Lazarette Modifications, Part 2: New Hatches

The lazarette, as seen through the new, larger, entry hatch, with the new cockpit hatch in background
At the conclusion of the first part of my eight-part article on the modifications I made to the lazarette of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25, you'll recall that I was exasperated by the lack of access to this space and that I was at the point of taking drastic measures to ensure that the lazarette could be fully utilized. The the heart of the problem, you'll remember, was the attractive, yet impractical mahogany door.
I had constructed various storage shelves for the lazarette, and I had planned to locate the house bank, i.e., the main battery bank, in the starboard cockpit locker so that access to this space would not be hindered.
Then, due to weight considerations, I started rethinking the wisdom of placing such a heavy battery bank in the cockpit locker. Accordingly, I started thinking that I should locate the new battery bank in the same place where the original battery box was located. The only problem was that the new, heavy-duty box for the now larger battery bank created an even larger impediment to the accessing of this space than had existed in the past.
There was no way out of this problem by sticking with the status quo. Something had to go, and that something was that small mahogany door.
I knew of at least two other Ericson 25 owners, who had felt similar frustration, and who had removed the door and taken a saw to that fiberglass bulkhead. The reports I had received from these owners was that they had replaced the door with a plywood panel that could be secured to the edges of the bulkhead or the flange, if you will. One of the owners sent me a picture of his work in this regard. Note that with the aid of a computer he has roughly indicated where the old water tank used to be.
In the picture below, we see that this E25 owner has removed even more of the fiberglass bulkhead than the previous owner, in order to gain easier access to his inboard engine. Note the latches to the left, at the top and bottom corners of the cut-out. Clearly these are used to secure a panel of some sort.
Note as well that this owner has constructed a shelf of some sort on the port side of the lazarette for his black plastic battery box.
Although exasperated, I thought long and hard before taking the saw to my fiberglass bulkhead. Above all, I wanted to figure out a way to preserve the original, solid mahogany door, yet still have a panel that I could remove to gain easier access to the lazarette. At last, the thought came to me that I could mount the door-frame assembly within the panel itself.
That way I could not only have the door, but also use the door for quick inspections of the lazarette.
At the same time, I could also have the option of removing the door and the panel for more extensive use of this space.
Satisfied that I had found a practical, yet aesthetically-pleasing solution to this problem, I placed the panel-and-door-frame assembly aside and prepared to cut into the fiberglass bulkhead.
To prevent multiple trips back and forth to the boat, I assembled several different tools for this job. It gets old climbing up and down that ladder. At any rate, I had a Makita jig saw, a Dremel with a cutting wheel, two hand-held dry-wall saws, and a roll of masking tape. As it turned out, though, all I really needed was the Makita jig saw and the masking tape.
I started at the bottom right corner of the original cut-out and made my way up to the hole where the old DC electrical panel had been located. It's difficult to tell in this picture, but I had taped the entire area where I had planned to make these cuts. I did this to help prevent the gel-coat from chipping. To further assist me in avoiding damage to the gel coat, I used a fine-tooth blade on the jig saw. These techniques worked well.
I then made the second cut, which took the saw up and around to the top of the original cut-out. Note that as I made these new cuts on right side I rounded the corners, not only to make them more pleasing in appearance but also to make them less prone to cracking. You might be wondering why I did not extend the cut on the right side, so as to rid myself of that old cut-out for the old DC electrical panel. Ideally, I would have done this, but the shelf that I was planning to install in this area of the lazarette dictated that I cut this side the way that I cut it. This will become more clear in some of the pictures below.
My third and final cut took the saw up the left side, in one, non-stop pass from the bottom to the top. Again, I rounded each of the corners. To make sure that the curvature was consistent in all four corners I used the lid of a jar to scribe the arcs in advance of the cuts. I also, of course, drew reference lines on both sides with a straight-edge.
Next, I had to deal with the plywood bulkhead that was 5 inches aft of the fiberglass cut-out. This bulkhead was situated at this distance from the fiberglass on account of the built-in icebox that encroached on the lazarette's space by 5 inches. In other words, the plywood bulkhead served as a break or a barrier between the aft end of the icebox and the lazarette. As far as the port side of the icebox was concerned, for some reason Ericson had extended this bulkhead beyond this side of the icebox. I could only guess that this extension existed simply because it corresponded to the original cut-out in the fiberglass bulkhead. Now that I had opened-up the cut-out in the fiberglass bulkhead, the plywood bulkhead was impeding access to the lazarette. Therefore, I needed to cut it back, so that it would correspond to the new cut-out in the fiberglass.
The original edge of the plywood bulkhead was not plumb. For anyone who has any fondness for carpentry, this sort of wackiness is annoying. Since I'm no stranger to tools, I wanted to make the new edge as plumb as possible. It wasn't easy holding my spirit level steady in this small space. Therefore, I clamped a piece of wood to the bulkhead to assist me in the scribing of the reference line.
When I was finished with the cut, I stepped back and looked at everything. Not bad, I thought.
