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By Rob Rohde-Szudy - Madison, Wisconsin - USA


Motor Well Modifications – Part 3
Finishing the New Motor Well
for the Bolger Light Schooner
…or other boats with similar motor wells

Part1 - Part2 - Part3 - Part4

Last time we put in the light schooner’s new “bulkhead 4” in preparation for a full-blown motor well rebuild. Now we’ll get the rest of the framing done.


Now that we have the new bulkhead to hold the hull in its correct shape, we can remove the old one. For jobs like this my favorite tool is the Milwaukee Tool Saw-Zall. God, I love that thing. I got it for $40 at a yard sale. After a full career of work with a sheet metal, it’s enduring my abuse with no sign of giving up. This is a good example of high quality tools being worth the money, particularly used. The cheap Chinese imitations don’t hold up to regular use. Dust gets in the bearings and they fail.

OK, now that I’m done with the tool rant…

The first step is removing the hatch coamings. This is straightforward saw-zall work, but a regular jigsaw would work too, though it might be a bit tight near the deck carlins. Of course a hand saw would be perfectly workable as well.

Click images for larger views

Then we run into a little problem. The screweyes that hold the hatch cover shock cords are in the way. I could just put a metal blade on the saw-zall, but I’m too lazy. On the other hand I don’t want to ruin the wood blade or have to unscrew them. I remember what a pain it was to screw them in, using a screwdriver to slowly “wrench” them. So I cut a kerf on each side and chiseled them out. Fast and easy.

So here it is with the decks cut.


Time to get rid of the old motor well bulkhead. It is quickest to do it in steps. First cut through the plywood and leave the framing along the edges. There will be a few small parts where you can’t reach with a saw-zall. That’s where Mr. Sledgehammer becomes your friend.

You can see how I placed my hatch covers stupidly for this. In fact I placed them stupidly for anything, since they’re all but impossible to get to with the motor in place. Maybe this is good, since it doesn’t tempt me to overload the stern. Either way, we’ll be moving these hatches.

In any case, the object here is to cut the well and decks in plane with the aft face of the motor board. The new motor transom will tie into these panels at that point.

Finishing it off seems easiest by cutting kerfs into the remnants and chiseling out the waste. Be sure that chisel is sharp and work slowly! You’ll have to drive some fasteners outward through the sides and bottom. So again I had to drag the boat partway off the trailer.

Note here one of the nice features of the motor well during a refit. A trash can placed under the slot makes cleaning junk out pretty convenient. Just sweep it all out the slot. Nice!

A belt sander finishes it up nicely, where it can reach. Of course the nail holes are easily plugged with epoxy putty.

Looking pretty empty back there. Perfect. Now we can build a proper motor well.

Building anew

For a transom that holds a motor, Jim Michalak recommends 1/2” plywood, reinforced at the top with a 2x6 running the entire width of the boat. So that’s what we’re doing. We use the same tick stick method to make a bulkhead that comes out flush with the underside of the decks. As always, fit oversized when possible and mark directly from the boat.

Here, those who have not yet built the schooner are in luck. Here’s how you build the bulkheads I used. That is way easier than retrofitting like I’m doing here. Most importantly, remember to draw the BH4 lines 6” forward of the original location on your side panels.

We want the top to come out just below the decking, so the new decking can rest on top of the motor bulkhead. We cut this to fit, then add the motor clamp board. I really have no idea how I cut this too short. (PL400 and redundant framing saved me.)

This lets us fit the new deck pieces. I cut ¼” plywood to roughly fit, then traced the shape of the opening from underneath. I decided to leave excess overlapping the motor board, then trim it later. Since this bulkhead can slip into place with framing attached, we now remove it to nail and glue the motor clamp board. Actually, I had to remove it so I could trace the cut lines onto the underside of the decks.

Time to get back to the framing of the motor bulkhead. Next we add the bottom frame and fill-in pieces on the sides. No reason not to fasten it to the boat now, so I do. Note the short nailer strips on the aft upper corners. There are to support the cut-off decks that come flush to the bulkhead’s edge at that point. I could have cut the decks back further, but it is awkward to put in fastenings under the side deck. So I left as much of the original as I could. (For those who have to work after kids go to bed, take note that I fit the side pieces and nailers at night, beveling them with a hand plane. And screws are quieter than nails!)

Hey! I put fasteners into the end grain of the top and bottom frames on that bulkhead! That will be weak! This is true. But I’m adding yet another vertical frame right in front of them. This one fastens to both the chine and the gunwale, making a brutally strong motor bulkhead. Overkill indeed for only 5.5 hp. The only trouble is that the full-height frames create corners that want to hold water. After the decks are on, we’ll glue in small plywood triangles to eliminate this problem.

Also note the nailers I added under the cut edge of the decks, to join old to new. But don’t put the new decks on yet, because you will need to have some kind of opening in the aft decks to drive screws. I did this by leaving off the new deck pieces until the last moment. But you could also do it by laying out the new hatches earlier. I wanted to wait so I could think about where I wanted them after seeing the motor and all the steering mechanism in place.

Now is a good time to cut those deck parts to fit.

Note that the top of the motor board is not square. We need it to be, or the motor will mash the corner. No problem. I like to cap these with a strip of solid wood anyway, to protect the end grain of the plywood. So we just rip that strip with a bevel to “undo” the existing bevel. Here it is being dry fitted.

Next time we’ll finish the project.

Rob Rohde-Szudy
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

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