The Passport Project: Part 16 (Bye bye, teak)

Port Townsend shipwright Rob Parish showed us his technique for prying the worn teak decks off our boat.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part story. The third installment will run on Wednesday.

It’s one thing to plan for a major project on a boat, but it’s quite another to actually start the work.

So it was with removing the teak overlay decks on our 1985 Passport 40 sailboat, Meridian.

There is a feeling of anxiety that passes through me right before I take the plunge on a major boat project. It’s that moment right before I am finally and truly committed. Usually I’m holding some sort of power tool, ready to make a cut or drill a hole that will mark passing over the threshold between the project in theory and the project in reality.

In this case, it wasn’t a tool in my hand; it was an iPad I was using to shoot video and take pictures. In the frame of my lens was our shipwright, Rob Parish, who had a collection of familiar but slightly altered tools at his disposal.

There was a extra large Wonder Bar pry bar. There was a stub-handled Phillips head screwdriver that had been sharpened to a point. And there was a flathead screwdriver, which too had been sharpened.

These were the tools of Rob’s trade for the next few days. And as it turned out, ours as well.

Working alongside Rob, the project moved along surprisingly fast.

We had spent the past few days removing as much of the deck hardware as possible. I had dreaded this part of the task, imagining the difficulty of removing hardware that had been in place for 27 years.

In most cases, I assumed gaining access to the bottom of the hardware would be a tedious, difficult and sometimes painful task. But for the most part, it turned out to be nowhere near as bad as I had feared.

In fact, it made me happy to see that the folks who built our boat at least put some thought into making it less than impossible to actually rebed the hardware.

Over the course of a day, off came two cleats, the bow pulpit, the anchor windlass, six deck fills, the deck washdown faucet and several other bits and pieces.

None of this work provided that threshold experience, because I wanted to rebed all this stuff anyway.

But with the foredeck and side deck clear of most of its hardware, the moment of transition had arrived.

It was a beautiful Saturday in spring when Rob began to dig out the bungs covering the screws that held the forepeak teak in place. Working fast, he used a sharpened flathead screwdriver to cut out the bung. Then he used a sharpened Phillips, placing its point into the crosshairs of the screw head and giving the stubby handle a few swift hits with a hammer.

The worn teak, black bedding compound attached, ended up in the dumpster.

This technique, he explained, would help to break the epoxy that was used to glue the bung in place and make it easier to extract the screw.

After prepping the screws, Rob used a cordless drill to quickly remove them from the deck along one of the teak planks.

Now came the point of no return. Grabbing the sharpened Wonder Bar, Rob positioned the edge along the thin layer of black bedding compound and used a hammer to wedge it between the deck and teak.

Prying it up allowed the bond of the bedding compound to slowly break. In the new gap created just aft of the Wonder Bar, he inserted the claws of a hammer, then levered that up slowly. He then began to walk each of these tools along the strip of teak.

The sound of the bond of the bedding compound stretching and breaking was difficult to take. It’s an unnatural noise on a boat, since it’s the sound of something solid letting lose.

But it meant we were making progress.

Rob showed Deborah and I the technique for removing the decks and we dove in. It took a few minutes to get the technique down, but eventually we started to do ourselves proud. The initial anxiety gone, we approached the task with bluster.

Plank by plank, the teak covering our decks began to disappear over the side of the boat, falling with a satisfying thwup as it hit the boatyard gravel below.

We held our breath when we got to the areas where we feared that water may have penetrated the deck — especially where planks came off easily, indicating that the seal between teak and deck was not solid.

Happily, though, we found no problems with delamination. The emerging fiberglass decks looked awful, covered in the remains of bedding compound and punctured by hundreds of screw holes. But they were solid.

We were making progress, but as any boat owner knows, we weren’t out of the woods yet.

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