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It took about 30 hours of sanding and painting to refinish Rainbird’s hull.

Over the last 30 years I’ve painted several large wooden boats. If you haven’t done it before it can seem a daunting task, but as I will explain here, with some careful planning it can be done successfully with minimal equipment and materials costs. By painting, I mean good technique with roller and brush and not spray painting – a more demanding and costly alternative. You will need to adapt the materials and techniques to whatever you have available in your part of the world.

The best paint systems – in terms of durability – are two part polyurethanes. Unfortunately, for the boat owner operating on a tight budget they are usually out of the question unless you have the well-controlled conditions needed to spray them. Many years ago I did paint a 36’ catamaran with a two-part system, using a roller and brush but it was difficult and stressful and I wasn’t entirely happy with the results. Two of us worked outdoors and by luck, it happened during a wonderful break in the weather but I would not risk it again.

The last boat I painted, Rainbird, a 33 foot Bill Garden sloop, was prepped and painted, single handed, in a week. It was hard, dusty work but my timing, weather wise, was good. I had Rainbird hauled out at Maple Bay on the east side of Vancouver Island, at a yard that allows owners to work on their boats. Historically this time of year is often sunny but not too warm – perfect for hours of sanding and applying paint.

Rainbird had been painted by the previous owners with a single-part Z-Spar yacht enamel approximately ten years earlier. Her red cedar, cold-molded hull was epoxy coated but not sheathed. The teal blue paint had turned very chalky. There were a few cracks in the paint and some minor peeling but the overall the integrity was good. All it needed was sanding and some minor repairs before applying a fresh coat of paint.

The yard kindly lent me some boards and supports to build a scaffold. I hooked up my orbital sander to a vacuum cleaner and set to work. It was hard, dusty work and I was happy that I could use the marina’s showers at the end of each day. I just worked my way around the boat, with two random orbital sanders, one with 80 grit and the other with 120 for finishing. I believe I used around 70 of the Velcro type sanding pads. This is a big boat and yes, if you looked closely at the finished job you might see swirls from the sanders – I didn’t have the time or energy to go for a perfect finish. I just needed a finish that would adhere well and last for another ten years.

Once I had thoroughly sanded the hull I washed it down with fresh water and dried it with clean cloths to remove the last traces of paint dust.

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Some of the essentials.

The late summer mornings were damp so I would wipe away condensation prior to painting. The boat was oriented north/south so I only painted the side out of the sun. I  painted a whole side without stopping to avoid an unsightly overlap.

I had painted Rainbird’s decks and cabin with General Paint’s Weather-it three years earlier and was very happy with the results. It was easy to apply and still looked as good as new. The paint was intended for commercial steel work and as Rainbird’s cold-molded hull was unlikely to move much I felt this paint would be a good match. It was also considerably cheaper than yacht enamel.

I bought some brushing thinners and a quality 3” brush. I would apply the paint with a 4” roller and then “tip off” the freshly laid paint with the brush. I always had a second brush at hand incase the first became contaminated.

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With the sanding complete it’s time to start painting.

Painting a side took about 3 hours. I would apply a vertical panel of paint about 18” wide with the roller and then “tip-off” with the brush. Speed is essential because you need to maintain the wet edge. Having a second pair of hands would have been very useful because one could apply paint with the roller while the other “tips-off”. You will probably need a brushing thinner – the exact amount depends on how fast you are working as well as temperature, humidity and wind.

Luckily the wind (and bugs) held off and the daytime high stayed below 20C. The first coat looked fantastic. I was planning a second coat but the weather broke. Unfortunately, I needed to return home and yard fees together with the prospect of fall weather didn’t make a holding-off for a second coat practical.

I dodged showers while antifouling and doing some mechanical work. Rainbird went back into the water ten days after she was hauled. I was very happy with her new paint job.

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If you enjoy my blog you might like to read about my sailing adventure on the west coast of Britain. “Suilven’s Travels” tells how I sold my home and with my partner Jill Brown, built a 26′ Wharram catamaran which we sailed around the coasts of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. “Suilven’s Travels” is available as an ebook for $4.99 on Amazon and the proceeds help support this blog.

 

 

 

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I figured this out years ago when finishing Suilven II, a Wharram Tiki 26 catamaran. We needed a good watertight seal on the forward lockers. These were exposed to the occasional dollop of fast moving “green water” so the seal needed to be good.

Commercially manufactured seals weren’t readily available so I decided to improvise using silicon sealant, molded to the gap between the hatch and the deck coaming. The result was a perfect seal. It was so good that a fall in temperature would lower the pressure in the locker and make the hatch hard to open!

When I finished my Storm LT kayak three years ago I decided to use the same technique to form the fore and aft hatch seals, rather than use a soft rubber seal. It has worked very well, keeping water out during practice wet-exits.

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The hatch has been positioned, and the silicon pushed out. Allow a day or two to fully cure.

Here’s how to do it.

Clean up and degrease the flange where the hatch will sit. It’s important that the silicon sealant bonds well to this surface.

  1. Tape of the exterior surfaces where you don’t want extruding silicon to stick.
  2. Liberally coat the underside and edge of the hatch with a release agent. I used Pathway Polymers “Synlube 531 Release Agent” simply because I already had a can. Whatever release agent you use, I strongly recommend a trial with the silicon rubber you intend to use (GE Tub & Tile 100% silicon in my case). A stick up could be very tricky to undo!
  3. Squirt a generous bead of silicon onto the flange.
  4. Carefully place the hatch into the exact position. Push it down to extrude the sealant. You may want to improvise some spacers for exact positioning. It has to right first time!
  5. Allow the silicon to fully cure then pry off the hatch.
  6. Trim the surplus silicon with a sharp utility knife.

