Portlight Restoration

This was by far one of the most difficult projects I tackled this year. Its conceptually simple but in practice not! Almost every step had its difficulties. Another fear is that the portlight frames are no longer available so if you muck it up you are SOL (in deep do-do). The biggest problem was removing all the old caulk, both on the boat and from the aluminium frame.

How about a step back. Why remove all the portlights? First, they almost all leaked even after putting silicon caulk over the old spline. Anytime water leaks into the boat there is the potential for mildew and, even worse, rot. A second reason is that the windows were scratch and not clear. Some people had luck cleaning them with Brasso and I had limited success with a polish when I first got the boat. Since I decided to "restore" the boat it only made sense to put in new windows.

  Interior Trim Removal
The interior trim was in pretty bad shape, moldy and stained. When I tried to clean them nothing worked. I tried bleach, softscrub, acetone, sandpaper. The mildew goes deep into the vinyl. I don't have plans for replacing them yet. I may try to find a substitue.
Mildew stains, impossible to remove even with tolulene
The trim just peels off. It is harder to put back though because the vinyl is not as pliable as it once was.
Comes off pretty easily
After removal I could see dirt and stains where the portlights had been leaking.
Dirt and stains at bottom of portlight due to leaking
Frame Removal
After removing the screws I used a putty knife to cut the caulk all around the edge of the frame. Once that is done you can gently pry off the frame being careful not to bend it. I marked each frame as I removed them port or starboard, forward, mid or aft and top. I do not want to drill new holes so this will allow me to put them back in the same orientation.
Putty knife all around to cut caulk
Once the frames were removed I could see places where there were leaks. The wood was dark in some spots but still solid. In some cases there was no wood but it looked like that's where the plywood ended and not due to rot. It was a major job to remove the old caulk. I tried everything including the special stuff for removing caulk. The best way I came up with was to use a razor to get most of the stuff, then use Goo Gone and a plastic stick to rub the thin layer off. It was a lot of work but it came out clean.
Some leakage apparent but wood still solid
This shows new looking wood. Not bad for a 25 year old boat.
Solid wood, no leaks
Once the frame was removed I could see where there as little to no caulk and dirt had seeped in. Almost every portlight showed signs of leaking especially in the corners.
Dirt shows where caulk failed
I noticed some separation between the cabin liner, the deck and the plywood. I will epoxy these back together but I don't think it's structurally serious (at least I hope).
Cabin liner separated from wood, not serious
Short measure here on the plywood!
Wood gone or never there? Will fill with epoxy.
It also looks like there were some filled in screw holes so I may not be the first one blazing this territory.
Old screw hole means others have travelled this path before me.
All done with removal. Kind of scary leaving those big holes there for the winter! Hopefully the tarp will hold.
Portlights removed for winter restoration
Frame Installation Prep
OK, fast forward to spring. Here the openning is being epoxied back together. I used filler for spaces where the wood was missing.
Close up view
Lots of clamps are necessary to ensure a good bond. I feel better knowing that the area around the portlights is solid.
Epoxy and clamp to repair separations
Frame Restoration
Back to winter and the inside work. When I first got the boat the portlights leaked very badly. As a quick fix I put a coat of silicon caulk over the spline. This slowed the leaking down considerably so I could launch the boat and sail. Unfortunately, the caulk was very hard to remove from the frame. Oh well, such a small price to pay for a longer sailing season.
I put silicon caulk over the splines to help reduce the leaking.
Flipping the window over it is apparent why the corners leaked so much. Due to the curvature of the frame the space between the window and the frame gets larger so that the foam tape does not close it. This leaves a gap that is only as watertight as the spline. When the spline gets old and cracked it is no longer watertight so there will be leaks where the foam tape is not a good seal.
Before window removal, old foam tape has gap where leaks could occur
To remove, the handy-dandy putty knife comes in handy. Just slide it all around to break the seal.
Removing the spline
I could not tell where the seam was so I just picked a random spot and pried away. Care was taken to not scratch the frame. They're pretty banged up anyway but no need to put new scratched in.
Hard to get started but comes out easy.
Peel away! OK, I took a lot of pictures so I could show every step. They're just little digital bits that don't take up much room anyway.
