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Port Light Repair

By:  Stan & Cathy Hunter


Our 1981 Baba 35, Gone With The Wind, developed a haze in the plastic film between the two layers of glass in her portlights. This haze began at the outer edges and worked inward. It was reminiscent of an antique car's original glass windshield. This condition was occurring in about half of her portlights. Cathy and I do most of the work on the boat ourselves so we replaced the glass in the portlights. This was really quite a simple job. The procedures we used to replace the glass follow:

Mark any portlight you remove with tape on which you have written the location of that portlight. They like to go back to their original location and, as we learned, may not fit in a new location.

Remove the hinged frame and glass portion from the boat by removing the two brass bolts from the hinge on the upper part. Be careful, the bolts are a soft brass. If you do twist off a bolt head as we did, don't despair. A 1 inch long 1/4 X 20 round head brass screw will replace the broken bolt very nicely. We tried to find a replacement bolt from the dealer who sold the boat but were unsuccessful. A new bolt could be machined but would be rather expensive. The new screw will be threaded for its entire length but should not cause a wear problem unless you open your portlight two or three hundred times a day.

Use caution when you pull the bolts out, the frames are heavy! We covered the outside of the trunk cabin side where the portlights were removed. We used plastic from trash bags cut to an appropriate size. Use 3M blue masking tape and don't tape to any teak trim if you can help it. You may pull off some of that beautiful finish. The blue 3M tape takes longer to weld itself to your boat and leaves less residue than tan masking tape.

We took our portlights home to work on them. Step one is to remove the old gasket material. This job is easy unless someone has cemented the gasket material in place or if has begun to revert to an soft state. Once the gasket material has been removed and discarded, look for four small slotted screw heads in the channel just vacated by the gasket material. These screws are inch long #4x40 flat head screws. They are located at the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 o'clock positions in the channel. You may have to clean old glop from cement or gasket to find them. They hold the retaining ring for the glass to the frame. Be very careful removing these screws. It's very easy to split the head in half or round the edges of the slot. This is not the place for that screwdriver that's been used for everything but its intended purpose. Either square up the tip of the blade with a file or, better yet, buy a new screwdriver. You can continue to use the old screwdriver as a pry bar in just a few minutes.

Lean heavily into that good screwdriver and turn slowly. If the screw does not budge, hold the screwdriver in the slot and tap it with a hammer a few times. Try tapping and turning simultaneously. If this doesn't work, try some P. B. Blaster, available at any auto parts store. It is (IMHO) a better version of Liquid Wrench. Despite these efforts we still managed to split two of the little buggers. When this happened we removed the other three and broke off the remainder of the split head as we pried the inner half of the portlight up. A pair of Vice-grips quickly removed the rest of the broken screw which was now exposed. If you break two or more on the same portlight you will have to carefully drill the heads out.

Once the four screws are out, you can easily remove the inner half of the portlight by carefully cutting away some of the sealant with a single edge razor. If someone has used a lot of adhesive to replacing the gasket, you may have to pry a bit to separate the inner half from the outer half and the glass.

Before beginning this step, put some masking tape on the glass to reduce the amount of broken glass you will have to clean up. We had quite a bit of broken glass due to the adhesive mentioned earlier. Do this step in a place where clean-up of broken will be easy! You will only need one intact piece to use as a pattern so once you have one out you can break glass to you heart's content.

We had to use three screwdrivers, two of them large ones, to pry our rings apart. We started by forcing a large screwdriver between the glass and the inner half by pounding it with a hammer. Once it's in, pry up and be prepared for breaking glass. We generally had to pry with the two large screwdrivers until we could catch the edge of the inner ring and pry up with a smaller screwdriver. You may bend the inner half a LITTLE bit getting it pried out. Not to worry, you can make it flat again with a push here, a pull there, a shove with the heel of your hand with the frame propped up on a block of wood, etc.

You can remove the old glass now that the portlight is apart. We cut the old sealant with a single edge razor. Do this carefully or you will have a chance to see if your blood is a nice, healthy shade of red! Next, remove the old sealant from the portlight frame and retaining ring. We just clamped a 2x4 to the railing of our deck (No, no, the deck at home!) and gently clamped the portlight pieces to the 2x4. We used a Vermont American brass coated wheel in an electric drill to clean the old sealant off. It was about the same width as the channel and about two inched in diameter. With a little care, you can remove most of the sealant without scratching things which will show. Cathy used mineral spirits to soften and remaining sealant and cleaned it out with a screwdriver. Then she cleaned the two halves with alcohol (Acetone will work even better but use gloves) to remove any film or bits of old sealant so the new sealant would adhere better. We replaced all the little inch long #4x40 screws at a cost of .10 each. This ensures a nice new head if you ever have to take it apart again.

Cathy and I replaced our glass with a lightly tinted inch Lexan as we had a source of free material. I would not do this again. Lexan is incredibly strong but still scratches easily. We have to be very careful when cleaning them. Next time I'd use a safety glass. We took a piece of Lexan to a local glass company. They cut the Lexan to shape and installed it with new sealant for $5.00. At that price we had them do the remaining eleven. You will need 36 inches of new gasket material for each portlight. We did not use any cement to hold the new gasket material in. After being squeezed in with the portlight shut for a day or two it stays in place very nicely. Be certain to put the two ends at the top of the portlight where they won't cause a leak. If you insist on using cement, use it sparingly. The gasket material is 5/16 square. The cheapest place to purchase this material that we have found was available at that time from M & E Marine.

UPDATE We have since found a much less expensive source for gasket material: C.S.Lewis in Cocoa, FL. We ordered from them through the Titusville Municipal Marina, where we are currently docked until April 2001. I don't know if you can order direct but here is the information: Catalog # 3600, page 235, figure 125 Square gasket material. 5/16 inch (for portlights) @ .60 per foot. The 3/8 inch (for the butterfly hatch) is .75 per foot. Their telephone number is: 1-800-432-2158 or 321-632-8484. The gasket material is just as good as places charging over $2.00.

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