1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Bow Seat Windows

It’s been my experience that the windows are the bane of every classic motor yacht. Eventually, they almost all leak, causing damage to whatever joinery lies below. The bow seat windows on our Roamer reflected the fact that Chris Craft never intended for them to still be water-tight ten years after leaving the factory. So 40+ years down the line, a key focus since practically Day One of this refit has been to cure forever (or at least a very long time) the tendency of the bow seat windows to leak.  I took delivery of the solution just last week.

Chris Craft’s approach was to press the glass up against the fiberglass window openings from the inside at the bow seat, using a sealant that becomes somewhat hard and crunchy over time. And because the windows are at an angle and inset, any water that falls on them remains pooled along the lower edge of the window opening just waiting for a breach in the sealant.

Pre-demolition, a bit of rotted bulkhead was apparent below the stbd bow seat window

My initial 2008 assessment of the rot below the window was that I’d just have to splice in a new piece of 3/4″ plywood for the bulkhead on the stbd side. As demolition got under way and continued with more interior disassembly though, we found the entire bulkhead rotted out across its entire length. That strongly suggested that reusing the original approach would just end in high maintenance demands or worse.

Rotten ply all across the base of the bow seat windows

The plywood and solid mahogany that goes around the windows looks like a window frame, but barely functions as a frame in the structural sense. The only thing holding the windows to the fiberglass is the sealant between the two…yup, the stuff that eventually becomes crunchy. The plywood is not fastened to the fiberglass cabin top with screws, though there was a bonding agent spooged in places to hold things in place. But this approach does not keep constant pressure on the glass and sealant. Gravity is constantly trying to separate the glass from the fiberglass window openings, and eventually gravity wins.

When I re-engineered the bow seat, part of the project involved getting the window openings ready for a solution to the original glass problems.

The solution arrived well crated

The solution arrived well crated

Motion Windows out of Vancouver, Washington makes a clamp-style aluminum framed window that puts the glass and frame on the outside, with a clamp ring on the inside. Their design completely eliminates screws on the exterior, which I felt was far superior to other aftermarket window manufacturers’ products.

Exterior frame on top, interior clamp ring on the bottom

Exterior frame on top, interior clamp ring on the bottom

The tinted glass should look great against the Awlcraft 2000 Matterhorn White paint on the cabin top.

Side windows are fixed, but the center will open.

That center opening window should be very helpful when it comes to venting heat from cooking out of the boat. We rarely run the genset when anchoring out in the summer, so another benefit is that it will put any breeze that comes along through the boat at the highest (and hottest) part of the interior.

But the closer I looked, the more I noticed little problems with the powder coating in these brand new windows.

Pinhole at the welded joint

Pinhole at the welded joint

Thin coating at the sharp weld edge

Thin coating at the sharp weld edge

They ground down the TIG welded joint but left a sharp edge…and no sprayed coating stays a uniform thickness over sharp edges. In the pic above, you can actually see through the coating. Also, if you look closely at the outer-most part of the welded joint, you can see that the welder stopped short of the end. That leaves an open joint there, with a cut aluminum edge just waiting for moisture to start the oxidization process.

Another pinhole

Another pinhole

Sharp weld edges and a void in the frame

Sharp weld edges and a void in the frame

In the pic above, the guy working the TIG obviously got the frame too hot, melting a bit of the aluminum and leaving a void. He could have worked the foot pedal and flowed a bit of filler into the void, but instead he just left it. The void has many sharp points and edges, and the coating is see-thru there.

Still more pinholes

Still more pinholes…and a badge

Still another sharp weld edge with super thin powder coating

Still another sharp weld edge with super thin powder coating

Another pinhole

Another pinhole, plus another big badge on the glass

I understand that some people don’t mind brand advertising on items they buy. Some amount of brand advertizing is inevitable, I suppose, though I personally would never buy a t-shirt that was emblazoned with the name and logo of the manufacturer across the front and back. Each one of these windows had a Motion Windows badge slapped on a corner of the glass. But the panes aren’t that big and they’re all lined up in a row, so having three of them is obtrusive.

To each his own, I guess, but since these three little windows cost 1.7x the price I paid for all of the new tinted glass for the whole boat, I think it would have been good for the manufacturer to first ask if I minded or wanted their badges. Sure, it will only take somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes to remove the three, taking care not to scratch the glass with a razor knife. But I would have preferred to be asked if I wanted them rather than having the manufacturer obligate me to take the time to remove them. I also would probably have been more forgiving if not for the pinholes and thin spots.

On the center opening windshield, it also appeared as if the hinges were perhaps not bedded in anything. Since they are attached to the aluminum frames using stainless screws, if no bedding compound was used then dissimilar metal corrosion will begin immediately the first time they get wet.

I wrote to Motion Windows, documenting the quality control issues I’d found. While pinholes and thin spots in a coating might not be a big deal if these were fiberglass, the window frames are aluminum. Any breach in the coating, no matter how small, will absolutely be a future point of failure. Aluminum oxide will begin to grow as soon as water hits it, and before long the coating will blister and develop bubbles that are full of white aluminum oxide powder. The only question is, will the coating begin to fail while the windows are still in their two-year warranty period or a day, a week, a month, or a year after?

The president of the company’s initial response acknowledged the problems, indicating that the pinholes, void, and thin powder coating at the weld joints was not typical of the products that leave their shop. They also said they were going to have meetings with their manufacturing team to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future, and apologized for falling short of the mark.

He also said that “I would acknowledge that some of the problems identified are cosmetic and can be addressed or minimized with a little work. But it is disappointing that it is on the customer to do it.” So, I paid for a quality level I didn’t get, and fixing the problems will apparently come out of my pocket as well. I thought maybe I was misreading the response, so I wrote and asked for a clarification.

Their subsequent response indicated that most of the problems could be fixed with a bit of touch up paint, but I’m not sure that touch up paint can resist cracking over an open joint between two pieces of welded aluminum. They also verified that, in fact, no bedding compound was used when they installed the hinges. Ironically, the two-year warranty is void if anyone but a company employee disassembles and reassembles any part of a factory-assembled window. If I take the hinges off and put in bedding compound, the warranty for the entire window is void!

I am still in communication with the manufacturer, who has subsequently offered to take the windows back and refund my money. But I’ve already gone to great expense to make sure that the openings were made for these particular windows. If not for the QC problems, I’d be very pleased with them. I’ll update the blog when the issue is resolved, but at this point I’m not installing my new windows in the bow seat.  😦

Next up in our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Refurbishing [hateful] Aft Stateroom Portholes

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4 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Bow Seat Windows

  1. Jimminy crickets!
    What a load of hooey.
    I mean those windows really should have been the jay, topping off what is by far the finest Roamer restoration (R2) extant. You hit the mark with your analysis and should have been fully rewarded for your pains.
    Hopefully, you can get them to “do it rite” and install what are the icing on this, the richest of all Riviera “cakes”.
    Cheers!
    -Eric

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Thanks, Eric. I haven’t wanted to come across as nit-picky, and it’s easy to be dismissive of a few pinholes in paint. But these are aluminum, so pinholes in the coating are the exact spots where it will fail.

      I’d been looking forward to these windows since 2009. The quote went up 30% during that time, but the price for tinted 1/4″ glass is still only ~$3/ft^2. These are high end windows and, I believe, the majority of the cost is in (presumably) highly skilled labor and some amount of profit. I don’t mind paying the high price for high quality, but “the fix is on the customer” was shocking. We’ll see how it turns out…

      They sure do look good from a few feet away though.

      Q

  2. erik says:

    So nice to see all you have done 😉

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