Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Going cheap and getting burned

I always get on to Mary about planning and taking logical steps -- not jumping into purchases before we have measurements, not sending out wedding invitations before we have a set date and location -- that kind of thing.

When we bought Gimme Shelter, the mid-ship Bomar hatch had a cracked lens and was leaking. It's been on the never-ending to-do list but didn't take priority until I ended up sleeping under the hatch in the rain and realized just how badly it was leaking. That's about the same time we realized the leak was also seeping into the headliner and warping it. It was time to move it to the top of the list.

I DID take measurements before I started. Unfortunately I only measured the length and width of the hatch, not the thickness of the acrylic lens.

Honestly, I was a little excited when I started this project because I thought, hey, this is going to be cheap because I can just use stuff from Home Depot instead of having to buy ridiculously priced boat parts to fix this.

Off I went to Home Depot and grabbed the only smoked acrylic they had in stock, which was only $25. I scored it and snapped it to the size we needed and then proceeded to cut the old lens free, so I could trace and cut the rounded corners. Everything was going to plan.



Once I removed the old lens, I immediately noticed it was much thicker than I had estimated. I weighed the pros and cons of replacing it with a thinner lens and decided that while the thinner one may crack sooner, if it lasts a year, it was worth it and we'd have the leak stopped, so let's just be cheap and progress with the project.

The first setback came when my dremel tool died after rounding just two corners. It was a really hot day and the tool was even hotter, so it wouldn't charge when I set it on the charger. I could have gone and bought a new corded dremel, but I was being cheap and didn't really want to have to go buy new tools for this project.

I got impatient and grabbed the jig saw. I was rounding the last corner when a big chunk snapped out of the plexi. Time to start over.

I carefully measured and scored another piece. Unfortunately, the snapping didn't go so well.

I was down to the last portion of my sheet large enough to make a new hatch. I decided scoring and snapping this one was too risky, so I began cutting it with the somewhat charged dremel. It died again. I let it charge another half hour and then got another five minutes out of it. After suffering in the heat all afternoon my neighbor loaned me his corded dremel and within 10 minutes I finally had a correctly cut sheet of plexi. Why didn't I just save myself a ton of frustration and go buy a new dremel in the first place?

Once the lens was cut, I rummaged through the toolbox and grabbed a very old tube of silicone, unplugged it with a drill bit and used that to seat the lens. Why did I use old silicone?

The next morning I stopped by West Marine to see what kind of UV protected silicone they had for the outer bead. The cheapest stuff was $16, so I went back to Home Depot and grabbed some indoor/outdoor waterproof window silicone for $3. The cheap disease had me in a death grip at this point. I was going to get this lens replaced for less than $30 and then brag about it over beers for at least the next two weekends!

Mary took time to mask off the lens, so our outer silicone bead would look nice.



I then went to town with the white silicone around the edges and did my best to get it into a nice smooth bead. It didn't look half bad.

One last job remained -- screwing the hatch dogs back onto the lens.

One problem -- the lens was too thin to snug the dogs up.

(As an aside, Bomar has a horrible latch design. These sort of mushroom shaped stoppers stick down through the hatch on a very small O-ring and then the handle screws onto them. Then the entire piece turns. It's like a third grader engineered it. In fact I called their customer service department to ask if they had an updated design because cinching down an O-ring when you still need it loose enough to turn is never going to be a great seal. The Bomar lady on the phone got pretty defensive and said if the O-rings on a hatch that was 31 years old were leaking, that certainly couldn't be considered a design flaw and I just need to do proper maintenance. I'm just going to say that the dogs on the Lewmar port on my Starwind sealed on the outside and only turned internally, so there was no chance of a leak ever. They could also be tightened or loosened. In other words, Lewmar actually engineered a real solution, they didn't just poke a stick through the hatch lens and call it good.)

We'd spent Sunday morning cruising through other marinas in our friends dinghy and showing off the pool of the new place, so at this point it was late Sunday afternoon. Once again it was super hot, and we were starting to get pressured for time.

I made a run to West Marine for large washers that I could shim the latches with. Now they DEFINITELY weren't going to be water proof, but maybe I could at least get them tight enough to lock the boat.

I think it was during my second attempt to install the latches that the unthinkable suddenly happened. I tipped up the latch for a better angle, and the lens fell out of the frame.

Yes, the super old silicone from my toolbox that I'd applied the previous day completely failed to hold the lens in the frame. I managed to grab it before it fell completely out and got white silicone on everything, but the damage was done. It was at this point I began cursing, and I'm not sure poor little Tex will ever be the same after hearing the things I said to the boat.



I calmed down, I gummed the lens back down in the frame and squished the white silicone back into place -- destroying the nice bead -- and I left.

Mary wanted to tarp up the boat in case it rained, but I just didn't care. I wanted to go home. I was tired of that hatch. I was tired of plexiglass. I was tired of silicone that didn't cure. I was tired of the horrible latches that only fit one particular thickness of plexiglass. And above all, I was super mad that I had been so cheap and muddled through this project instead of being patient and buying the correct tools and supplies for the job.

This morning I ordered a sheet of 1/4" acrylic for $36 and a tube of black Dow Corning 791 for $15. I'm also going to go pick up a new corded Dremel for $50.

Instead of telling stories about how I replaced my window for only $30, I'll repeat my cautionary tale about how I once went cheap, ruining an entire weekend, just to end up spending all the money I should have in the first place.