After I had finished musing over the benefits of having such a larger access hole to the lazarette, I grabbed the battery box and placed it on the shelf, front-and-center. Clearly it would be much easier now to access the battery bank. It would also be easier to acess the storage shelves on either side of the battery box and aft of the battery box.
This close-up picture below will help you see what I'm talking about. Yes, it would be much easier now to access the lazarette.
Nevertheless, there were still problems, and access would still be limited. Why, you might ask? Well, let's talk first about the battery box. I would be putting two Trojan T-105 flooded-lead batteries in that box, and these batteries would serve as my house bank. These flooded lead batteries, of course, need to be checked periodically and filled periodically with water. How would I do this? The only way I would be able to check the batteries would be to remove the battery box from the lazarette. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast. The box would be bolted to the shelf. Moreover, there would be battery cables leading to and from the box that would need to be disconnected. All of this to me sounded like a major headache. Then there was the issue of access to the reserve battery bank, which I planned to put on the shelf to the right in this picture. What a pain it would be to check that battery! Oh, and let's not forget about the fenders. These I had hoped to store on the shelf to the left in this picture. The problem? How do you get two fenders past that hulking battery box that is front-and-center. And then there were the issues involving access to the aft shelf. This was where I had hoped to store a hose, an extension cord, and some other items. Despite the wider cut-out in the fiberglass bulkhead, this shelf was still quite difficult to access. All of these problems led me to contemplate and then carry more drastic modifications to the lazarette.
I knew that at least one Ericson 25 owner had installed an access hatch in the sole of his cockpit, and I believed that this was the only solution to my problems. This particular owner had purchased an Ericson 25 that had been outfitted with an inboard engine. In order to gain easier access to this engine, some previous owner had installed an access hatch in the sole of the cockpit. The current owner said to me that he was glad that he had access to the engine. He said, though, that he did not like the hatch itself that had been installed. He told me that it was a plastic hatch and that it was next to impossible to keep it sealed around its flanges due to the constant flexing of the plastic when stepped upon in the cockpit. Below we see a Bomar brand plastic hatch. I can't remember if this was the type of hatch that this Ericson 25 owner had on his boat, but you get the picture.
Aside from hearing this personal story from an Ericson 25 owner, I read a story online by a fellow in Maine named Tim Lackey. On his website devoted to his refitting of Glissando, his Pearson Triton, Lackey described how he himself installed a Bomar plastic hatch in his cockpit, only to discover that it leaked. For some time he tolerated this, but eventually he broke down and bought a Bomar aluminum hatch. He said that this hatch solved his problem with leaks, and he said that for this reason it was worth the money. I took what Tim Lackey said to heart, and for some time I monitored the Hamilton Marine website looking for a big sale opportunity when the hatch would be significantly marked down. That opportunity eventually presented itself, and I took the plunge and ordered one for my boat.
This baby was really nice. Based upon the quality of construction alone I thought it was worth the money.
For the record, I've included the picture below, which provides the specifications for this hatch, a Bomar Aluminum Inspection Hatch, C4T1020, with a 19-1/4 x  10-1/16 opening. If I'm not mistaken, this was the same size and type that Tim Lackey installed in Glissando. Also for the record, I'll say that Hamilton Marine in Maine is the only chandlery I know of that sells these types of Bomar hatches.
Not long afterward, I found the Bomar plastic hatch for sale somewhere else, and I bought one of these too. Why, you might ask? Well, remember me saying that that reserve battery bank was going to be located on that shelf inside the lazarette on the port side? I needed to be able to access it as well, so my plan was to install this plastic hatch inside of the cockpit locker. I figured that the plastic would be okay in that space, since it would not be constantly stressed by foot traffic in the cockpit, and it would not be getting rain water or seawater on it.
When I placed both the metal and the plastic Bomar hatches beside each other, they were remarkably similar.
The primary difference between the two, other than one was metal and the other plastic (and that the metal one had a removable lid), was that the flange on the metal one was flat, the plastic one, bevelled. This meant that the metal one would be more flush with the surface. It's my guess that the bevel in the frame of the plastic hatch was there for structural purposes, since a flat plastic flange would be structurally weaker.
Having purchased the hatches, I now needed to install them. While I had been shopping around and waiting for good deals on the hatches, I had been building an air-conditioner box for Oystercatcher. If you'd you like to know more about that box, you can take a look at my article on this subject. At any rate, I needed to put the air-conditioner box into place in the companionway, in order to figure out where I should locate the hatch. Obviously, I didn't want the box to encroach on the hatch. If you look closely below, you can see the pencil marks I made for the cut-out of the hatch. I should point out that I put a lot more thought into the placement of this hatch than simply the relation the hatch would bear to the air-conditioner box. I made many measurements to make sure that the hatch would be situated in a way that would grant me the best access not only to the battery box, but also the other, adjacent areas of the lazarette.

