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Thanks so much for alerting me to this potential problem. I will remove the hatch as you suggested and will seal the core at every deck penetration. I will also use filled epoxy for this job just as you suggested. I do normally try to preserve or restore the fibreglass for the top hole in such repairs which makes the process a bit more difficult but the idea is the same. I have pulled the deck fills and most every deck penetration that I could find on our boat, removed the core and filled with epoxy. So far I have not found any rotten core though the balsa was damp in the holes for the twist turns on the forward hatch locker lids, not bad on a 33 year old boat!
”what has to be removed for inspection.”
I wish I had an easy answer for you on this one, unfortunately I do not. We discovered the problem when we had obvious core failure, so our “inspection” was peeling off the upper deck surface until we go to sound core. Miles’ approach of pulling screws from the hatch frame and looking is I think as good as it gets.
There is a preventative that should be considered. Remove the hatch and drill out the screw holes in the deck significantly larger than the diameter of the screw. Drill down all the way through the wood piece. Fill it with epoxy thickened with LOTS of high strength thickener. Redrill a pilot hole for the screws, and again drill all the way through. You want isolate the leak path from the wood, and you want to SEE a drip right away, not have it get trapped. If you go this route, be prepared for surprises. Not all the screws, and I bet not all the boats, are fixed in the same way!
Doing this is a bit fussy, requiring a bit of disassembly of the interior trim and for the hinge side screws it has to be done very carefully or else the screws will pull out in short order. There are some other viable alternatives for resetting the screws, but pretty much all of them require pulling the hatch.