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Wood damage: Quick and easy Dutchman repairs.


Alden Forum Moderator
Jun 22, 2004
Alden 38' Challenger yawl Rockport Harbor
Cockpit coamings get a lot of wear and tear from use. Mine had some problems I was putting off until they next, needed wooding (varnish failing), which is now.

This corner is the worst spot:

Coaming wear and tear (1 of 1).jpg

I could have ripped this aft coaming out and replaced it. But it's still strong so I'd rather repair stuff that still works(hard to match new wood with old).

Somewhere back in time (before I owned the boat), somebody mounted something (any ideas?) to this corner. Look closely; the lower large split had 4 mounting holes which were filled long ago. The larger wood plugs at the same height(all around deck) cover the through bolts of the coaming to deck flange connection(bronze, in fine shape).

Looking closely again, you may see 5 similar holes (long ago filled), on top of the coamings where the unknown piece was mounted. Plus, somebody used a filler (polyester resin?) near the corner, where one of the mounting holes rotted out.

The old classic idea of a Dutchman repair, or a graving piece, was to cut a patch out of the same wood, place it over the damage-trace it, and cut a gain in the damaged piece, fit the patch. It's not too difficult but it takes time.

Heres a faster way: Using a small router with an off-set base, I screwed a scrap to the base as a guide for the router. Next, I clamped another scrap of pine to serve as a fence, on the coaming.

Turn on the router and starting at the corner, carefully plunge the bit (which is set 3/16" below the wood fence) into coaming and slide along the fence to a mark(I made) that covers the damage, and turn the router off. Hold it steady so the line is true.

Router fence set - 3-4" plow (1 of 1).jpg

The gain could have been a tad wider but 3/4" is the largest straight bit with a 1/4" shank, I could find.

Here's a small crack in the other corner. The fence is set the exact distance between the router fence and the center of the (in this case) a 1/4" bit.

Router fence set (1 of 1).jpg

The off-set router base cuts the gains within a 1/2" of the corners. What's left is easily marked, cut with a sharp knife, and cleaned out with a sharp chisel.

That was fast! This stage (over the old method) is even faster. Take the router home and make the same cuts - only longer by a few inches - on a scrap of wood. Now rip pieces that will fit snuggly in the grooves in the scrap(and thicker than the depth of the gain). Use a sandpaper on a flat surface to fine tune a snug fit.

Now shape the rounded corners on your extra long patches. With a rough sawn circle and sandpaper on a flat surface, it's easier than it looks. Once you have a snug fit in the shop(that doesn't take long), with a bevel square and a fine handsaw, sandpaper, head back to the boat.

Carefully mark the length - angle, and finish fit the cut with sandpaper(again on a flat). Glue(waterproof/epoxy) and clamp(any which way you can).
Patch clamped (1 of 1).jpg

Your patch may be snug enough to just tap into the gain.
Small Patch clamped (1 of 1).jpg

Once dry, Carefully pare off (with a sharp chisel/block plane) the excess to just above the old wood:
Patch glue dry-rough paring off (1 of 1).jpg

And sand flush, with 80 grit paper, as you prepare for renewing the varnish(which I am doing to the coamings after about 10 years from the last 'wooding')
Patch sanded (1 of 1).jpg

You can see I bored the mystery fastener holes(top of coamings) out for 1/4" plugs, now permanently glued to the wood. The smaller cracks, pin holes, will get filled with something after I've stained the coamings(which I think will hide more of the dark stains).
Patch small finish sanded (1 of 1).jpg

56 seasons of foot traffic has worn the tops of the coamings. I've taken a long joiner plane with a very sharp blade, and carefully trued the tops. With a sharp block plane and sandpaper, the profile of the tops is restored.
May 20, 2016
Catalina 36 MK1 94 Everett, WA
I'm never patient enough with the chisel and end up tearing out below the surface of the wood. So now I fix 2 rails to the router base to get the router to ride above the Dutchman/plug then use the router to waste the patch to 1/32 above final height. Work great and much quicker than the chisel.
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Alden Forum Moderator
Jun 22, 2004
Alden 38' Challenger yawl Rockport Harbor
A big wood repair.

On a boat with a wooden house, the bow side takes the most abuse. The forward face of the house on the Challenger bow, is angled just right to catch the most sunlight. Ours showed damage 17 years ago when we bought the boat.

Add to the severe sun damage of several decades, our boat had some water damage from the house to deck joint. That joint is an upturned fiberglass deck flange that the house was screwed and through bolted to the deck.

That joint has a covering trim moulding of wood, that needs re-bedding from time to time.

Unfortunately, in our boats case, water always found a way behind that covering trim board, and migrated along the flange area. The flange kept water out of the cabin, but over the years, water found the fasteners and caused damage to the wood.

In 2012, I removed that covering trim and permanently sealed and bonded that joint ( https://forums.sailboatowners.com/index.php?threads/the-trunk-cabin-to-deck-joint.183851/ ).

If I'd known about that solution earlier, I would have done it immediately. That improvement would have saved quite a bit of water damage as well as turning the joint into a stronger - completely dry - maintenance free, house to deck joint. One of the best things I've done to this old boat.

