When I inspected our boat in the shed before buying it, I missed something odd about the bow pulpit. I noticed that the deck had signs of past damage around the bow pulpit footings, and there was a small kink in the center tube of the pulpit, but the pulpit looked OK from up on the deck.
Once the boat got in the water and we could look at it from the side, it looked like someone had punched the boat in the nose. The pulpit was too tall, and the vertical tube that held the bow light was angled aft. Aside from the kink, the pulpit tubing didn’t show signs of damage, but the boat looked like it had been run straight into a piling. Once I noticed it, the pulpit drove me nuts – something had to be done when the boat came out of the water.
My first call was to Mike Trindade at Waterline Systems. Waterline supplies most spare parts for older J Boats like ours, and Mike is an amazing resource. True to form, Mike knew that there had been a few different versions of the pulpits, and was able to find an original drawing. The company that had built ours, Tops in Quality, had recently closed its doors and sold its patterns to a nearby company called Whitewater Marine. They could supply a new pulpit, but with shipping it would cost about $1000. After a couple more inquiries about fixing bent pulpits, I decided to take a shot at it myself – it’s amazing what sticker shock will do for your ingenuity.
I figured that pulling the top of the pulpit forward to return it to shape was the same as pulling/angling the bottom aft, and if I could figure a way to angle the pulpit legs aft, I could get it to look normal again. I flipped the pulpit over and tied its forward end in place under some heavy wood pieces. Then I lashed 2 x 4’s to the legs to pull them aft. By pulling gently on the 2x4’s, the legs came aft, but I had tied the lines too high up on the legs, and now they were bent. The lashing had pulled only on the top of the legs; it really needed to pull on the middle, where the lower bar was attached. When I pulled on the middle, the pulpit came back into shape.
The next step was to fix the kinked section of the forward leg - which would require cutting and welding. The idea was to cut the tube above the kink, sleeve it with a smaller section of tubing, and weld a new section of tubing on. There would be a butt joint between the old and new tube sections, but that would be supported by the sleeve inside. Microweld, in East Providence, RI took care of this beautifully for $100 – with a polished weld that was practically invisible.
With the forward leg fixed, the challenge was to refit the pulpit at the correct height. The forward leg needed to be bent aft a bit to fit in the stemhead fitting socket. I did this with more 2 x 4’s, which worked well.
It then needed to be cut to length, and I made the mistake of cutting this leg a bit too short. I was aiming for a pulpit that was parallel to the sheer line, but it actually wants to be angled up slightly to align with the lifelines attaching to it. The top rail is 26” off the deck, and the lifelines are coming in from 24” stanchions.
When the boat went back in the water, the result was still a big improvement over what we had before. The top bar still has a slight bend in it, and the pulpit could use a slight upward angle, but it no longer looks like it lost a fight with an immovable object.
Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series on buying and maintaining a used J/35.
Paul Grimes is an engineer and marine surveyor living in Portsmouth, RI. For more information, visit Grimes Yacht Services.