1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Refurbishing [hateful] Aft Stateroom Portholes

Chris Craft cruisers in the late 1960s came with cast aluminum portholes that open. The ones on my 1969 Roamer 46 came with built-in screens, which is a neat option my 1967 Constellation 52 didn’t have. Unfortunately, modern epoxy coatings were decades off in the 1960s, and the coatings Chris Craft used on their portholes were never intended to last more than a decade. The fasteners used to hold the portholes together and connect them to the boat were also an unfortunate choice: aluminum. The end result is that the OE portholes are hateful  things, with layers of failed paint covered by whatever coatings previous owners slathered on top (usually without sanding) and failed fasteners that have mostly turned to white powder.

Oh…and then there’s that damned sticky gray butyl(?) tape with fibers running through it that they used to seal the portholes to the interior paneling (sort of). Don’t even get me started on that!

Anyway, these things desperately need refurbishing. The process starts with disassembly.

3 portholes to disassemble

3 portholes to disassemble

Autumn has arrived and the sun was heading into the west, but I thought I’d try to get these three disassembled in the two hours before dark.

Hateful aluminum screws

Hateful aluminum screws

I’ve found the best way to remove the aluminum screws is to first use a slotted screwdriver and a light hammer to knock all of the old paint out of the screwhead slot. Pressing down firmly while twisting smoothly, I found the screws along the sides and at the top of the portholes tended to come out cleanly. The ones along the bottom edge of the portholes are evil things though, with the heads crumbling to white powder upon contact.

It’s funny though…when I managed to get a screw out whole, it made me very happy. 😉

The Good, the Bad, and the Hgly (screws, that is)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (screws, that is)

One screw came out cleanly. But the head of the one in the corner turned to dust, while only half of the head of the second bottom screw transformed to powder on contact. I think I know how early Egyptologists must have felt when they opened ancient tombs and found delicate fabrics and papyrus that turned to dust shortly after being exposed to air. lol

20 screws hold each frame component to the porthole

With all of the screws removed and uncooperative screw heads knocked off, very gentle application of a thin scraper pops the window retention ring off. Be careful though…these are all cast aluminum pieces and they can break very easily if you push too hard. For some strange reason, aluminum screws that turn to powder when you try to turn them with a screwdriver can have a tenacious grip on these cast retainers. My guess is that the goddess of the seas has a sense of humor and enjoys a bit of irony every once in a while.

Next, remove the hateful screw remains

Next, remove the hateful, headless screws from the portholes

Vise Grips work well…sometimes

Many of the hateful, headless screws simply turn to powder when you give them a twist with the pliers. This leaves aluminum in the threaded holes in the portholes that will need to be drilled out later.

Oh, and is it just me or are Irwin brand Vice Grips just not what they used to be? The jaws on the new set i bought last year are very sloppy. The rivets just don’t seem to fit like they do on one very old set I bought at an estate sale.

Glass pops out easily, leaving dry, powdery sealant behind

Glass pops out easily, leaving dry, powdery sealant behind

The sealant they used on these windows looks identical to what they used on the original bow seat windows. Actually, it looks like DAP window sealant for old fashioned wooden framed house windows. It’s very easy to work with at first and seals very well. But exposure to the elements makes it dry out, turning it into either a rock-like substance that cracks easily or powder, neither one of which have any sealing capacity. This is why water can leak past the glass and cause havoc with the aluminum screws and wooden paneling inside.

Fortunately, most of the original window sealant comes out easily

Fortunately, most of the original window sealant comes out easily

The DAP sealant is hateful stuff in the corners though

The DAP sealant is hateful stuff in the corners though

For some reason, the window sealant in the corners of these portholes is hateful, rock-hard stuff that needs a chisel to convince it to come out. Right next to the corners where it sticks so tenaciously though, there’s evidence of black mildew on the aluminum frame. Clearly, these areas were perpetually damp. It’s odd that the sealant stuck so well in the corners.

Latch dogs come out next

Latch dogs come out next

The latch dogs come out by first loosening the stainless lock nut then giving the big stainless screw a twist with a XXL slotted screwdriver.

Two hours later…

I was able to remove the panes of glass, glass retainer rings, the latch dogs and gaskets from two of the three frames. Roughly 40% of the original aluminum screws were hateful things that turned to powder. The latch dogs on the remaining frame will soak in a mixture of ATF and diesel for a day before I give them another go. On the fancy screen option, 100% of the screws that hold the screen retainer to the porthole frame refuse to budge. I stopped trying after six broke off in a row, and it took ten minutes to get to that conclusion. I plan to just drill them out in one go after I’ve removed all of the cooperative bits from the other portholes.

There are ten portholes in total and each one has 40 screws. Roughly half of those need to be drilled out, then all of the holes tapped before I can start prepping for paint. This could take a while.

Next up in our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Glass!


7 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Refurbishing [hateful] Aft Stateroom Portholes

  1. You are correct Vise-Grips are and have the same quality as they once used to be. I have ones from the 70’s 80’s 90’s and early 2000’s and the older they are the better they are and I refuse to purchase any more new ones because the quality of them to me is only slightly better than horror freight. I am a firm believer of buying tools used not because of the price but because of the quality.

  2. Jim Ferguson says:

    I have a 1964 Chris Craft Sailboat (Capri 30) with basically the same portlights a bit smaller though (casting number 74704). In the process of restoring them. Your blog has been most helpful. Just curious if you have gotten to the point of replacing the screens, and outer trim rings? Wondered how you approached this? I will have to fabricate the outer trim rings but they appear to also hold the screens in place. Any thoughts? Great stuff.

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Hi Jim.
      I haven’t put the portlights back together yet. We’re replacing the glass, and I need to order it along with the helm station and salon glass. But I won’t know the shape of the helm glass until the windshield is in. I do have the screen, though. It’s nothing special–standard Home Depot stuff. The outer trim rings are painted (http://wp.me/p37Eeg-J7) and I’ve got brand new stainless screws and a pot of TefGel I’ll use to install them. If I had to replace an outer trim ring, I’d probably go with fiberglass. Maybe use a router to make a pattern in a board, then wax it up and fill it with ‘glass.

  3. Cody Mayo says:

    I sit in front of my computer in disbelief. The internet is amazing. I am staring at the images of the aft stateroom port lights you posted. It could have been on my boat last week end. I too have an aluminum Roamer with the same port lights. It is a 1974. I and I am working to get her back to yacht shape. Alas, my new paint job had the seems between the port lights and the hull faired so that removal of the port light base (backing plate) would break the fairing. I will have to refinish the backing plate in place or break the fairing in the new blue stripe that runs the length or the boat at the port light level on the hull. So with that said. I am eager to share any tips you may have about cleaning up and making more presentable the port lights we have in common. Also, I have 12 of the same port light that you have and about 5 of the hatch dogs are broken. So!

    Two weeks ago at the ship yard where my boat was hauled there was an old lady wooden Chris that had sunk, 50 to 54 feet perhaps, she been raised, put on the hard and abandoned. I had looked at her for months longing to get on her and when I came to the yard there was a back hoe goring her sides like an angry bull. Originally I was looking for some replacement dogs for the ones on my boat which were broken. When permission was granted to get what I wanted from the rubble, well then. There you go. I was able to reclaim 9, (like nine) of the aluminum port lights, just like the ones on your boat and mine from the debris. I could not help myself. They were going to the dumpster. One mans trash is another mans treasure. So, if you need some dogs or replacement parts for your port lights let me know. 318-222-1384. My name is Cody Mayo

  4. Marty Molloy says:

    We’d love to see how you are getting along with the drain plug(s), also. ;0)

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