Rigging, Standing, Stemhead, Removal and Reinstallation

The reinstalled stemhead, situated aft of the forward chainplate.
The shape and use of a stemhead on a sailboat varies. Some boats have stemheads that are welded to the forward chainplate. Some boats have stemheads that are separate from the forward chainplate. Still others have only stemheads and no forward chainplates. On the Ericson 25, the stemhead is separate from the forward chainplate, and different owners use these two different pieces of hardware in different ways. When I purchased Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25, in the fall of 2009, the stemhead was used to support an antiquated roller furler. I would later remove this old roller furler and replace it with a new one. This new one, like most modern furlers, would be integral to the forestay. This meant that the stemhead on this boat would no longer be used for anything, at least in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, in my refitting of this boat, I did not want to neglect this piece of hardware. The day might come when I would need it for some purpose once again. That was my thinking. In this brief article I describe my removal and reinstallation of this stemhead on Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.
The previous owner of this boat had cared little for her over the many years of her life. This picture of how he had installed the old roller furler says it all.
In the picture below, we see the new roller furler that I installed on Oystercatcher. This furler encapsulates the forestay, which is joined to the forward chainplate with a stainless steel clevis pin. Aft of the forward chainplate we see the stemhead, bright and shiny, yet alone and no longer needed. On the port side of the furler is the stainless steel anchor roller that I installed not long after I reinstalled the stemhead.
One of the first things I did after I got the boat from the Pamlico Sound region of North Carolina to my home in Charleston, South Carolina was to remove most of the hardware from the deck. I knew there were leaks, and I had to address them.
At this time, while  I was removing the old navigational lights from the bow, I decided to leave the nearby stemhead alone. It did not seem to have any leaks, and besides, it looked like it would be difficult to remove. For more on my initial work on Oystercatcher, see my article, "Deck Hardware, Removal."
Some months later, I began to think about how I might install an anchor roller on this boat. I wanted to have a large plow or claw anchor that I could easily deploy. As I began to think about this, I created a mock-up anchor roller out of a scrap piece of 2 x 4 material. To give myself a good sense of things up at the bow, I temporarily set the pulpit in place.
As my thinking became more focused on this anchor-roller project, I became side-tracked by an unexpected project - the repair of the deck core in the area where I planned to install the anchor roller. Of all the projects that I undertook in the refitting of this boat, this one was the most difficult. For more on this, see my article, "Deck Core Repair, Chain Locker."
To get to the rotten core, I had to cut out the bottom skin of fiberglass within the chain locker. What I thought was an isolated area of rot turned out to be a larger area than expected. The more fiberglass I cut out, the closer I got to the hardware for the stemhead. Eventually, I realized that I had no choice but to remove it from the bow of the boat.

The screws for the stemhead were especially long, due to the thickness of the bow in this area.
The sealant for this piece of hardware had dried out and become brittle long before this time. Nevertheless, it did not appear as if the water had entered the deck in this area. The primary culprit seemed to have been the DC electrical socket that the previous owner had installed between the forward legs of the pulpit. You can see light coming up through the hole for this DC socket in the bottom of the picture below.

I ended up cutting out the fiberglass skin all the way up to the foremost part of the chainlocker.
By the time I finished this repair, I was confident that this area of the deck was stronger than it ever was in the past.
After I had completed this deck core repair project, I was at liberty to return to the anchor roller project. At the same time, I realized that I needed to go ahead and fill the deck hardware holes with epoxy to prevent the intrusion of water.
The three holes that you see in the vicinity of the drill bit are the 5/16 inch holes that I had just drilled for the anchor roller. I had to take into account the position of the stemhead when deciding where to drill these holes. For more on this project, see my article, "Anchor Roller, Installation."
The holes for the stemhead, of course, already existed. I needed, however, to redrill them, because of all the epoxy and cloth that I had applied under the deck when repairing the deck core of the chain locker.
After I had vacuumed the holes and wiped them with acetone, I taped their perimeters with blue masking tape. I did this in preparation for filling the holes with epoxy.
With a syringe in hand, I injected each hole with neat (unthickened epoxy). This soaked the wood within this built-up area of the bow. Yes, there was not core material inside this built-up area itself. There was, instead, what appeared to be some sort of hardwood, such as oak. The wood absorbed almost all the neat epoxy. For this reason, I had to mix up another pot of epoxy in order to obtain the thickened epoxy I needed for filling the holes. I thickened this second pot with colloidal silica to the consistency of ketchup. Then I used the syringe to inject it into the holes.
While this cured, I got to work on the stemhead itself. The first thing I needed to do was to remove all of the old sealant.

With this out of the way, I brought out the angle grinder and attached different grades of buffing pads in order to bring out the shine once again from this stainless steel.

To bring it up to a high shine, I brought out the bench grinder with a buffing pad attached.
This did the trick.

With the epoxy fully cured, I could remove the blue masking tape.
The deck was still a wretched mess at this point. I would soon afterwards clean it up and compound the gel coat with buffing compound and a handheld, electric buffer. Ideally, I would have buffed the foredeck and then installed the stemhead.
One thing I had not done when I had re-drilled the holes was to chamfer the holes with the countersink bit. Now I needed to go back and do that. This would help the butyl tape form a gasket around the 1/4 inch hex bolts that I would use to install the stemhead.

Afterwards, I cleaned the gel coat with xylene. This solvent would remove any wax or old adhesive that remained in this area.
I cleaned the stemhead and the 1/4 inch hex bolts with acetone. This would remove any oils that would inhibit the bonding of the butyl tape to the stainless steel. Also at this time I did the same thing to the bases for the pulpit.
Then I applied strips of butyl tape to the underside of these objects.
The bases for the pulpit went in without a problem. The stemhead, however, was not as cooperative.
I had earlier epoxied G-10 backing plates to the underside of the deck in the chain locker. I had constructed a G-10 backing plate for the stemhead. It ended up being impossible, however, for me to epoxy this backing plate into place. The area was just too far out of reach for me to glue it into place successfully. Knowing that I would not use a backing plate, I had purchased stainless steel 1/4 hex bolts that were equal in length to the original 1/4 flat head machine screws. It nevertheless turned out that these 1/4 inch hex bolt were not long enough. The problem was that the area in the chain locker underneath the stemhead was now thicker than it had originally been. I had apparently gone heavy on the epoxy in this corner, difficult to reach, when carrying out the deck core repair project in this chain locker. If you look at the bottom of the picture below, you can see small gray dots. These are the ends of the 1/4 hex bolts just barely protruding into the space. The gray comes from the butyl tape that is being pushed through the holes along with the hex bolts. The round pieces of G-10 are for the forward bases of the pulpit. The G-10 for the aft bases of the pulpit are not visible in this picture.
Since the hex bolts were not long enough, I had to pull the bolts and the stemhead and start all over again.
By this point, some time had passed, and I had already compounded the deck with the buffer.  I had not removed the stemhead because this area was already a difficult one in which to work with that buffer. I simply buffed in the area immediately aft of the stemhead, but even then I didn't get very crazy with it. After all, much of this area would be concealed by the stainless steel anchor roller. In the picture below you can see some of the remnants of the butyl tape from my removal of the stemhead just before I took this picture.
Now the new, longer 1/4 inch hex bolts were ready to go. I decided to use hex bolts instead of machine screws, because the hex bolts would provide greater strength, especially for any shearing action that might be put upon them by the angular pull of a stay.

I used flat washers on the top side, since the holes in the stemhead were countersunk. These flat washers would help the butyl tape form a gasket in these chamfered areas.
This ends this posting on how I removed and reinstalled the stemhead for Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

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