is pretty much exactly what I described to the SMIB back in 2008.

The port side lines up with the hardtop support at the leading edge of the door opening.

SMIBified starboard door opening.

The SMIBified panel occupies the space where the slider door would slide into. The leading edge of the panel is actually outboard of where the slider assembly would normally mount.

The SMIB fabricator actually cut two out of three aluminum panels on the starboard side almost perfectly, and his welds were outstanding. His fundamental problem seems to have been that he forgot boats are never symmetrical–he appears to have made the starboard panels identical to the port ones. It started to look like the center panel was the source of the problem that manifested itself at the door opening.

Note the gap between the aluminum panel and the fiberglass hardtop.

The left panel ends at the welded joint. It should have continued to the right another 1-1/2 inches or so.

Good looking welds, though, eh?

First, remove the offending panel.

I always expect the worst from Harbor Freight tools, but their sawsall just keeps on going. It’s noisy, but with a Freud carbide cutting blade it goes through 1/4″ 5052 aluminum plate like butter.

Next, sight down the panel and mark the proper line.

The line all the way to the right on the hardtop is the proper one. The gelcoat that remains indicates where the SMIB welded the panel in. On the center panel that’s still in place, you can see that everything would have been fine if he had moved it to the right so the curve fit the radius in the hardtop…but then that means that he actually messed up when he positioned the aft panel on this side, too. The top edge must be too far outboard.

The top of the starboard aft panel is inset from the hardtop slightly less than one inch.

The port side is inset 1-3/4 inches.

So, the problem with the helm door opening not lining up actually started at the aft-most panel, which, incidentally, also had a bit of twist welded into it. That problem was compounded by the center panel not being cut to fit. But with the forward panel cut out, the path forward to fix the problem was clear.

The next step was to fire up the Miller Trailblazer 280NT and burn on the top plate.

This top plate will allow me to securely fasten the hardtop to this panel.

“Insert part A into slot B”

I’ll butt joint the panel to the deck rather than overlapping.

The SMIB overlapped the panel, but that approach takes up valuable space where the door is supposed to go. On the left side of the pic above, you can see the gap at the bottom between the two panels. I’ll cut a long, skinny wedge out of plate and weld it in to fill the gap.

Nice fit there and the panel is no longer part of an Escher sculpture.

Et voila! De-SMIB-ified door opening.

Gotta love metal boats!

While I had the welder running, I also installed tabs to each of the panels to provide a place for #14 screws to mechanically fasten the hardtop to the enclosure.

The tabs each line up with at least one of the heavy mahogany frames in the hardtop.

On the port side, I just used straight plate.

With that done, I shut down the welder and helped the Boatamalans continue sanding the Awl Quik we applied two weekends before.

Next up on our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: PAINT!


2 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: De-SMIB-ifying the Helm Door Opening

  1. 1969roamer46 says:

    Thanks, Eric!

    Thing is, I pay guys to do stuff mostly because I don’t have time to DIY. This thing would never get done if I was strictly solo. It really burns me, though, when I pay good money to have things done only to have to DIY a fix for the work I paid “professionals” to do the first time around. The SMIB was bad, but he’s not alone when it comes to high paid contractors on this project whose skills weren’t up to the task.

    Mirka Autonet and Abranet are the go-to sandpapers. Mirka also makes ceramic grinding disks, which are da bomb if you can find them.

    Are you blogging your repaint???


  2. Well, it all stems from the parents not using all the letters of the genetic code. Cellular lymphoma be damned. In any case, glad you had your Craig Ventner handbook with you. Looking good – naturally, if you want it done rite, …,,.
    PS – What were the names of those sandpaper mfgs?

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