1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: The Curse of the #&*%^)! Helm Windshield

There are times when things happen on this boat refit that put a smile on my face. Pulling off all of the tape and protective plastic when the paint job was done …that was good. The aft stateroom walls turning out so nicely was good, as was installing the starboard engine using the gantry I made. The salon varnish and making the steps pretty were also highlights.

But then there are things that happen that make me regret having ever started this stupid project…pretty much everything “Mr. Good-but-slow” touched…the SMIB fabricator welding the aft enclosure walls together like they were part of an Escher print…the incomparably incompetent “marine engineer” and professional welder who failed to install my engines in 2012 and tried to MIG weld aluminum using reverse polarity…and there was the other fabricator who insisted on building my replacement windshield frame his way, but in the end it didn’t fit. Then there was the huge theft loss in May 2014 and the boat explosion next to mine in 2015. Aside from the theft loss and the explosion, the pattern that emerges is that expensive professionals doing work when I’m not around to hold their hands inevitably leads to disappointment.

Well…it’s happened again with Motion Windows. That’s the same Motion Windows that I had build my bow seat windows. They have  a terrific product, but the problem is they’re careless when it comes to measuring twice before cutting and welding. Their fabricator seems inclined to oversize the frames 2/3 of the time, and also fails to take into account the thickness that his welds add to the overall window frame dimension.

In early September 2015, I sent a preliminary inquiry to Motion for new helm windows , with pictures from another Chris Craft showing the layout of the original windows.

Example pic sent to Motion

Example pic sent to Motion

Center-opening windshield with centrally-mounted linear actuator

Center-opening windshield with centrally-mounted linear actuator

Per the instructions on their website, Motion requires ± 1/16″ measurements of the rough window opening. I’d been trying to take accurate measurements using a good tape measure and my Bosch laser, which is accurate to 1mm. But the angles involved and welded corners of the helm windshield frame made it very difficult–I couldn’t get consistent numbers. So I averaged the readings I was getting and  sent those dimensions to Motion with the initial inquiry. Motion responded by indicating the trigonometry wasn’t working out. So I cut close-fitting patterns of the window openings using 1/4″ luan. I took pictures of the luan patterns and sent them to Motion, asking if that would suffice. Motion wrote back, telling me to send them the 1/4″ luan plywood patterns and label each one in a very particular way. Motion told me to mark the patterns “with the words “FRAME SIZE” which will indicate to us not to reduce the dimensions of the pattern for hole size fit since these templates are already reduced to fit inside the hole openings.”

Mind you, I did not tell them the template was the size I wanted the frames…Motion told me how they’d use the templates. I figured they’re the professionals, they know their process, and if they don’t make any portion of the the frames larger than the physical template I was sending them, what could possibly go wrong?

Luan pattern fits perfectly INSIDE the hole all the way around

Pix I sent to Motion, showing the luan pattern fits perfectly INSIDE the hole all the way around

The clamps in the pic above are holding a 2×4 that crosses the window opening. The pattern is on the 2×4, completely inside the window opening.

Side pattern…same close fit INSIDE the hole

But because of the problems with the first set of bow seat windows being made too big, I wanted to make sure Motion knew how close the tolerances were, so I sent even more pictures showing that the pattern was undersized just enough to fit in the hole.

Within 1/16" of the hole opening, exactly as stated in Motion's instructions

Within 1/16″ of the hole opening, exactly as stated in Motion’s instructions

Close fit, per Motion's instructions

Close fit, per Motion’s instructions, even in the welded corners

Close fit in the upper corners, too

Close fit in the upper corners, too

In that email to Motion, I wrote “I’ve attached pictures of the templates. They all fit without interference, but please let me know if you see any trouble areas. I’ll mark them as you indicated, crate them up and send them your way via FedEx.

I called Motion to confirm the templates would work, then shipped them off. Ten days later, I got a quote from Motion that included the statement “The attached quotation identifies the actual frame heel dimension that will fit opening (size of the part we are building).” The dimensions in the attached engineering drawing were just right–varying between 1/16″~ 1/8″ inside each window hole in the frame.

Note the center window hinges and latches

Note the center window hinges and latches

Everything looked great, but because of the problems with the bow seat windows I wanted to make sure they didn’t oversize them again. So I called and spoke to the boss at Motion one last time, who said the patterns were very good and confirmed that no portion of the frames would overhang the dimensions of the templates I sent.

Perfect. What could possibly go wrong?

The windows arrived on schedule and, though they’re expensive, the design is brilliant and well worth the expense…ummm…except for a few things at first glance.

Fresh out of the crate, the windows looked great

Fresh out of the crate, the windows looked great

High pressure gas springs were unexpected

High pressure gas springs were unexpected

I suppose on some boats, high pressure gas springs would be helpful for manually opening a big window. But on most big Chris Crafts, they used electro-mechanical actuators to open the center helm windshields. Instead of climbing up on the dashboard and crawling 5′ to the window, all you do is flip a switch one way or the other and the window opens and closes. So, not only do I not need or want these gas springs, if I remove them so they don’t stress my linear actuator I’ll be stuck with ugly tabs welded to the frame. That would give the windshield a cobbled-together appearance that I don’t want. And since I didn’t order them and Motion never mentioned that they planned to install them (they’re not in the drawing, either), it was disappointing to discover they’d been installed.

But that’s not all. There’s also a handle Motion welded onto the lower center of the windshield, presumably to make it easier to manually open and close the window with the gas spring-assist. But they welded the handle on right where my linear actuator needs to attach. Fastening the actuator to the handle will add to the cobbled-together look.

