1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: Window Pains III–the Evil Helm Windshield Frames

I used to think the paint job was the hardest part of this refit, but I was wrong. By far, the hardest, most frustrating and time-consuming part has been trying to get the helm station windshield frames back in the boat. The aft stateroom portlights were time consuming, mostly because each one had no less than 40 screws holding them together and most of them or the holes they screwed into were corroded….oh, and there were 12 of the portlights to disassemble. But while removing evil screws is tedious, at least at the end of an eight-hour day standing in front of a drill press you can look at four of them in a disassembled state and know you got something done. The windshield frames are a whole nother matter.

As I explained in a post in late December 2013, the helm windshield frame parts don’t seem to fit the cabin top and aft enclosure roof anymore. The entire hardtop has been firmly attached to the aluminum aft deck enclosure since before 2009. I removed the windshield frames in 2013 in preparation for paint, but we never loosened the hardware that attaches the hardtop to the rest of the boat. Still, when I tried to put it back, the frames just plain do not fit square. This is the thing that has been vexing me all winter long.

Little bit of overbite there

The leading edge of the hardtop hangs a bit low because there’s nothing supporting it. When I attached the frames to the hardtop in November, the lower end protruded just a bit. No problemo, I thought…just need to jack up the leading edge of the hard top and it’ll pull right back into place.

Jack up port side and support with pieces of 3/4" phenolic-faced plywood.

Jack up port side and support with pieces of 3/4″ phenolic-faced plywood.

I jacked it up just enough to bring the lower edge of the window frame into alignment with the base on the cabin top when the jack is released and the hardtop is sitting on the plywood. Then I jacked up the center of the hardtop and used a 2×4 to brace it in place.

Jackin' away

Jackin’ away

Ditto for the starboard side

Ditto for the starboard side

With the two outside windshield frame parts fitting pretty well in the space between the hardtop and cabin top, the rest ought to be a slam dunk…right?

Looks OK at the top

Looks OK at the top, though I don’t like the gap on the trailing edge

Fit on the bottom looks good, but there's that little gap on the leading edge

Fit on the bottom looks good, but there’s that little gap on the leading edge

Not a super tight fit, but I’ve seen worse

Moving on to the center section…what the ???

The center section upper frame extrusion protrudes by 5/32″ or so

The OE screw holes for the center section of the windshield frame are unmolested. This is the place Chris Craft installed this extrusion, and it sticks up proud of the hard top by more than an 1/8″.

Fitting the center frame upright

Fitting the center frame port upright

I think it's supposed to go here

I think it’s supposed to go here

But when the upright is lined up with the hardtop, it’s way off on the bottom.

It isn't long enough to reach the cabin top!

It isn’t long enough to reach the cabin top!

So, I jacked up the center of the hardtop and cut 1/2″ out of the 2×4 center brace. When I let it down and removed the jack, the upright fit the bottom pretty well.

Not a bad fit

Not a bad fit

But again…there’s that gap at the leading edge.

Uprights in position

I thought I was making good progress by getting the height right, but  there were still a couple of screws holding some of the frame parts together. Time to do something about that.

Penetrating oil didn't help this one

Penetrating oil didn’t help this one

Dang it! Evil little screws!

Dang it! Evil little screws!

If you ever wondered what's holding those windshields together...

If you ever wondered what’s holding those windshields together…

The connectors are just bits of 1/8″ flat stock and sections of 2″ x 2-1/2″ 6061 angle with holes drilled and threaded into them. But when stainless screws snap off in aluminum, that’s the beginning of a very long slog at the drill press.

More snapped off stainless screws in aluminum connectors

More snapped off stainless screws in aluminum connectors


Now I’ve got to manufacture some new connector pieces. On the upside, I’ve got the materials on-site. The downside is that I’ve got the tools to do the job down at the house…and that’s an hour’s drive one-way.

The bigger problem is that even with the pieces very loosely assembled, the windshield frames don’t line up the way they should. I can get them to line up by pushing a bit, but then the joints open up incrementally all over the place. And where the joints open up, I’d have to modify several of the pieces–sanding little bits off here and there so the joints fit right again. Then I’ll have to make new connectors for each joint, and the holes will have to be drilled just so. Also, nobody makes windshield extrusions like these anymore, and there aren’t any used ones I’ve been able to find. Even when I thought I had a solution with used extrusions from a Chris Craft Commander of the same vintage that was being scrapped out, it turns out that they’re different even if the exterior appearance is the same.

If I sand, cut or otherwise modify the original parts just a wee bit too much…I’m doomed.

It’s time to take a break from the stupid helm windshield. It’s too frustrating installing the pieces, only to find a problem, and then take them apart again only to find another problem on reassembly/test fit, and then repeat the process over and over again. Based on what I’m seeing here, plus the repair patch we found at the base of the windshield when we removed the windshield, the missing center section of the windshield, and a really odd collection of screws that held the windshields into the frames, I’m becoming more and more certain that this boat’s helm windshields or perhaps the hardtop was involved in a collision with something that caused it to move around…a Travel-lift, perhaps, or maybe a long prong on a forklift, like one might use for a repower…

It’s all a big mystery why it’s the way it is, but the frustration with trying to make it right is painfully, frustratingly obvious! 😦

Next up in our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer 46 Refit: Trim Tabs


4 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: Window Pains III–the Evil Helm Windshield Frames

  1. Eric Vardek says:

    Sheesh, talk about a rubik’s cube.
    Adds a whole new dimension to the the term “can o’wormz” sadly.
    But hey, here’s a partial solution:
    Evil stripped screw head/bolt extractor!
    There are others of course.
    And I do hate it when I leave the most important tool at home.
    Don’t give up the ship, temperatures are a’rising.

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Yeah, what a mess. On the worst of them, the screw heads first cam out. Then the heads snap off when I apply my extractor. Then I’ve got to drill out the remainder of the stainless screws that are stuck in relatively soft aluminum. BUT, I’ve yet to figure out how to perfectly center the drill every single time, and once the drill goes off center the threaded hole is kaput and I’ve got to make new connectors!

      You nailed it: sheesh!


  2. William B. Kelleher says:

    Could the temperature be contracting the material that much ?

    Bill Kelleher

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      You know, Bill, I’ve been scratching my head over that all winter long, but I’m now convinced it’s not a temperature-related elongation problem. Coupled with the other things I’ve seen, I’m convinced the boat was damaged at one point and then somewhat shabbily repaired.

      For example, the side panes of the helm windshield were both delaminated in the corners. I thought that was just a simple case of old safety glass delaminating. But the more I think about it, it seems more likely the glass cracked because it no longer fit properly into the windshield frames that got tweaked some time in the past. When the glass got hot, it expanded but ran into the slightly tweaked aluminum frame. It doesn’t take much, with only 1/16″~1/8 gap between a properly sized pane and the frames.

      Either way, I’ve got a path forward to fix it. But it sure is frustrating!

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