I can't tell you how hard it was to drill that initial hole that would allow me to insert the jig-saw blade.
Before going any farther, I climbed down and looked for the drill bit. I had to make sure that this hole was exactly where I thought it was.
It was even harder to put that blade in that hole and start cutting. There was no turning back. This would end up being a heavenly solution to my problem, or a hellish one.
I took my time to ensure that the cuts were as precise as possible. And then suddenly . . . there was light.
Immediately I saw the benefits of my decision. This was going to be a real game-changer.
I had deliberately made the cut-out a couple of inches short, just in case I needed to adjust the position of the hatch after I had gotten a better look at things through the first hole I had cut.
Before making the final cut, I wanted to see whether or not I could fit fenders and other items into the lazarette through the first hole I had cut.
I was overjoyed to discover that I could fit both of the new fenders onto the shelf on the starboard side, just as I had hoped I could. Likewise, I could fit a spare fender in the aft corner on the port side. This still left room for the water hose and other items I planned to place on the center shelf, aft. I can't emphasize enough how thrilled I was that all of this was working out as I had planned. Sure, I had consumed many a can of brew, just staring at this space and thinking through different scenarios. Sure, I had many measurements over many hours over many days, off and on for many months before I had made this cut, but I could never be sure that all of these different things would come together and work as I had hoped that they would. Now, it looked like they were, and it was a good feeling.
Next, I clamped the hatch frame into place, so that I could scribe the final cut line.

I made the cut and then dropped the frame into place.
With the hatch lid dogged down, I thought the whole thing looked pretty damn good.

You can see from the angle of this picture below that the hatch is indeed low-profile, just as Bomar advertised it to be.
Down below, it looked pretty good as well.

Having oohed and aahed enough at this wondrous addition to the boat, it was time for me to get down to business. I still needed to drill the screw holes for the hatch, and I still needed to dig out the balsa core material and fill it with thickened epoxy. First, I drilled the holes.
Then I started digging out the balsa core.
The razor knife proved to be more effective than anything else. Regardless, it was a slow-going the entire time. That balsa core was tough to extract. I dug it out a little bit farther than the screws holes. I would estimate that it was about one inch deep all the way around.
Then I draped everything down below with a drop cloth, and I mixed up some epoxy and thickened it with colloidal silica. This would seal the edges of the hole and prevent water from penetrating the deck core and causing core rot. I was fortunate that there was no core rot in this area of the boat to begin with. The cockpit is sometimes a problem area on some boats.

After I had allowed the epoxy to cure, and after I had covered the hole in the cockpit with a piece of plywood, I turned my attention to the cockpit locker. Here I would install the plastic Bomar hatch. I started with the handy template that was included with the hatch. For some reason the more expensive metal hatch did hot have one.
Once again, I put a lot of thought into the placement of this hatch. I needed it to be situated directly over the battery box for the reserve bank, since the external dimensions of the box were almost the same size as the internal dimensions of the hatch. I also had to make sure that there was enough fiberglass and core material to support the flange of the hatch.
Just as before, I used a drill to gain access for the jig saw blade, and then I carefully cut along the line.
I was pleased to see that the hole was directly over the battery box.
Likewise, I was pleased to see that I could remove the lid of the battery box and inspect its contents through this hatch.
Since I would only occasionally inspect the battery, I didn't mind at all having this hatch inside of the cockpit locker. I planned to store stuff on top of it. When I needed to open the hatch, I would just remove some of the stuff from the locker.
Besides, there was still plenty of room in the aft end of the locker. Do you see that white object back there? That's a stack of three plastic wash basins. That should give you some idea of the space available in this locker.
An bonus feature of having this hatch in this location was that it would allow me to easily access and inspect the area around the reserve bank. Despite the fact that there would be a battery here, I still had room to stow some things between the battery and the hull. See the bulkhead to the right? This was where I planned to put some of the large bus bars for my new electrical system. Without this hatch, access to this bulkhead would be difficult, even with the other two hatches that I've described.
All in all, I was pleased with how these three separate, yet interrelated hatch projects turned out. Now I needed to cut some more shelves and do some epoxy-coating before I could move to the final stage of this lazarette modification project - the installation of the shelves. My cutting of the shelves and my epoxy-coating of them is therefore the subject of the third part of this eight-part article, and this ends my discussion of how I created three new access points to the lazarette in my Ericson 25, Oystercatcher.