Wednesday, June 27

Gelcoat Revival!

By Andrew Spaulding, Crowley's Yacht Yard,

Gelcoat, which is a polyester resin, forms the outer-most layer of almost all production boats. Gelcoat forms a shiny outer surface and is purely cosmetic. The production boat building process starts when the gelcoat is sprayed into a highly polished female mold. Then layers of resin impregnated fiberglass are layered into the mold to form the hull. Some hulls are built by laying the fiberglass in dry and then infusing the resin, but either way the end result is an outer layer of gelcoat covering the structural hull.

Gelcoat is damaged by ultra-violet (UV) radiation from the sun. The gelcoat is oxidized by the UV and falls away exposing new gelcoat to the sunlight, thereby making the situation worse and worse as time passes. The best way to slow this process is to wax the boat once or twice per year from the moment it is new. Any wax that mentions UV protection will work. We prefer Four Seasons Trewax Boat Wax ($22.99 for 12 oz in the Crowley’s Ship Store) or Starbrite Premium Marine Polish with PTEF ($17.99/pt).

The smoother the gelcoat, the shinier the gelcoat will be. Straight out of the mold the gelcoat is very smooth and shiny. Once oxidation sets in and the gelcoat surface is damaged it becomes rougher, and rough is dull. There are a few different methods of reviving the original gelcoat shine. Which one you use depends on the extent of the oxidation.

For light oxidation, a good quality cleaner wax such as 3M Cleaner Wax ($15.99/pt in the Crowley’s Ship Store) will remove light oxidation and apply a coat of wax at the same time. For heavier damage a several step process using compound will be necessary. We recommend 3M Imperial Compound and Finishing ($44.99/qt) for this job. Before applying any wax or compound make sure you wash the boat thoroughly to remove dust, dirt and any other particulate debris that might scratch the surface.

Once the UV damage is so severe the hull looks like it was never waxed to begin with, you need to consider sanding the boat to renew the gelcoat. Since the damage to the surface of the gelcoat makes it rough robbing the gelcoat of its shine, wet sanding the hull with a very fine grit sand paper will remove the surface of the gelcoat. Go from wet sanding to a compound (more than one grit of compound may be needed depending on how deep the sanding scratches go into the gelcoat), then apply a polish to remove swirl marks and finally an application of wax and the boat should shine like new.

Of course, there are a few pitfalls with the wet sanding process. Potentially there are spots where the gelcoat is very thin, so it is possible to sand through the gelcoat while wet sanding. It is also possible to need several grits of compound to get all of the sanding scratches out. If you notice the gelcoat starting to go transparent, it is becoming very thin so stop the sanding.

I feel that the largest pitfall of wet sanding gelcoat is probably the least well understood. Due to the way the gelcoat cures originally, the surface gelcoat is the toughest. So when the underlying gelcoat that is exposed after wet sanding, it oxidizes faster than original. Since the wet sanding process can be fairly expensive compared to a simple wax job, a boat owner can be disappointed by the length of time the wet sand job lasts. To protect the gelcoat as much as possible, since gelcoat is rarely thick enough to wet sand twice, I recommend waxing once a month after a wet sand job.

One option to revive gelcoat that we didn’t discuss is painting over it with marine grade topcoat paint. Painting the boat is expensive (all inclusive $300/ft sale price August and September 2012), but it will look new for 10 years where wet sanding might only look great for a few years. As always, think about your plans for the boat over the next few years before committing to a big job.

Please let me know if you have any questions about gelcoat or any other boat maintenance issues.

Wednesday, June 20

Lifeline Inspection

By Andrew Spaulding, email:

Obviously lifelines are important to your and your crew’s safety. As of this summer, I’ve been racing big (40’+) sailboats for 19 years and I can tell you that lifelines have saved me from going in the water or from not going all the way in the water literally dozens of times. It usually happened forward of the mast in decent breeze, but the result was the same...I relied on the lifelines being there to catch me. I guess the lesson is: If you
Rusting lifelines in need of replacementneed the lifelines to do their job…you NEED them.
I think that the single biggest step forward in lifeline safety is installing lifelines without the vinyl covering. So many times, the vinyl cover that looks great when new ends up hiding damaged wire years later. The first sign of trouble is rusty stains in the vinyl cover at the swage ends. Once this starts it is not possible to reliably ensure that the lifeline is in good condition under the vinyl.
Typically the lifelines terminate at the bow and stern pulpits. It is in vogue now on racing boats to lash the lifeline with Dyneema or Spectra onto the stern and bow pulpit to save the weight of the turnbuckle. Using a poly or nylon line puts the safety of the crew in jeopardy. Multiple wraps of Dyneema or Spectra line is Nylon or poly used to lash lifelinesmany times stronger than the wire which is necessary due to the loss of strength when the line makes a 180 degree small radius turn and is tied into a knot.
Expense is often cited as the reason to not replace suspect lifelines. A center gate lifeline for a 35’ foot boat (3/16" uncoated wire) totals at about $1600 installed on the boat. Granted this is a fair amount of money, but this is only $100 per week over a 4 month season. If you considered the life span of lifelines to be 10 years, the cost of a new set becomes $10 per week - less than 2 fruity rum drinks per week.
Call us for a free lifeline inspection when your boat comes back to the yard this winter. If you want a harbor inspection done this summer, please call customer service at 773.221.9990 ext 2.

