Building a hardtop - joining the pieces and painting (part 4)
With both pieces prepared to a level that satisfied us both, we decided it was time to join the two into one.
An exciting task, as it meant we were for the first time seeing how big this project was.
To achieve this task, we had to assemble a new cradle using the parts and curves from the original one. We had to move both fibreglass pieces forward of the mast, on top of each other, while we built the new support structure in the space between the mast and the cockpit.
The process of building the new support structure was straightforward and consumed very little time. Moving the two fibreglass pieces on top of it was a bit of a juggling act, with little space for us to move around while carrying each piece.
With both pieces now in place, the next task was aligning them.
We already knew the conditions we had set ourselves in for the construction would mean a less than perfect alignment but to our delight, things were not that far off. Nothing we couldn’t deal with.
We did however need to pull out the angle grinder and cut the straight edge (that would now be the centre of the new hardtop) a few times to get it correctly aligned. We proceeded with mechanically fixing the two pieces together with the aid of bolts and some small pieces of plywood correcting any vertical misalignments we still had between the two edges. This mechanical fixing would also assist us when the time came to flip the new structure.
The following day we proceeded with fibreglassing the strip between the two pieces from what would be the underside and a few small strips on the opposite side (up to where we could reach to work at that moment). A quick job, given the small area we were working, but proven a slightly challenging one due to the small pieces of the transversal beams that still need to the installed and fibreglassed at the same time.
The next day we removed the cradle, levelled the hardtop again and kept on working, sanding the edges of the piece that were not yet finished while waiting for the hardtop to cure.
Had to apply a few more strips of fibreglass on the opposite side of the hardtop to assist with the overall rigidity before considering how we would now flip the entire piece upside down.
While we waited for it to cure a few more days, we decided to prepare for painting the second coat of the undercoat to the underside of the piece while it was still easy to do it (the underside of the hardtop was facing upwards).
Seven calendar days after fibreglassing the two pieces together, we decided it was cured enough to take on the crazy process of flipping the piece to its correct position.
The weather forecast was a good one with no wind during the morning.
It was the moment when we either succeeded in flipping it the right way, without breaking it and without damaging The Dream or we failed and had to face repairs to the piece and our boat.
Quite a stressful moment!
With a plan in mind, we prepared a set of lines and straps, arranged in a way that allowed us to flip the 3.8x3.8m hardtop. Using the mainsail halyard we slowly lifted the hardtop to a vertical position while at the same time moving the piece towards the mast. Then we shifted the weight to the opposite direction while slowly lowering the hardtop towards the cockpit, and finally, we got the hardtop in the correct position.
Once that gigantic and scary task was completed we barely allowed ourselves time to marvel at the result of our efforts.
We started by levelling the piece again. Removed the plywood pieces used to mechanically fix the hardtop and used the angle grinder to remove the excess length of the bolts now fibreglassed in the hardtop. The next step was to prepare some thickened epoxy to fill any gap between the two pieces, knowing that any excess product would fill any void created when we fibreglassed the opposite side. We then quickly fibreglassed the two pieces together now from the topside.
We would let the piece cure on the foredeck for nearly a month (the period that John went to Australia to visit family).
With John's return to the boat, we were now racing against the weather. We had a small window to work before an intense period of rains started. We still had a considerable amount of fairing and sanding to be done in the joining strip area.
We needed to get the two surfaces, now joined, into one equally levelled surface.
By now, the temperatures had dropped even more making our work challenging because we were exposed to the cold wind and because the fairing compound was taking longer to dry.
It was a painful and disheartening slow process compared to the same task done when we still had two pieces, but then one day, all of a sudden (it felt), it was ready.
We rushed to wash the piece out of any dust and debris and proceeded with applying two coats of undercoat paint, followed by our choice of finish paint.
All this was done literally between spells of drizzling rain, with the last coat of grey colour achieving the state of tack dry just in time before proper rain started to fall.
That was the moment we had been working so hard.
It looked stunning!
Stage 4 - Joining of the two pieces and painting period daily work summary/description:
Day 33 (2021-11-17)
After finishing the second round of fairing of the underside of the starboard piece we moved it forward the mast, on top of the port piece.