Out with the old
This is exciting, like an archaelogical dig. It is very clear where all the leaks were.
Really bad leak here
I wonder if this was the original 1980 spline?
Old spine badly deteriorated
Oh, the back side.
Back side of spline
Here is another problem, the window is not a very tight fit to the frame so there is not much tape holding it on.
Poor fitting window has marginal seal
Wow, UV and salt air took its toll on the spline. The new one should provide a much better seal.
Cross section of old vs. new spline
The foam tape was pretty easy to remove but the glue left behind was not. A little Goo Gone (what's in that stuff anyway?) and some rubbing got rid of the glue. The silicone caulk was not as easy to remove but lots of elbow grease latter and the frames were looking good.
Remove old foam tape with razor
I don't know why this gap is not welded over like the other parts are. Any water that got past the spline could get in through this gap and suspect that was where most of the water was coming from based on the gunk found around the gap.
Gap in frame also source of leaks
Portlight Reconstruction
I decided to get new windows because the old ones were hard to clean and they were scratched. I cut some templates for the glass place and they ordered a piece of plexi for me. When I got them back home one of the windows was a different tint (I suspected something might be wrong when only one had a different backing paper.) Back to the shop where they cut 6 new ones from a piece of Lexan. The Lexan seems stiffer but not by much. I don't think it is any more resistant to scratches either. I plan on taking VERY good care of them after all this work is done.
Opps, the glass place screwed up. Two different tints!
I got the foam tape from the Tanzer Parts place (see the association website). Their instructions is to put the sticky side to the window. I didn't like that idea because it would be hard to line up with the frame. You would have little bits of foam tape sticking out. I decided to put the sticky side to the frame like the original installation.
New foam tape, sticky side toward frame
In the original design of this portlight the water tightness comes from having a seal between the spline and the window, between the window and the foam tape, and between the foam tape and the frame. This was just too many opportunities for failure. I decided to add some caulk between the window and the frame so that there is at least one tight seal.
The good stuff, just don't drink it.
Here I show the foam tape in place with a thin bead of caulk placed in the corner between the tape and the frame.
Thin bead of caulk to form window-caulk-frame seal.
When the window is put in place it forms a nice seal to the frame. The extra adhesion to the window is good too.
Window in place, nice seal to frame.
I thought this step would be easy but it was a real PITA!!! The new spline was thicker so it was hard to squeeze in. The frame had been bent in a few places which made it even harder. I tried using some kind of tool to help push it in but I didn't want to damage the spline. Fingers worked the best but they got very sore. It is also very important to push as you squeeze so the spline does not stretch and slide out when you're done.
Insert new spline, pushing in and back as you go.
The section where the weld was made it difficult (what do you expect? Easier?) to push the spline in. I ended up trimming a bit of the spline to get it in.
Trim a little to get around weld area.
OK, that was WAY too much work to do. I can't believe I've got 5 more to go!
A completed portlight! One down, five to go.
What a feeling to get this part of the project done.
All done! That was quick (not!)
Portlight Installation
Spring is here! Time to put the boat back together. I hope I have all the pieces.

I used lots of caulk because it is better to have too much than too little. You know what they say, "Caulk is cheap". Ouch, that hurt.

Lots of caulk this time! (Caulk is cheap)
Before putting the frames back on I dabbed caulk into the little gaps. Careful not to put too much here because if I ever put the interior trim back on this will get in the way.
Caulk frame gap too
I used all new #6 SS screws because the old ones had too much caulk on them and some were stripped. I tightened them down snug but not tight. The caulk needs to have some thickness for a good seal.
Completed portlight, you can see through it!
I decided not to wipe the caulk off because I was afraid of it sticking to the anodized frame. Not sure if that was a mistake but it was pretty easy trimming off the cured caulk with a razor.
Very nice ouzing
Looks much nicer with good portlights!


Well, the boat is back in the water and after some heavy rains and downpours I have no leaking portlights!!!. It is also nice that people in the cabin can look out and see something. However, at night people can look in too! Time for some curtains. I still don't have a solution for the interior trim.