Stainless Steel Handrails

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2002 -- The old handrails leaked in a couple of places, and were pretty worn out and dry. I could have refinished them, but I still needed to rebed them, and figured it would be easier to replace them with nice thick rails. While I like wood projects and am a big fan of teak handrails, I'm no big fan of maintaining exterior brightwork, so Stainless was an option.

So to explore possibilities, I drew up a Visio drawing and sent it out to a few metal fabricators.
(Click on the picture to get it full size.)

Tops-In-Quality came in with a really reasonable price -- a little more than half what
my local boatyard wanted.

The C&C Landfall 38 has a molded fiberglass headliner, that has panels to cover the deck hardware. (To get a better idea, check out the Headliner Page.) To get at the underside of the actual deck you need to drill holes through the headliner in an area that is underneath one of the panels.

Here are the old handrail bolts. Unfortunately, I'm going to use big fender washers when I bed the new rails,
so there's a hole saw in my future.

Note the FM antenna that's stuck up there as well.
It's covered by the panel...

In some areas (below) there's solid resin attaching the headliner to the deck. I tapped the areas out, and the resin is about 8 inches around. I'm going to fill it flush and put
the fender washers right against the headliner.

Here's what the long pad on the ends looks like. I was very pleased that Tops In Quality welded the pads on, as I was expecting just a SS pad with a hole in the middle. However, now it's structural. With that 5/16" bolt welded on there every 12 inches these rails will be strong enough to take just about anything!

Below, the small 2 foot rails that are up ahead of the mast.

The main rails didn't quite have the 1/2" bow I specified -- more like 1/4". No big deal, that's what the pads around the bases are for. I figured I'd have some bolt mismatches. In addition, they aren't all welded just exactly center and lined up with the post on the rail, so we're off a bit here and there.

I figured where the new holes would need to be and how the bolts would run through the deck, then drilled new holes. All the core was removed with my Handy Dremel Tool.
It was all dry! (The crowd goes wild...)
I was lucky as the leaks went straight through into the boat
and not sideways into the core.

Filling the holes with epoxy was pretty easy. Just stick a little tape underneath. (I forgot to do this once, if you can believe it, and dribbled epoxy all over the cabin sole.)

I built the plugs up in layers because it was a hot day. The lowest two layers were a runny mixture of West epoxy, milled Fiberglass Chop from Tap Plastics, and Colloidal Silica, stirred after injection to ensure the core edges were coated well. The top layer was super thick,
and carefully injected into the holes
to make sure that they were totally filled
even where the deck was at an angle.

That was the end of Day One, so I covered the holes with tape to keep the evening fog and dew out.

By the way, the old handrails pretty much shattered with I took them off. They were old, dry and brittle. I think if they had been stressed hard they would have broken, so I feel better about replacing them.

So after it set up I ground it flush
with the Handy Dremel Tool, drilled
the holes with the Home Depot portable drill press jig
(pictures of that tool on this linked page),
then used the Dremel tool to tweak any holes that needed tweaking to make the bolts go through without cursing. Finally, the Dremel Tool with the 1/2" sanding drum easily put a countersink around all the holes so the caulk will be squeezed against the bolt after it's cured and gets cranked down hard in a month or so.

Inside, I made a dusty mess cutting holes in the headliner big enough for 1.5" fender washers -- except for where the headliner was already epoxied in (right.)

Masking the rails turned out to be easy. Tape the deck, put the rails down
and trace the outlines with an Exacto knife.

Maybe that left little scratches
in the gel coat.
I can't see them....

(Those padeyes from
the Self-Tender Page make perfect places to clip spare halyards!)

I firmly believe that caulk is cheap and fixing leaks is a royal pain,
so I just laid a 1/4" thick pad of LifeCaulk, and plopped the rails down like a foot in a cow pie. Underneath, the bolts are just tight enough to feel resistance.
That left a nice thick pad of caulk between the rail and deck. It's important, since the welding
warped the pads a bit,
and the caulk varies in width a bit.
Wipe of the excess, pull the tape, and scrub with a clean rag soaked in mineral spirits. (Wear gloves.)

The leading bolt on the short 2 foot rails was a pain.
It had leaked so bad that the water had
stained the fiberglass headliner -- from the Back Side!
Because this bolt wasn't behind a panel, the water had just run down where ever it could, coming down in random places throughout the boat.
It had not been bolted down properly to begin with.

The aft-most (3 foot) handrails caused me to stop. Oops. I guess we weren't
Tops in Measuring. (grin.)

Both the middle posts on both sides are .25" short. I probably should have caught this before ripping everything apart and drilling holes in the boat. Oops.

Hmmm. I have a few phones calls to make.

Amazingly, this didn't upset me.
Perhaps I was ready to clean up and go home anyway. Also, these rails are covered by the dodger and aren't reachable,
so there's no safety issue and not having them on won't stop me from going sailing.

I plugged the holes with caulk and covered them with tape, and I'll stick an update on this page in a little while.

(Update November 2002 -- The reworked rails are on. I rushed the installation a bit, and my caulking job is sound
but not as pretty. Oh well.)

I had specified 2" bolts on all the rails, on the theory that it's better to have the bolts too long than too short. The main
(4 foot) rail bolts pictured to the left could have been 1.75", and the front
(2 foot) rails could have been 1.5". I'll need to clip them with bolt cutters or a Handy Dremel Tool to allow the headliner panels to go back on.

So here's the view of the starboard side...


And of the port side.

Note: You can see to the right how the extra wide end pads don't cover the old snaps per my original plan, and that's too bad. I'm not into doing 12 little spot gelcoat repairs -- I tried to do that on the cockpit cabin top job and spent an entire month trying to get it right and never did. So I overdrilled the snap holes, filled them with epoxy and set an oiled screw/washer in them. It's water tight and the epoxy is protected, but it ain't very pretty. I'm open to ideas that don't involve hiring somebody...

Looking back
from the bow...

Starboard from the dock...

I think this looks fine. Certainly, finely finished, solid teak hand rails look wonderful, but there's enough metal on this boat so that the stainless rails also look fine. More importantly, they'll look fine longer without me having to deal with them.

Looking from the port side, from the dock.

I didn't paint my rub rail fluorescent green, that's just tape from doing the teak toe rail.

Somebody else is doing it.
No time, and I can't look at that dirty weathered gray any more.

To bed it properly, I had to massacre a section of exposed headliner, then make this little teak cover. There's a nut epoxied onto the back that screws down over the bottom of the handrail bolt.