Features September 1, 1999 Issue

Offshore Log: In Use Report -
Atkins & Hoyle Deck Hatches

After three years’ cruising, Calypso’s cast aluminum deck hatches are holding up quite well, but they’re not perfect.

Most boatowners rarely have the option of selecting their deck hatches. When you build your own boat, however, you don’t just get to make choices. You have to make them. We installed four Atkins & Hoyle clear anodized, aluminum-framed deck hatches on Calypso. Three of these have reversing tops. The fourth—a small hatch over the head compartment—is a conventional single-opening hatch. Here’s how they’ve held up after three years of tropical cruising and almost 12,000 miles of bluewater sailing.

Only one of our four hatches—the small one over the head compartment—has ever leaked. On this hatch, the single machine screw that adjusts the hatch dog tension occasionally works loose, and if you do not re-adjust the dog, the hatch top may not seat tightly on the gasket, resulting in a leak.

This same problem—slipping tension in the hatch dog adjusters—has been a minor problem on the two hatches over the main cabin. It is easily fixed by re-adjusting the machine screw, then tightening down the locking nut to maintain tension. Unfortunately, you need a thin open-end wrench to tighten the locking nut without gouging the hatch frame.

You may also occasionally need to change the tension on the hatch dogs to compensate for compression of the hatch gasket. A big slotted screwdriver and your thin open-end wrench make this a straightforward job, although getting equal tension on multiple hatch dogs can be a little tricky.

Both the base and the hatch frame are aluminum-magnesium alloy sand castings. The castings are quite rough when they come out of the mold box, and require a lot of hand finishing. Most of the polishing effort goes into the exposed outer surfaces of the hatch frame and the top, since this is the part that is most visible.

The inside of the base castings is quite rough. We have found that these irregular interior surfaces are prone to collecting dirt and are hard to clean. You need some detergent and a bristle brush to get the dirt out of the surface pores. Although hand finishing is time-consuming and expensive, we’d like to see more time put into finishing the exposed interior surfaces of the hatches.

Where dirt collects, mildew is usually not far behind. Because they are anodized aluminum, you don’t want to use bleach.

The exterior finish on the cast parts still looks good after three years of exposure. The Almag alloy used by Atkins & Hoyle is highly corrosion-resistant. Calypso’s hatches show slight blooming (surface oxidation) where salt has been left on the aluminum surfaces, but this is common with any anodized aluminum. It is a minor conern compared to the peeling paint seen on many hatches.

Atkins & Hoyle uses high-quality acrylic glazing, rather than the polycarbonate used in some hatches. Acrylic has better resistance to scratching than standard grades of polycarbonate, but is weaker and more brittle when new. We selected optional 3/8" thick glazing on our main cabin hatches.

After three years, there is minimal sign of crazing, which is a common problem with acrylic exposed to strong sunlight over time, and is both a cosmetic and structural problem. Slight surface crazing can be polished out with the same compounds that are used to restore aircraft windshields. Deeper crazing cannot.

The silicone glazing compound which holds the acrylic in place has never leaked on any of these hatches, and shows no signs of deterioration.

A major reason for purchasing Atkins & Hoyle hatches was the optional reversing hinge side of the top to take advantage of different breeze directions. Normally, all hatches are left opening forward for maximum airflow. At sea, the two main cabin hatches are reversed. In good conditions, these hatches can be left cracked open to provide additional draft, greatly cooling the interior of the boat. Opening them aft keeps light spray on deck where it belongs.

There is a downside to these reversing tops. The hinge rod is stainless steel. The hinges themselves are an integral part of the aluminum base and top castings. Unless it is regularly removed and lubricated (we use Lanocote for this) the hinge rod can seize in place. This happened on our foredeck hatch, and it took hours of alternately delicate and brutal work to get the rod out..

We have two different generations of Atkins & Hoyle hatches, with slightly different hatch top adjusting arms. Our main cabin hatches—the newer design—have a two-part adjusting arm. One part is a simple anodized aluminum rod. The other part is a coated aluminum casting. We’re not sure what the coating is—it is a black rubber-like compound—but it has gotten very sticky and gummy. Dirt adheres to this surface like glue, and it cannot be cleaned. This is an annoyance on a hatch that has only seen three years of use. Clearly, a different coating should be used here.

After three years of hard use, we give these Atkins & Hoyle hatches a rating of 8 on a scale of 10. They have done extremely well the basic jobs required of any hatch. With the exception of rough interior finish and slight pitting of the anodizing, the hatches still look very good. (Atkins & Hoyle, 71 Portland St., Toronto, Canada 0N M5V 2M9; 416/596-1818, www.atkinshoyle.com.)

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