Thursday, 21 February 2019

A Much Kneeded Stairway Makeover (in which "Mister Cookie" toots her horn!)

By Brooke (a.k.a. Mister Cookie)

Every summer season has its projects, some of which involve necessary repairs or refits, some are cosmetic projects, and some are to enhance or better the boating experience. And, I guess, some of these projects happen when one of us has time alone at the marina because the other is away for a spell. When I was in Montreal doing a show for five weeks during the summer of 2010, I returned to find Adrian had installed and wired a lovely new refrigeration system. In 2017 I was in Wolfville for a week and he had created the first drawer on a pull-out system he had devised for the pantry cupboards under the bench.

This past June, Adrian was down in Toronto a fair bit, doing some recordings and also getting some help for his knees. After Monovisc injections were tried and failed, he was undergoing a relatively new procedure, called PRP: Platelet Replacement Procedure. 

A boat is a tough place for bad knees. The 1979 Grand Banks 36 that we have is, for the most part, superb in its design considerations. However, there is one notable flaw: the stairs between the Stateroom/Master Cabin and the Salon/Saloon.  These stairs have always felt awkward, even on our once athletic knees, and we figure the poor design of them is, in part, to blame for the poor state of Adrian's pegs.

This staircase is fitted with only two steps spanning a total drop of 35 ½ inches. 
Please ignore the wood chunks in the photo (they factor in later...) The bottom step opens up to reveal one of the many storage spaces on the Grand Banks 36. The door to the right is to the head, and opens out , the sliding door on the left opens a Standing locker. Under the middle step is a bracket for a fire extinguisher, and the pull ring on the floor opens into the hull space with access to the shower sump pump. The white module on the wall is a CO monitor, wired through the bulkhead, down onto one of the batteries in the engine room.

While Adrian was away, I figured it was time to start doing something about the steps, so that any improvement on his knees wouldn’t be canceled out after his return to the boat. But I didn't want to attempt anything that was irreversible, in case it didn't work; and I certainly didn't want to affect the original boat architecture. I needed to find a way to add to, and work with, what was already there.

The rise of the original steps is as follows, as if it were viewed from the side:
Looking at this now, seven months later, I'm not sure why my measurement lines don't include the 1" thickness of the existing step. How's that saying go: measure once, cut twice..?

A standard rise for stairs on land is just under 8 inches, and obviously, the rise should be consistent, or else, your body can get a shock descending and a trippy surprise ascending….

The constraints of this space don't allow for much engineering leeway. The edge of the trim on the doorway to the head is only 36/8 inches from the bottom box-step, as you can see in the above diagram. The best thing about the existing stairway is that there is a sturdy handhold on the wall. 

I  made a few drawings, scratched my tiny head a lot, tossed around several different ideas, and ultimately, after trying to weigh its potential flaws, decided, with slight modifications, to attempt this one:

It would be by no means perfect, but each rise would be considerably less in height, and, overall, consistent-ish.  Whereas before, one step was 13½” , now there would be no big jump between steps, the greatest being 9”. In order to achieve nothing higher than 9", I would have to create a sort of a pancake step on the floor, low enough to allow the head door to swing open.

The drawback to making three steps into five is that the tread, or run, of the steps would be affected. That's why the best feature of the stairway is the sturdy handhold! Going up will be no issue, but in descending, big feet will have to turn to the side on the narrowest step--and, voila, thanks GB, the handhold is there to assist the turn.
Just atop a small cliff above the marina, friends Gord and Chris live, during the summer months. Gord has a shed with an impressive array of tools, and any we don't have he generously lets us use. In this case, Gord offered me use of his table saw, showed me how to set it up and use it (with ear protection) and then provided me with a pick of his scrap lumber! .

I was able to cut my variety of risers and treads from some dry 2x10s (spruce, I think) and then created trim from some pine pieces I scrounged from the boatyard's scrap pile. 

The view down to the trawler from atop the cliff at Chris and Gord's. I'd climbed up to grab a shot of the early evening rainbow over Wright's Marina.
The lumber, 2X10 softwood, needed a fair bit of sanding. Not an elegant choice, but it was sturdy and available...and FREE. The most important part of this endeavour is that the steps are completely secure--not bendy, nor shifty--and I figured that if the engineering worked but the result looked out of place on the beautiful Grand Banks interior, I could always use the softwood as a basic template from which a future stairway could be made, with something closer to the original Teak.

The saws and drill/driver from our boat tool locker aren't visible, but pretty much everything else is, and as you can see, nothing so wonderful as a table saw...

           Below are some photos of my step-by-step process (literally) to make the drawing a reality.

The added middle step, and the risers in place for the other steps. There will still be a cubby space behind for the fire extinguisher, and the box-step will be able to open when the side support pieces beside the hinged step are shaved slightly thinner.  I had to make quite a few trips back up the hill to the saw. Measure three times, cut once...then shave a little here and there...and, maybe a bit more there...

I had to cut notches to fit the new steps snug-ish-ly around the vertical trim.

All the steps in position. Not pretty, but sturdy. The extension on the "box-step" was the easiest, as it was a straight two by four. The floor panel is still able to come out, by turning it around so the lift ring is reachable. All of the support risers are secured to the wall with hidden Robertson screws (through the left wall from the inside of the locker, and through the right wall from inside the cabinet in the head.) A middle support, as in my drawing, wasn't necessary. I used no glue, except on the final trim, so all of the components are easily removable, if need be.

First coat of stain. There was no stain at the local general store and so, as Adrian had the car down in the city, I used whatever opened cans of stain I could scrounge from the boat (and Gord) to try to create a warm tone. This was from a can of cherry, I think. And then I added a layer of golden oak.

The trim was ripped on the saw from scraps in the boatyard, to give a more finished look to the step edges, and to help make the whole impression a bit more golden. Here's two coats of varnish.
The view down, including the cans of stain and varnish at the bottom...and a view of my varnishing-sock-clad little feet. An unanticipated bonus of the pine trim is that it provides a highlight that allows you to see the edges safely. Much like glow tape on the edge of the stage in the theatre.

Finished Stairway, with a view of the handhold on the wall.
It was a pretty successful project, using and upcycling what was generously offered and at hand, and at no cost, except maybe a couple of splinters.
I will finish this post now, lest I run out of breath...
All in all, Adrian is happy, I is happy, and his knees were saved for other endeavours...

 hiking up that cliff over there....

              Why, it was a piece of cake!  A piece of cake with a rewarding view.

                      (Covered Portage Cove, Northern Georgian Bay, September 2018)