Almost one year ago, some thieving bastards broke into my tent and stole a bunch of stuff. Most of it was replaceable, but some original pieces have proven to be challenging…the original windshield frame extrusions, for example. I had disassembled the windshield frame so it could be painted. I spent a lot of time getting the original windshield to fit again. I even bought new tinted glass that fit the original windshield frames (let me know if anybody needs brand new tinted windshields for their Chris Craft Roamer 46!), but with more than half of the extrusions stolen (presumably for their scrap value) I was left hanging. Fortunately, I found a fabricator (the same guy who installed my new cutlass bearing carriers) who said he could make a frame that would look good, would fit the boat, and that he could install without harming my brand new Awlgrip paint job.
We discussed approaches for replacing the frames. I suggested cutting sections of rectangular and round tubing on site and tacking them together with the pieces fastened to the boat, since we all know nothing on a boat is square or symmetrical. The fabricator, concerned about damaging the paint, said he would make patterns out of plywood and weld the whole shebang together in his shop. I mentioned to him that tuna tower fabricators weld over new paint jobs all the time. If you protect the paint with corrugated paper, the welding dingleberries just bounce off. The fabricator was adamant though, so I told him to write his estimate with the worst-case scenario in mind, just in case it takes a few trips back and forth to his shop to get the fit right. I didn’t haggle when I got the estimate, and the insurance company agreed to the price. In October 2014 the fabricator got to work.
Unfortunately, the SD card on which I had stored all of the pictures of what follows got wiped when I used it in one of the passive IR night vision game cams I’ve got watching the tent now. So, instead of a photo-heavy article like usual, you have to read along and, hopefully, my description will provide enough detail to imagine the disaster unfolding.
In November 2014, the fabricator brought the windshield frame back from his shop and installed it. I was very excited when I arrived the following weekend. But excitement quickly changed to disappointment when I saw there were gaps between 1/8″ and 1/2″ at the top between the frame and the hardtop. High spots concentrated the weight of the hardtop in very small areas on either end of the frame, but there was no direct contact with the hardtop across its 10′ span–just on the ends where the welds caused high spots. On the bottom, the leading edge where the frame meets the cabin top was high by 1/4″, and there was only contact with the cabin top on a razor’s edge along the back-side of the frame. Granted, the cabin top is bullet-proof, but even kevlar’s got its limits, right?
When I called the fabricator to discuss, he said the gaps would be filled with Sikaflex sealant.
I reminded the fabricator of our deal — a good fit and no damage to the paint — and pointed out that gaps between 1/8″ and 1/2″ are inconsistent with the notion of a good fit. I also mentioned that the high spots and the razor’s edge contact area were a catastrophic failure waiting to happen. As soon as I hit the first big wave, that hardtop will try to go through the bottom of the boat. If that load is spread out over many dozens of square inches, the load will be far less then if it’s concentrated in only a few square inches. He reluctantly got the point and took the frame back.
The next time he brought the frame out, which was in February 2015, it was better but still not good. He had tacked skinny wedges all over to fill the gaps. But since all of this was done off the boat, the frame still didn’t fit right. There were gaps all over. The attachment points on the fiberglass cabin top and hardtop were dead flat, since we’d faired them using 30-inch longboards, so I knew it wasn’t inconsistencies on the boat causing problems. Plus, he had only tacked the wedges in place, with the sharp leading edges standing proud of the frame.
When I called to discuss, the fabricator suggested filling the gaps and the space under the wedges with fairing compound before we paint. When I discussed this with my Boatamalan* painter, he said HELL NO and told me I should have just had the tuna tower guys build the frame the next time they were in town. Fairing compound will crack if the edges of the wedges aren’t all welded in or very solidly tacked.
* Boatamalan = joking portmanteau referring to the Central American origin of the fairing crew and painter (boat + Guatamalan). In fact, the Boatamalans are mostly from Honduras, but Boatduran doesn’t roll off the tongue like Boatamalan does. 🙂
So, once again the fabricator took the frame away and did some things to try and make it fit better.
I’d never been on the boat when the fabricator was test fitting the frame before. Not wanting to add stress to the fabricator’s job, rather than watching the install I went about doing other projects. After a few minutes I heard some very loud banging…like, hull-rattling BOOM BOOM BOOM. I Went to the helm and was shocked to see the fabricator jumping up and down on and kicking the frame to try and force it into position!
Getting in for a closer look, I could see that after attaching the top of the frame to the hardtop using some #12 screws, the bottom edge of the frame was floating above the cabin top by an inch or so. Which meant to me that the top edge of the frame was welded on at the wrong angle. To get the bolts started on the bottom, the fabricator would sit on, kick, bang on the frame…whatever…to force it into place on one corner. Once one bolt was started from the underside of the cabin top, they used the massive pulling power of the 1/4-20 bolts through the cabin top to pull the bottom into position. The entire structure was seriously stressed with this assembly method, but the fabricator left saying he was done with the job.
If the parts were tacked together on the boat, that gap wouldn’t be there.
The pic above shows the high spot near the port-side outer upright, where the aluminum frame meets the fiberglass hardtop at the corner. There’s one screw loosely installed, but notice how the gap grows between the aluminum and the white painted fiberglass as you look away to the right of the picture?
That gap just gets bigger and bigger, and it’s a solid 5/16″ at the inner upright in the pic above. There is zero contact between the hardtop and frame across the span here.
The gap continues all across from the port side to the starboard inner upright until it encounters this new high spot in the pic above. Note how there’s one screw installed there? When the fabricator was sitting on, kicking, and banging the frame, forcing it down onto the cabin top, it broke the bond between the fiberglass and the thick mahogany board that provides structure to the hard top windshield mounting point, and gives the screws something solid to bite into.
Oh, and with all of the banging and so forth, and all of the weight of the hardtop sitting on that tiny little high spot on the port side…a nice chip of brand new Awlgrip paint and primer broke off right in front of the outer high spot.
When I called the fabricator to discuss, he didn’t pick up. After several texts, including pix of the high spots and poor fit, his response was to tell me to hit it with a grinder if I didn’t like the high spots. He said he’s done with the job.
So…it’s May 2015. I’ve got a windshield frame that sorta fits, but only if it’s beaten into place and bolted in a way that induces quite a bit of stress in the assembled structure. I’ve got damage to my brand new paint job. I could leave the frame as is….have it faired and painted, and we could force it together and hope that the Sikaflex or other spooge doesn’t look too crappy or doesn’t fail and start leaking. That would also require praying that the poorly fitting frame doesn’t cause a catastrophic failure that could wreak all kinds of damage to the boat at the worst possible time. Or, I can try and find yet another highly paid craftsman and test the theory that somebody out there has the skills to make things like the Chris Craft production line did all day long many decades ago.
Either way, I’ve got six weeks from the time the frame is done for the new windows to be fabricated and shipped. And I can’t order the rest of the glass for the boat until the windshield is installed, including glass for all of the portholes, because I won’t know the final shape for the helm side windows until the frame is installed. The price delta for ordering glass in small quantities vs a large order is about 2x…it’s significant. And fall 2015, when I planned to splash the boat, is coming at me like a freight train.
Sorry for the rant.
If I’m being too picky, or if anybody has a better idea, or if anybody knows a fabricator with consistent skills, I invite comments below.