Here are a couple pictures of my 1973 and the hole I cut a few months ago. I have not yet fixed the actual hatch within the hole but I have dry fit it and it seems to be a good, flat location within arm's reach of the step. The hatch you see sitting on the bow is doing just that, sitting there. That's just where I happened to toss it. There is no hatch in that location.
Second one is a picture of the mast step within the hull. It looks okay but I'm still going to reinforce it come warmer weather as it does lose water when filled. Plus it'll give me a warm fuzzy feeling.
Looking at the construction of the tube and the mast donut, it's amazing that broken mast steps haven't been eliminated by now. Basic boatbuilding skill has eluded the manufacturers for 30 odd years. Quite a feat!
I bought it in late October 2007 and have some remaining work to do to it before it is ready for prime time here in Maine. I personally have never had it in the water. However, based upon the amount of scratches, dings, scrapes, dents and any other hull deformities you can think of, I think it's been around the block a few times.
I haven't sat in a Laser for 20 years so I chomping at the bit for warmer weather!!!
For what it's worth - I have an old '73, on which the mast step DID let go a couple years back, and think it's worth putting a port in. It's a "stitch in time, saves 9." It will be perfectly fine, til it's completely broken. The repair is a huge job, the port is a little problem. There IS a central rib, but you can easily seal the port over the curvature. Still, I'd put it offcenter, behind the mast. That plywood donut DOES soften up, and on mine, the mast tube was NOT securely attached to the bottom of the hull. I can send pic's if it helps.
If you can get your hand on a fiber optic camera to take a look through a scew whole you can see what you are dealing with. If the donut is intact leave it alone. If you hear something chunky inside the hull the donut maybe partially broken and the next big wind and your mast will come down. The early boats were put together with car body filler in the donut. It gets very dry and brittle when it ages. If you do cut a port hole, cut the filler our and replace it with fiberglass resign. I blew my mast step out and it is painfill to install the replacment kit. You will be out of action for a few weeks. I wish I had cut the hole to prevent the break. Good luck!
Certainly putting one or more ports in your boat is a personal decision. I have a 1979 boat and in order to repair a hull/deck separation problem, it was necessary to put two aft of the cockpit. As this Laser was new to me, I also put one on the foredeck. This allowed me to inspect the step and also to check for leaks. The other advantage of having a port is that when the boat is not in use, you can leave the cover off and the inside of the hull will dry out. Believe me, it was pretty slimey when I opened #76187 after 28 years!
You might also want to test to see if the tube is leaking and you don't need a port to do this. With the boat on the trailer and level (fore and aft and beam to beam), fill the mast tube with water and mark the level. Wait 24 hours and see if it goes down. This will at least tell you if the tube has been compromised at the bottom.
As for port placement, it should not be on the centerline. The deck in that area is reinforced with plywood (versus foam off the centerline) and you will compromise the longitudinal stiffness of the deck if you do. Viking ports are recommended for older boats, and there is a special one available which will not accomodate a fat bag. The advantage of this port is that the opening will be larger (no inside rim) so you will be able to stick your arm in farther. I learned this the hard way.
Another item that you can use to keep mast tube wear to a minimum is the teflon tape that APS sells. This wraps around the mast and reduces the friction between the mast and the gelcoat.
Lastly, if you're interested, a link below shows how and where I installed my ports.
I recently bought a 20 year boat with a slight leak in the mast step tube for my daughter. I read this thread and was torn between minor leak repair and cutting a hole in the deck. Even though the hull is solid, I cut the hole. The prybar test found the mast tube to be dangerously loose with respect to the hull. The "doughnut" came right out. The repair cost less than $25 for a new port, some glass tape and a bit of epoxy resin. The time involved from start to finish was less than 4 hours. I am glad I cut the hole, I would do it to any Laser. How else can you know the condition of this critical spot?
yea, I'm wishing I'd done that with my boat. Here's 3 pic's from my learning experience.
1. inside damage
2. deck damage- this was much harder + more time to fix than the mast tube itself
3. all fixed
It was hours and hours - 25? 40? in VERY uncomfortable contortions + positions. Maybe $300 in materials, sandpaper, yadda yadda.
I had NO IDEA there was any weakness til she let go and it's done in a second.
Let the wind break the deck = the hard way. Each of us is a product of our history. I am a BIG advocate of putting in a port- stitch in time saves 9. Any boat that leaks, any boat that spent even 1 winter outside (or even might have done so), any boat older than say 10 years??? I'd put a port into it, in a heartbeat. If it's ok, great. If it's not, it's a couple hours to re-inforce it and prevent the deck tearing up. Once the deck is done, you're in for a big load of hard work.
Then, you can open it after each ride, or once a month, to see how dry she is, and/or dry it out thoroughly. It's just a good deal all around.
Wow... that is probably one of the best repair jobs I've seen... I'm sure it took a ton of time, But it appears to be time well spent... certainly better than the heinous mast step repair kit... well done.