The Official Magazine of the Bluewater Cruising Association

Operation V-Berth

Adam McKenzie & Nancy Shackelford

Maple Leaf 42
March 23rd, 2017

The last festive season we were so lucky to have an opportunity to house sit: central heating, washer and dryer, and a full kitchen. As a live aboard, these are huge luxuries in life!

Of course, when we’re not living on the boat is the perfect time to do work on the boat.  Last year, our winter project was to upgrade our electrical system. This year we decided to insulate the V-berth. I’ve been wanting to do this job for years, especially since it’s our primary bedroom. The walls were bare fiberglass, and the anchor locker is just behind our heads.

Between Christmas and New Year, I had my first chance to get started. Taking the bed apart was a task in itself, as there were two layers of foam totaling six inches, each the width and breadth of the full berth. After wrestling the foam out of the room, the next layer was four inches of hyper-vent. The material was recommended when we first got the boat. We bought a huge roll of it, which means we used it everywhere, especially under foam and books. Anyone who has used it knows that unless you wear gloves (or even if you do) it can scratch you liked a possessed cat. Next was the plywood base spanning under the bed. I thought the foam was hard to get out, but it was nowhere near as challenging as maneuvering two pieces of ¾” plywood in a triangular space.

There was limited airflow between layers, and I found a coating of white mould that had built up under our heads. Feeling a bit frustrated, I took a break and headed to a café to investigate options for rebuilding the space. I found this amazing article in the Frugal Mariner: Insulating your boat. After the very interesting read, many conversations with friends, and a few sketches, a plan was formulated.

First step? Mould control spray. This started with the not-so-nice job of sanding down the walls above and below the water line. Then time to clean it all, Acetone the walls, and set the dehumidifier going. The next day, I sprayed mould control in all of the affected places and left it for another night to dry. As you can imagine, there was so much stuff scattered throughout the boat that we could barely move. It was time to call in help. A co-worker of mine came by to collect the mattress. As our go-to seamstress, she had agreed to cut the mattress into three pieces instead of one. A quick job to cut the plywood, and we suddenly had access to the V-berth storage area.

I then began investigating and sourcing parts, a particular talent of mine, being Scottish and a professional buyer! I searched around for the best deals on Reflectix bubble insulation, closed cell foam, 17 tubes of Sikaflex, ¼” wooden strips to conform to the curve of the hull, and cedar tongue and groove planks. Predictably, the moment that I filled the space with parts, it was time to move back on board. My partner stared accusingly at the mess, and I set myself to get the job done, with many assurances that it would only take a week to finish. Her response was a shake of the head and a prediction that we would still be sleeping in the aft cabin in a month’s time.

I started by cutting the first wooden spindle in the forward corner, then moving my way aft, cutting more strips. To epoxy them properly, I needed something stronger than tape to keep them flush against the hull. Using all the spare bits of wood I could find, I made an intricate, and frustratingly delicate, scaffolding structure against each strip. The process resulted in a few (well, several) swear words as my scaffolding collapsed again and again. Eventually, I got the first set of spindles in place and moved onto the second. By screwing the second layer onto the first, I avoided endless frustration (though I only learned the method halfway through). The other technique suggested to me was to use hot glue to keep the strips down as the epoxy dried.

Once I had cut the Reflectix and foam to fit between strips of wood, I coated the space in Sikaflex and smoothed on the Reflectix. January is a terrible time to use Sikaflex, so I left a small space heater running until it set. I repeated the whole process with the foam, and turned to the cedar tongue and groove. I had never worked with tongue and groove before, but I quickly learned it was too expensive to hire help. A friend came around to get me started and to teach me a few techniques. We made a good start and I was eager to get home after work the next day to get more done.  I made a few mistakes, which was to be expected, but generally, it looked good! I added trim along the corners and toasted the work with a dram of whisky or two.

Before we could move back in, we wanted to get a few electrics sorted. Enter “the wife”, our family electrician. We fitted 12V fans above the bed to keep cool, computer fans below to keep air circulating, and a 12V socket. We also added LED strip lighting, confidently took down our dome lights, and then realized that we had missed a few steps on the strip lights, of course. (Apparently, you can purchase bits to go around corners, and extra adhesive glues instead of zip ties to keep them attached. Who knew?).

Finally, it was time to put things back together! The improved mattress was amazing and so much easier to get to storage; the custom sheets fit perfectly; the tongue and groove was just beautiful, and the walls feel less cold. This whole job has been yet another huge learning curve. It is the first job where I have done most of the work myself (ahem, minus the electrics and endless questions answered by friends / store workers and the World Wide Web). I am so happy with the results and time will tell if all the effort will keep the mould away!

One last, major lesson was that every week-long job actually takes five, and that “the wife” loves to say “I told you so!”

Now on to the next job and moving closer to the dream!


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