Reinventing the Headliner: Done!

Projects & Maintenance

This past weekend marked the completion of the new headliner (cue trumpets), a much awaited milestone indeed! I could lie and say we did it all in a few weekends with minimal effort and planning, but nothing could be further from the truth. It was tricky and there were several setbacks along the way, but having a classy looking overhead that is both easily removable (for deck maintenance) and easy on the eyeballs is reward enough.


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For those of you out there looking up at you’re dingy, old 70’s naugahyde/viynl headliner with contempt, glower no more. With a fair amount of patience and work, you to can have a new overhead without the need of huge outlays of cash. Just be prepared for the process to reveal additional projects long hidden by that groovy, fake leather…held in by hundreds of rusty staples…for decades. Your mettle will be tested my friends.

The fictitious

The fictitious “Nauga” was part of a 1960s ad campaign for Naugahyde.

First things first – the DEMOLITION! We had the great intention of carefully removing each headliner section to preserve for template making…a lovely thought, but we quickly learned it’s impossible. The headliner was affixed to the cabin top and sides with roughly 1,000,000 staples, most of which were rusty, brittle and stubborn. The staples numbered as many as stars in the Milky Way. Seriously! It took the better part of 2 days to remove them, our hands tender from prolonged plier gripping. We surmised that the original installer must have been paid per staple. Curse you Staple Man!

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In the wake of battle, we found mold in spots, mummified insects and several suspect areas where thru-bolted hardware had likely been leaking for decades. These problem areas needed to be addressed before going further but with the headliner out is was considerably less complicated to do so. Additionally, It was a good time to remove the handrails and secure them with proper SS washers and fasteners and the dorade boxes had to come of to access the brass thru-deck flanges underneath.

In the meantime, I scoured the web for inspiration and information for a handsome and practical headliner replacement. Of course in our case, it was really a headliner/cabin side/underdeck replacement – given the original headliner wrapped around the cabin sides and underneath the side deck. My eureka moment came when I happened upon John Stone’s Far Reach Blog. After reading over his wonderfully detailed process write up a few times my tenuous grasp on what needed to be done turned into an informed confidence and know-how. Without it, I think I’d still be doodling on graph paper and scratching my head.

cleatsUsing Mr. Stone’s ideas I went to installing overhead cleats to screw the new headliner panels into. I ripped 3/4″ marine ply into several 1.5″ strips and pre-coated them with Smith’s Penetrating epoxy. While those cured, I roughed up the FG where the cleats would be glued with 50 grit and cleaned with acetone. Some of the gel goat on the stringer tabs needed to be ground off before cleats could be glued but the disc grinder made quick, albeit messy work of it. To affix the cleats, I used some 1.5″ self-taping screws and liberal amounts of PL Premium. Once the PLP cured I removed the screws and filled the holes with epoxy.

After weighing the pros/cons of a few different materials we found a promising product over at CaliBamboo made of thin, finished sanded bamboo paneling on a mesh-backed 4′ x 8′ roll. After estimating the square footage needed I ordered 6 rolls and went to work making templates out of cardboard. When the bamboo arrived it was obvious that the mesh was not rigid enough to hold the form of the cabin top curvature – in other words, it sagged a bit during the rough install. The simple solution was to cut matching panels from luan and glue the bamboo panel atop those to add rigidity and hug the curvature of the cabin top. In the end, there were 14 panels making up the new headliner – coated with clear polyurethane.

(Unfortunately, CaliBamboo has since discontinued the 4′ X 8′ bamboo rolls I used. They do however now offer 1/4″ bamboo plywood with the same planked look and no need to double-up with luan backing.) 


Roughed in! Ready for varnish.

Holding it all up are 1″ red oak battens fixed through the panel edges and into the 3/4″ overhead cleats with #6 brass finish screws and #6 finish washers. I found the battens pre-made at our local Ganahl Lumber for a reasonable price, freeing me up from lots of work with the router. Most sections have 3 battens holding them up – forward, middle and aft. Not only do the battens hold the panels securely in place, but they hide any gaps and trim the overhead to the stringers. I tapered the end edges of the battens so they’ll fit snuggly in place once the top cabin side moulding is installed. Once they were all cut and sanded they got a few coats of Epifanes clear varnish. The original teak trim rings for the dome lights had to be shaved of a bit to accommodate the 3/4″ drop in headliner height.

