Welcome to the forum.
Like you, I purchased a Nova 36 Sun deck in Seattle last year. Red Sky, twin Volvo pentas. Spent the winter in a boat house doing repairs/mainterance - complete raw water cooling system including strainers, new filters throughout, new radio, chart plotter, sounder, oil pump out system and many minor maintenance items (including removal of miles of old unused wiring including sat tv).
Have met a couple of big sister Nova owners over our cruising this summer in the Gulf Islands. Would love to be part of a Nova group of some sort.
Question re your cut out of bilge area. Red Sky has three bilge areas between the engine bed stringers. Furthes aft is open under the aft cabin stairway and currently houses the battery for the northern lights genset. Mid section is the shower sump for the aft shower. I plan to install a proper self contained sump box this winter so as not to have this gray water sloshing around in the bilge all the time. Forward section is the main bilge pump and the manual bilge pump pick up. I have suspected that there is water in the keel below these area(s) but am reluctant to start drilling/ cutting while in the water in case something unexpected pops up. Would this be the area(s) you refer to? I would love to have access to this keel area for other than gray water storage!
Look forward to further discusssions. You can contact me directly at RedSkyNova36@gmail.com