Handrail Rebedding Without Removal

Handrail Rebedding Without Removal

We are happy to once again have an article from Stu Jackson! –John Nixon, Orta Vez; Hull #728, c34hull728@gmail.com

This could also be called: “Deferred Maintenance Takes Five Times the Effort” or “How Does Water Flow Uphill?” I’d been experiencing water dripping from a small crack in the round fiberglass opening below our port cowl vent for about a year. Last May in Roche Harbor, two friends helped me remove and rebed the cowl. Later that summer I rebed the traveler track. In both cases, we used Maine Sail’s “Bed-it-with-Butyl” tape. The leak disappeared until last December when it started raining again. My “book learnin” and engineering background had convinced me that water does not flow uphill, and I’d already rebedded the two obvious things that were above the leak. Where was the water coming from?

The only other thing reasonably close was the port handrail, which I hadn’t done in quite some time. The relatively dry conditions in Northern California didn’t demand it. In our slip there for our first 18 years of ownership that handrail faced south. It was time. And it was the only thing left! Years ago on our Catalina 25 I had removed both handrails to rebed them. I did not fondly recall the clumsy attempts I had made to replace them in their proper holes because wood likes to be straight These C34 handrails were curvier and much longer than those. My goal was to rebed them without removing them. The long handrails are held in by five through bolts with washers and acorn nuts, and the intermediate rungs are held in with screws from below. I knew from past experience that tapping up on the bolts was almost sure to dislodge the bungs in the top of the handrail without moving the rail at all. The plan was to remove the acorn nuts, back off each of the screws, and push up on the screws to get the handrail about a half inch or so off the deck.

Only three of the acorn nuts came off easily. Two would not budge, even after we removed the bungs above and used heavy pressure on the slot on the top of the bolt. Further investigation was warranted.

Once again, the Catalina 34 website Forum was invaluable. I recalled that in August 2016, “CFSA Steve” on his 1990 Mk I.5 “L’Abri” # 1080, had started a post titled “Seized Stainless Nuts.” He had discussed the difficulties he had with recalcitrant acorn nuts when rebedding his chainplates. Jim Hardesty (#1570 “Shamrock”) provided the first response to Steve’s request for help: “If you have a Dremel tool (IMHO a must have tool) you could cut off the rounded end of the nut and work down from there...” before considering a nut splitter.

A year later, Steve was kind enough to file a followup report: “SUCCESS! After trying everything … it came down to the Dremel and the nut splitter - Credit to Jim Hardesty who was the first response to the initial post. When I initially tried the nut splitter on the chainplate acorn nuts, it didn’t work - It only left a slight indentation on the nut from the nut splitter blade. Only after I used the Dremel with the fiberglass metal cutting wheel (about one 1” wheel and 20 minutes per nut BTW) to remove the dome of the acorn nut, did the nut splitter work - I suspect the dome gave the nut too much strength over an area not touching the nut splitter blade. It took a box wrench as a snipe on the handle of my ratchet to have enough turning torque to turn the nut splitter in enough to split the nut, but it worked on all four nuts that I was trying to remove.”

I now had a plan. I had a Dremel, albeit a meager battery powered one. But what the heck was a snipe?!? And where could I get an inexpensive nut splitter here in Canada, since Steve reported “The nut splitter was a low end, inexpensive C$12.50 (on sale)...” and the lowest price I could find at Canadian Tire was $24.50. My friend, Len, came through again, when he sent me a link to the Canadian Tire website with the tool on sale, that particular day only, for $12.50! I ordered it online and picked it up the next day.

I charged up the Dremel and followed Steve’s suggestion to cut off the crown of the acorn nuts. It took a lot more than 20 minutes each, but with patience I did the one in the saloon by sitting up on three cushions on the nav station desk. I used two of the cushions to steady my hand for the one in the V berth. It was necessary to cut all the way through all around the nut. Once through, I used a big pair of vice grips to wrench the domes off.

The nut splitter was pretty big compared to the nuts I was removing. In order to hold it in position against the overhead, I used a small set of vice grips. The splitter works by compressing the nut between the round inside edge of the tool and the sharp blade of the shaft, by tightening the blade with a wrench. While these nuts were only half the size of the ones Steve had to bust for his chainplates, I found that even with the long handle of the adjustable wrench I couldn’t get enough leverage to keep turning it. Then I remembered Steve’s reference to a snipe and I placed a big 7/8” box end wrench over the handle of the adjustable wrench and gained the extra leverage needed to continue to turn the shaft. I recommend putting a cushion underneath, because when the splitter does cut through, it goes with a bang and drops like a rock. My foot still has the bruise weeks later.

I backed out the screws below to raise the handrail about a ½” off the cabin top. Coincidentally, this still leaves just the tips of the bolts showing down below. Pushing the screws up from below didn’t work, so I went topside and used a little bit of leverage with a long screwdriver and my ubiquitous red block of wood to pull the handrail up. I then made up the required number of Maine Sail’s “Bed-It-with-Butyl” strips by rolling three to four inch long pieces. I wrapped these around each bolt and screw using my fingers and a screwdriver. Then I went down below and tightened the screws. The new fender washers were thicker than the old ones and made it difficult to get the new acorn nuts started on the remaining bolt heads. By chance, just at this time, Len came over to see how I was doing and I “employed” him to get them started.

The next day I snugged each of the fasteners up. The butyl tape had oozed out around each rung indicating that there was a tight seal. I replaced the old bungs with new ones with some silicone sealant and will trim the butyl tape and new bungs. It’s rained very hard since we finished and the leak has stopped. I’ve since also cleaned and brightened the teak handrail and eyebrows.

Reading the forum on a reasonably regular basis can prove to be very helpful. I never expected to ”need” a nut splitter and would not know they even existed if I hadn’t read Steve’s post. And who can resist meeting a snipe? Followup reports are extremely helpful, thanks so much to Steve. Perform regular maintenance, if you don’t it’s just harder to do when you get around to it. You can rebed the handrails without removing them. And water can flow uphill.

–Stu Jackson, Aquavite #224


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