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!……


2 thoughts on “Portholes & Cabin Sides

  1. Tim, thank you for your pictures and report. You and J. did a superlative job and it looks like a million. I am very proud of your talents and work ethic on this and all the other projects.



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