With a 3/4″ gap between the overhead panels and the bare FG cabin top we considered installing some insulation in that space. So far however, that pocket of air has kept the cabin very comfortable in our So. Cal climate. It is nice to know it can be added easily if the need arises, as each section takes less than minute to unscrew and take down.

With the overhead complete I’m moving forward with installing wood panels under the side deck and getting started on the really fun part – ultimately trimming everything together to create a seamless work of wooden art!


Portholes & Cabin Sides

Projects & Maintenance

The OEM port lights that we inherited on s/v San Patricio were leaky, scratched and crazed. What’s more, they were fixed/non-opening ports that did little for ventilation when we craved it. Our decision to replace them coincided with removing the headliner – some of which had started to pull away from the ports from years of hidden leaks. So when the headliner came out, so did the ports. Good riddance!

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It was surprising to see how little effort was required to remove the port lights. They popped right out. The compression rings were thin plastic, hardly robust enough to effect a proper seal. At best, these things were made to be RV windows and never meant to be permanent in a marine application. The new ports would have to be far better.


We had heard great things about New Found Metals both on quality and value. With some discussion we decided to spend the extra money on their 5″ x 12″ Stainless Steel oval ports rather than the Tri-Matrix composite ports that retailed for less. The 4 new smaller ports arrived fast, along with all the stuff needed for installation.

DSCN2387For the larger fixed windows in the main cabin we followed the recommendation of other DE32 owners who had new port lights made by Bomon. Their man Alain was very helpful through the process of template-making and measuring cabin curvature. Of course, these being precise custom windows it came as little surprise that they would take 6 weeks to be delivered. I was not put off as I still had some work to do on the cabin sides before the new ports could be installed.

The one parameter I had to keep in mind was the final thickness of the cabin sides. The maximum allowance for cabin thickness for the NFM ports was 1.3125″ otherwise we would have to buy the painfully more expensive ports with extended 2″ spigots. With the cabin sides measuring .8125″ that meant I had 1/2″ or less to work with. After thinking over a few options, I settled on affixing some 1/2″ mahogany plywood to the cabin sides. The first step was creating some templates for each of the side panels – cardboard and gorilla tape did the trick.

The makings of the port cabin side template.

The makings of the port cabin side template.

With all the templates made I had a better idea of how many 4′ x 8′ plywood panels we would need. Because the grain had to run horizontally to look right, there was a bit more waste than I would have preferred; ending up with 5 panels at $65/sheet. Once all the panels were cut I rough fitted each one in place before, coating the backs with epoxy. After the epoxy cured I roughed up the surface with 60 grit paper and cleaned with acetone. Then, with the faces covered with packing paper I glued them up with 5200 and an arsenal of clamps.

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After 48 hours for proper curing time I held my breath removed the clamps…only one panel popped off on the starboard side; the very same one I forgot to clean with acetone before applying the 5200. A quick job with the oscillating flexible scraper had it ready to go back up.

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Once all the panels were affixed in place I removed the protective paper and wiped them down with a tack cloth. For the next few days I applied Epifanes varnish to the panels – first coat thinned 50%, followed by 3 more coats thinned 25%. After the second coat the wood began to sing!

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In between varnish coats I focused some attention on back-filling the original portlight holes in preparation for the new (smaller) stainless steel ports. With the mahogany up on the inside I sandwiched some 1/2″ foam plugs in the holes with thickened epoxy. While feathering the edges with a grinder I found a large void in the forward port-side area. One more thing to fix…and better done now than later.

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With the holes all faired, sanded and primed I went to cut the new holes. I printed out some paper templates and checked the alignment, and also had a few passers-by confirm the placement. Then I used a 2″ hole saw to cut out the rounded spigots, followed by a plunge cutter for the straight cuts and a roto-zip tool for the smooth curves. Following the steps outlined in the NFM instruction I had the ports all installed the following day.

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It took a few extra weeks of fiberglass repair work to fill the old portlight holes. Sure, I could have ordered bigger square ports but it just didn’t look right to me when I compared some printed templates. The smaller elliptical ports just looked better to me and fit within the lines of the cabin top. I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out!

But with little time to celebrate it was onward to the next phase of the project – headliner replacement. More pics and project notes to come!……