You now have a durable silicon rubber seal that exactly matches the shape of the hatch. The fit will be so good that you may need a handle or pull cord to remove it.

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Nylon straps that can be tensioned hold the hatches in place.

Putting on a Personal Flotation Device should be as automatic as fastening a seat belt in a car. Here’s why!

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Do you wear a personal floatation device (PFD) when you are on the water, even when it’s flat calm, or you are just making a short trip from the dock? Maybe you are strong swimmer and don’t see the need? If you are one of the many people who don’t then this true story might make you pause and think, because accidents are, by their very nature, unforeseen and unpredictable.

After several years of living on a sailboat, I must admit I had become quite blasé about water safety. Then one day, about 20 years ago, three of us could have died, and only a bizarre second “accident” prevented a tragedy. Here is the story and some of the lessons learnt.

It was a beautiful, late spring day and I was sailing along the UK’s south-west coast. A light breeze was blowing as I dropped anchor off the sleepy Cornish village of Cawsands. I was about 500 meters from the beach which, at this time of year, was only lightly populated with tourists. The only other boat in the area was a small sailboat, about 15 feet in length and crewed by a man and a child.

I was preoccupied with setting the anchor when I heard a distant splash. It was obviously a little more significant than a fish jumping from the water and it distracted me enough to look up. I was alarmed to see that the little sailboat, about 200 metres distant, now only had one occupant, a small child, who sat perfectly still at the rear of the boat, which was still moving under sail.

When I saw an arm rise from the water, some distance behind the boat, then disappear again below the waves the shocking reality of the situation I was becoming involved in started to sink in. Figuring that it would take too long to pull up the anchor and get underway, I threw my very small, inflatable tender over the side of my boat, grabbed a paddle and headed towards a struggling figure in the water.

As I headed towards him, I noticed that the sailboat, its sails full in the light breeze, was starting to turn out to sea. As it passed nearby I realised that its traumatised occupant was probably only 4 or 5 years old. “Do you know how to steer?” I shouted. No response came – he was frozen with fear and I was concerned that a gust of wind could capsize his boat at any moment. There was no way I could paddle fast enough to catch up with him so I concentrated a reaching the swimmer, who unlike the child, was not wearing a PFD and was clearly in considerable difficulty. At least, I thought, somebody ashore must have seen what happened and initiated a rescue.

After an exhausting few minutes of paddling I pulled alongside the man in the water. He was a big man, very overweight, exhausted and frightened. I could see blood in the water from a gash in his side. His knuckles whitened as his stiff hands gripped the line that ran alongside my little inflatable. I realised that pulling him aboard was going to be impossible, as he was already too weak to assist. A combination of shock and hypothermia in the cold Atlantic waters were taking hold. “OK, I want you to hold on and I’m going to paddle us ashore,”I said realising at the same time I was being very optimistic as wind and tide where conspiring to push us further out to sea. He was too exhausted to answer but made a feeble attempt to pull himself out of the water. I instinctively reached out to help him and tried in vain to heave him aboard, but I became alarmed as the tender started to buckle under the load, leading to a situation that could quite easily end up with both of us in the water.

At this point, a bizarre piece of luck occurred which probably saved lives. In the struggle with the swimmer I had lost track of the sailboat, which thanks to mother nature and some random sail settings, had come around in a wide circle and was now moving at a brisk pace and on collision course with us. The first I knew about it was when my tender was stuck with a dull thud from behind, nearly catapulting me into the water. Somehow in the confusion I managed to grab hold of the sailboat’s rigging and hold on for dear life. It turned out to be our salvation, as I managed to clamber on board, find some rope and put it around the man in the water. It was still impossible to pull him aboard so I set sail for the beach, dragging him and my inflatable alongside us.

As we approached the shore, the young boy sat opposite me, shaking and speechless, tears rolling down his cheeks. Looking towards the village the realisation dawned on me that the frantic running about and launching of boats I had expected to see just wasn’t happening. Life was going on totally oblivious to the drama on the water.

As I later paddled back to my boat, I patted myself on the back for a job well done with one hand, and hit myself over the head with the other for not wearing a PFD myself. Putting on a PFD should be as automatic as fastening a seat belt in a car. Remember, being a great swimmer isn’t any help if you are injured or knocked unconscious during a fall overboard – only a PFD is likely to save you!

There were other lessons to be learnt too.

  • Two or more adults should be available when taking young children onto the water.
  • Have flares or other signalling devices readily at hand and know how to use them. Looking back, if I had taken 30 seconds to fire off a flare or sound the horn before jumping into the tender, I would have alerted people ashore and made a successful outcome more certain.
  •  Understand that if some one falls overboard you may not be able to get them back on board easily. This is where a floating line, lifebuoys, and boarding ladders become important together with a predetermined plan that everyone on board understands.
  •  Briefing your crew about the location and operation of safety devices, as well as man overboard procedures, is an essential responsibility of the skipper. Putting it off because it “might alarm the crew” or set a sombre tone is misguided. Ultimately, remember, it may be the skipper who needs rescuing!