The adventures of the vessel "The Hard Six" and the man owned by her!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Dreaded Dashboard project

When you own an older boat, you know that some things are going to have to eventually be replaced. Many of us hope that we can drag our feet forever on those projects. My dashboard was one of those projects. After all, you can't just trundle down the the local West Marine and pick up a dash for a 30 year old boat. I knew there were things I wanted... like a new GPS I could actually reach without standing up from the helm seat. I chose a Simrad Go7XSE. I was amazed at the capabilities of this unit for the price and it was just the right fit for the space I had to work with.

The old dash was made of plastic that had warped and deformed over the many, many, years of the sun beating on it. It wasn't watertight anymore, and the plastic was so old that it was starting to crumble if I even looked at it crossways.

Don't believe me? I'm pretty sure this was supposed to be a straight line in 1986:

So I set to taking the old dash out, labeling everything as I went as best as I could. There was plenty of "wires to nowhere" thought to keep it interesting. In 90 minutes it looked like the boat had a wiring explosion...

I set to designing the dashboard and gauge and switch panels. Cardboard and blue tape is cheap, and very forgiving. It also makes good templates when it comes time to move to marine plywood:

Now it was time for the implements of destruction..

What seemed like forever later....

So I set to designing the panels... I work in IT, so I am comfortable in Visio... so that's what I used. After many hours of messing about, I came up with this:

The switch and gauge panels I ordered from New Wire Marine arrived and another test... Things were starting to look like an actual dashboard!

Ok, lets get messy... time to encapsulate in epoxy and test fit...

All and all, I couldn't really complain about the fit... this was after what seemed like 1000 hours of sanding and shaping:

After much thought and research, I decided on using Awlgrip to paint the project. A few words about Awlgrip... On the can it says "professional use only". Be advised... they are not kidding. You can roll and tip Awlgrip, but the learning curve in using it is like a hockey stick. It is as much a chemistry experiment as it is a paint. It's expensive, and unforgiving. If you set out to use it, plan on screwing up a bunch if it is your first time around with it. You have to use ONLY Awlgrip products and there are no shortcuts.

First, prime... and sand... and prime... and fill.. and prime some more:

I thought I would never get the primer right, and the surfaces fair. But after much perseverance, a fair amount of sweat and even more profanity, it was time to top coat... 4 of them. I was really amazed at how well Awlgrip laid down after I got the hang of it and I was really happy with the finish, especially considering I had never tried a project like this before and it was a one off, one of a kind, scratch built item.

Now the scary part... it's time to install and wire everything up and try not to blow up anything in the process. The old wiring was pretty rough

But with some encouragement from a mechanic friend and a few extra pieces parts I didn't have, I managed this:

An entire tube of 3M 4200 and some brackets, and the new dash was in. I connected up the switches and gauges and holy cow... it all worked...

A few odds and ends like the trim tabs being sorted out, and a minor issue with using LED bulbs in my running lights and The Hard Six went from this:

To This:

It was about 4 months of work.. That included lost time for Hurricane Matthew, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But It is so nice to have a command console where everything works, nothing rattles, and it is water tight. There is a sense of pride when you conquer something you weren't sure you could actually do. The shakedown cruise when I took this photo was on New Years Day. What a great way to start the year!

Of course, like all stories, there is much that I left out of this one... Sure, there were setbacks and issues, but I do still believe it really was worth it.

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