Saturday, June 11, 2016

Education and Expectations

"You learn something everyday, if you pay attention". -Ray LeBlond

How about "If you want to properly maintain a boat you must learn something new everyday"...I think that is my version for it as it seems like I'm constantly searching for information on how to do something the right way on this boat.  How to properly wire a windlass, how to install a Plexiglass port light, how to build a hardtop is a never ending list.

The past couple days I've been researching and soliciting opinions on what I need to do in order to strip all the bottom paint off the boat and start over.  The theory behind ablative or self-polishing paints is that they slowly wear off, keeping their anti-fouling properties going until the paint is gone.  Of course, they don't wear evenly and you don't want to wait until all the paint is gone before applying new paint, so the result is that over the years layers build up.  Eventually, or so I'm told anyway, the thickness of the layers and age of the older paints result in increasingly larger chips of paint coming off.  Thus the need to remove the paint.

What happens when bottom paint fails
(from a previous boat we surveyed, not ours now)
But, how to remove the paint.  That was the question. I wasn't 100% sure what was under the flaking paint on my boat, all I know is I don't want to screw up the hull because that would be very bad. Sanding off all the old paint is one way to remove it.  That would be a long and tedious approach and could potentially do damage if not very careful of how far to sand.  At the other end of the spectrum seem to be chemical strippers.  Paint the stripper on, wait a while, scrape off the softened paint.  Repeat until you are down to the gelcoat.  No damage to the underlying structure, but tedious and sanding the gelcoat to get another layer of paint to stick would still be required. Sandblasting the paint off would make quick work of the bottom paint, but would also make quick work of the gelcoat and underlying fiberglass.  The best solution seems to be soda-blasting.  Similar to sandblasting but with a media that is far less aggressive than sand.

Then the question is what to apply to the boat. While Leopards don't typically have much problem with blistering, application of a barrier coat seems to be the recommended way to go. A proper barrier coat seals the hull and prevents water long as the hull is dry (don't want to seal in water). Apparently cured barrier coats are, ironically, not the best surface to which to apply anti-fouling paint. So the first layer of anti-fouling paint needs to be applied before the barrier coat is cured. Of course, what anti-fouling paint to use is also a question.  Some paints are better than others, and their effectiveness seems to vary depending on where you are. Some have suggested paints such as Jotun SeaQuantum Static that are used on commercial ships.  We still haven't decided on what paint to use but hope to find a reasonable balance between cost and performance.

That is my recent education.  Of course, I also need to apply something I've learned from previous experiences with boatyards.  I wrote a letter to the yard where I would like to have the work done, explaining in detail what I expect in the business relationship.  I explained how I expect to come up with a detailed estimate before I leave the boat in their care.  I continue on to explain that I understand that unforeseen complications can arise, but I expect to be consulted if costs are going to exceed the estimate by more than a small percentage.

I hope that this is the yard's standard operating procedure, as it should be and is the standard in most industries.  Unfortunately, my experience with boatyards seems to indicate that this is somewhat foreign and running up a bill of twice the estimate without any consultation seems normal. I feel bad, and even apologized several times, that I had to write out basic business expectations.  If I ran a business, I'm not sure how I would feel if a customer was trying to tell me how I already know I should run my business...but again, my history in dealing with yards seems to indicate that this process is a rather foreign concept. So I felt I had to set expectations and make sure we are all on the same page.

Hopefully I've learned enough to do a good job in my choices on our anti-fouling bottom job and to ensure the boatyard we choose does a good job for me.


  1. I would stay away from Sail Craft Service in Oriental, NC. From experience they will go thousands over and not inform you ànd it was all man hours.

    1. Unfortunately just about every boater I run into has multiple stories like this. As long as boats have been around...and as long as many of these companies have been in business they should be able to make a reasonably accurate estimate. The only other explanation I can come up with is that they intentionally bid low to get business knowing they can jack up the price. As boat owners we all really need to hold these companies to the same standards used in just about every other business/industry.

  2. Hi Mike -
    Ask for a price not to exceed $XXX
    If you go the soda blast route (the best, in my opinion) and I had my Ericson done that way, be sure to wash the hull with something to neutralize the baking soda. I can't remember what my friend told me to use (it was a few years ago) but I can check with him if you need.
    Another option is sponge blasting. Here is an article from SAIL magazine about Joe and his processes being done on a local metal sailboat.
    Assuming I still have FifthQuarter in a few years, I'll have Joe do a bottom stripping. There aren't any better than him up here.

    1. Hi Dave,
      Interesting article. Joe sounds like a real find, don't think I even want to know what his expertise costs. Sounds like the sponge has some very specific applications and even Joe would likely use soda on our hulls. Good to have another data point confirming that. :)

      I think a thorough water rinse should be the right way to go, but if there is another recommendation, I would be interested to hear what it is for washing the stuff off.

    2. Mike - Yes, soda would be correct for f'glass. My brain tells me it is vinegar you need to wash it with. You need to neutralize the baking soda - washing it with water will not work. I may be seeing Joe in a few days - I'll double check.

  3. Hi Mike/Dave,
    I know this is not a forum, but it is interesting post and comments. Very helpful information to store in my back pocket for later use.

    1. There is always something to learn. Speaking of forums, I have asked questions about my upcoming work on the Leopard Catamaran owners group on Yahoo and Facebook. Joining general liveaboard forums and groups as well as boat-specific ones will serve you well. And reading interesting blogs, of course. :-)