I was anxious about how the windows would fit, but I was solo that day and the windows are a bit cumbersome going up the ladder. So I grabbed the starboard window and carefully brought it to the helm and fit it to the windshield frame…it slid right in with a perfect 1/8″ gap! I didn’t want to risk damaging my paint or the windows, so–assuming the other two windows would fit–I called my Boatamalan* crew and arranged for three guys to come out the following Saturday for a day installing windows and associated mahogany trim.

* Boatamalan: Noun. Joking portmanteau referring to the Central American origin of this crew of custom boatmakers (boat + Guatamalan). In fact, the Boatamalans are from Honduras, but Boatduras doesn’t roll off the tongue like Boatamalan does. 🙂

Starboard window taped and caulked

Starboard window taped and ready for Sikaflex 291 LOT

After applying the Sikaflex, I climbed up on the dashboard to install the clamp ring–the interior trim ring that has holes drilled in it. Screws go through the clamp ring and into the back-side of the window frame. Tightening the screws pulls the outer window into the window frame without any fasteners or holes on the outside. It’s really a brilliant design. The problem, though, is with the execution…

The corners of the clamp ring don't fit into the window opening

The corners of the clamp ring don’t fit into the window opening

The angles of the clamp ring are all fine, but all four corners stick out too far. They don’t fit in the hole. But because we already had Sikaflex applied, I decided to tighten up as many screws as I could and figure out a better solution later. By the time I discovered this problem, the Boatamalans had already started prepping the center windshield opening. And that’s when we found the next problem.

Center windshield doesn't fit the hole

Center windshield doesn’t fit the hole

Once again, Motion Windows has made a window bigger than the pattern I provided! And it turns out that the port window had the exact same problem: the frame is too big by ~1/16″ on one corner. So, I’ve got these beautiful windows with the outstanding design, but they don’t fit. I’ve got a very expensive windshield frame with brand new Awlgrip paint, and I asked three guys to come work on a Saturday installing the windows. I can’t just send the guys home…it’s not their fault Motion screwed up again. But the cost of three guys for a day’s work when they only work an hour would be a big loss–about 80% of what I paid for the three windows. So I made one of those decisions under duress that I absolutely hate…we broke out the die grinder and ground into the brand new Awlgrip and the welded corner of the window frame to create clearance.

Center windshield hole ground back

Center windshield hole ground back to remove 1/16″ of the corner weld

Port window opening corner weld ground back 1/16"

Port window opening corner weld ground back 1/16″

The whole time we’re grinding back the windshield frame, I’m thinking “what the hell was the point of me making perfect patterns, taking pictures of the fit, sending them all to Motion exactly as Motion directed, then calling TWICE to confirm the windows wouldn’t be any bigger than the patterns???” It’s not the size of the project or the challenges of doing things I’ve never done before that cause me grief…mostly it’s this stuff: incompetent, highly paid contractors failing to do the work they’re paid for. THAT’s what makes me regret ever starting this stupid project!

Center windshield installed

Center windshield looks good

The way things were going, I was pleasantly surprised when the clamp ring for the center windshield fit well. The screws pulled the window in tight and we got good squeeze-out of Sikaflex. But before we moved on to the port window, I took a look at the clamp ring to see if it would fit in the hole.

Houston…we have a problem.

The clamp ring won't fit because it's 3/16" too long in the corners

The clamp ring won’t fit because it’s 3/16″ too long in each of the corners

On the bow seat windows, the clamp rings do not fit inside the window opening. Instead, they’re oriented opposite of the above picture. So, the part that sticks out from the flange protrudes inside the boat rather than toward the window frame. This makes the clamp ring-to-window opening fit irrelevant. The clamp rings for the center helm windshield are oriented the same way, which is why it fit without a hitch. But there is no way in hell the clamp ring in the above picture can fit into the same window opening as the window frame itself especially since the window was made slightly too big on one corner. The whole thing is too big by 3/8″ (2 x 3/16″)!

Speaking of the frame being too big, note the size of weld on that corner. It protrudes about 3/32″ from the frame, and the welds on all four corners are roughly the same size. It’s a good, robust weld…but it affects the dimensions of the frame. If Motion Window’s fabricator had checked the frames against the pattern I provided, it would have been obvious they were too big. Even a rookie like me knows to measure twice and cut once.

So, rather than installing the port window with the oversized clamp ring, we stopped after spending three hours getting two windows in. I sent the Boatamalans home, paying them a full day’s wages. I’ll see what Motion Windows has to say about this, but at this point I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed. There’s no doubt the concept for their product is outstanding, as are the extrusions, the welds, and the powdercoating. But five out of the six windows I’ve bought from them have were built too big in spite of me sending them patterns and repeatedly reminding them that the frames cannot be any bigger than the patterns. We’ll see what they say…

Next up on our 1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: Installing the Port Engine


2 comments on “1969 Chris Craft Roamer Refit: The Curse of the #&*%^)! Helm Windshield

  1. Joe Ruttger says:

    New to your blog- love it, you deserve huge kudos for hanging in there. Most projects of this scope would have been dumped on ebay by now. I have been restoring mahogany Chris Craft boats for 30 years. They were put on earth to break hearts and wallets. The addiction remains. Maybe it makes sense for you to get into the welding/ fab game. You have a strong handle on the rest of the disciplines, why not buy a welder? My guess is that this won’t be your last rodeo.
    -Joe Ruttger-

    • 1969roamer46 says:

      Thanks for the comments, Joe.
      I actually have a couple of welders–a Millermatic 35 MIG welder that I use for steel, and a Miller 280NT Trailblazer engine-driven welder and Spoolmatic 30A spoolgun that I use for aluminum. But neither of those would be the right tool to make the windshield frame–TIG is the right process there. Also, as a weekend warrior I don’t get enough time in to have a very good welding hand. Some things do require a pro.

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