Sabre 36 Shower Support and Cabin Sole Repair (Part 1)

Taking an intermission from the autopilot project to introduce another project I have had underway since the fall.  Rebuilding the shower support and a section of cabin sole on a Sabre 36′.  Other Sabres have similar construction so I know this also applies to a 38′ MKII and others.

Background

First let’s talk a little bit about Sabre construction and some common problems as these boats age.  I love these vintage Sabres.  Beautiful lines, good performance and they are true hand built boats.

Sabres are “stick” built similar to traditional home construction.  After the hull is assembled,  stringers and floor beams (glass covered plywood) are tabbed in.  They then install bulkheads and subfloors.  This is followed by furniture (berths, cabinets, doors).  Finally the finished floor (cabin sole) surface, trim and doors are installed.  The joiner work is excellent.  My 36′ has an abundance of teak veneered surfaces and lots of teak trim.  There is a lot of wood in these boats.  The 36′ does have molded headliner aft, over the quarter berth but that is it.  The end product is a boat that is very tight and stiff with no creaks, groans, flexing, etc.  The interior speaks for itself.

You cannot compare this to molded fiberglass pan interiors of other production sailboats.

There is a downside.  Water and leaks and can reek havoc on this type of interior over time. Keep the water on the outside of your Sabre!  Maintenance to keep this water out should be given a priority and will take more time and money over a fiberglass interior.   The oil finish needs to be maintained as well.  Most Sabres of this vintage came with oiled interiors (more on this another time).

Some of the water gets into the boat through the mast. The mast is keel stepped and sits on  a heavy beam fiberglassed into the hull.  The problem with Sabres of this vintage is the sole also sits on the beam and without a properly designed drain, the water will work into the cabin sole over time.  Sabre did put in some drain holes and sealed the floor edges with resin but after 20 years the holes clog and the sealing breaks down.  Many owners do not realize the progression until a major repair is needed.  When we were looking at Sabres, we came across one S34 MKII where the entire subfloor was wet.  I know of one S36 in Marblehead with a complete sole replacement ($$$) and many boatyards in New England are familiar with the issues.

Because of the stick built nature, a full replacement is very labor intensive as much of the furniture needs to be removed and the old sole cut out.  The new sole needs to be rebuilt in layers to follow the gentle curve in the fore and after section.  The original construction is 1/2″ subfloor + fiberglass  + shaping filler + 1/4″ teak/holly top piece.   It is built like a brick $hit house.  If you catch the issue early it is very easy to remediate with a number of options: better drainage holes, a redesigned step casting to catch the water, keeping the floor edges water tight.

When I first looked at Calypso, the cabin sole looked pretty good with even color and very minor staining.  I lifted up the floor boards and felt that the underneath of the subfloor was dry, a good sign.  I did notice some water in the shower pan and that the shower support (a piece of plywood that supports the edge of the floor at the head and keeps the shower water in) was in rough shape.  When we had the boat surveyed, this was the #1 item to get repaired. When I looked closer I saw there was some water damage in the subfloor amidships of the head.  I decided to wait on the repair until I could get the boat out of the water and dry.

At some point during the 2013 season my wife’s foot went through the floor right where the shower support had disintegrated.  The surveyor had the right idea making it #1.  I put a patch over the floor and started tackling the issue in the late fall after the boat had been hauled and the area had dried out a bit.

Demolition

I started by unbolting the mast step casting, then I broke out the multi-master and cut away the rest of the shower support.  I also cut away the bottom some trim around the mast step that was wicking water.  I immediately saw the root cause:  There was a small “channel” in the beam that was funneling water right into the shower support.  This did good as it kept water away from the main cabin sole but after 23 years it finished off the shower support and damaged the cabin sole amidships of the head.

After the support was removed I could lie on the sole and reach my arm underneath to feel the extent of the damage.  Pretty bad right inside the support but drier forward and the main cabin sole was dry as it is seamed at the main beam.  You can see some staining the below picture where some moisture got in the corners.  I got out a straight edge and tape measure and marked the section to remove.  Patience and a multi-master is what is needed for this work.  I experimented with a hand held jig saw and straight edge but the multi-master wins. With practice you get amazing control.

IMG_2049

This picture shows the section of sole removed. I was already starting to fit the new shower support and made some brackets to help support the new subfloor. Note the massive main beam that supports the mast.

Next part will cover the fitting of the new shower support and subfloor.

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