Assembled a new cradle using the ribs and pieces from the previous one in a way it would allow us to align both fibreglass pieces side by side for joining.
Moved both pieces on top of the new cradle aligned them multiple times. Ground their edges a couple of times to allow a better alignment. Mechanically secured both pieces together to overcome any vertical misalignments and assist with flipping the whole thing later (the bolts were to be lost in the core after fibreglassing).
Day 34 (2021-11-18)
Fibreglassed the two pieces together on this side (underside facing up). Installed the outstanding pieces of the transversal beams and fibreglassed them also
Day 35 (2021-11-19)
Finished sanding the edge on the underside of the two pieces. Removed the cradle and sat the entire piece in foam blocks to make it more stable.
Day 36 (2021-11-20)
Removed peel ply from the areas we had fibreglass join the two pieces, assessing the shape and rigidity of the piece (underside).
Prepared some extra pieces of fibreglass to be applied on the opposite of the hardtop in the areas we could reach, to ensure that the hardtop was rigid enough to be flipped later in the week.
Day 37 (2021-11-21)
Some touch up sanding on some areas that were not quite ready for painting. Vacuum cleaned the hardtop, washed it two times with soapy water.
Applied the first coat of undercoat to the underside.
Day 38 (2021-11-22)
Applied the second coat of undercoat to the underside.
Day 39 (2021-11-25)
Flipped the Bimini so that the topside is now in the correct position. Removed the peel ply from the patches and sanded all the areas where epoxy was left exposed (without peel ply), removed the protruding edge of the bolts used to mechanically fix the two pieces during the fibreglassing of the joint and the flipping process. Prepared to fibreglass the topside of the joint.
Day 40 (2021-11-26)
Fibreglassed the topside joint between the two pieces that were already joined on the underside. And let it stay curing for about a month (the period that John went to Australia to visit family)
Day 41 (2021-12-20)
After John’s return from Australia, we restarted working on this project.
Removed the peel ply from the topside joint, sanded the ridge between the two pieces a little, to smooth it a bit more before preparing for the fairing. Sanded the areas that had a bit of amine blush reaction. Did some small epoxy repairs in areas that had air pockets etc.
Decided to forego the centre window, had to extend the painting zone and prepare for Mastofill.
Day 42 (2021-12-21)
Washed the areas sanded the day before and applied the epoxy primer to the joint area and patch painted zones that will be exposed to the weather.
Day 43 (2021-12-22)
Applied fairing compound to the middle joint area, window area and both front and back face at joint, also patch any minor imperfections with fairing compound.
Day 44 (2021-12-24)
Sanded the first round of fairing on the joining area.
Day 45 (2021-12-28)
Applied more fairing compound on the joining area and proceeded with some more 120 grit sanding of the areas previously completed.
Day 46 (2022-01-01)
Applied more fairing compound on the window and joining area and proceeded with some more 120 grit sanding of the areas previously completed.
Day 47 (2022-01-02)
Applied more fairing compound on the window area and proceeded with some more sanding of the areas previously completed.
Day 48 (2022-01-03)
Finished sanding the joining area and window. Also did an overall sanding of 120 and 180 grit.
Washed the entire surface twice and applied the first coat of undercoat to the top side.
Day 49 (2022-01-04)
Applied the second coat of undercoat to the top side.
Day 50 (2022-01-05)
Light sanding of the undercoat that was painted the day before.
Vacuum cleaned and washed the entire surface.
Applied masking tape defining the solar panel's footprint and painted with two coats, what will be the area underneath in white polyurethane high gloss finish paint.
Removed the masking tape before going to bed.
Day 51 (2022-01-06)
Applied new masking tape, this time 3cm towards the middle from the previous time to ensure a generous overlap of the two different pigment polyurethane paints.
Lightly sanded the edge of the area painted the day before.
Painted one coat of the grey area. One hour after finishing painting, it started raining.
Five hours later, we painted the second coat.
Removed the masking tape before going to bed.
***You can find other posts of this series at Building a hardtop - the idea, concept and material choices (part 1) , Building a hardtop - the construction (part 2), Building a hardtop - Fairing (part 3) , Building a hardtop - stainless steel works and installation of equipment (part 5) or Building a hardtop - costs, other numbers and conclusions (part 6)
***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.