Stern Rail, Construction

The Completed Stern Rail
Stern Rails are important on a sailboat. First and foremost they help to prevent you from falling overboard. Secondly, they provide you with a good place to hang stuff. Stern rails were not optional pieces of equipment on the Ericson 25. Therefore, any stern rail you might see on an Ericson 25 is a post-production modification. The Stern Rail Gallery on this website should provide you with many examples of how others have modified their cockpits through the addition of a stern rail. If you have seen that gallery, you should notice that the stern rail in the above picture is somewhat different from other stern rails on other Ericson 25s. The primary difference is that, whereas those stern rails are constructed out of stainless steel, this one  is constructed out of aluminum. Those stern rails, moreover, are 1 inch in diameter, which is the norm. This stern rail, however is 1.25 inches in diameter, which is a little bit bigger, but not terribly so. Why, you might ask, did I opt not for stainless steel, but for aluminum? The answer: expediency. I know someone who does custom aluminum work for boats, and he gave me a good price on this job, especially since I gave him some help on his own boat project. I must admit I was a little hesitant to go the aluminum, route, but I must say that I ended up being well-pleased with the results. The styling of this stern rail is damn pretty, and it's pretty damn strong to boot. An average sized man can swing down out of the boat from the horizontal piece over the stern without any signs of flexing. I'm not sure that you could say the same thing about a piece of 1 inch stainless steel. At any rate, the pictures below illustrate the many steps that my buddy and his helper took in the construction of this custom aluminum stern rail for my Ericson 25, Oystercatcher. 

The first thing my buddy did was make some quick measurements and jot down some numbers. Made sense to him. Still doesn't make sense to me. 
Before I could climb down out of the cockpit and get my camera ready he had grabbed a long piece of Schedule 40 aluminum and put a slight bend in it with this hand-operated machine. He told me it was called a "crowner," and it was used for putting a gentle bend or crown in a pipe. In this case, the crown was intended to mimic the curvature of the top of the stern. My buddy said that without the convex shape of the crown, the  stern rail would appear awkwardly flat or concave as it passed over the stern. I liked his thinking and his sense of style. This was the same sort of thing that the ancient Greeks used to do when they constructed their  temples.
 Immediately after crowning the aluminum, my buddy took the piece to the pipe-bender.
He used the pipe bender to make the initial turns that would mimic the shape of the sides of the cockpit, port and starboard.

He did a lot of measuring, but he also did a lot of work with his eyes. He said many times that if it looks right, it is right.

Once he was satisfied with the positioning of the pipe, he'd turn on the pipe bender and let the motor do the work.
 The first of many dry fits.



Once he was satisfied with the initial bends, he started making the second set of bends that turned the pipe from a two-dimensional object, so to speak, into a three-dimensional object. This was when his techniques really became mind-boggling for me.

When asked how he kept things precise, he said that the gauge on the machine was a big help. He monitored this as he worked the machine.

 In this picture you can see the crown on the horizontal piece that would pass over the stern.

At this point, my buddy and his helper began the third set of bends. These would curve inward and serve as termination points on the coamings.

After the completed this third set of bends he had to cut off the ends of the pipe so that the terminations would fit just right on the sides of the coamings.


 The next task was to weld the mounting plates to the stern rail terminations.


He pounded the mounting plates to force them to fit snugly against the coamings. He said this was a standard procedure. It appeared that his tools were well-worn from years of use.



Next, he started working on the secondary supports for the stern rails. This required more bending and more cutting.

 And more welding.
Before going any further, he decided to pause and temporarily mount the stern rail itself to the coaming.





They did a lot of measuring and eye-balling to get the secondary supports into positions that would exactly parallel the primary supports of the stern rail.

My buddy had to do some fancy cutting to make the secondary supports join the stern rail in a smooth and aesthetically pleasing fashion.















After he had gotten the secondary supports welded into place, he began the next-to-the-last step: welding the lifeline anchors to the stern rail. He left them un-drilled, saying that I could drill the holes in whatever way I thought was most suitable for supporting the lifeline hardware.



The final step was the painting of the welds with a chrome colored aluminum paint.

In the picture below, you can see him applying the paint. You might also notice that the aluminum mount is missing a screw. This was part of the deal. He only installed the stern rail with temporary wood-screws. It was up to me to permanently secure it with bolts.
When all was said and done, I was very happy with what I saw mounted on the coamings of my Ericson 25. I told my buddy many times that this was a work of art. I really liked the way the curves complemented the curves of the boat. As he said many times himself, this stern rail looked like it was meant to be there. I couldn't have agreed more. It was hard to believe that he had knocked out this custom fabrication job in a mere 2.5 hours, but then again, he was a professional, and I was just a by-stander with a curiosity for his well-practiced techniques.

4 comments:

  1. Really looks great. Wondering if you could PM to see if I could hire could friend for a similar job on a Cal 25, I live in GA. Also looking at having the grab rails made of metal too, thx

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