This shot is about 14 years old. You can plainly see the water damage stains on the front face of the house(and the long gone trim covering the house to deck joint).
Xmas last light copy.jpg

As I'm wooding the cabin to stain and build up a varnish coat, it's time to fix this eye sore.

The wide piece of mahogany on the bow side, is still strong - if a little worn. I've decided to save it (I'm a restorationist and like the look of something saved).

Here's what I've done so far:

Fastened (with 3 screws into the house) a 2" fence of pine above the damaged area. Clamped another fence (with stops to end the cuts before the corner posts), for a stable base for the router.

Here the router with an offset base, is about to make the first cut.

Cabin front gain - setting fences (1 of 1).jpg

Slowly lowered the cut - making 3 passes. Previous exploration showed a screw point not far from the surface(it was in correctly installed-wrong angle). The carbide router shaved the bronze easily.

Here the jig is set for the second cut. I've removed the second clamped fence as the router is stable now. On the routers guide (white scrap block), I have 5 sets of holes, 5/8" apart(looks like a cribbage board,..).

The router is now screwed into the second set of holes. Router up 5/8" with a 3/4" router bit. Get it?

Cabin front gain cut-second pass (1 of 1).jpg

And so it goes,...raising the router 5 times.

Cabin front gain - gains cut (1 of 1).jpg

At 3", I'm above the badly damaged area. The gain I've cut is 3/16" deep, and extends below, into the fiberglass house to deck joint, at the base.

Clean out the corners with a sharp knife and chisel, and head to a table saw.

I cut a slightly oversized piece out of a plank I salvaged from my cockpit build(old mahogany cockpit well). Same mahogany - same age. How will it match? Time will tell and I will post results.

A little tedium with a plane to make it fit. I could have made a better fit in a shop but as I only made one trip to the saw, I'm pleased.

For extra speed, I used West 6-10, the thickened epoxy mixture in the caulking tubes. Squeezing out the needed amount into a cup, saves time and lugging stuff. I like the consistency for bonding stuff like this.

Not too snug so the piece will bottom in the gain - it clamped well (splooge all around), with four screws (I now have 7 screw holes for later filling or plugging).

Cabin front gain patch epoxied (1 of 1).jpg

Rain, rain, rain, on the cold coast of Maine. It took two days to dry.
Cabin front repair planed.  (1 of 1).jpg

I have a secret weapon: My son, who is home, can sharpen a knife or plane blade, like nobody I've ever seen. Sharpening is an art. I had him do his magic on both these planes. It was a joy to shave the new piece flush. The 56 year old African Mahogany came away in soft ribbons.

Cabin front repair sanded 80# (1 of 1).jpg

With the port pulled, a 6" RO sander with 80grit flushed it up nicely (as well as quickly and effortlessly).

The four thin, blondish dutchmen patches I did shortly after buying the boat (bad leaks through cracks), show up more than the new patch.

I'll bore and place a couple of gratuitous plugs to line up with those above, to make the repair look like a joint in the plank.

I've stained the cockpit and so far, the new patches and old damage, are less noticeable.
Sep 15, 2016
Catalina 22 Minnesota
WOW! You sir are a true craftsman and its clear this is a labor of love. Keep posting pictures as it gives us more novice wood workers something to aspire to.
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Aug 18, 2015
West Marine Kayak Tampa Bay
Can't agree more. Tom, I hope you keep posting stuff like this. I have a plastic boat, but you are teaching me so much.
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Alden Forum Moderator
Jun 22, 2004
Alden 38' Challenger yawl Rockport Harbor
I did this work to coincide with 'wooding' the house and coamings, a part of the brightwork process, which I completed about 10 years ago(some areas go less, some more before the varnish system fails).

With the house and coamings stripped down to bare wood, I applied an Interlux filler stain. You thin this mixture of stain and sealer/filler, and apply liberally with a brush. After 10 minutes or so, you wipe off the excess.
Filler stain applied.  (1 of 1).jpg

The filler stain was followed by 2 coats of sealer, and 5 coats of varnish(minimal; drying time was short).

That seems like a long time ago. Here are the repairs, finished:
You'll note what didn't get stained this season,...
Coaming dutchmen patch finished (1 of 1).jpg

Decks and house deck got a coat of paint. I'm eliminating a few tedious areas of brightwork. The forward face of the dodger coaming and forward wood face of the SS sea hood enclosure got painted as well(over varnish - the process can be reversed).

Details like boat hook, boat hook chocks, spinnaker pole chocks and the top of the forward dorade box.

Anyway, we're sailing now!
Forward dutchmen patch finished (1 of 1).jpg
Jan 22, 2008
Hunter 36_1980 Bass River, NJ
Beautiful Work ! Reading this forum brings back memories with my dad ,watching and leaning from him ( great carpenter )he had built three boats - a 8ft pintail duck boat, 12' day sailor, which I learned on as a kid, and 22 ft. deck length sloop about 27 overall with bowsprit.
Mast & Boom vertical grain, sitka spruce, built in the garage, laid up with glues, everything strong and true.
I read this forum often, the Alden is absolutely my favorite for it's lines and beauty. The wood work is truly a
labor of love and that shows in your workmanship.

s/v Trinity
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