Wednesday, June 13

Rigging Race Planner

By Andrew Spaulding, email:

As a sailboat racer, you worry about all of the mechanical readiness that we discussed last week and also you have to worry about your standing and running rigging. Of course, you wouldn’t get far without your sails, but I’ll leave sail maintenance up to your local sail maker. Before you head out for the big race, cover this check list and you are giving yourself the best chance for a trouble free regatta.
The first stop on your list should be all of the deck level turnbuckles to make sure that all of the cotter pins are in place holding the turnbuckle adjustment and clevis pins in place. Make sure the pins are all taped up well to keep the sheets and guys (or tack line) from getting fouled. With discontinuous rigging one of the crew is headed aloft to inspect the spreader tip turnbuckles.

While aloft, it is a good idea to check on the mast fitting and the running rigging that is aloft. Be sure to check the mast head sheaves for uneven wear and loose pins. Make sure the top of the roller furler foil has the cap on it or it is taped well to prevent halyards from getting caught in the top of the foil. While checking the furler, make sure to inspect the foil joints to ensure they are tight.

Check the running rigging (sheets, halyards, etc.) for chafe, pulled threads, and excessive wear. The high wear spots are where the shackle end sits on mast head sheave while sailing, and where the clutch holds the halyard. Jib sheets and spinnaker sheets and guys (or tack line) get pulled over and around the standing rigging and lifelines grabbing cotter pins and split-rings that can pull and break threads in the line, so check them carefully.

On the subject of lifelines, be sure to check all of the attachment points. If the lifeline is attached well to a loose bow pulpit they won’t perform as designed in an emergency. Inspect the lifeline for signs of rust or broken strands. If your lifelines are vinyl covered, consider changing to uncovered lifelines, because the vinyl cover can hide damage and rust compromising the strength of the lifeline without your knowledge.

Inspect your hydraulics if you have them. Fill the fluid reservoir to the proper level. Check the piston rod to make sure there are not any nicks or gouges in the rod that would damage the rod seals as the rod goes in and out.

One of the most important things to check and probably the most ignored rigging on a sailboat is the steering system. Inspect the attachment and adjustment at the quadrant. Tighten the u-bolts, inspect the wire for broken strands, look for corroded nicro-press fittings, and check the sheaves for excessive wear and proper attachment to the boat. It is important to also check the top end of the steering system in the binnacle. Check the chain ends where they attach to the wire and make sure the wheel bearing and shaft are good and properly held in place.

Other things to check - nav lights, other lights, instruments, engine fluids, shift cables, anchor and rode, safety gear (jack lines, life jackets, harnesses, etc.). Oh, and be sure to clean and lubricate shackles, blocks, and your foil track.
Good luck on the race course!

Thursday, June 7

Mechanical Trip Planner

By Andrew Spaulding, email:

Once you are out on the water this summer enjoying your boat, it is important to make sure that you have the proper spares and equipment onboard to be able to perform emergency repairs. A competent mechanic can talk a person of limited mechanical ability through quite a few emergencies over the phone. However, this will not work if you don’t have the correct spares and tools onboard.

You should have spare fuel filters onboard for all of your engines and generators. Having multiple filters is a good idea particularly if you are headed off to a port where the fuel you purchase may be old or contaminated. You will need plenty of oil absorbent pads and a couple of small buckets (big enough to fit the old filter and some fuel) to catch the dripping fuel when you change the filters. You will want to have a filter wrench onboard to facilitate the removal of the filter. Since space is often tight around the filter and there are different styles of filter wrench, make sure that the filter wrench that you buy will work for your boat. If you do change the fuel filters, be prepared to bleed the engine fuel system. Any trapped air can lead to improper fuel flow.

While we are talking about filters, you should also have spare engine oil and filter in your spares kit. It would be rare to run into an emergency situation where you will need the oil filter, but it can happen. More likely is an oil seal failure where you will need to add quarts of oil to the engine to get home. I would carry 1.5 to 2 times the engine oil capacity as spare.

The other fluid to keep in the spares kit is antifreeze. The days of one type of antifreeze for all engines are over. Many new engines require specific formulations of antifreeze and the different types are not always compatible with each other. Know what kind of antifreeze your engine takes and keep a gallon onboard.

Belts for the engine should be part of any spares kit. Often finding someone with the technical ability to install new engine belts is relatively easy; however, finding the belts in a remote harbor can be difficult or at least time consuming. Also, include a spare impeller for each engine and generator for the same reason.

For the electrical side of the boat, have some spare wire, an electronic multi-meter and a wire stripper/crimper. A pair of diagonal cutters will service double duty by being able to cut electrical wires, wire ties, etc. and are also great at pulling and straightening cotter pins. Add a sharp rigging knife and some spare line of various sizes to cover any rope related emergencies.

These engine spares should be enough to get you back into port in most situations. Add a small kit of machine screws, nuts, electrical connectors, and any other appropriate fasteners to your kit and your spares inventory is complete. Your tool box at a minimum should have a set of combination wrenches, pliers, sockets, Phillips and straight screw drivers, adjustable wrenches, vice-grips, filter wrenches, allen keys, hammer and electrical tape. I also like to keep a small prybar onboard. Make sure the tools are appropriately sized for your engine – you won’t need a 1-inch combination wrench on a 2 cylinder engine – and that you have metric and standard sizes as appropriate.

A few words on other emergency spares: always have the proper flares and other signaling devices onboard. Also, have a damage control (wood) plug of the appropriate size attached by a cord to each thru-hull. It never hurts to have an additional supply of these plugs of various sizes.